Climate Change Adjustments Must Be Fast And Major, U.N. Panel Says


A new report from the United Nations’ panel on climate change says major action is needed, and fast, if policymakers want to limit global warming to acceptable levels.

There’s an international target to control climate change: keeping the global temperature rise to just 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels — that’s 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change now says it’s technically possible to meet that goal. But doing so will require rapid, large-scale shifts in energy production and use.

Greenhouse gas emissions will have to drop 40 to 70 percent by 2050 — and then drop even more, to nearly zero by the end of this century — the report says.

The trouble is, emissions have actually been increasing. The panel notes that emissions grew more quickly between 2000 and 2010 than in each of the previous three decades.

Reversing that trend would require a huge shift toward energy sources like wind, solar or nuclear power, plus a slew of other changes, like increasing the energy efficiency of buildings and slowing deforestation.

“That’s not going to happen on its own. Public policies are going to be required. That’s the key message,” says Harvard University’s Robert Stavins, an economist and expert on climate agreements who worked on the report. “What’s really striking and what’s new about the report is that policy is addressed much more comprehensively than previously.”

Another part of the report addresses so-called “geo-engineering” technologies that could possibly manipulate the atmosphere and artificially cool the planet.


Rahm Emanuel Faces Public Pension Crisis

Posted: 04/07/2014 11:45 pm EDT Updated: 04/07/2014 11:59 pm EDT AP | by SARA BURNETT Huffington Post

CHICAGO (AP) — Rahm Emanuel has been a force in politics — the mastermind behind a Democratic takeover of Congress, dealmaker in two White Houses and now the hard-charging mayor intent on fixing what ails the nation’s third-largest city, no matter whom he ticks off in the process.

But less than a year before asking voters to give him a second four-year term, the man once nicknamed “Rahmbo” for his fierce political maneuvering has now come face to face with a mess that could undermine Chicago’s reputation as an efficient metropolis and derail its ambitions to become a high-tech business mecca: the worst public pension crisis of any major U.S. city.

Emanuel last week announced his first concrete proposal to bail out the city’s drastically underfunded employee retirement systems, a festering problem inherited from his predecessor, Richard M. Daley. The plan, designed to cut Chicago’s nearly $20 billion shortfall in half by reducing worker benefits and raising property taxes, would address only half the problem, but even this first attempt was met with fierce resistance from unions and taxpayer groups — and little enthusiasm from fellow Democrats he needs to get it approved.

Emanuel’s supporters say that after decades of inaction by Chicago and Illinois politicians, the former White House chief of staff is finally dealing with the pain necessary to fix the problem. The mayor says it’s the only answer for keeping the system out of insolvency and avoiding massive cuts in public services and a far larger tax hike.

“I said (during the 2011 mayoral campaign) that Rahm is the only one who has the intestinal fortitude to do what needs to be done,” said Bernie Hansen, a former Chicago alderman for nearly two decades. “He’s ruthless at times, but sometimes you have to be.”


Ebola toll rises in ‘unprecedented’ outbreak

By Matt Smith and Joseph Netto, CNN
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Tue April 1, 2014

(CNN) — An outbreak of Ebola hemorrhagic fever in West Africa has spread to Guinea’s capital and beyond its borders in an “unprecedented epidemic,” a leading aid agency reported Monday.
Ebola virus spreads to Guinea capital Man tested for Ebola after trip to Africa

A total of 122 patients are suspected of contracting Ebola and 78 have died, Doctors Without Borders said. Most victims have been in Guinea, but the World Health Organization reported Sunday that two deaths in Sierra Leone and one in Liberia are suspected to have been caused by the Ebola virus.

Cases have been identified in three provinces in Guinea near the borders and in Conakry, its coastal capital, said Mariano Lugli, the Doctors Without Borders coordinator there.
“We are facing an epidemic of a magnitude never before seen in terms of the distribution of cases in the country,” Lugli said in a statement issued by the organization. Previous outbreaks “were much more geographically contained and involved more remote locations,” he said.

“This geographical spread is worrisome, because it will greatly complicate the tasks of the organizations working to control the epidemic,” Lugli said.
The organization, also known by its French name Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) describes Ebola as “one of the world’s most deadly diseases.” It spreads in the blood and shuts down the immune system, causing high fever, headache and muscle pain.

It is rare but creates panic, because there is no cure and it’s fatal in up to 90% of cases, according to MSF. The variant seen in the Guinea outbreak is the so-called Zaire strain, which Lugli called “the most aggressive and deadly.”


Panel’s Warning on Climate Risk: Worst Is Yet to Come


YOKOHAMA, Japan — Climate change is already having sweeping effects on every continent and throughout the world’s oceans, scientists reported Monday, and they warned that the problem is likely to grow substantially worse unless greenhouse emissions are brought under control.

The report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations group that periodically summarizes climate science, concluded that ice caps are melting, sea ice in the Arctic is collapsing, water supplies are coming under stress, heat waves and heavy rains are intensifying, coral reefs are dying, and fish and many other creatures are migrating toward the poles or in some cases going extinct.

The oceans are rising at a pace that threatens coastal communities and are becoming more acidic as they absorb some of the carbon dioxide given off by cars and power plants, which is killing some creatures or stunting their growth, the report found.

And the worst is yet to come, the scientists said in the second of three reports that are expected to carry considerable weight next year as nations try to agree on a new global climate treaty. In particular, the report emphasized that the world’s food supply is at considerable risk — a threat that could have serious consequences for the poorest nations.

“Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change,” Rajendra K. Pachauri, chairman of the intergovernmental panel, said at a news conference here on Monday.

The report was among the most sobering yet issued by the intergovernmental panel. The group, along with Al Gore, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for its efforts to clarify the risks of climate change. The report released on Monday in Yokohama is the final work of several hundred authors; details from the drafts of this and of the last report in the series, which will be released next month, leaked in the last few months.


Comment: How much does the war on drugs cost you?

Wednesday, 26 March 2014 11:17 AM 4 Jason Reed

Vienna recently played host to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), but the tone of this year’s event was noticeably different to previous sessions.

For many years the dialogue of ‘to legalise or not to legalise’ has been wholly hypothetical and taboo, but this year saw Uruguay nail its colours firmly to the mast by being the first state to fully regulate their cannabis market. This is in breach of the 1961 Single Convention, which is often viewed upon as set in stone, unremitting in its gospel rule over global drug policies.

Uruguay held fast to their rudder and steered their ship through choppy waters; the metaphor seems all the more applicable as it was more than suggested that Uruguay are now pirates in the hostile seas of the UN single convention.

In contrast to the Latin American state’s emboldened position on cannabis, the US was more notable in its silence. Usually one of the more dictatorial participants, the US seemingly handed the baton over to Russia to assert the enforcement tone of the CND. It doesn’t take much to see why the US took more of a backseat when Colorado and Washington, two states that have also fully commercially legalised cannabis, act as very large elephants in the UN’s designated room of conformity.

As delegates attended Vienna, a more domestic issue became ripe for debate, with the emergence of a cannabis café proposal for Thanet in Kent. A tale of a few cities presents itself.

As the smoke clears, what can we learn from the polarised models of cannabis regulation? And what can this imply for the UK’s necessary debate on cannabis reforms?
If we compare the antipodal cannabis models of Uruguay and Colorado, we soon see a picture emerge.


Ed Tech Is Poised to Go Mainstream

By Sari Factor Forbes 2/28/2014 @ 4:21PM

Six hours a day. That’s how much time the average teenager spends online, according to a June 2013 study by McAfee. These are “digital natives,” a generation that has grown up online and connected.

Just think about it: students born in 2007, the year the iPhone was launched, are already in first grade. Students born during the dot-com boom of the late ’90s are in high school. These students have never known a world without the Internet. They’re communicating 140 characters at a time, establishing completely new ways of consuming news and information.

Clearly, dictating to digital natives that they “power down” in school is a huge turn-off. Yet many adults express concern that students won’t be able to learn as effectively in classrooms that are fundamentally different from their own experiences. Educators are increasingly breaking through that resistance to create a learning experience using technology to engage today’s learners and improve outcomes, with benefits that include:

Personalizing the learning experience – Digital natives have grown up surrounded and stimulated by media, and they consume information very differently from the previous generation of students. Netflix NFLX -1.44%, playlists and DVRs have fueled their personalized entertainment, and technology makes personalized learning possible too. Any teacher can tell you how difficult it is to customize instruction for every student. Inevitably, they end up “teaching to the middle,” leaving some learners behind and failing to challenge those who have already mastered a concept. Technology allows teachers to tailor instruction to meet individual student needs, making learning more accessible and enabling all students to maximize their potential.


The Latest in Online Learning

by BIG THINK EDITORS MARCH 28, 2014, 12:00 AM

Anant Agrawal is the president of edX, an online learning platform founded by Harvard and MIT. As Bill Clinton said at the Global Education & Skills Forum, it’s important to never stop learning. That’s why online education is such an exciting new frontier–helping people challenge themselves, tackle fascinating new subjects regardless of where they are in life or in the world.

“edX is a learning destination where we have learners from ages of eight years old to 95 years old on our platform,” says Agrawal. While the courses are diverse and rewarding, Agrawal says that it’s harder to reach high school students due to lack of resources, including video production capabilities.

But there are ways of bringing online learning to students who may not have the resources to access it. “So our thinking there is that edX has a services team,” he says. “We’re also looking for funding from philanthropists and other foundations that might be able to provide the funding for these courses.”

Even if the digital classroom continues to catch on, there are obvious limitations to online learning. “In chemistry, it is hard to capture the smell. But you can certainly look at color and some of the other compositional issues as you titrate different chemicals in various quantities and so on,” says Agrawal.

The limitations aren’t reserved for the sciences. “Now in the humanities side there are other challenges,” he says. “Assessments tend to focus heavily on open responses such as an essay, for example, or a descriptive response.”


Slowing the Patent Trolls


SAN FRANCISCO — ON Monday the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in perhaps the most important intellectual property case in a decade: Alice v. CLS Bank. Narrowly speaking, the case is a patent dispute over computerized escrow accounts. But more broadly, it offers the court an opportunity to resolve two decades of economically harmful confusion over how the law grants patent protection to computer software.

Since the mid-1990s the software patent system has operated by its own rules. Compared with patents for other innovations, those for software are granted using a very broad and lax standard of invention. Ordinarily, the law requires inventors to explain not just the result of an invention, but also how the invention actually works. If you invent a car that drives on water, you have to explain exactly how you get it to stay afloat. Not so for software: the mere idea of a floating car is enough.

The consequences of this lax standard have been disastrous. Because software patents can cover vast areas of territory, they are the weapon of choice for “patent trolls”: people or companies that hold patents but make no products, and bring patent-infringement lawsuits against companies that do make products, offering to settle for less than the cost of fighting the suit. Patent trolling is an extraordinarily lucrative but singularly destructive practice. A majority of patent lawsuits are now filed by parties using this strategy.

How did the law arrive at such a misguided approach to software patents? In short, through a simple misunderstanding about the nature of computer code.

The Supreme Court first addressed the patentability of code in the 1970s, but the cases involved software that was integrated into hardware, like a computerized device for curing rubber. The court treated such patents by focusing on the industrial applications of the machines in which the code was embedded — not on the code itself.


The Moral Power of Free Universal Higher Education

The Moral Power of Free Universal Higher Education

coming the subject of a fight for justice (some of which have yet to be won).

I believe the moment will come, perhaps very soon, when we as a society will ask ourselves: How can we deny a higher education to any young person in this country just because she or he can’t afford it?

The numbers show that barriers to higher education are an economic burden for both students and society. They also show that the solution — free higher education for all those who would benefit from it — is a practical goal.

But, in the end, the fundamental argument isn’t economic. It’s moral.

The College Cost Crisis

Consider the situation in which we now find ourselves:

Social mobility in the United States is at or near its lowest point in modern history. A nation that prides itself on the “only in America” myth has fallen far behind other countries in this, the primary measurement of an equal-opportunity society.


A Quick Way to Cut College Costs


COLLEGE admission notifications have begun to arrive. With every thrilling acceptance comes something far less welcome: the heart-stopping reality of what it all costs.

Tuition has risen almost 1,200 percent in the last 35 years, and the sticker price for many four-year private colleges and out-of-state public universities exceeds $250,000. Even at state universities, the average four-year cost for residents is more than $80,000 for tuition, room, board and expenses. But every college offers need-based financial aid, right? Well, sort of.

A college aid package can be made up of three elements: grants (sometimes called scholarships), loans and work-study programs. The biggest single source of aid is the federal government — but in the form of loans ($68 billion, 37 percent of all aid, in 2013). About 5 percent of aid comes from states and a large part from the college’s own resources. Much of the college’s contribution comes in the form of a discount from the school’s already inflated tuition, which, with a straight face, administrators call a grant.

When colleges compute their aid packages, they start with a student’s expected family contribution — that is, what the government expects a family to be able to contribute, not what the family expects. The E.F.C. is calculated by the federal government based on data submitted by the family on the Fafsa form (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which is mandatory if the student wants any sort of financial aid, even work-study jobs in the school cafeteria). The Fafsa’s complexity rivals that of a tax return, but it is less user friendly.

Weeks after submitting their Fafsa to the federal Department of Education, families are told what their expected contribution is. The formula itself is set by Congress. For most middle-class families, the number is shocking because it has little basis in real-life economics.