Bioplastics

Some of us feel quite good about ourselves because we recycle our plastics at home.  We believe we are doing our little bit to save the environment.  But, as it turns out, very little of the plastics that we recycle are being reused in a useful way.  As the article below points out, there are many challenges to achieving real meaningful recycling.  Perhaps the solution is to use less plastics, or plastics in a more sustainable way.  (The author of this article linked to below (click on the image) talks about “bioplastics”, which is something they are working on in their University.)  Whichever way you look at it, there are additional costs involved in getting things on the right path.  The article below is a good read in the sense that it also gives you a good sense of the bigger picture, and of the damage we are doing to ourselves over the longer run.

(Courtesy – The Conversation)

Here is a video from the article.

A Half-baked Theory About Everything And Nothing

I actually wrote this a long long time ago, before the days of blogs, but I did not share it with anybody for reasons that should become obvious to you.  I send it out today without trying too much to revisit the thinking that produced this.  Why not?!

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And I reserve the right to change my theory when I get smarter…..

I have not studied philosophy, and for that reason it is probably not a good thing to write about things philosophical. But I also do not see why somebody cannot develop a philosophy that is based on their experience.  It need not even be original, and perhaps someone will feel the urge to point that out to me.  So here it is – the half-baked theory about everything and nothing, the theory about life and death, the theory about order and chaos, about purpose and randomness, about sorrow and joy, love and hate (and I am actually getting carried away at this point!).  My theory may prove to be untrue, in fact there may be no way to prove it, but it can at least help me to make sense of the world in my mind, and hopefully give me some comfort in my thoughts.  Once you think you understand how things work, you may be able to stop your worrying.  Perhaps one will be able to even handle adversity better when it hits, at least that is the hope.

So everything is really all about nothing.  Everything just is. Past and future really do not mean anything, especially if you look far enough in either direction.  Your sphere of influence is very temporary.  These things that we call emotions, as opposed to things like hunger and pain, are only real in our minds.  Knowledge and so-called progress is something that we need to keep us going as a species, but in the grand picture these terms do not mean anything.  I am not trying to paint a bleak picture of the world.  I am not saying that we should not pursue knowledge and progress.  I am not saying that we should try to avoid emotions.  What I am saying is that we should realize that these things only make sense in the somewhat “artificial” circumstances of what exists right now.  In fact, we would not survive the moment or the day if we did not have these “things”, and we need to understand that and make use of these “things” appropriately.  I also know that I have mentioned thus far represents just a fraction of what defines humanity, but I also believe that the theory can cover anything can you can throw at it.

So why do we have all of this baggage that human beings carry around with them?  Essentially it is because our capability to think and join the dots has evolved to the point that we would have a hard time surviving without the baggage.  We have basically evolved from the point where we lived like the rest of the animals, to the point where we can think and put two and two together.  We have learnt how to use the capabilities of our brain in an efficient manner.  We have learnt to extrapolate from our observations.  I am not sure that we have really become smarter, but we have also learnt to somehow find ways to remember what we have learnt in the past and pass that knowledge down.  We are using what we already know to extend our understanding of the things around us.  As we extend this knowledge we also learn to make more and more use of the resources around us to further the new goals that we set out for ourselves.  Why do we as human beings feel a need to set such goals?  Is it primarily because that is the way the human beings are being taught to think from the day they are born?  A child does not know any of these concepts at birth.  We use the terms knowledge and progress.  It started with fire, the wheel, and the simple tools of prehistoric man.  We are carrying the same concept into our brave new worlds.  I wonder what would happen to a child who was brought up differently.

The ecosystem that we have created on this earth is clearly unstable.  The only reason we have created such ecosystem is so that we can support our expanding humankind, extend our lives and support our concept of progress.  But by doing what we do, we further extend our reach.  It is a system of positive feedback, and we know that such a system is destined to blow up at some time.  So the forces that work against this, both natural and man-made, are in a sense equalizing forces – but we are getting better and better at handling these countering forces also.  If we stop for a second to think about it, all of this makes no sense.  But we really do not need to stop and think about it right now, because we believe that such problems are for the future generations, and that they will find a way to address them.  Perhaps this is true, but the processes we use for addressing the daily problems today can also amplify the problems of the future.  In the worst case, humankind has taken over the entire Universe and there is no further place to go – that is unless we believe that the Universe is unending.  But most likely, it will never get that far, because, the more we assert ourselves as a species, the more we will face newer and newer problems that are more and more difficult to tackle, and at some point, the process of positive feedback may not even be able to sustain itself. We could even get hit by that one-in-a-million type of phenomena that can destroy everything around us in a single instant.  And who can forget that while we are making progress, we are also creating more and more efficient ways to destroy ourselves.  Any way you look at it, our days are limited in more ways than one.   Under the circumstances, it makes very little sense to speculate on the things beyond us, and to try to read more into the things around us than what we can actually rationally grasp and understand easily.  To us it all seems to happen for a reason that can be explained logically.  That makes us us comfortable.

So why do we have this need for progress, something it seems that other species do not seem to have on this earth?  It does not necessarily seem to be a good thing.  Is it because we are special when compared to other living things?  Why is there a belief that when we die something special happens, whereas this may not necessarily be true for other species?  Well, perhaps it does, but that should not matter in the current reality.  Human beings will surely disappear in their current form in the future.  So what does it matter in the big picture?  We think too much of ourselves.  I think all of this thinking is a result of us being able to connect the dots, and then expanding our ability beyond where it needs to go.

So, what are we to do as individuals?  Should we throw away everything around us and change our life?  That does not make sense.  The only reality that we have is what we experience right now.  It does not make sense to throw everything away and to go off and live off the land (even if there is actually an argument to be made that one may really be happier in life doing just that).  But we can at least think of the results of our actions right now.  Are we going to continue to support this system of positive feedback?

One of the elements in this ability of ours to expand our domains happens to be our ability to work with each other towards new purposes that we define.  Without this, we would be goners.  Can we use this capability to our advantage?

Do we really need to try to help other people?  Is there a universal concept of morality?  Why should I not just look out for myself?  Placed in the context of the now and here, the answers to these questions are not likely to be encouraging, because we might feel that it really does not matter.  But it does matter when you think about your place in the universe of all human beings.  The structures that we have created so that we can expand our domain only survive because there are at least a few people who think that the answers for the above questions are important.  The fact of the matter is that we would not have our societies if we did not have such people.  So what do we say about the others who do not necessarily do what we call “good”.  There is no absolute basis to condemn them.  Everything just is!  I think that this is the reason we try to find other ways to motivate people.  The only real reason to motivate people seems to be so that we can continue our “progress”.
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And I do not think I have become any smarter since I first wrote this…..

Cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

A socially active friend of mine had told me about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch a while back.  He is the type of person who is likely to latch on to out-of-the-mainstream causes, some of which require a lot of work to verify.  I only followed the story in the background of my mind for several years, not certain if there was any exaggeration in the statement of the problem.  The subject seems to have moved into the mainstream in more recent times.

We human beings do not realize the extent of the damage that we are doing to the planet just because we do not see a lot of it with our own eyes. We will also willingly deny the role that we play in the process of its destruction.

What is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?  From Wikipedia:
“The patch is characterized by exceptionally high relative pelagic concentrations of plastic, chemical sludge, and other debris that have been trapped by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre.  Its low density (4 particles per cubic meter) prevents detection by satellite imagery, or even by casual boaters or divers in the area. It consists primarily of an increase in suspended, often microscopic, particles in the upper water column.”

How big is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?  From Wikipedia:
“The findings from the two expeditions, show that the patch is 1.6 million square kilometers and has a concentration of 10-100 kg per square kilometers. They estimate there to be 80.000 metric tonnes in the patch, with 1.8 trillion plastic pieces, out of which 92% of the mass is to be found in objects larger than 0.5 centimeters.”

The reason for my posting of this blog was a mainstream news item that I saw on CNN regarding attempts to try to address the issue.  The project is called The Ocean Cleanup.  They think they are capable of cleaning up 50% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in five years.  Part of the solution is trying to figure how the best way to recycle the garbage that is captured. Hope it all works, and that we can clean up the mess that we have all made!

 

The Downgrading of Nature in a Dictionary

I was stunned when I first read about this. A note about what had happened was in a book that I have just finished about America’s National Parks.  I found confirmation of the facts on the Snopes website.

via Dictionary Drama

I felt a little better after getting a better context for the bigger picture.  Nevertheless,  I feel a little sad about this, and I would also argue that what is going on may not necessarily be a good thing. There are other more important people who also seem to feel the same way.

How the humble S-bend made modern toilets possible – BBC News

via How the humble S-bend made modern toilets possible – BBC News

“”Gentility of speech is at an end,” thundered an editorial in London’s City Press, in 1858. “It stinks!””

“More than 170 years later, about two-thirds of the world’s people have access to what’s called “improved sanitation”, according to the World Health Organization, up from about a quarter in 1980.”

“Across various African countries, for example, it reckons inadequate sanitation lops one or two percentage points off gross domestic product (GDP), in India and Bangladesh over 6%, and in Cambodia 7%”

What the Disasters Say About Us

The Equifax disaster was somewhat inevitable considering the current state of software systems and network security around the world.  I have noted in the past that the moment one became a part of the Internet, you have basically given up your privacy.  You may ask then, what more is left to be said about what happened at Equifax, when the extremely private information of over 143 million people, more than forty percent of the population of the United States, was compromised by a single entity, all in one shot.

What astounds me is the response of the people, and of the folks who run our country, to what is going on.  Indeed, it is the lack of response that is amazing.  While there are a minority of people who seem to appreciate the seriousness of the matter, beyond the context how this one-time incident effects people, most others go about their lives simply hoping that the current problem does not affect them, when indeed this incident is only the tip of the iceberg and a symptom of greater disasters that can happen with the way our systems are structured and the way we live our lives.  In this particular case, also consider the additional cluelessness of the company involved.   They appear to have had no sense of the seriousness of the situation and value of the information that they were handling, and once disaster struck, they had no idea how to to handle the situation.  Indeed, as of today, they still have not demonstrated that they know what they are doing.

Perhaps I should not be surprised with what is happening.  The same kind of attitude seems to hold in the case of physical disasters.  Weather events like hurricanes seem to be getting more powerful over the years, yet we choose to ignore the science behind the phenomenon and refuse to acknowledge why this may be happening.  Indeed, we will even reduce the resources available to further understand and address the problem and very few will even care or protest.   It does not matter if the origins of our problems are physical or virtual, the same kind of attitudes and philosophies hold.

We think we are an advanced society because of our access to all kinds of technologies.  But that does not mean that we really know what we are doing.