Signals: The Consequences of Adaptation... and more

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Volume 1,
Number 11
April 1, 2015

Adaptation and Its Consequences

The efforts that societies put into adapting to climate change may in themselves put even more pressure on the environment, warns a study led by Carlo Fezzi of the University of East Anglia’s School of Environmental Sciences.

The researchers used computer models based on data since the 1970s to predict how climate change would alter agricultural practices in Britain, and how those changes would in turn affect river water quality. They found that, though moderate increases in temperature could boost agricultural productivity and allow for more livestock in the eastern uplands and midlands, the increased intensity in farming and herding would generate more runoff of nitrates and phosphates in rivers and streams.

Similarly, other industries that are forced to adapt to climate change, such as energy, forestry, fisheries, and even health services, will also have to beware of the “knock on” effects of adaptation, the researchers warn.

“We need to take into account not only the direct impact of climate change, but also how people will respond to such change—the impact of adaptation,” Fezzi said in a press statement. “Climate change is a long-term process and science allows us to anticipate its impact on both the environment and society. This should encourage the development of forward-looking policies.”

Source: University of East Anglia. Reference: Carlo Fezzi et al., “The environmental impact of climate change adaptation on land use and water quality,” Nature Climate Change (March 2015), pp. 255-260. DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2525. Image: Graeme Law, via Flickr (Creative Commons license).

Signals: adaptation, agriculture, climate change

From Natural Gas to Biogas

Pilgrim’s, a chicken-processing plant in Mexico, has been able to purify fats, waste, and other residues to produce a biogas capable of replacing natural gas as its energy source. And Xaquixe, a pottery and glass-art maker, has generated biogas from pig and cow manure, providing energy for its operations.

The two companies were participants in pilot projects to demonstrate techniques developed by Mexico’s Center for Research and Technological Development in Electrochemistry (CIDETEQ), in partnership with specialists from the University of Brandenburg in Germany.

The biogas generated is a mixture of methane, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and water vapor, as well as potentially harmful compounds like hydrogen sulfide. As such, the biogas must be properly assessed and treated before it can be used.

Distillers of mescal, a liquor similar to tequila, may also benefit from the process, using biogas to replace firewood.

Details (in Spanish): Investigación y Desarrollo.

Signals: bioprocessing, energy, recycling

Contingency Exercises Urged for Power Companies

A hacking attack on a power distribution company isn’t just the IT department’s problem, and in a crisis, everyone needs to be prepared, warn Maria Line and Nils Brede Moe of the research consortium SINTEF.

In Norway, the power industry has been too “laid back,” despite experiencing the country’s first attack in the summer of 2014. Line and Moe observed contingency exercises with three power-distribution companies and found them largely unprepared for a variety of scenarios.

“One of the companies we talked to had an agreement simply to call and rely on its supplier if a crisis occurred,” Line said in a press statement. “And even then, the supplier didn't take part in the exercise.”

Based on their observations, Line and Moe recommend that as many employees as possible participate in contingency exercises, especially including upper management who would be the key decision makers if the call must be made to shut down a plant.

Frequent scenario exercises are also important, but the same exercises should not be repeated; rather, new contingencies must continually be imagined and prepared for, the researchers conclude.

Source: SINTEF via AlphaGalileo

Signals: emergency management, hackers, IT, power distribution, scenario planning, utilities

Nanotech and Cancer: Report from Timothy C. Mack

One of the most encouraging trends in medicine in recent years is the growth of systemic approaches to problem solving, such as in improving chemotherapy delivery in cancer treatment.

Historically, the challenge has been to target drugs accurately at cancer cells; the powerful drugs may often cause damage to surrounding healthy tissue. The body may also treat these medical interventions as intruders, attacking and disabling them through human immune mechanisms.

Recently, researchers have used nanotech to create protective vehicles and delivery mechanisms that now appear to overcome these obstacles. After delivering drugs to their targets, these vehicles dissolve in the high-acid cores of cancer tumors. As is often the case in new and converging technological developments, developments such as this are likely to further accelerate advances in related technology solutions. Read more.

Timothy C. Mack is managing principal of AAI Foresight Inc. This report is excerpted from the Foresight Signals blog. Image: Rhoda Baer, National Cancer Institute.

Signals: cancer, medicine, nanotechnology

News for the Foresight Community

• Honors: Young Futurists of 2015. Influential media company The Root has named 25 young African Americans to its 2015 Young Futurists list honoring social activism and academic and entrepreneurial achievements of students ages 16 to 22. Among this year’s honorees is Allyson Carpenter, 18, of Howard University, who became the youngest elected official in Washington, D.C. The Root covers news, opinion, and culture from an African American perspective.

• Book: The Naked Future. Technology journalist Patrick Tucker’s 2014 book The Naked Future: What Happens in a World That Anticipates Your Every Move? is now out in paperback! (Current, 2015, $16.) The cloth edition released last year was named Amazon’s book of the month for March: “Tucker has penned a big data book that can be understood by both technophiles and luddites alike,” wrote Amazon reviewer Kevin Nguyen. And Ray Kurzweil, author of How to Create a Mind, called it “Thought-provoking, eye-opening, and highly entertaining.” Patrick Tucker is the technology reporter/editor with Defense One; follow him on Twitter, @DefTechPat.

• Petition: Open Letter on AI. The Boston-based Future of Life Institute has posted an open letter on research priorities for artificial intelligence, aiming to ensure “that increasingly capable AI systems are robust and beneficial.” Among the dozens of signatories to the letter are theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, SpaceX and Tesla Motors founder Elon Musk, Google research director Peter Norvig, philosophy professor Nick Bostrom, io9 contributing editor George Dvorsky, and science-fiction author David Brin. Details: Future of Life. Download PDF: Research Priorities for Robust and Beneficial Artificial Intelligence.

• Signal of the Month: DEAL. The jobs outlook in the United States faces a new DEAL: the combined forces of Demographics, Education, Automation, and Longevity (The Gordon Report, March 2015). Baby boomers will be living longer, and they’ll need to be replaced in the workforce. If they wish to continue working, they’ll need appropriate training, as automation takes over many low-skill and middle-skill jobs. Signal courtesy of Edward E. Gordon, president of Imperial Consulting Corporation.