Friday, October 30, 2015

The role of technology in a climate solution

An interesting item in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists advocates large reductions in energy use:
"For civilization to continue sustainably, human beings must shift from fossil fuels to solar energy—despite the technical problems. And investments are needed in biotic and other low-energy innovations. But in the end, global energy consumption must be reduced by something on the order of 60 percent. This will require a number of profound non-technological changes. Energy equity must be established among the world's nations—people in wealthy countries should not, as they do today, use hundreds of times as much energy as people in the poorest countries."

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Hydro-power for Guyana?

A panel discussion on the topic was recently held, sponsored by the EU and occasioned by the visit of a delegation in regarding preparations for the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, COP21.

Reports were seen at Demerara Waves and Guyana Times.

The experts on the panel differed regarding the urgency of using hydro-power but were agreed on the need to do so.

It seems to me that hydro-power is a resource we absolutely must make use of whether multiple small installations or several large ones. It should have been done decades ago - a start was made but not followed up. It takes years for any such project to be planned, funded and built. It is not rocket science and there is abundant expertise available. We need to get over our political infighting, work together and do some long-term planning.

In the short-term we need to continue expanding the use of other alternatives such as bio-fuel and solar.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Making use of MOOCs

It seems to me that the Caribbean needs to make more of a major new educational opportunity - MOOCs. MOOC stands for Massive Online Open Course. These courses are available free on the internet and cover a very wide range of subjects. A very interesting example of how new technology can give us new educational possibilities which are truly global. Most courses are designed for the average person and require little or no special knowledge. Some are university level but most are not.

Courses usually last 5-10 weeks with around 4-5 hours work online per week. Common elements include weekly videos, quizzes, forums and reading. Generally they are done by major universities and are of high quality.

So far I have done eight or more and noticed very little Caribbean participation. I have not seen another Guyanese participant just one or two from the Caribbean islands.

Teachers could to do some of these and then encourage students. There are in fact courses for teachers. There are also courses for business people, for students, for engineers, for software developers (many on IT) and for those in the medical field. Participants range from pre-teens (not many I admit) to retirees.

While courses are free you can usually get a certificate if you pay for it.

Personally I have found the experience very rewarding and worthwhile. Courses are popular with young people and with older people. If you have a busy life with little time for browsing then it may not be for you. But you may still find something very relevant to your work which will make it a priority.

Can we do our own MOOCs in the Caribbean? I am sure we will but first we need to make use of what is already there and learn from it. Creating a good MOOC is no small task even for the large universities of N America and Europe.

Popular and well-designed. Good forums. Very wide range of courses. Quality of courses generally very good but depends on the institution providing the content. Takes a while to find your way around.
A few random examples:
Introduction to Finance
Smart Growth for Private Businesses
Women in Leadership
Introduction to Acoustics 
Social Psychology
The Evolving Universe

Very good courses, perhaps slightly more slanted towards academic subjects.
A few random examples:
English Grammar and Style
Introduction to Computer Science
Human Anatomy
Psychology of Criminal Justice

Also very good. More Europe and UK institutions represented. Different forums style. Fairly simple to get started, less complex.
A few random examples:
The Science of Nuclear Energy
Cooperation in the Contemporary World
Preparing for University
The Science of Medicines
Religion and Conflict
Exploring Our Oceans

Thursday, July 30, 2015

El Nino due this year

El Nino is a periodic phenomena brought about by large scale changes in sea surface temperature in the eastern Pacific. This leads to world-wide changes in weather. According to this item in Scientific American the expected El Nino later this year is likely to be strong may be like that of 1997:
"So where does that leave us in terms of looking ahead to what El Niño might bring this winter? We have an event that is looking more and more robust (when comparing June 2015 to June 1997, the broad ocean temperature patterns are very similar) and forecasting models are in pretty good agreement that that event will strengthen as we head towards winter and El Niño’s typical peak. But exactly when it will peak and what its final strength will be is still uncertain."
Guyana was badly hit by drought produced by El Nino in 1997. Here is a quote from a UN report from that time:
"Guyana is subject to a period of unprecedented drought caused by the El Nino phenomenon that has been found responsible for as much as 90 per cent of the deficiency in rainfall in September and October 1997 and for the complete failure of a rainy season in mid-November 1997 to mid-January 1998."
No doubt preparations are being made and we have learnt from past lessons.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

On climate change

Two interesting items in Scientific American of relevance to us in Guyana, both on climate change issues.
Firstly an article on intense rainfall which we seem to be getting more of lately:
"The heaviest rain bursts within a storm happen when it’s warmest, according to new research that suggests rising temperatures could exacerbate flooding as intense downpours are concentrated into smaller windows."
Secondly an item on plant growth. It had been expected that climate change would have boosted plant growth and agriculture worldwide however things may not be as simple as that:
"Drought and limited sunlight will undermine any gain from a warmer atmosphere. By 2100, Mora says, “there could be an 11 percent reduction in the plant growing season worldwide.”"