Astraea.net/blog

blogging the big picture

June 15th, 2009

Being a “guy” can get you killed.

The reluctance of men to adopt a healthy lifestyle appears to be fuelling a gender gap in cancer cases and deaths. Among cancers which affect both genders, men are 60% more likely to develop the disease and 70% more likely to die from it, Cancer Research UK said.  There is no known biological reason for this but it may be because women take better care of themselves.

It’s a bit like asking for directions, isn’t it?  Men will drive around lost, refusing to ask for directions, but women will sensibly ask a passer by the way.  Men need to set a better example for their peers and children.  Less beer and chips, more exercise.

BBC report here.

June 14th, 2009

Global military spending rose 45% between 1999 and 2008

Global military spending rose 45% between 1999 and 2008, fuelled by the US-led “war on terror” and by increased wealth in China, Russia and the Middle East. In Western and Central Europe, military spending increased at a much slower rate than in any other part of the world, while the US accounted for 58% of the global increase during the decade.

The spending is of the same order of magnitude as the bailout of the global financial system, but of course does not go in to productive assets.

Military spending by region

PEACEKEEPING OPERATIONS

Offensive spending dwarfs peacekeeping operations.  In 2008, a record 187,586 people were deployed on peacekeeping missions, an 11% rise over 2007. Military forces accounted 166,146 of the personnel deployed.

Most of the missions were deployed in Africa, including in DR Congo and in Darfur, Sudan, but the largest single peace operation was in Afghanistan.

Peacekeeping operations around the world
BBC Report here.
June 12th, 2009

Watch the planet breathe.

Sometimes its hard to see the big picture. Its difficult to step outside ourselves and realise that we are part of something larger than ourselves. Our plant is a living system and we are an organism on its skin – one that is rather parasitic at the moment though we could be benign.

To get a view of the living planet see the following report from the Earth Observatory. The sequence of photos linked shows the planet breathing.

Global Biosphere

Life is an integral part of the Earth system. Living things influence the composition of the atmosphere by “inhaling” and “exhaling” carbon dioxide and oxygen. They play a part in the water cycle by pulling water from the soil and the air, and they help put it back again by exhaling water vapor and aerating the soil so rain can soak into the ground. They regulate ocean chemistry by taking carbon out of the atmosphere. Earth would not be the planet that it is without its biosphere, the sum of its life.

Earth Observatory – Global Biosphere

Image of the day

June 9th, 2009

Open-source software has won the argument.

This article by The Economist highlights the shortcomings of Facebook and MySpace etc, but its real real mesage is to highlight the advantages of Open Source software.

I just had another positive experience with Linux, this time at the lower end of the power spectrum.  I installed distros on old 386 machines at a charity in Zambia to be an alternative to the heavy, slow and virus prone Win98, Win2000 and Win XP.  (I partitioned the drives so that users can still choose Windoze or Linux.) Both DamnSmallLinux and DreamLinux installed easily (even running DreamLinux from a USB stick is easy and fast).

Read why Open-source software has won the argument here.

June 8th, 2009

Carbon risks and opportunities in the S&P 500

Carbon risks and opportunities in the S&P 500 a report by TruCost, commissioned by IRRCi, finds the carbon intensity of companies varies widely even within sectors. This has important implications for investors:

* Companies that are less carbon intensive than their sector peers stand to gain competitive advantage from proposed ‘polluter pays’ cap-and-trade regulation.

* Companies that have less carbon intensive supply chains than their sector peers also stand to gain competitive advantage, as suppliers of carbon intensive goods and services attempt to pass on their regulatory costs.

* Companies that are more carbon intensive than their sector peers will find it difficult to pass on their higher regulatory costs and are likely to see profits fall, unless they profoundly change the goods and services they produce or how they produce them.

June 7th, 2009

More evidence: females outperform.

Another study, now from the UK, shows that women outperform men at university level.  A Higher Education Policy Institute report shows that women are more likely to get places in the top universities and go on to get better grades.  This should not be surprising after all females have more DNA than males and are naturally more biodynamic.

BBC report.

Higher Education Policy Institute and report.

Females more valuable – Ireland.

June 3rd, 2009

Hexayurt – a great design for low impact building.

The Hexayurt is a prize-winning shelter you can build yourself for about $200 (backup link). Suitable raw materials include common building materials ( fire safe insulation boards,) hexacomb cardboard and plastic. You cut six 4′ x 8′ panels in half diagonally to make the roof, and use six more whole panels to form the walls. It takes about two hours. The design (backup link) is in the public domain.

hexayurt

hexayurt

June 2nd, 2009

UK’s NHS formally backs complimentary medicine.

The NHS will in future offer acupuncture to patients suffering back pain as part of new guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).

This is the first time NICE has formally backed the use of complementary therapies.

NICE believes that using active therapies – such as acupuncture and spinal manipulation – to treat back pain is preferable to early use of X-rays and MRI scans, whose benefits it says are questionable.

Professor Peter Littlejohns, NICE clinical and public health director, said: “This new guideline means that for the first time we now have the means for a consistent national approach to managing low back pain. Importantly, patients whose pain is not improving should have access to a choice of different therapies including acupuncture, structured exercise and manual therapy.”

NHS to offer acupuncture for back pain

June 2nd, 2009

The destruction of the Amazon is real (in pictures).

We are destroying the Amazon rain forest so that we can have cheap burgers. The slide show linked here shows the rapid decimation of the ancient forest. It takes centuries to regrow. Without it our biosphere is made vulnerable to climate volatility. It sounds like a foolish, short sighted trade-off doesn’t it? (The solution? Fewer humans ie stop making babies, and eat less meat. Can you do it?)

Amazon Deforestation

July 30, 2000

Amazon Deforestation

July 28, 2008

The state of Rondônia in western Brazil is one of the most deforested parts of the Amazon. In the past three decades, clearing and degradation of the state’s original 208,000 square kilometers of forest (about 51.4 million acres, an area slightly smaller than the state of Kansas) has been rapid: 4,200 square kilometers cleared by 1978; 30,000 by 1988; and 53,300 by 1998. By 2003, an estimated 67,764 square kilometers of rainforest—an area larger than the state of West Virginia—had been cleared.

Read the full Earth Observatory article here.

June 2nd, 2009

20 years on, the ozone hole lingers

The global recognition of CFCs’ destructive potential led to the 1989 Montreal Protocol banning the production of ozone-depleting chemicals. Scientists estimate that about 80% of the chlorine (and bromine, which has a similar ozone-depleting effect) in the stratosphere over Antarctica today is from human, not natural, sources.

Models suggest that the concentration of chlorine and other ozone-depleting substances in the stratosphere will not return to pre-1980 levels until the middle decades of this century. These same models predict that the Antarctic ozone layer will recover around 2040. On the other hand, because of the impact of greenhouse gas warming, the ozone layer over the tropics and mid-southern latitudes may not recover for more than a century, and perhaps not ever.

The slide show linked here shows the ozone hole’s growth and stabilisation, but not reduction. (Blue and purple means thin ozone, ie bad; red means lots of ozone ie good.)

Antarctic Ozone Hole

September 1979

The stratospheric ozone layer protects life on Earth by absorbing ultraviolet light, which damages DNA in plants and animals (including humans) and leads to skin cancer. Prior to 1979, scientists had not observed concentrations below 220 Dobson Units. But in the early 1980s, through a combination of ground-based and satellite measurements, scientists began to realize that Earth’s natural sunscreen was thinning dramatically over the South Pole each spring. This large, thin spot in the ozone layer came to be known as the ozone hole.

This series of images shows the size and shape of the ozone hole each year from 1979 through 2008 (no data are available for 1995). The measurements were made by NASA’s Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer (TOMS) instruments from 1979–2003 and by the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) from 2004–present. Purple and dark blue areas are part of the ozone hole.

Earth Observatory article here.

Also Satellite Measurements Help Reveal Ozone Damage to Important Crops