Archive for September, 2014


Illustration by Michael Marsicano

Illustration by Michael Marsicano

Elon Musk argues that we must put a million people on Mars if we are to ensure that humanity has a future

by Ross Andersen

(Ross Andersen is deputy editor at Aeon Magazine. He has written extensively about science and philosophy for several publications, including The Atlantic and The Economist.)

Fuck Earth!’ Elon Musk said to me, laughing. ‘Who cares about Earth?’ We were sitting in his cubicle, in the front corner of a large open-plan office at SpaceX headquarters in Los Angeles. It was a sunny afternoon, a Thursday, one of three designated weekdays Musk spends at SpaceX. Musk was laughing because he was joking: he cares a great deal about Earth. When he is not here at SpaceX, he is running an electric car company. But this is his manner. On television Musk can seem solemn, but in person he tells jokes. He giggles. He says things that surprise you.

When I arrived, Musk was at his computer, powering through a stream of single-line email replies. I took a seat and glanced around at his workspace. There was a black leather couch and a large desk, empty but for a few wine bottles and awards. The windows looked out to a sunbaked parking lot. The vibe was ordinary, utilitarian, even boring. After a few minutes passed, I began to worry that Musk had forgotten about me, but then suddenly, and somewhat theatrically, he wheeled around, scooted his chair over, and extended his hand. ‘I’m Elon,’ he said.

It was a nice gesture, but in the year 2014 Elon Musk doesn’t need much of an introduction. Not since Steve Jobs has an American technologist captured the cultural imagination like Musk. There are tumblrs and subreddits devoted to him. He is the inspiration for Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man. His life story has already become a legend. There is the alienated childhood in South Africa, the video game he invented at 12, his migration to the US in the mid-1990s. Then the quick rise, beginning when Musk sold his software company Zip2 for $300 million at the age of 28, and continuing three years later, when he dealt PayPal to eBay for $1.5 billion. And finally, the double down, when Musk decided idle hedonism wasn’t for him, and instead sank his fortune into a pair of unusually ambitious startups. With Tesla he would replace the world’s cars with electric vehicles, and with SpaceX he would colonise Mars. Automobile manufacturing and aerospace are mature industries, dominated by corporate behemoths with plush lobbying budgets and factories in all the right congressional districts. No matter. Musk would transform both, simultaneously, and he would do it within the space of a single generation.

Musk announced these plans shortly after the bursting of the first internet bubble, when many tech millionaires were regarded as mere lottery winners. People snickered. They called him a dilettante. But in 2010, he took Tesla public and became a billionaire many times over. SpaceX is still privately held, but it too is now worth billions, and Musk owns two-thirds of it outright. SpaceX makes its rockets from scratch at its Los Angeles factory, and it sells rides on them cheap, which is why its launch manifest is booked out for years. The company specialises in small satellite launches, and cargo runs to the space station, but it is now moving into the more mythic business of human spaceflight. In September, NASA selected SpaceX, along with Boeing, to become the first private company to launch astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). Musk is on an epic run. But he keeps pushing his luck. In every interview, there is an outlandish new claim, a seeming impossibility, to which he attaches a tangible date. He is always giving you new reasons to doubt him.

I had come to SpaceX to talk to Musk about his vision for the future of space exploration, and I opened our conversation by asking him an old question: why do we spend so much money in space, when Earth is rife with misery, human and otherwise? It might seem like an unfair question. Musk is a private businessman, not a publicly funded space agency. But he is also a special case. His biggest customer is NASA and, more importantly, Musk is someone who says he wants to influence the future of humanity. He will tell you so at the slightest prompting, without so much as flinching at the grandiosity of it, or the track record of people who have used this language in the past. Musk enjoys making money, of course, and he seems to relish the billionaire lifestyle, but he is more than just a capitalist. Whatever else might be said about him, Musk has staked his fortune on businesses that address fundamental human concerns. And so I wondered, why space?

Musk did not give me the usual reasons. He did not claim that we need space to inspire people. He did not sell space as an R & D lab, a font for spin-off technologies like astronaut food and wilderness blankets. He did not say that space is the ultimate testing ground for the human intellect. Instead, he said that going to Mars is as urgent and crucial as lifting billions out of poverty, or eradicating deadly disease.

‘I think there is a strong humanitarian argument for making life multi-planetary,’ he told me, ‘in order to safeguard the existence of humanity in the event that something catastrophic were to happen, in which case being poor or having a disease would be irrelevant, because humanity would be extinct. It would be like, “Good news, the problems of poverty and disease have been solved, but the bad news is there aren’t any humans left.”’

Musk has been pushing this line – Mars colonisation as extinction insurance – for more than a decade now, but not without pushback. ‘It’s funny,’ he told me. ‘Not everyone loves humanity. Either explicitly or implicitly, some people seem to think that humans are a blight on the Earth’s surface. They say things like, “Nature is so wonderful; things are always better in the countryside where there are no people around.” They imply that humanity and civilisation are less good than their absence. But I’m not in that school,’ he said. ‘I think we have a duty to maintain the light of consciousness, to make sure it continues into the future.’…






Dark side of paradise: Alison Teal pictured with her surfboard while walking through mountains of rubbish on Thilafushi in the Maldives

Dark side of paradise: Alison Teal pictured with her surfboard while walking through mountains of rubbish on Thilafushi in the Maldives

By Carol Driver for MailOnline

It’s renowned for its luxury accommodation, turquoise waters and breath-taking beaches.

However, these images show the darker side to the Maldives – with huge amounts of rubbish washed up on the island’s pristine sands.

Award-winning filmmaker Alison Teal, 27, visited Thilafushi – or Trash Island – an artificial island created as a municipal landfill situated to the west of Malé.

Miles of litter: Thilafushi is an artificial island in the Maldives where about 400 tonnes of rubbish is dumped every day

Miles of litter: Thilafushi is an artificial island in the Maldives where about 400 tonnes of rubbish is dumped every day

She said she was shocked at the amount of plastic bottles she saw floating in the crystal-clear sea and strewn across the usually idyllic beaches.

Accompanied by Australian photographer Mark Tipple and his colleague Sarah Lee, the group took these shocking images and footage to document the luxury destination’s waste problem…

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By Dr Michael Mosley For The Daily Mail

Sit down for a moment. Relax. Then clasp your hands together so your fingers entwine — don’t overthink it! Now look at your thumbs. Which one is on top — the left one or the right?

If you are a man, the odds are it will be the left; if you are a woman, it is more likely to be the right. Now unfold your hands and take a look at your fingers, in particular your index finger (next to your thumb) and your ring finger (next to your little finger).

It can be quite subtle, but in men the ring finger (measured from the crease where it joins the hand) is likely to be longer than the index finger. In women the two fingers are typically the same length.

Strangely enough, your hands give clues to what is sometimes called ‘brain sex’ — the way your brain reflects your gender.

Of course, we all have different skills and interests, but some are considered more typically male, and occur more commonly in men, while others are described as more typically female, and occur more commonly in women.

According to popular mythology, men tend to be more obsessed by things such as cars and obscure facts. You find men in pubs discussing the top speed of a car they are never going to drive, let alone own. They cling to the TV remote control. They like spending time in sheds.

Women, on the other hand, are said to be better at empathy and understanding what another person is feeling or needs. In an emotional crisis, they are more likely to offer sympathy.

If you are a man you may be surprised to learn that there are more than 400 different human emotions. If you’re a woman you probably knew that already.

This is the stuff of jokes and self-help books — but it is also shown to be true through science. The question is, do these tendencies result from nature — with the biological gender we are born with deciding our interests and personalities — or do they result from nurture, with society and upbringing creating the differing ways that men and women behave?

The BBC series Horizon asked Professor Alice Roberts and me to investigate. We started from very different positions.

Alice thinks apparent brain differences between the sexes have been exaggerated by how our culture treats boys and girls. In the programme she carries out fascinating tests to prove her point, such as dressing up little boys as girls and vice versa and watching how people treat them.

Almost immediately, the girls start rough-housing and playing with trucks, while the boys are treated far more gently by the adults around them.

She argues that parents’ unconscious actions — such as being gentler with girls and letting boys behave more roughly — often mould children into men and women who embody gender stereotypes.

While I agree that lots of wild generalisations about men and women are bandied around, I also think there may be something in claims that our fundamental biology influences how we behave.

Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, an expert on the brain who I visited at Cambridge University, has done a lot of pioneering work on this. He believes, broadly, that people of whatever gender fall somewhere along a ‘systemiser’ to ‘empathiser’ spectrum.

Systemisters are people who enjoy breaking down and analysing systems. They are more likely to become train spotters or computer scientists.

They are what he has called ‘male brained’ — as these qualities occur most frequently, but far from exclusively, in men.

Empathisers, on the other hand, are more typically ‘female’ brained as they are more typically women.

Although there are exceptions, most men — when tested — come out as more ‘systemising’ than ‘empathising’, while for women it is the other way round.

While Professor Baron-Cohen accepts social pressures are important in influencing choices and behaviour, his studies suggest the hormones babies are exposed to in the womb can also shape the brain. Higher levels of testosterone in utero, for example — as measured in long-term studies that took samples from pregnant women then followed their children from birth — are associated with offspring who are less empathetic but better at some mental skills later in life.

In other words, more testosterone during pregnancy produces babies with a more male brain (we’re not yet sure why some mothers produce more testosterone)…

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No Doubt poses with actor Hugh Jackman, Global Citizen Project cofounder Hugh Evans, Ban Ki-Moon, the secretary-general of the United Nations, and Jim Young Kim, president of the World Bank.

No Doubt poses with actor Hugh Jackman, Global Citizen Project cofounder Hugh Evans, Ban Ki-Moon, the secretary-general of the United Nations, and Jim Young Kim, president of the World Bank.
by David Livingstone
American popular music is a manufactured product of generally very poor artistic quality, but serves the purpose of producing idols who can be used to convey subliminal messages of subversion. Edward Bernays, the father of “public relations” and nephew to Sigmund Freud, wrote: “Human beings need to have godhead symbols, and public relations counsels must help to create them.” Bernays recognized the value of his idol-making in shaping public opinion:

We have no being in the air to watch over us. We must watch over ourselves, and that is where public relations counselors can prove their effectiveness, by making the public believe that human gods are watching over us for our own benefit. [1]

No Doubt, Jay Z, Carrie Underwood and other musical acts performed in Central Park in New York City on Saturday for the 3rd annual Global Citizen Festival, a free event organized by then Global Poverty Project, which receives the buil of its funding by major Zionist foundations.

The concept of the “Global Citizen” is an agenda with the support of the UN and its affiliated agencies, presented as a positive step forward away from the ravages of nationalism, and towards a more favorable allegiance to a single one-world government. The objective is totalitarian because it aims to replace all the world’s religions and bring everyone together under a single one-world religion, based on Freemasonry and the Kabbalah.

The Global Poverty Project disguises its sinister objectives by shrouding its projects in humanitarian principles, in order to suggest that one-world government is the only answer to humanity’s most pressing problems, global poverty being the greatest among them. However, speaking at the festival was Jim Young Kim, president of the World Bank, which is responsible for creating that staggering poverty in the first place.

An important myth that has been cultivated to disguise the sordid realities of rampant capitalism is that of “development.” It suggests that the Third World is stagnating in a more primitive stage of evolution, and in need of Western assistance to catch up with the level of prosperity of the industrialized world.

However, as demonstrated by John Perkins, in Confessions of an Economic Hitman, the Third World is being deliberately enslaved to provide cheap human and natural resources. Through coups and other covert strategies, the CIA ensures local support for the acceptance of “aid” which is supplied to finance development projects by giant American corporations like Bechtel and Halliburton. These projects generate profits only to their shareholders, while saddling the common citizens with the extraordinary debt, which is further exacerbated through IMF’s “structural adjustment” policies which impose “austerity measures” to ensure its repayment and ensuring their subservience.

The Global Poverty Project was founded by Hugh Evans and Simon Moss and aims to end extreme poverty by 2030, by increasing the number of people working for the cause. Among its most important sources of funding are the Pratt Foundation, the Joel Joffe Foundation and the Sumner Redstone Foundation…




by Tyler Durden

We have yet to read Owen Jones’ “The Establishment… And how they get away with it“, although Russell Brand’s take of the author has certainly piqued our interest: ”Owen Jones may have the face of a baby and the voice of George Formby but he is our generation’s Orwell and we must cherish him.” We do know, however, that the young author and Guardian columnist is one of those who are not afraid to think critically while accepting there is far more than meets the eye, and certainly than the controlled media would like revealed. To wit, from the book’s official blurb:

Behind our democracy lurks a powerful but unaccountable network of people who wield massive power and reap huge profits in the process. In exposing this shadowy and complex system that dominates our lives, Owen Jones sets out on a journey into the heart of our Establishment, from the lobbies of Westminster to the newsrooms, boardrooms and trading rooms of Fleet Street and the City. Exposing the revolving doors that link these worlds, and the vested interests that bind them together, Jones shows how, in claiming to work on our behalf, the people at the top are doing precisely the opposite. In fact, they represent the biggest threat to our democracy today – and it is time they were challenged.

The following infographic from the book, showing how the media controls Britain reveals the schism between popular British sentiment about key social issues courtesy of media influences and reality, indicating that the “establishment” is more than happy to sow discord within the working/middle classes using its traditional “objective” distribution channels, while it remains aloof, collecting the rent its record capital provides.

And while the middle class around the world fights for scraps, and has seen its real wages over the past three decades largely unchanged, the “establishment”, wrapped in a comfortable cocoon spun by the captured media, benefits:

From: Live Science

Much of the water on Earth and elsewhere in the solar system likely predates the birth of the sun, a new study reports.

The finding suggests that water is commonly incorporated into newly forming planets throughout the Milky Way galaxy and beyond, researchers said — good news for anyone hoping that Earth isn’t the only world to host life.

“The implications of our study are that interstellar water-ice remarkably survived the incredibly violent process of stellar birth to then be incorporated into planetary bodies,” study lead author Ilse Cleeves, an astronomy Ph.D. student at the University of Michigan, told via email. [7 Theories on the Origin of Life]

“If our sun’s formation was typical, interstellar ices, including water, likely survive and are a common ingredient during the formation of all extrasolar systems,” Cleeves added. “This is particularly exciting given the number of confirmed extrasolar planetary systems to date — that they, too, had access to abundant, life-fostering water during their formation.”

Astronomers have discovered nearly 2,000 exoplanets so far, and many billions likely lurk undetected in the depths of space. On average, every Milky Way star is thought to host at least one planet.
Water, water everywhere

Our solar system abounds with water. Oceans of it slosh about not only on Earth’s surface but also beneath the icy shells of Jupiter’s moon Europa and the Saturn satellite Enceladus. And water ice is found on Earth’s moon, on comets, at the Martian poles and even inside shadowed craters on Mercury, the planet closest to the sun.

Cleeves and her colleagues wanted to know where all this water came from.

Read the rest:




UN Predicts an Impending Climate Hell by 2050

Mud covers Pilgrim Peak Road near Mount Shasta, California (Reuters / Inciweb / Handout via Reuters)

Mud covers Pilgrim Peak Road near Mount Shasta, California (Reuters / Inciweb / Handout via Reuters)

A growing number of communities in central and northern California could end up without water in 60 days due to the Golden state’s prolonged drought.

There are now a dozen of small communities in Central and Northern California relying on a single source of water – which has the water resources board concerned they will not have any at all in two months’ time.

At a mobile home park north of Oroville, more than 30 families are severely cutting back. The water supply is so tight it is shut off entirely between 10 pm and 5 am, according to CBS Sacramento. The families are relying on one well – all the others have dried up – and have to drive five miles to buy drinking water for themselves and their animals.

READ MORE: Nestle continues to sell bottled water sourced from California despite record drought

In January, Gov. Jerry Brown (D-Calif.) declared a drought state of emergency in preparation for water shortages, in particular during the summer months. The drought has entered its third year, and water restrictions have increased in the state.

Nearly all urban areas in California have made considerable water conservation efforts, including mandatory limitations on water consumption, rationing, re-allocations of water to most essential crops and distribution guidelines for everyday use.

READ MORE: Severe drought in California spreading at unprecedented rate

Now it is harvest time in California, but because of the drought many crops are anticipated to be smaller this year. About five percent of land went unplanted, and there are shrinking orange and pistachio crops, reported the Sacramento Bee.

One fourth – or 140,000 acres – of California’s rice field went fallow, which is expected to have an effect felt both nationwide and internationally, as the Golden State both provides rice to restaurants across the US and exports it to Asia. Estimates are, smaller crops and increased water costs will cut $2.2 billion from the $44 billion a year agricultural business.

Nobody has any idea how disastrous it’s going to be,” Mike Wade of California Farm Water Coalition told the Associated Press. Is it going to create more fallowed land? Absolutely. Is it going to create more groundwater problems? Absolutely.”

Stanford University scientists say they might have an answer about California’s drought – and it is greenhouse gases.

Using climate model simulators, they found that high-pressure ridges like the one that remained over the Pacific Ocean for the past two winters, blocks storms from hitting California, and are much more likely to form in the presence of man-made greenhouse gases, according to a report they published Monday.

The phenomenon they claim also caused rain to bypass Oregon and Washington, and instead land in the Arctic Circle.

You can visualize it as a fairly large boulder in a small stream,” said Daniel Swain, a lead author on the report.

However, not everyone agrees. Marty Hoerling, a research meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, was cited by Reuters saying that atmospheric pressure has increased everywhere due to global warming, so the systems need to be studied in that context.

READ MORE: Southwest could face decades-long megadrought – study




The Aral Sea in 1989 (left), and now (NASA Earth Observatory)

The Aral Sea in 1989 (left), and now (NASA Earth Observatory)

Once the fourth-biggest lake in the world, the eastern basin of the Aral Sea in central Asia is now completely dry. It is the result of a Soviet-era project to divert rivers for agriculture and a lack of rainfall at its source.

“This is the first time the eastern basin has completely dried in modern times,” Philip Micklin, an Aral Sea expert from Western Michigan University told NASA’s Earth Observatory, which captured fresh satellite images of the lake. “And it is likely the first time it has completely dried in 600 years, since Medieval desiccation [drying out] associated with diversion of Amu Darya to the Caspian Sea.”

In a bid to drive up production of cotton in nearby steppes, Soviet engineers diverted the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya, the two rivers flowing into the lake, as part of massive irrigation projects for water-hungry crops in the 1950s and ’60s.

As a result, the bed of the lake – polluted by the chemicals used in crop-growing – has become exposed, while the water has turned increasingly salty, killing off the majority of wildlife, and decimating the fishing industry in the region.

This particular retreat has been a consequence of poor rainfall in the Pamir Mountains that has exacerbated the shortfall of water flowing into the lake, which lies between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, but it could not have happened without the constant decline.

“This part of the Aral Sea is showing major year-to-year variations that are dependent on flow of Amu Darya. I would expect this pattern to continue for some time,” said Micklin.

Soviet officials first admitted the impact of their project on the Aral Sea in the 1980s, but little can be done about it currently.

Around 60 million people live around the Aral Sea basin, most of them citizens of low-income Central Asian states. To restore the lake to its former size, flows would have to be increased fourfold, requiring $16 billion – a project the concerned sides can neither afford nor agree on.

A dam was built with World Bank funds in 2005 to filter water than now flows into the separate northern part of the lake, which has partially recovered, though the water mass is only a small fraction of its previous size.






A baby lowland gorilla rides on his mother's back at the primate sanctuary run by the Cameroon Wildlife Aid Fund in Mefou National Park, just outside the capital Yaounde (Reuters / Finbarr O'Reilly)

A baby lowland gorilla rides on his mother’s back at the primate sanctuary run by the Cameroon Wildlife Aid Fund in Mefou National Park, just outside the capital Yaounde (Reuters / Finbarr O’Reilly)

The world’s wildlife populations, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish, have dropped by more than half in the last 40 years, the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) said in its latest report.

“Put another way, in less than two human generations, population sizes of vertebrate species have dropped by half,” Director General of WWF International Marco Lambertini said in a statement.

The WWF released its Living Planet Index (LPI) report on Tuesday, published every two years.

After measuring more than 10,000 representative populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish between 1970 and 2010, WWF concluded that the populations of those species have dropped by 52 percent.

This year’s release marks a huge decline in comparison to previous report, which revealed a drop of 28 percent between 1970 and 2008.

“We should feel a strong sense of urgency because we have to really deal with these issues in the next few decades,”Lambertini said. “We are using nature’s gifts as if we had more than just one Earth at our disposal. By taking more from our ecosystems and natural processes than can be replenished, we are jeopardizing our very future.”

image from

image from

Largest ecological footprints left by Kuwait, Qatar, UAE, US

The report found that Kuwait had the worst record in the past four decades, with the most resources consumed and wasted per head of any country, followed by Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

The US also has a bad track record, with the report noting that “if we lived the lifestyle of a typical resident of the USA, we would need 3.9 planets.”

Other countries that left one of the worst ecological footprints included Denmark, Belgium, Trinidad and Tobago, Singapore, Bahrain and Sweden.

Some of the poorer countries had better sustainability results, including India, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In terms of species, the biggest fall was reported among the populations of freshwater fish, down by 76 percent over the last four decades, the report stated.

The loss of natural habitats, excessive hunting and fishing, as well as climate change were some of the main reasons behind the overall decline.

Also, WWF said that the Earth has crossed three of out the nine identified “planetary boundaries,” which are “potentially catastrophic changes to life as we know it,” including biodiversity, carbon dioxide levels and nitrogen pollution from fertilizers.

Another two are currently in danger of being crossed: ocean acidification and phosphorus levels in fresh water.

“Given the pace and scale of change, we can no longer exclude the possibility of reaching critical tipping points that could abruptly and irreversibly change living conditions on Earth,”
the report said.

Lambertini remains hopeful though, urging public and private sectors to act and search for ways to protect the environment.

“The upcoming generation can seize the opportunity that we have so far failed to grasp, to close this destructive chapter in our history, and build a future where people can live and prosper in harmony with nature,” Lambertini said.

“Things look so worrying that it may seem difficult to feel positive about the future. Difficult, certainly, but not impossible – because it is in ourselves, who have caused the problem, that we can find the solution.”




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