🔮 After postmodernity; space regulation; DeSci, exoplanets++ #387
Azeem is away on a trip (you can follow along on his Instagram), so we have prepared a slightly different Sunday edition for you: we selected three essays that historicise the modern era and its technologies; the sense of imminence we often ingrain in our Near Future curation is replaced by a multi-decade kaleidoscopic viewing of our past and the future.
That’s not all: we invited EV member Jocelynn Pearl to break down the state of decentralised science, and EV member Marshall Kirkpatrick has curated the Dept of our climate future. Morsels are there, as usual, so grab a cup of coffee and enjoy today’s edition!
Dept of kaleidoscope
⚛️ “The atom, far more than just a symbol of nuclear power, came to stand in for all of science, and for the future itself,” writes Dr. Becky Alexis Martin in an essay about post-WW2 efforts to rally the US public behind nuclear technology development:
Atoms for Peace initiatives served to naturalize the atom by making it useful and exciting. For example, atomic gardening exposed plants and seeds to ionizing radiation to generate beautiful mutants. Present-day products of the atomic gardening era include the “Star” sweet ruby grapefruit and the “Faraday” tulip. With so much power at hand, anything might be accomplished.
🐍 A critical look at the experience of our collective reality in post-postmodernity: “Today arguments and disputes are not contested throughout political rhetoric, dialectics, or scientific method, but simply an enactment or performance of individual belief. A “mantriatic realism”, echo chamber, or repetition of one’s perception, as to validate individual ideology or reality, as subjectivity is held as the most precious and confused with the freedom of individualization.” See also, a new report shows how collective action such as protests can influence public opinion (h/t EV member Stephen Meyer).
☄️ Increasingly “congested, contested, and competitive”, space is of growing concern. Cold War Era treaties provide little guidance for how to regulate it to prevent disasters and conflicts that could stifle space-faring and non-spacefaring economies alike:
[T]here are many unresolved issues related to military operations, activities, and rules of engagement for space. For example, there are no agreed-upon rules regarding how close satellites may get to each other (i.e., rendezvous and proximity operations). There are also no rules regarding how countries are may safely deploy dual-use technologies. Given that a satellite arm can be used for both anodyne repair operations and the destruction of an adversary’s satellite, determining how, when, and where an arm may be used is crucial to ensuring that it is not perceived to be a threat.
See also EV#384 when we wrote about the meta-study that shows that most international treaties fail to meet their objectives — and provides a clue for which treaties actually work.
Sunday commentary: Blockchain & DeSci
We invited EV member Jocelynn Pearl to share her exponential view on the future of decentralised science. Jocelynn is a biotech scientist, podcaster, company builder, and a leading practitioner in DeSci. Below’s an excerpt from Jocelynn’s essay, and you’ll receive the full piece separately:
The internet has been enjoying debate over the use cases of Web3 (examples here and here). So what are the existing use cases of blockchain for science? Many ideas have been proposed, but let’s focus on two examples: improving peer review in scientific publishing, and expanding drug development.
The traditional scientific publishing industry is fraught with misaligned incentives that drive profits for companies like Elsevier. But what if there was a way to utilize tokenization to create a better system through which scientific research (or any research) is shared? (Example writing on this topic here). The current way that papers receive peer review is that a given journal requests other domain experts to review; these busy scientists are expected to spend hours reviewing the paper for free and submitting to the editor whether the work is fit to publish. Editors are now signaling that this approach is in trouble, with one editor stating that of 21 reviewers requested, 20 rejected the request. On top of that, the process, once underway, is highly inconsistent and often results in errors of judgment. A former editor of the Lancet joked that the journal “had a system of throwing a pile of papers down the stairs and publishing those that reached the bottom.” But what if reviewers were paid for their time? Or if there was a better way of identifying the right experts? That is the motivation behind projects like Ants Review, which aims to incentivize the peer review process.
Dept of our climate future
In every Sunday edition, we track key metrics that tell us a little about our shared climate future. Our member, Marshall Kirkpatrick, takes the time to curate a view of our current climate status in this segment every week, and you can read Marshall’s curation below. Here’s Marshall: “This week’s stories are about cascading incentives and they are exciting!”
This week, California banned the sale of new cars powered by internal combustion engines (ICE), effective in the year 2035. This move is expected to ripple out over many other governments; the state of Virginia, for example, tied its emissions standards to California’s in 2021 and thus is expected to ban ICE vehicles in sync with California. The publication Solar Power World points out that this will require a dramatic expansion of rooftop solar power generation to power all these EVs. Now imagine if the governments of the world competed to see who could drive electrification of transportation the fastest. France, for example, announced this month it will pay low-income car drivers up to $4K to switch to an electric bike. Electric bikes outsold EVs and hybrids combined in the US last year, approaching 1 million sold. Electric bike sales are still higher in Europe and highest in Asia.
Electric buses for mass transit are coming to Africa, the Swedish and Kenyan firm ROAM announced this week. The firm says the electric buses will cost 50% less to operate than ICE buses. Last year ROAM partnered with Uber to deliver 3,000 electric motorcycles across the continent. Electric buses for schools were discussed as a key environmental justice issue earlier this year when the Biden administration dedicated $5 billion to start switching a portion of the US fleet.
Researchers from the UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have released a study concluding that up to 40% of global containerships at sea could be electrified by the end of this decade, even with current technologies. The researchers found that “electrified containerships have an economic advantage over the internal combustion engine (ICE), even when the costs of environmental and health damages are excluded.” Now imagine commercial insurance underwriters compounding the economic advantages of those superior EV containerships and accelerating that transition.
Green banks aren’t regular banks with a green mission, they are “entities that use public funds to supply low-cost, long-term financing for projects that would otherwise struggle to get it,” explains Canary Media in an in-depth exploration this week of how the Inflation Reduction Act is expected to unleash waves of financing for decarbonization projects across the United States. “Since the first green bank was launched in Connecticut in 2011, 23 have sprung up across 17 states, drawing in further private-sector lending for carbon-reducing projects such as rooftop solar, efficiency retrofits and electric heat-pump installations. Last week’s passage of the IRA brought the next step in that campaign: the creation of a $27 billion Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, or in other words, a national green bank.” U.S. Senator Ed Markey cites McKinsey findings that “every dollar in green-bank lending could unleash $7 to $10 in private investment. With an initial capitalization of $27 billion, ‘we’re talking something like another $250 billion in private investment’ for everything from retrofitting public housing to putting solar panels on municipal landfills.” Combined with, for example, the moral stick of global religious leaders calling on commercial banks to stop financing fossil fuel projects, the incentivizing power of a US national green bank should be a very big deal.
The US Department of Agriculture announced a new program this week that will invest up to $300M in a new Organic Transition Initiative. The US has faced criticism for lagging behind European plans to expand organic agriculture in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change. These types of moves seem like candidates for what Azeem has been saying (for example in the latest EV Charts of the Week) he thinks “is currently replacing neoliberalism: catalytic government. This form of government is directional and catalytic but remains market-oriented. Its goal is to focus on national goals, accelerate the development of industries rather than individual technologies, and redistribute this development geographically.”
Short morsels to appear smart while dreaming of galaxies far, far away
🌋The eruption of the volcano Tonga earlier this year released more energy than the most powerful nuclear bomb ever detonated.
🔬Our understanding of Long Covid is improving by the day: a new study shows a number of abnormalities in patients’ blood.
🪐James Webb telescope detects CO2 in the atmosphere of an exoplanet — it’s a first.
What you’re up to – notes from EV readers
Claudia Chwalisz is launching a new research and action institute, DemocracyNext. The Institute’s mission is to build new institutions for the next democratic paradigm of citizen participation, representation by lot, and deliberation. Join the launch event online on September 15. Claudia wrote about deliberative democracy for Exponential View a couple of months ago. We’ll be following closely 👀
Alex Hannant and his colleagues at Griffith University published a piece on how capital allocation could be better attuned to the interconnected nature of the world around us.
Founder Chris Locke and his team at Caribou Digital have released a short film showing how farmers use social media to improve their crops and business.
Edward Saperia published a book about innovation in how workers organise and build collective power.
Dhruv Agarwal launched Hacking4Allies India, a deep tech for aerospace & defence focused program to help solve real world problems.
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