News Commentary
12/10/2002

  Coda:
    Well, shiver my timbers! Today, addressing the Nobel Prize Awards audience, Jimmy Carter, although not naming names, again assailed the Bush administration's plans for war on Iraq. How can that be, after endorsing Bush' current policies the night before? Mr. Carter's remarks were about war in  general, and didn't mention Mr. Bush or the situation in Iraq. Also, I suspect Mr. Carter's address had been written and rehearsed, and couldn't be rewritten the night before the Nobel Price ceremonies.

Climate Change News
12/11/2002: Administration officials set a strategy Tuesday for researching climate change and its causes studies that critics say just delay decisions on global warming until after President Bush leaves office. - MSNBC
12/11/2002: Government plans 5-year global warming study, critics say it's unneeded... - FirstScience
12/11/2002: Administration Suggests Faster Pace on Emission Worries
  - NY Times
    This article describes U. S. moves toward a faster pace in emission control.
    Sen. John Kerry, in pursuit of a presidential bid for 2004, said of the meeting, "No one will mistake another administration dog-and-pony show for real leadership." 
    In the meantime, emissions are already dipping sharply in Britain. "Almost all other industrialized countries are supporting a treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, that would require them to reduce gas emissions below 1990 levels by 2012. The treaty awaits ratification by Russia to take legal effect. Russian leaders have pledged to do so next year."   
    With respect to the costs of reducing CO2 emissions, it should be noted that there is money to be made selling renewable energy equipment and environmental protection technology. The money that U. S. companies pay to reduce CO2 emissions will presumably be paid to U. S. companies, in addition to equipment that can be sold abroad.
    In the meantime, the news continues to alarm: 
Bolivian glaciers shrinking fast  - ABC  Record melt in Arctic and Greenland  - Nature   Arctic Ice Is Melting at Record Level, Scientists Say  - NY Times    A Global Warming Catch-22?   Arctic to lose all summer ice by 2100 - New Scientist   Climate Change Will Affect Carbon Sequestration in Oceans - Science Quest

Renewable Energy
    Europe is moving rapidly toward meeting the bulk of its energy needs using renewable sources. Wind Turbines Are Sprouting Off Europe's Shores  - NY Times
Belgium set to ditch nuclear energy  - BBC,  Belgium votes to close nuclear plants by 2025 - SpaceDaily . Norway is experimenting with tidal energy, as is Scotland. 
    The world is going to be buying renewable energy equipment from renewable-energy technology leaders. When we finally wake up and feel the heat, we're going to buy our renewable energy equipment from Europe. 
    Congratulations, guys! Many times have you been told:  protectionism stifles competition and the proper functioning of capitalism, and leads in the long term to competitive decline.
    What I cannot understand is the lack of any leadership in, or discussion of energy conservation. It doesn't require belt-tightening... just the reduction of waste. This is important not only in terms of the energy savings themselves, but also because of the message it sends to the rest of the world. Christmas lights are a case in point. Christmas lights used to be something one displayed on Christmas Eve through Christmas Day, and then later, during the week before, and the week after Christmas . Now it's gotten so that everyone mounts lavish displays beginning a month or more before Christmas. We don't turn on our outside lights until the week before Christmas, and then we run them from 5 pm to 10 pm. We could easily be persuaded to operate them only when we're having company and upon Christmas itself. But there isn't a whisper suggesting that anyone burn less fossil fuel. If we were already deriving our energy from renewable sources, it would be no problem, but that's decades away. In the meantime, even modest leadership in energy conservation would both reduce our fuel bills, and send a responsible message abroad.
    We haven't had energy conservation leadership since Jimmy Carter left office in 1980, after showing what Presidential leadership could do to encourage a responsible energy policy.

Global Competition
    It's interesting to contemplate what's happening in Merrye Olde Englande, or more accurately, in the British Isles. Britain is pushing broadband as a national goal. Tony Blair recently pledged 1 bn to wire up the countryside with broadband. One enterprising woman in Cumbria and the Yorkshire Dales is setting up an Internet II kind of 40 megabaud network for its rural subscribers. Britain is also mounting a national push to render science and technology more interesting and appetizing to its children (Science centres to raise teachers' game), and to lure back home British scientists who have emigrated to the United States. Given the current feelings about the Bush administration... (The European Union is also trying to entice its scientists and engineers back home - Top Europe Scientists Want Funds to End Brain Drain.) In the meantime, it's making an end run with stem cell research, while the U. S. shrinks from new science and technology, and endorses the teaching of "intelligent design" (creationism) in some of its schools. The U. S., which once led the world in science and technology, is now marching resolutely to the rear. Michael Crichton's latest novel, "Prey", exploits these fears. (Michael Crichton explains in his Harper's interview that his books more or less use him to write themselves, rather than appearing as the result of a deliberate indoctrination effort on his part.)
    My personal bias is that I think it will be a while before nanotechnology can develop intelligence and volition. For example, optical vision is possible on insectile scales... e. g., fruit flies... but not on micro- or nano- scales. The wavelengths of visible light, and even ultraviolet light, are too large. Nanotechnology in warfare might become dangerous all too soon, but the idea of nanobots developing intelligence spontaneously seems to me to be farther away than artificial intelligence taking over the world. And your parents/grandparents shivered and shook over that artificial intelligence prospect fifty years ago.
    Of course, there will always be global competition, and I guess that's nothing but good. I think that the U. S. might want to be aware of the overseas push toward science and technology. While we pre-occupy ourselves with the war on terrorism...