Monthly Archives: August 2016

The Rocket Greed

Promotional Picture of MBDA Sea Ceptor. image from wikipedia

Missiles excite, for unlike other weapons, demand for them is growing strongly. Global defence spending grew by just 1% in 2015—after five years of severe budget cuts in many countries—but the global market for missiles and missile-defence systems is racing ahead at around 5% a year. The capabilities of such weapons are increasing, and with that their price and profitability. Missiles are no longer just flying bombs; they now often contain more computer than explosive to help find their target autonomously…

Executives [of weapon companies] are putting missiles at the forefront of their efforts to expand abroad and to reduce their reliance on home governments.… The most go-ahead so far has been MBDA, a European joint venture, which last year won more missile orders outside Europe than within its home continent. Others are now catching up on foreign sales. Raytheon hopes soon to sign a $5.6 billion deal with Poland to upgrade its Patriot missile-defence shield, while Lockheed and MBDA plan to ink a deal with Germany for their air-defence systems.

[M]issile divisions at Western firms are facing more competition from Chinese, Israeli and Russian firms in some export markets….

Excerpts from Defence Firms: Rocketing Around the World, Economist, July 16, 2016, at 56

Water Scarcity in West Bank and Gaza

image from wikipedia
[M]ost of Israel’s water is artificially produced. About a third comes from desalination plants that are among the world’s most advanced. Farmers rely on reclaimed water for irrigation. Israel recycles 86% of its wastewater, the highest level anywhere; Spain, the next best, reuses around 20%.

West Bank: None of these high-tech solutions helps the Palestinians [in the West Bank,] though, because they are not connected to Israel’s water grid. They rely on the so-called “mountain aquifer”, which lies beneath land Israel occupied in 1967. The 1995 Oslo Accords stipulated that 80% of the water from the aquifer would go to Israel, with the rest allocated to the Palestinians. The agreement, meant to be a five-year interim measure, will soon celebrate its 21st birthday. During that time the Palestinian population in the West Bank has nearly doubled, to almost 3m. The allocation has not kept pace.

The settler population has doubled too, and they face their own shortages. In Ariel, a city of 19,000 adjacent to Salfit, residents experienced several brief outages this month. Smaller settlements in the area, which are not hooked up to the national grid, have dealt with longer droughts. Palestinians have suffered far more, however. On average they get 73 litres per day, less than the 100-litre minimum recommended by the World Health Organisation.

The situation is even worse in Gaza, which relies almost entirely on a fast-shrinking coastal aquifer; what remains is polluted from years of untreated sewage and agricultural run-off. The stuff that comes out of Gazan taps is already brackish and salty. UN experts think that aquifer will be irreversibly damaged by 2020.

Israel’s water authority sells the Palestinians 64m cubic metres of water each year. It says they cause their own shortages, because up to a third of the West Bank’s water supply leaks out of rusting Palestinian pipes. A joint water committee is supposed to resolve these issues, but it has not met for five years…

Water in the West Bank: Nor yet a drop to drink, Economist, July 30, 2016, at 38

Beating the Dirty Bomb

dirty bomb

A DARPA program aimed at preventing attacks involving radiological “dirty bombs” and other nuclear threats has successfully developed and demonstrated a network of smartphone-sized mobile devices that can detect the tiniest traces of radioactive materials. Combined with larger detectors along major roadways, bridges, other fixed infrastructure, and in vehicles, the new networked devices promise significantly enhanced awareness of radiation sources and greater advance warning of possible threats.

The demonstration of efficacy earlier this year was part of DARPA’s SIGMA program, launched in 2014 with the goal of creating a cost-effective, continuous radiation-monitoring network able to cover a large city or region. The demonstration was conducted at one of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s major transportation hubs where DARPA tested more than 100 networked SIGMA sensors…

The pocket-sized radiation “pager” sensors developed by DARPA and used in the exercise can be easily worn on a person’s belt, are one-tenth the cost of conventional sensors, and are up to 10 times faster in detecting gamma and neutron radiation. Moreover, the program achieved its price goal of 10,000 pocket-sized detectors for $400 per unit….A large-scale test deployment of more than 1,000 detectors is being planned for Washington, D.C., later this year.

Excerpt from Ushering in a New Generation of Low-Cost, Networked, Nuclear-Radiation Detectors, OUTREACH@DARPA.MIL, Aug. 23, 2016

All for the Oil: forest fires

Indonesia forest fire. image from wikipedia

…In 2015 a dry spell caused by the El Niño weather pattern made Indonesia’s forest fires  especially severe. Smoke settled over Singapore for months and even reached Cambodia, Vietnam and the Philippines. At least 2m hectares of forest were burned. Dozens of people were killed and hundreds of thousands sickened. For much of October 2015 greenhouse gases released by those fires exceeded the emissions of the entire American economy. The losses over five months of fires amounted to around 2% of the country’s GDP…[The event has labeled  the 2015 Southeast Asian haze]

Between 2001 and 2014, Indonesia lost 18.5m hectares of tree cover—an area more than twice the size of Ireland. In 2014 Indonesia overtook Brazil to become the world’s biggest deforester.

One of the reasons for those forest fires is economic. The country produces well over half the world’s palm oil, a commodity used in cooking and cosmetics, as a food additive and as a biofuel. It accounts for around 4.5% of Indonesia’s GDP, and demand is still rising. To meet it, Indonesian farmers set fires to clear forest and make way for new plantations. Often these forests grow on peatlands, which store carbon from decayed organic matter; in tropical regions these hold up to ten times as much carbon as surface soil. Draining peatlands releases all of that carbon. The peat also becomes a fuel, so it is not just felled trees that are burning but the ground itself.

But politics also plays a part. … The president declared a moratorium on peatland-development licences and called for peat forests to be restored, even as his agriculture minister pointed out that burned peatland can be used for corn and soyabean planting….

Civil-society groups have had some success. At least 188 Indonesian palm-oil companies have made some sort of sustainability pledge, including five large multinational firms that in 2014 signed the Indonesian Palm Oil Pledge (IPOP), which commits them to avoiding deforestation and planting oil palms on peatland. Together those five firms account for 80% of Indonesia’s palm-oil exports.All the same, deforestation continues. Perversely, it may even have increased temporarily, as companies cleared as much land as they could before the agreement took effect. Besides, opaque supply chains allow companies to buy palm oil from suppliers not bound by IPOP.

Forests: A world on fire, Economist Special Report on Indonesia, Feb. 27, 2016

Putting the Genie Back in the Bottle: Nuclear Weapons

 More details Preparation for an underground nuclear test at the Nevada Test Site in the 1990s. Image from wikipedia

Australia*** has attempted to derail a ban on nuclear weapons at a UN meeting on disarmament, by single-handedly forcing a vote on a report that had been expected to pass unanimously.The report, which recommended negotiations begin in 2017 to ban nuclear weapons, was eventually passed by 68 votes to 22.

Moves towards a ban have been pursued because many saw little progress under the existing non-proliferation treaty, which obliges the five declared nuclear states to “pursue negotiations in good faith” towards “cessation of the nuclear arms race … and nuclear disarmament”.

The proposal recommended a conference be held next year to negotiate “a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”.,…Anti-nuclear campaigners involved in the process expected the report would pass without objection. But Australia surprised observers by objecting and forcing a vote…

in 2015, documents obtained under Freedom of Information revealed Australia opposed the ban on nuclear weapons, since it believed it relied on US nuclear weapons as a deterrent.  “As long as the threat of nuclear attack or coercion exists, and countries like the DPRK [North Korea] seek these weapons and threaten others, Australia and many other countries will continue to rely on US extended nuclear deterrence,” said one of the briefing notes for government ministers.

The documents revealed however that Australia and the US were worried about the momentum gathering behind the Austrian-led push for a ban nuclear weapons, which diplomats said was “fast becoming a galvanising focus for those pushing the ban treaty option”.

Excerpts from Australia attempts to derail UN plan to ban nuclear weapons, Guardian, Aug. 20, 2017

***The following countries agreed with Australia: Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Turkey

These countries want a legal instrument to ban nuclear weapons ASAP: Afghanistan, Algeria, Andorra, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cabo Verde, Cambodia, Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, Colombia, Comoros, Congo, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Cyprus, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Fiji, Gambia, Ghana, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Indonesia, Iraq, Ireland, Islamic Republic of Iran, Jamaica, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kiribati, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Liechtenstein,Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexico, Mongolia, Namibia, Nauru, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Niue, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Sao Tome and Principe, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Somalia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, State of Palestine, Sudan, Suriname, Swaziland, Tajikistan, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Timor Leste, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Tuvalu, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, United Republic of Tanzania, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe

See also Model Nuclear Weapons Convention

See the Legal Gap

For Sale: 46 million like-slaves

Not for Sale Girl. image for wikipedia

The 2016 Global Slavery Index estimates that 45.8 million people are subject to some form of modern slavery in the world today. The Index presents a ranking of 167 countries based on the proportion of the population that is estimated to be in modern slavery.

58%
Of those living in slavery
are in 5 countries
India*
China
Pakistan*
Bangladesh*
Uzbekistan
* Based on nationally representative Gallup survey data
The countries with the highest estimated prevalence of modern slavery by the proportion of their population are North Korea, Uzbekistan, Cambodia, India, and Qatar. In North Korea, there is pervasive evidence that government-sanctioned forced labour occurs in an extensive system of prison labour camps while North Korean women are subjected to forced marriage and commercial sexual exploitation in China and other neighbouring states. In Uzbekistan, the government continues to subject its citizens to forced labour in the annual cotton harvest.

Those countries with the highest absolute numbers of people in modern slavery are India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Uzbekistan. Several of these countries provide the low-cost labour that produces consumer goods for markets in Western Europe, Japan, North America and Australia.

Data from the Global Slavery Index

Land Scarcity: Nigeria

Pro-Biafra Protests (2015-2016)

Muslim herdsmen fleeing Boko Haram jihadists and fast-spreading desertification in the north of Nigeria are clashing with Christian farmers in the south, adding a dangerous new dimension to the sectarian tensions and militancy plaguing the country.

Thousands of people from Muslim Fulani tribes have moved southwards this year, leading to a series of clashes over land that have killed more than 350 people, most of them Christian crop farmers, according to residents and rights activists.

The fighting threatens to fracture the country further by bolstering support for a Christian secessionist movement in the south-east, which has been lingering for decades but gained fresh momentum late last year when resentment over poverty and the arrest of one of its leaders spilled over into street protests… [The Christian South] is campaigning  for an independent Biafra. They say they want to stop the Muslim north from dominating the Christian south…..The population of poverty-stricken Nigeria is expected to more than double to almost 400 million by 2050, according to the United Nations.y.

In one of the deadliest clashes, about 50 people were killed in April when Fulanis attacked the village of Nimbo in the south-eastern state of Biafra, according to residents, rights groups and lawmakers who visited Nimbo after the violence.

Excerpts from, Nigeria riven by new battles over scarce fertile land, Reuters, August 12, 2016

Illegal Waste Gangs: the case of ENI

eni logo. image from wikipedia

Italian prosecutors on August 12, 2016, agreed to release energy giant ENI’s Centro Oli oil treatment plant from court-ordered seizure. The plant near the town of Viggiano in the Agri Valley in the southern Basilicata region was seized on March 31. 2016  in a probe that resulted in ex industry minister Federica Gudi resigning amid conflict-of-interest claims. It treated some 75,000 barrels of oil a day, before two tanks and a reinjection well were seized.

State-controlled ENI, nine other companies, and 60 individuals have been investigated for illegal waste trafficking in the southern Basilicata region,..The 70 subjects were notified that the investigation has ended, in Italy usually a prelude to indictment.

Prosecutors say ENI reaped millions in “unjust profits” from illegally dumping waste from its Viggiano plant. As well, the probe found irregularities in the construction of Total’s Tempa Rossa oil centre between Corleto Perticara near Potenza and Gorgoglione near Matera.
Former Total chiefs as well as various businessmen and officials were sentenced to terms ranging from two to seven years in prison on April 4, 2016.

The current suspects include former Corleto Perticara mayor Rosaria Vicino from Premier Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party (PD), former Basilicata environmental department chief Donato Viggiano, former ENI southern region exec Ruggero Gheller, his current replacement Enrico Trovato, and five ENI staffers who have been under house arrest since March 31.
ENI earlier defended its Viggiano plant operations….

Excerpts from : Prosecutors OK freeing of ENI oil plant (2)
Basilicata plant seized in waste trafficking probe,  ANSA, Aug. 5, 2016

Cement that Breaths

3D Carbon Scaffolds. scaffolds possess macro-, micro-, and nano- structured pores and the porosity can be tailored for specific applications. Image from wikipedia

Consider the benefits to be gained from a chimney that heals after damage, a roof that breathes to control airflow, surfaces that don’t flake or fade, and a driveway that eats oil to clean up after spills.–From the DARPA website

The structural materials that are currently used to construct homes, buildings, and infrastructure are expensive to produce and transport, wear out due to age and damage, and have limited ability to respond to changes in their immediate surroundings. Living biological materials—bone, skin, bark, and coral, for example—have attributes that provide advantages over the non-living materials people build with, in that they can be grown where needed, self-repair when damaged, and respond to changes in their surroundings. The inclusion of living materials in human-built environments could offer significant benefits; however, today scientists and engineers are unable to easily control the size and shape of living materials in ways that would make them useful for construction.

DARPA is launching the Engineered Living Materials (ELM) program with a goal of creating a new class of materials that combines the structural properties of traditional building materials with attributes of living systems. Living materials represent a new opportunity to leverage engineered biology to solve existing problems associated with the construction and maintenance of built environments, and to create new capabilities to craft smart infrastructure that dynamically responds to its surroundings.

“The vision of the ELM program is to grow materials on demand where they are needed,” said ELM program manager Justin Gallivan. “Imagine that instead of shipping finished materials, we can ship precursors and rapidly grow them on site using local resources. And, since the materials will be alive, they will be able to respond to changes in their environment and heal themselves in response to damage.”…

Scientists are making progress with three-dimensional printing of living tissues and organs, using scaffolding materials that sustain the long-term viability of the living cells. These cells are derived from existing natural tissues, however, and are not engineered to perform synthetic functions. And current cell-printing methods are too expensive to produce building materials at necessary scales.

ELM looks to merge the best features of these existing technologies and build on them to create hybrid materials composed of non-living scaffolds that give structure to and support the long-term viability of engineered living cells. DARPA intends to develop platform technologies that are scalable and generalizable to facilitate a quick transition from laboratory to commercial applications.

The long-term objective of the ELM program is to develop an ability to engineer structural properties directly into the genomes of biological systems so that neither scaffolds nor external development cues are needed for an organism to realize the desired shape and properties. ….

Work on ELM will be fundamental research carried out in controlled laboratory settings. DARPA does not anticipate environmental release during the program.

Excerpts from Living Structural Materials  Could Open New Horizons for Engineers and Architects, DARPA seeks to develop design tools and methods for creating programmable, self-healing, living building materials, OUTREACH@DARPA.MIL, Aug. 5, 2016

See also FBO.org

The Nuclear Waste under Greenland’s Ice Sheet

Greenland' s Ice Sheet. Image from Wikipedia

In 1959 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built Camp Century beneath the surface of the northwestern Greenland Ice Sheet. There they studied the feasibility of deploying ballistic missiles within the ice sheet. The base and its wastes were abandoned with minimal decommissioning in 1967, under the assumption they would be preserved for eternity by perpetually accumulating snowfall.

In 2016 scientists showed that global warming could release the radioactive waste stored in the ice if Greenland’s ice continues to melt…

The general existence of Camp Century was understood by both the Danish and U.S. governments, which together signed the 1951 Defense of Greenland Agreement under the auspices of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)….Reports, for example, suggest Danish permission for the operational disposal of radiological waste in the ice sheet. However, it is unclear whether Denmark was sufficiently consulted regarding the specific decommissioning of Camp Century, and thus whether the abandoned wastes there remain U.S. property. Article XI of the 1951 treaty states that “All property provided by the Government of the United States of America and located in Greenland shall remain the property of the Government of the United States of America. … [it] may be removed from Greenland free of any restriction, or disposed of in Greenland by the Government of the United States of America after consultation with the Danish authorities…”

Given the multinational origin and multigenerational legacy of Camp Century, there appears to be substantial ambiguity surrounding the political and legal liability associated with mitigating the potential remobilization of its pollutants. Interests likely differ across NATO members, particularly Denmark, the U.S. and Canada, partly because of their distinct levels of historical participation and their future potential for pollutant exposure.

Excerpts from  William Colgan et al, The abandoned ice sheet base at Camp Century, Greenland, in a warming climate, , Aug. 4, 2016