Decarbonize Global Economy

I am trying to be positive about the gatherings of seven leaders of the World’s riches countries last week in Germany.There are some small steps of progress to be happy about on action on the Climate Change front coming out of the G-7 Summit. The host, Angela Merkel, German Chancellor made a strong commitment at the end of the meeting on eliminating greenhouse-gas emission – getting rid of most carbon dioxide from the burning of oil, gas and coal. Other G-7 leaders also agreed on urgency to act together to solve global warming. They agreed on plans of reduction by 2050 of 40 to 70 percent in the global greenhouse-gas emission levels. There is also common determination to transform the energy sector by replacing the carbon-based fossil fuels by win,solar, and other alternative sources of energy. Germany has already led the World in win and solar energy and reduce reliance on nuclear energy for industrial use. The G-7 countries calls for all countries to take action to cause emitting climate changing greenhouse-gases over the next 85 years. Scientists have acknowledged these good steps taken by G-7, but they are critical that the action is too little too late to have real impact on climate change. The United States tries to catch up with Germany on dealing with Climate Change. This week, the Obama Administration announce plans to reign in greenhouse-gas emission from trucks, airplanes and power plants. Decarbonize the global economy is a huge goal that requires cooperation by all countries and people in agreeing to accelerate action to achieve it. Slow action on this will bring an environmental disaster that is soon to come.

High-tech Hospital

Is high-tech and digitized hospital an answer to having a quality health care for people living in today’s world? It is the question that I have after reading about new Hight-Tech Hospital recently opened in Bangkok, the Ramkhamhaeng . The aim of this private hospital is to give efficient and faster services to patients and paid customers. The hospital’s administration proudly made announcements that they are equipped with the most modern computer network system for registration of patients, robots to dispense drugs. They give to patients smart identification card which include a guide containing data and barcode. They would inform the patients, as they enter the hospital compound, to use this ID card at every step of the way when they get treatment and service inside. The hospital officials also use barcode scanner to guarantee the right identification of each patient, and the matching of the name with the right record on the right file. After diagnosis of each case by doctors, who make an input of the result into the computer memory to make sure of the accuracy of the disease of each patient, the right treatment and the right prescription of medications for the patient. This is my question. Is this kind of fast, impersonal service what most of the patients want? A large number of patients in Thailand have no working knowledge of computer technology. They are not yet “into” the digital age. Many of them can barely read or write. Some have real fear of technology. Before duplicate this kind of a high-tech hospital, I suggest that a “focus group” be conducted with potential users of hospital service. My guest is that many of them would prefer to have a “human friendly” hospital rather than dealing with robots and computer touch screen and keyboard. I have nothing against high-tech hospital, but when I don’t feel well or sick walking into a hospital, I will be more comfortable to see and talk to a human person rather than insert a card into a cold machine.

Who Designs Video Games?

You have to look very heard to find one or two female designers of video games. This industry and tech-business are male-dominated world-wide. I feel better today when I read an article by Sarah Jane Stratford in Slate on the subject that has been of my concern for a long time, “Video Games as Applied Design – Without Women”. Stratford noted that there are very few women in designing content, production, and trade of video games. The field is totally male-dominated. We have to find out why this happens. I had spoken to many women in development groups during the past ten years suggesting to them that women, who are interested in changing bad female images in the mass media ( as sex objects, victims of sexual violence, passive spouse of macho men, beast of burden doing double work-load without complaining etc.) should get into this lucrative business. It is shocking that women comprise barely 12 percent of the creative force in video gaming. And that the number is declining. This phenomina reminds me of my experience when working as Regional Information Officer for UNICEF in Asia in the 60s and 70s. Headquarters’ senior staff told me to find two Asian boys to be featured in two children’s photographic-books to be printed by a New York publisher. I sent a letter to New York asking why don’t we choose one boy and one girl instead of two boys. I received a reply from a senior officer of UNICEF that the publisher said that book that focus on girl’s life-experience do not sell well. Therefore, he rejected my suggestion for gender-balance in this project. I had to comply and to go out and photograph two boys: one from Indonesia, one from Thailand: Ketut, Boy Woodcarver of Bali, and Galong, River Boy of Thailand. My experience in this co-production of the two children books shows how important it is that in getting girls and women to be focused by the media required a change of attitudes of not only women but also the decision- makers of the establishments. If we don’t want future video games to be designed and produced mostly by the men, we will have to first, encourage more women and girls to learn this technology, secondly, to create new kind of games that are fun for both boys and girls without male aggression and prejudice against women, and thirdly, find new source of funding from progressive male and female investors and fourthly to convince corporate managers that games produced by women focused on their adventures are as marketable as those of the boys. It is a gigantic task to imagine the impact that this new venture could make in every region of the world.

Marine Biodiversity

Today we celebrate the International Day of Biodiversity under the UN chosen theme “Marine Biodiversity”. Despite our common efforts during the past twenty years, variety of life in the ocean have disappeared because of pollution and over-fishing. The United Nations estimates that about 30-35% of the global extent of critical marine environments have already been destroyed. This is largely the result of human activity that can be changed. It is not only that we treasure the variety of life on earth but also we have to change our human destructive behavior. Together we have to make an urgent and decisive action to conserve and maintain genes, species and ecosystem. Scientists tells us that there are known 250,000 species of marine life. We have to make sure that they are not destroyed. We cannot exist without the variety of life in the oceans which produces a third of the oxygen that we breath. The healthy oceans have supplied us with the important protein-food sources, the healthy variety of which have sustained our health and well-being. Fishes are important sources of protein to 40% of world’s population. Our survival is linked to them and also to the thriving mangroves forests, coral reefs, seagrass beds, hydrothermal vents sponges, seaweeds and other microbial life. I cannot emphasize enough that our life on this earth depends on biodiversity.Thanks to the United Nations for making us aware of the importance of Biodiversity.

No Need For Social Media Regulation

I am a regular user of Google, Web Blog, Twitter and Facebook. I want Internet and the social media to remain free as private enterprise – not under government’s control. Social media give us a chance to practice “democracy” from the bottom up. It worries me when I read a report that some of the G-8 leaders who attended the last week Deauville G-8 Summit, had tried to push for internet regulation. The new communication technology is created by private companies and individual citizen, therefore it must remain open for every one to use. I am alarmed that key journalists in Thailand have been asking the Election Commission to issue them a clear guideline on how political parties can use social media in this election campaign. Political parties and voters in Thailand should be left free to communicate with each other until the July 3 election day. How can any authoritarian leader think he/she can control the minds of 7-8 million Facebook users and over a million tweeters just in Thailand alone. It is good that the major parties are actively using social media in their election campaign. Thai voters and Party candidates do not need to have “a guideline” to communicate online. Whatever happens in social media will balance itself out after the election. I can understand why many government leaders fear social media when used effectively by young people to organize protest on the street to overthrow the corrupted authoritarian regimes such as in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. And how the social media had challenged Singapore one-party ruled in the last election. It is good that Eric Schmidt, Google’s Executive Chairman and Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook who attended the e-G8 Forum in Paris before the Summit warned government leaders“to thread lightly on internet regulation because moves to tame its rough edges risk hurting its virtues”. Not only that, new Internet technologists can always find a way to undergo or bypass any government’s attempt to control Internet access. It is ironic that most governments now use Internet and social media to their benefit to run day-to-day businesses and enjoy the fruits of a booming digital economy. Then the leaders must not turn around trying to isolate out things they like about the Internet and control things they don’t like. This is unfair. If we believe in democracy/ people’s participation, then government should encourage transparency, free flow of information and two-way communication. The role the government can play in the Internet revolution is to expand access, open it for use by all its citizens free from censorship and control.

Nuclear Energy & Safety Issue

I want to thank Professor David Yuen of the University of Minnesota for warning us that Asia nuclear reactors are facing a grave danger of being hit by future Tsunami. There are, in total 32 nuclear energy plants in Asia. Some are still under construction, spreading the wide danger zone of radiation leaks because of human error or natural disaster from India, China to Indonesia. Four nuclear plants in Southern China and one in Southern tip of Taiwan are predicted to be most at risk between now and the next ten years. Geologists have warned that those five nuclear plants are situated on the path of a towering tsunami wave similar to the one that struck Fukushima in Japan. Since last month Japanese nuclear crisis, I have gained some new knowledge about nuclear energy for peaceful use. I did my own research to find out the background in creation of nuclear energy. I learn that during the decades after the cold war, the Soviet Union and the United States of America had to make an important decision about what to do with their stockpile of weapon-grade Plutonium. They need to find ways to put surplus Plutonium into peaceful use instead of keeping them in a high-cost storage. Scientists and engineers had made a decision to mix weapon-grade plutonium and turn them into fuel for commercial power reactors. They produce new energy source from mixing plutonium and uranium to boil water. This mixture is called a mix-oxide, in short, it is called “Mox”. Six percent of the core of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant is made of “Mox”. Six countries besides Japan use ‘Mox” as fuel. Even when the United States government and the French Company “Areva”, came out to defend the safety of using “Mox”, few people believe them. I, myself, nervously watch the news every day on how the Japanese nuclear scientists and engineers monitor how “Mox” behaves in the process of a “melt down” of Fukushima Daiichi Plant Unit 3. In other study that I read, a nuclear melt-down and containment failure in the reactor that holds “Mox” could result in more cancer death than one in a reactor fueled only with Uranium. Plutonium has a long life span that could last thousands of year. The countries that store surplus Plutonium cannot yet find a good way to get rid of them. Even when keeping Plutonium in a safe storage plant, the management of the plant must hire heavy armed-guard to secure it from thieves for weapon use. Prevention of the danger of nuclear weapon proliferation, which can kill larger number of people, is as important as keeping safety standard and control of nuclear energy for a peaceful use. This is a major job of the United Nation’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). It is good to hear that this year, the United States Atomic Safety Licensing Board has called the Shaw/Areva Group to present their case on the safety of “Mox” fuel. The Board monitors nuclear material control and accounting standard for Plutonium. One major future safety issue we should closely watch is how and where government and commercial companies build future nuclear energy plants. For safety, the plant should not be built at the fault-line of earthquake with potential tsunami disaster. A good thing that comes out of the Japanese disaster is that governments, companies and the general public are making their own assessments of the usefulness and the harmfulness in using Plutonium mixture as nuclear energy source, and in finding alternative energy source for the future.

Synthetic Organism

I want to start this year by selecting one of the new discoveries last year that I think will have a great impact in 2011, the creation of a first synthetic life form by biologist Craig Venter and his team. The team did not create life itself, as many have feared they might be playing “God”. But, by the result of their research, they have found that organism can be built by designers and engineers, instead of just evolved. They created a new organism from existing bacterium and used it to reprogram another bacterial cell. In synthesizing DNA and combining standard genetic building blocks, they designed a biological machine in the same way as other people designed a car, a plane or a bridge. Ethicists and environmentalists warned of a negative impact of this kind of genetic engineering, but I think this new technology can also do something good for humankind. It can be used to create new drugs and biofuels that can supplement petroleum-based industry. Since it is a new technology, the United States Bioethics Commission recommended self-regulation by synthetic biologists and gave green light to Synthetic Biology. Researchers in this field will be given training in Ethics. The creation of synthetic organism will have tremendous impact in creating new industries and new economies for the world in 2011 and beyond. Over 50 environmental groups had earlier called on the US. federal officials for a moratorium on the release and commercial use of synthetic organism until the risks are understood and regulations developed. I disagree with them. Why wait? In life, we always have to balance risks and benefits of any new technological discovery. Also, there is no need for new regulations on the manufacturing of new synthetic organism once the government and scientist give people information on the results of research and development of genetic engineering. People themselves can then make up their own mind about the risk factor. Then, they can make an informed decision on how to use synthetic organism to improve our life on earth.

Cancun Modest Deal

Global warming and climate change are both short-term and long-term problems, depending on where you live. I am glad that the Cancun Climate Change Conference ended last week with a compromised agreement. But it is far short of global expectations. It did not get, for instance, China and United States to agree on any target to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide or other green house gases that caused global warming. Both countries are the world’s largest emitters of heat-trapping gases and environmental pollution. The final agreement at Cancun, Mexico, did not include mechanism with a strong binding commitment for action to protect world population from disasters that caused by climate change. The text only say that deeper cut in carbon emission is needed, which we all know that since the Bali Road Map and the Copenhagen Accord. It is abundantly clear to me that the rich industrialized countries do not want to seek a real solution to the global warming problem through multilateral negotiation route. They wanted to trim their emissions in their own way based on their own national interest, and not on a common survival of humankind. At Cancun, the 190 participated governments only agreed that having low-carbpn development plans and strategies are important. They promised to assess and produce a yearly report on their inventory to the world community. And they would work together in order to stay below a two degree temperature rise, with a clear time table set for review. Rich countries agreed on the creation of a new Climate Fund of $100 billion a year by 2020 to protect poor countries against climate change impact, and to help them with low-carbon development. I am sure that this promise of more funds will help island countries such as Maldives, Vanuatu, Kiribati and Tuvalu. But many island countries already have made an evacuation plan to move their entire population out to other high lying countries because of salt water intrusion and rising sea level. This year, registered as the hottest summer in many countries, the people already had to endure hardship to cope with unusual floods and forest fires. They were struggling to survive mostly by themselves. It is great that the governments agreed to launch concrete action to preserve our world forest, but I expect more commitment to act from them because we are running out of time to safe our world from climate change catastrophe. It is imperative for our leaders to move beyond boundaries of short-terms interest. A decisive action has to be taken right now on global emissions of greenhouse gases, which the climate scientists warned us, need to peak within the next decade and then decrease.

Beautiful Comet’s Picture

I am stunned to see the picture of Comet Hartley 2. It is so beautiful. We really live in a miracle time that we can follow a Spacecraft flying by the various objects that existed in our universe. A space craft, equipped with a high resolution camera, had captured the images while moving pass the comet at the distance of 435 miles. The most amazing thing is that the camera can even capture so very clear the jets of water spraying out of it’s cone when it turned to faced the Sun. No doubt scientists and engineers will analyze for us the data and information about this comet that they have collected from this ongoing EPOXI Mission. For this moment, I just want to thank them NASA for giving me new knowledge about the nature and behavior of Comet Hartley 2 as it hovers through Space. Being a photographer myself, it is a joy to see those amazing pictures of the comet, taken from different distances and angles. I love to see those materials spewing from one end of the comet’s surface. Congratulations to NASA for this successful mission. Fantastic!

Sharing & Access to Genetic Resources – Biodiversity

After 20 years of talks and negotiations, between governments, civil societies, United Nations officials, world scientific communities and environment experts, government participants of the Convention on Biodiversity in Nagoya, Japan, on 29 October 2010 agreed on the new treaty to share benefits of the world’s genetic resources. The ground-breaking agreement calls for a world-wide celebrations. A fair and equitable benefit sharing and access to genetic resources which is one of the objectives of theConvention on Biodiversity, can put a break to the lost of varieties of land and sea animal and plants species from our world. The treaty will also drive forward action to reverse the degradation and destruction of natural habitat.The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity Report estimated the costs to human welfare that result from the loss of biodiversity will jump from 1 per cent of global GDP per year to 7 per cent by 2050 unless urgent action are taken by all concerned. The agreement will increase the extent of land-based protected areas and national parks to 17 per cent of the Earth’s surface up from around 12.5 per cent. Marine protected areas will be extended to 10 per cent, up from under 1 per cent at this time. The treaty guarantees that sites of global diversity significance are identified, and research results are shared by all countries. Success in having an agreed treaty at the Nagoya Biodiversity Conference came about because of a lot of prior work that are done by many organizations and institutions namely: the Bird Life International, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), UNEP, the May 2010 Fifth Global Ocean Conference held by UNESCO and its Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, Conservation International, the United Nations, especially the leadership of the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in making the world community aware of the importance of biodiversity and the ecosystem to the well-being of the global economy. It is promising to hear that the United Nations is considering the establishment of Inter-governmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.