Posts filed under ‘Useful resources’ stuff

I am “decommissioning” my website basically because this blog has far more readers. So I’m making all my thought pieces freely available in this post. Most of them are essays from a complexity perspective on various topics or they are articles/interviews I wrote for Image and Data Manager.  In no particular order, here they are: knock yourself out!

Victoria Ward & Kim Sbarcea

Rui Martins & Kim Sbarcea

Kim Sbarcea

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May 19, 2010 at 9:42 pm 3 comments

A rose may not be a rose

Singapore-based blogging colleague, Marc of Creative Spark, sent me this article about hidden, unlisted chemicals in perfumes. It’s time for a perfume update anyway, so the article is very timely. I do have a liking for Chanel Coco but was horrified to learn it contains 18 unlisted toxic nasties.

A report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has identified perfumes that have an average of 14 secret chemicals in them and these are not listed on the perfume bottle or label. I know that in the US, there is a loop hole in Federal Law (Federal Fair Packaging and Labeling Act of 1973), which allows perfume houses to claim their fragrances are trade secrets. Perfume houses can call their scent “parfum” or “fragrance” and are not required to separately list the ingredients. This also applies to shampoos, body washes, air fresheners, dishwashing detergents etc that use the word “fragrance”. Behind this word is an awful lot of toxic stuff swirling around. And the problem is that many of the unlisted chemicals (especially when multiple chemicals lurk in a product) can trigger allergic reactions and even disrupt hormones. These chemicals can be absorbed through the skin or inhaled.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics commissioned the report and the EWG churned through the data. 17 perfumes were tested and what’s really scary is to read that 12 of the 17 perfumes contained diethyl phthalate, a chemical linked to sperm damage and behavioral problems.

If you use American Eagle Seventy Seven, you might want to think again, because the analysis revealed that this scent has a whopping 24 unlisted, secret squirrel toxic chemicals in it.

Unfortunately, Coco Chanel followed with 18 nasties. Musk ketone is another synthetic fragrance ingredient that was found in the tested perfumes. Musk ketone is absorbed by the body, concentrates in human fat tissue and breast milk and has a possible link to cancer.

Here are the 17 scents tested, along with the number of clandestine chemicals contained in them. Truly scary. And as the report points out, consumers can hardly make an informed decision if we don’t know what ingredients are really in products.

In the 17 perfumes tested, there were 38 secret chemicals. Do yourself a favour and read the full report. Download it here.

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May 14, 2010 at 5:14 am 1 comment

Not so lucky

I always call Australia the canary in the coalmine when it comes to climate change. We are already the driest inhabited continent on earth and areas of Australia have been experiencing prolonged severe drought since around 2003. We’re the so-called Lucky Country but maybe our number is up. It’s going to be a real party for Australia when global warming hits us. I heard the other day on the news that mosquito-borne illnesses such as Dengue Fever will be increasingly common as we heat up.

I know that some of you will be shaking your heads saying noooooooo climate change isn’t real. Especially because some scientists seem to have been naughty boys and girls. But climate change scientists and academics are fighting back and here’s the really chilling part of what they have to say:

None of the handful of mis-statements (out of hundreds and hundreds of unchallenged statements) remotely undermines the conclusion that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal” and that most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-twentieth century is very likely due to observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations“.

Some 250 climate change scientists and academics have signed the open letter in an attempt to bring back some credibility to the climate change debate. They also state:

“…measurements of global average temperatures show an increase of about 0.6 degrees C over the twentieth century and about 0.8 degrees C warming since mid-19th century.  The pattern of increase has not been smooth or monotonic.  There have been several 10- to 15-year periods of stable or declining temperatures over the past 150 years, but 14 of the warmest 15 years on record have been experienced between 1995 and 2009.  Since 1970, observational evidence from all continents and most oceans shows that many natural systems are already being affected by these temperature increases“.

Globally, the winter of 2009-2010 was the second warmest on record despite the snowstorms and cold temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere.

Whether it’s anthropogenic global warming or just plain old global warming – the scientific stuff is pointing to rising temperatures. Americans: if you want to know what your country might look like in say 20 years, read this. Australia is already there.

And the CSIRO (serious pointy-headed dudes) has just released their State of the Climate report. You can download it here. There are no “is climate change really happening” type questions in this report. It is full of grim statistics like:

  • rapidly rising sea levels from 1993 to 2009, with levels around Australia rising, between 1.5 and 3mm per year in Australia’s south and east and between 7 and 10mm in the north;
  • from 1870 to 2007, the global average sea level rose by close to 200mm;
  • since 1960 the mean temperature in Australia has increased by about 0.7 °C. Some areas have experienced a warming of 1.5 to 2 ºC over the last 50 years. Warming has occurred in all seasons, however the strongest warming has occurred in spring (about 0.9 °C);
  • the geographic distribution of rainfall has changed significantly over the past 50 years. Rainfall decreased in south-west and south-east Australia, including all the major population centres, during the same period;
  • global CO2 concentrations have risen rapidly over the last century. Methane, which is another greenhouse gas, has shown similar increases. The carbon dioxide concentration in 2009 of 386 parts per million (ppm) is much higher than the natural range of 170 to 300 ppm that has existed in the atmosphere for at least the past 800,000 years and possibly the past 20 million years.

Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide (parts per million) and Methane (parts per billion)

What does this all mean? We’re going to be toast, literally. In the next few decades, Australia will be a much hotter place. The CSIRO report says:

Australian average temperatures are projected to rise by 0.6 to 1.5 ºC by 2030. If global greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow at rates consistent with past trends, warming is projected to be in the range of 2.2 to 5.0 ºC by 2070“.

Great. Guess I’ll be able to toast some marshmallows on my searingly hot balcony. And of course there will be a decrease in rainfall, which of course will lead to what I most fear – water scarcity and skirmishes over water. The report includes a blunt statement: “Our observations clearly demonstrate that climate change is real”.

Yeah, well I’m not arguing with pointy-headed scientific dudes who have more knowledge than me about global temperature changes and the causes. The science is strong. Australians should stop putting the the proverbial head in sand, hoping this nasty climate stuff will disappear. It won’t. Think about future generations of children instead of worrying about your McMansion or whether you can afford The Brands.

March 23, 2010 at 2:00 am 6 comments

What crises could hit us in 2010?

Ever wonder what those pointy-headed dudes talk about when they gather together for the World Economic Forum in Davos? At their annual gathering in January, they muttered the phrase “the long shadow of the financial crisis” and discussion focused on global risks in the wake of the GFC.

Their annual report – Global Risks 2010 – explores the risk landscape and points out that because our global economy is now so interconnected, shocks and vulnerabilities are truly global and the risk landscape is very, very crowded.

You can download the report here but I’ll give you a summary:

  • Economic and environmental risks are the areas where there has been a marked increase in the perception of interdependencies.
  • The report identifies fiscal crises, under-investment in infrastructure and chronic diseases as the major risks.
  • Runners up are the economic and social costs of transnational crime and corruption, biodiversity losses and risks to critical systems from cyber-vulnerability.

Probabilities were assigned to each of the risks and the linkages between them were mapped to produce the infographic below:

This is an interactive map and you can view the larger version here. Have a play with it; I’ll wait.

No doubt you saw for yourself the systemic nature of the global risk landscape. Many of these risks I’ve blogged about such as water scarcity and fiscal crises (especially sovereign debt). The size of the bubble on the map shows the likelihood of occurrence; the weight of the link shows the strength of interconnection; the weight of the bubble outline shows severity; and the chart on the left of the map shows you how the risk you’ve clicked on relates to other risks.

I was freaked out when I clicked on Biodiversity Loss – go ahead and do that on the map. You’ll see that 17 related threats emerge and may effect, for example, economic growth, migration of species, food price volatility and also result in depleted stocks in fishery and forestry. Obviously policy and strategy will need to be considered on both the global and local levels because each of these threats will have a cascading effect. If you want to know the full impact of biodiversity loss, you can read a full report here.

March 2, 2010 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

The character of conflict

I found this very interesting report from the UK Ministry of Defence (Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre). It’s called the Future Character of Conflict and examines global trends out to 2029. I’m afraid it’s not very cheery reading and to save you wading through 40 or so pages, here’s the gist of it:

  • future conflict will be increasingly hybrid in character.
  • state failure will be one of the dominant, defining features of future conflict.
  • the access to resources (energy, food or water) will drive states’ security interests; control over these resources and their methods of distribution through the global commons will be a critical feature of conflict in the international system.  It may dictate why we fight, where we fight and thus how we fight (how many times on this blog have I raised the issue of skirmishes over food and water in the future?).
  • al-Qaeda and other extremists are likely to hang around and pose a threat.
  • climate change may create instability, especially in those states that are already vulnerable to other pressures.
  • the world’s population is rising and this will lead to increased demands for resources.
  • smarter adversaries have adapted to counteract the Western preferred way of warfare.
  • the risk of Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) use will endure; indeed increase, over the long term.
  • if the character of the last military era was defined by the West’s ability to conduct precision strikes on enemy platforms and command nodes, the conflicts of the future are likely to be defined more by the centrality of influence eg influencing public perceptions. So the future will be a battle of narratives within a decentralised, networked and free-market of ideas.
  • in future conflict, smart adversaries will present us with hybrid threats (combining conventional, irregular and high-end asymmetric threats) in the same time and space.
  • in some conflicts, we are likely to see concurrent inter-communal violence, terrorism, insurgency, pervasive criminality and widespread disorder.

And here’s a really frightening quote from the report (p19):

The merging of state proxies, extremist ideologies and criminal interests into a toxic cocktail, along with the effects of globalisation, such as more porous borders, will make some non-state actors harder to counteract. They could employ a wide spectrum of military capabilities, albeit some at a limited scale, but they will nevertheless be capable of innovative tactics that exploit inherent UK vulnerabilities“.

Obviously, this report will lead to a huge debate over Britain’s defence forces and it was interesting to read in the report how social networking sites will become an important feature of future conflict (p.18). You can download the report here.

February 23, 2010 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

On the uniqueness of humans

I’ve been watching a whole lot of videos lately and I thought I’d share some of them with you. I came across this great lecture given at Stanford by American primatologist and author, Robert Sapolsky. He talks about what makes humans unique and how other species might find us bizarre (love the example of how a giraffe might find certain human activity disturbing). Sapolsky’s talk begins at the 4.51 mark. Once you get over the hair and Biblical look, it’s a very enjoyable talk. Perhaps I missed it but he doesn’t seem to cover how imagination makes humans unique.

I wish I’d had him in my biology lectures, would have made things a whole lot more fascinating. I plan to get one of his books, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers.

February 16, 2010 at 2:00 am 5 comments

It’s not crap Tony

I said somewhere in a recent post that 2010 will be a battle ground for climate change. Climate change deniers are popping up everywhere harping on about climate change being an hysterical pseudo-religion, dangerous alarmism, indoctrination or bunkum. You can read about 10 top climate change deniers and their arguments here. In Australia, we have Tony Abbott, the leader of the Opposition (Liberal Party), who is probably our most vocal climate change skeptic. His very scientific consideration of whether or not our planet is heating up is: “climate change is crap“.

Don’t know about you but I’d rather our leaders were more measured in their evaluation of the most serious global crisis we currently face. I’d rather they listen to the climate change scientists (who surely have the expertise to assess what’s going on) and if there is a remote possibility that climate change is happening, act collectively with other countries to do what can be done.

But seems the battle is heating up (so to speak) because a recent poll revealed a steep decline in Americans’ belief in global warming. 57% of Americans think there is solid evidence the world is getting warmer, down from 77% in 2006.

The problem is that scientists aren’t great at communications and working with the media. It’s difficult to communicate complex scientific ideas to the general public. The climate change deniers on the other hand are good at propaganda. If you look at the Top 10 deniers, most of them are politicians, journalists, people with degrees in areas other than science, lobbyists or people who have a hand in the back pockets of oil companies. So it’s somewhat easier for the deniers to win the propaganda war.

But there are consistent reports emerging that point to climate change occurring. The most recent I’ve found is from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (gee, they probably have some serious pointy-headed scientists there – I’d rather listen to them than a politician like Tony Abbott who holds extreme views on so many topics). NASA’s analysis shows that in the Southern Hemisphere, 2009 was the warmest year since modern records began in 1880. And overall, 2009 was the second warmest year since record-keeping began and January 2000 to December 2009 was the warmest decade on record. Although the tropical El Niño-La Niña cycle causes year-to-year variability of global temperature, the analysis suggests that global warming is continuing unabated. The figure below highlights how Earth’s surface temperatures have increased since 1880, with the last decade experiencing temperatures at the highest levels ever recorded:

And this figure shows the largest temperature increases are in the Arctic and the Antarctic Peninsula:

The analysis suggests that average global temperatures have increased by about 0.8°C (1.5°F) since 1880. Rising levels of carbon dioxide are not the only factors. Changes in the Sun’s irradiance, oscillations of sea surface temperature in the tropics and changes in aerosol levels can also cause slight increases or decreases in the planet’s temperature. Temperatures tend to decrease when La Niña is around, which is what has been happening recently in Europe with the icy weather. But the El Niño phenomenon takes over and scientists are predicting that 2010 could be the warmest year on record.

Here in Australia since about November, Adelaide, Perth, Melbourne and Sydney have experienced temperatures around 40℃ (104 ºF) if not higher and hot weather conditions have been declared “catastrophic fire alerts”. Maybe I’m getting to be a really old goat but I don’t recall growing up with such extreme weather conditions. We even have 40℃ days followed by a dramatic drop in temperature so the next day might be 26℃ (78.8 ºF).

The analysis also points out that volcanic eruptions have not counteracted global warming during 2009. Volcanoes spew forth sulfate aerosols that reflect incoming solar radiation back into space and this helps to moderate global temperatures.

If you want to read more pointy-headed scientific stuff, check out this interview with a climatologist, discussing surface temperature record. And you should also read the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration global analysis. The NOAA concluded that global land and ocean temperatures for 2009 tied with 2006 as the fifth warmest year on record. NOAA puts the year at 0.56°C above the 20th century average. The NOAA have produced a chart showing global significant weather and climate events for 2009.

You can view a larger visual here. Some highlights are:

  • Alaska had its second warmest July on record.
  • Australia had record-breaking heatwaves (ah yeah, I felt them).
  • China suffered its worst drought in five decades.
  • East Africa: drought led to massive food shortages affecting 23 million people.

So Tony – you might just want to check out some of the serious scientific stuff before you declare climate change to be crap.

February 3, 2010 at 2:00 am 5 comments

Transboundary waters

I’ve alerted you before to a potential future of conflicts over dwindling water resources. Check out my posts here and here if you missed out. And now a new report by the Pacific Institute (prepared for the United Nations) looks at the growing likelihood of cat fights over shared water resources.  You can download the report here but basically it says:

  • global climate change will increase the risk of conflict over shared international freshwater resources
  • existing agreements and international principles for sharing water (there are around 300) will not adequately handle the strain of future pressures
  • freshwater resources are unevenly and irregularly distributed, with some regions of the world extremely short of water, and political borders and boundaries rarely coinciding with borders of watersheds
  • 40% of the world’s population relies on shared water resources that cross political borders
  • regions that will experience the effects of climate change but are governed by weak international agreements are: Mekong River in southeastern Asia, the Colorado River, the Guarani Aquifer in South America and the Nile River in northeastern Africa.

The report calls for either establishing agreements in transboundary water areas or amending existing treaties to incorporate climate change. There is a long history of disputes over water resources. You can see a chronology of water conflict here.

January 20, 2010 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

Water conflicts

Did you read my post about water barons and how multinational companies or private individuals are spotting the opportunities to make a profit from an increasingly dwindling supply of fresh water?  I told you about how we will be slugged with substantially increased water rates, contaminated water supplies or poor service delivery when water scarcity hits us.

Australia of course is the driest continent on the planet and has one of the highest levels of water use per capita – so what happens when an area or region runs out of water? It’s what I’ve been saying – illegal water carriers swoop like vultures to the carcass. The Upper Hunter region in New South Wales has been in the grip of drought. Dams, tanks, bores and streams have been running dry from Cessnock to Murrurundi and thousands of families in this mainly rural area are being forced to buy water for drinking, washing, bathing and stock such as cattle.  Bores in the village of Wingen are dry for the first time in years and I saw a TV show the other night where the publican was being interviewed – he was saying they fear it when people who come to his pub go to the toilet (because it means litres of water being used to flush the toilet and more expense for him).

Water carters are charging between AU $100 and $160 for residential loads. Water loads vary from 9000 litres up to 28,000 litres but the average load seems to be about 12,000 litres. That sounds a lot but remember these people are farmers mainly, so they have stock and soaring temperatures to contend with. Beef farmers are apparently weaning calves four months early due to the lack of water.

And in the midst of this water crisis, you get the opportunists, the water privateers – who are illegally supplying water and causing damage to water mains and hydrants because they are not licensed and not accessing water supplies in the approved manner (which is via a credit card-like key).

I suspect this is our future – a world that will see increasing skirmishes over water and opportunists who will sell us water (a basic human right) at exorbitant costs.

Since the late 1980s, the Pacific Institute has been studying the connections between water resources, water systems and international security and conflict in an effort to track and categorise events related to water and conflict. Their water conflict chronology will freak you out but it’s a reality we must face.  You can view the chronology in a number of different ways, from a timeline to interactive Google Earth water conflict maps. You can filter the timeline to show when conflicts over water occurred by region, conflict type and date range. There’s also a list of conflicts over water starting in 3000 BC with extensive descriptive notes.

Australia is not the only country facing water scarcity. American readers should read this article on water issues challenging the US, including inter-state water battles. If you live in Oklahoma, might be time to consider getting out before corn and soybean yields decrease by 30 to 46% due to the Ogallala Aquifer under the Great Plains of the United States (including important parts of Oklahoma) experiencing a 20% decrease in recharge. And of course when you get crops failing around the world due to water scarcity…you get food scarcity…you get skirmishes and death.

India has already witnessed deaths and injuries over water shortages and Nigeria has recently seen thousands of people protesting over dwindling water supplies. Water covers three-quarters of the planet’s surface but most of this is undrinkable. Less than 3% of the world’s water is fresh and drinkable. Lloyd‘s are already talking of “water bankruptcy” being our future and pointing out that 55% of the world’s population will be dependent on food imports as a result of insufficient domestic water by 2030. That is just 20 years from now.

December 29, 2009 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

How to destroy your credit card

So…Christmas is over for another year. Did you have a great time with family and friends? Did you get what you wanted from Santa? I bet one thing you might have wanted from Santa is a debt-free 2010. As we head towards New Year’s Eve, we start to think of those dreaded New Year’s Resolutions. Some people don’t bother with them because they know any resolution will be long forgotten by the end of January. Others, like me, well…we make a list and stick to it until about March or so. But this year, we can all stick to one resolution – saying goodbye, adieu, hasta la vista to your credit card. Why? Because it’s probably keeping you in debt and if you used it to finance Christmas, you’re about to face the January credit card scare.

There are two Golden Rules to being Frugalicious. The first is never spend more than you earn and the second is don’t have credit card debt. If you pay off your credit card in full every month, then stop reading this post. Otherwise, read on.

First of all, gather up your credit cards. I know this will be hard but I’ll wait. Get them out of your wallet and place them on a table. As this will be ceremonial-like, why not light some candles for atmosphere. Perhaps pop on a CD of your favourite music. Make the farewelling of your credit card an important occasion.

Now, you could do the usual thing and take a sharp pair of scissors to your credit card but let’s get more creative. Here are some ways to destroy your credit card but make sure you’re always careful: wear protective goggles, gloves, clothing and shoes.

Nuke it. Place the credit card in a microwave safe bowl and pop it into the microwave. This is a pretty satisfying method albeit a bit smelly. You might expect it to explode but it will just melt and buckle. Watch this video to see what happens.

Run over it. Wait for a sunny day to go out and mow the grass. Take the credit card from the table, carry it out on a ceremonial tray and place in the centre of your lawn. Start your lawn mower. Say a few words in memory of your credit card, then head in the direction of that shiny piece of plastic sitting innocently on the grass. As you reach it, say “consider this a divorce” and run straight over it, listening to the lawnmower blades making a mess of your credit card. See if you can find some of the pieces and dance around the remains.

Shred it or blend it. Find a shredder that shreds plastic. This is a noisy method but strangely soothing. The shredder will rip apart your credit card into tiny plastic bits in seconds. Or you can pop your credit card into a blender. The more credit cards you have, the better the blender method. Watch this video for instructions.

Blowtorch it. Only use this method if you know how use a blowtorch safely. Place the credit card in a metal vice, say a few prays for the credit card, then light the torch and watch as it melts away before your very eyes. Watch this video on how to blowtorch your plastic (along with other whacky methods).

Washing machine or dryer.  Set your credit card to the test – how many times can it make it through the washing machine or dryer cycles?

Hole punch it. Put as many holes through your credit card as you can and use the bits as confetti. As you’re punching your credit card, remember how many times your bank has punched it to you with rising credit card interest rates.

Credit card funeral. I really like this idea. Robert Crilley (retired North Carolina district court judge) presided over a funeral with a difference. Inside a miniature casket were the torn-up credit cards of 50 or so people. Gather some frugalicious friends who also want to say hasta la vista to their credit card and do the same, complete with music and a North Carolina accent. I really encourage you to watch this video of Crilley. I love it when he says:

“The deceased represents the merging of two very powerful bloodlines: the one whose motto is, ‘You know you deserve it,’ and the other, whose motto is, ‘You can have it now…..Our friend didn’t want worship. He just wanted everything that he gave you back again in one form or another — with 18% interest.”

Go camping with your credit card. Next weekend, go camping with your family. Have some quality family time by lighting a camp fire and tossing your credit card in the camp fire. Joining hands, dance around the camp fire together as the plastic burns. You might find yourself getting into a state of ecstasy.

Here are 27 more fun ways to destroy your credit card but, whatever you do, make sure you securely destroy your plastic. You need to know how to properly slice and dice it so identity theft can’t occur. Watch this video on how to securely destroy your card in 15 slices, this includes running a very strong magnet along the stripe on the back of the card (to scramble the data).

December 26, 2009 at 11:45 pm Leave a comment

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