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Governing scientific and technological innovations is tricky business. This is primarily due to the presence of uncertainty, the risks that society must face if it chooses to intervene using methods that could either have damaging consequences, fail entirely or both. Everyone knows it’s a clique of course, but we really do ‘live in exciting times’ as humanity has at hand an array of advanced technologies at its disposal. But climate change is in a sense antithesis to technological development or at least to how it has proceeded thus far, mostly because the world is locked into using fossil fuels as its primary source of energy. Yet the controversial applications of geoengineering may prove a last resort for reducing the temperature of the planet preventing devastating environmental impacts induced by climate change. Read more
A report from The Climate and Development Knowledge Network looks at how to reduce economic vulnerability to disasters in low and middle-income countries throughout the world. It provides some detailed recommendations for planning for disasters and reducing vulnerability along with conveying a comprehensive understanding of the current and future challenges for reducing economic losses to disasters in less developed countries.
While last year was the costliest on record for disasters this was due to the fact that some of the largest disasters of 2011 actually affected more developed countries the most, such as Japan (See 2011 worst year on record for economic losses due to earthquakes). 2011 revealed that developed countries are also vulnerable, but because their GDP can usually withstand losses from even large-scale disasters by comparison developing countries have more to lose especially in regards to climate change. The macro-effects of disasters are ‘much more pronounced’ in lower-income countries, according to the report. In many cases these losses come down to vulnerability — exposure to hazards and risks. Read more
Anyone who has been through airport security in the US before and after 11 September 2001 knows how it has transformed politically, socially and technologically. Other countries, especially the UK, have fallen suit using similar scanning and surveillance technologies in large international airports such as Heathrow. But the majority of passengers are ‘low risk’ meaning that they are unlikely to commit an act of terrorism either at the airport or when airborne. Yet they are still often times forced to submit to procedures that are built upon the premise that they could be a terrorist or if not a terrorist then a potential threat or disruption to airport security, if not national security. This is problematic for a number of reasons, especially considering the resources invested into securing airports from potentially anyone distracts from the ‘real terrorists’, whoever they may be. In response to this conundrum, the TSA in the US is piloting ‘risk-based’ approaches to enhance airport security. While avoiding the obvious non-culprits such as children, people over 75 and those serving in the armed forces, the TSA plans to depend more on techniques that monitor behaviour and implement ways to ‘pre-check’ passengers such as biometric verification and behaviour monitoring techniques. Read more
Earlier this year the UK government updated its National Risk Register of Civil Emergencies to include large global hazards such as the damaging impact of space weather on tele- and satellite-based communications, power grids, air travel and other forms of technological infrastructure. These forms of hazards include solar flares, coronal mass ejections and solar energetic particle events.
While these extreme events are rare, with the last recorded space weather event affecting the UK occurring in 1859 known as the Carrington Event, space weather has the potential to cause mass disruption and devastation to any electrical system people depend on for survival. Read more
The Environment Agency is leading a new project in England and Wales to engage vulnerable communities who are considered ‘at risk from coastal change’. According to the EA, over five million people in England and Wales are at risk from flooding from rivers and the sea. As sea levels are projected to rise in the future along with an increase in severe storms, it will increase the risk of coastal erosion, flooding and salinisation affecting many communities who live near the coastline. To give some idea of how much sea level rise could affect communities living on coastlines this online interactive tool generates maps of flood risk for countries throughout the world using NASA satellite data: http://globalfloodmap.org/. Read more