Signals: Rising China... Unfit Children... Sesame Futures... and more

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Volume 1,
Number 17
July 7, 2015

The Challenges of a Rising China

China is rising as a global economic power, but “it’s also a developing country with a postcolonial chip on its shoulder,” Thomas J. Christensen, director of the China and the World Program at Princeton University, said at a June 25 Brookings Institution forum for his new book, The China Challenge: Shaping the Choices of a Rising Power.

Noting that China’s military has grown faster than its economy, Christensen said security has become a major challenge that the U.S. diplomatic corps is not particularly well prepared to deal with. China’s military power is not yet a match for the United States, but it is potentially capable of creating disruptions for many U.S. allies and strategic partners in China’s neighborhood.

Global problems cannot be solved without China’s participation, said Christensen, who was deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs from 2006 to 2008. As a developing country (with approximately the same per capita GDP as Ecuador), China has no social safety net of its own and is neither prepared nor motivated to assist places like Greece.

Since the global financial crisis of 2008, “China is stronger overseas and weaker, less secure, at home,” Christensen said. “That changes how they behave.” Influencing China’s choices and actions on global issues, such as climate change or North Korea’s nuclear proliferation, will require a better understanding of its mind-set.

“Accept the Chinese’ strong nationalism, and praise China’s efforts in order to encourage its cooperation,” Christensen said. He recommended that the United States invite China to solve problems like North Korea; if they don’t step up, then turn to others. “That gets their attention and shows them it’s in their interest.”

Audio and transcript: Brookings Institution Events

Reference: The China Challenge: Shaping the Choices of a Rising Power by Thomas J. Christensen, W.W. Norton, 2015, $27.95.

Signals: Asia, China, diplomacy, global problems

Children’s Fitness Levels Are Falling Fast

The least-fit kid 15 years ago could be among the fittest kids today, according to University of Essex researcher Gavin Sandercock. While obesity rates are down, as measured by body mass index (BMI), children ages 10–11 today are slower, weaker, and have less stamina than their counterparts in 1998.

Less than 5 percent of the 300 schoolchildren participating in the study were rated as obese, which suggested that today’s slimmer cohorts could perform better on fitness tests. This was not the case, Sandercock reports.

“Simply put, if you weigh less it is easier to run and turn so you should do better on our test,” Sandercock stated in a press release. “But despite finding a lower average BMI in the children measured in 2014 than in 2008 we found the children still couldn’t run as fast, showing they had even lower cardiorespiratory fitness.”

Like obesity, this lack of physical fitness is a symptom of inactivity, according to Sandercock. He recommends new measures that go beyond BMI indicators to assess children’s “physical literacy,” including such fundamental movement skills such as running, hopping, throwing, catching, and jumping.

Source: University of Essex

Signals: children, health, obesity

Earthquake Prediction in Developing Countries

Geological evidence from the past could provide an affordable method of predicting earthquakes in developing countries without access to extensive seismic monitoring.

Researchers at Australia’s James Cook University found evidence of land deformation and fluidization (quicksand-like displacement) in the ground at the site of a large Tanzanian earthquake 25,000 years ago. The amount of upward displacement was unprecedented in a continental setting, according to lead researcher Hannah Hilbert-Wolf.

“This could be a major concern for the growing urban population of East Africa, which has similar tectonic settings and surface conditions,” she said in a press statement.

Insights from the rock record on the timing and frequency of past geological events could enable researchers to predict how the ground will behave in future seismic events.

“We can now use this to evaluate how the ground would deform in a modern earthquake,” according to supervising researcher Eric Roberts. “This is important because the approach is inexpensive and can be used to model how structures might be affected by future events, providing a valuable tool in hazard assessment.”

As human populations grow, such powerful shakeups as the 1910 African earthquake will affect far more lives. Tanzania’s population in 1910 was 7.5 million, but by 2050 it is predicted to reach 130 million people living primarily in urban settings more susceptible to damage.

Source: James Cook University

Reference: “Giant Seismites and Megablock Uplift in the East African Rift: Evidence for Late Pleistocene Large Magnitude Earthquakes” by Hannah Louise Hilbert-Wolf and Eric M. Roberts, PLOS ONE (June 4, 2015), DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0129051

Signals: Africa, earthquakes, geology, hazard assessment

Special Announcement

WorldFuture 2015, the annual conference of the World Future Society, will be held at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square on July 24-26, with an array of preconference Master Classes available July 23 and 24 and a postconference “Professional’s Toolkit” on July 25.

The conference theme this year is “Making the Future,” with tracks on Technology and Innovation, the Business of Foresight, Global Issues, Practicum, and Millennial/Youth Activities.

Among the speakers scheduled are Karl Albrecht, Joel Barker, David Bengston, Clem Bezold, Peter Bishop, Tsvi Bisk, Maree Conway, Jose Cordeiro, Cornelia Daheim, Jim Dator, Mike Dockry, Thomas Frey, Jerome C. Glenn, Ted Gordon, Linda Groff, Andrew Hines, James Lee, Thomas Lombardo, Michael Marien, Wendy McGuinness, Concepción Olavarrieta, Joe Pelton, Yvette Montero Salvatico, Wendy Schultz, Art Shostak, Rick Smyre, David Pearce Snyder, Paul Tinari, Mariana Todorova, Carrie Vanston, Richard Yonck, and Michael Zey.

WorldFuture 2015 is an opportunity to meet old friends and build new partnerships as you make tomorrow’s world today.

Details: World Future 2015

Sesame: The Seed of the Future?

From tahini and falafel in the Middle East to hamburger buns and bagels in New York, sesame seeds are popular around the world. The seeds are rich in protein, minerals, and healthy oils, but the crop is difficult to harvest. Yields are low, with a high percentage of seeds unsuitable for consumption.

To boost their agricultural viability, researcher Zvi Peleg of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem screened more than 100,000 sesame seed variants. He developed a new cultivar that promises higher yields and better suitability for sustainable agriculture when used in rotation with other cereal crops.

Global sesame production is 4.4 million tons a year, but the new seed could contribute to a projected 5 to 10 percent growth value annually, Peleg suggests.

“The increase in global demand for sesame products as a health food has turned this highly domestic consumption item into an important export commodity for Israel,” Peleg said in a press statement.

Source: Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Signals: agriculture, food, innovation, sustainable farming