Monthly Archives: maart 2019

Could the world be sleepwalking into a crisis?

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Global risks are intensifying but the collective will to tackle them appears to be lacking. Instead, divisions are hardening. Geopolitical and geo-economic tensions have risen among the world’s major powers and now represent the most urgent global risks, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2019. In a world of shifting power and divergent values, it is likely to become more difficult to make progress on shared global challenges. Such progress requires two things: alignment on priorities for action, and then sustained coordination and collaboration. The example of climate change shows that, even when the first is possible, the second can be challenging: broad consensus has been built up over decades – culminating in the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015 – but even full implementation of current commitments will not be enough to prevent damaging levels of global warming.

As the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report 2019 shows only too clearly, environmental crises – notably a failure to tackle climate change – are among the likeliest and highest-impact risks that the world faces over the next decade. Indeed, 2018 saw record levels of costs due to extreme weather events.

The crisis was given much sharper focus in 2018 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Its Special Report on the Impacts of Global Warming at 1.5°C, published in October 2018, says we have just 12 years to act if dangerous climate change is to be avoided.

Nature is in freefall and the planet’s support systems are so stretched that we face widespread species extinctions and mass human migration unless urgent action is taken. Never has science been clearer in its concern about the risks of climate change and the stress this places on our oceans and other vital ecosystems, including tropical forests and freshwater sources. The urgent scientific message on climate change finds it hard to cut through the news cycle and the competing agendas of our ever more complex world.

The last year has seen a slew of brutal and terrifying warnings about the threat climate change poses to life. Far less talked about but just as dangerous, if not more so, is the rapid decline of the natural world. The felling of forests, the over-exploitation of seas and soils, and the pollution of air and water are together driving the living world to the brink.

We are at a crossroads. The historic and current degradation and destruction of nature undermine human well-being for current and countless future generations. Land degradation, biodiversity loss and climate change are three different faces of the same central challenge: the increasingly dangerous impact of our choices on the health of our natural environment.

Around the world, land is being deforested, cleared and destroyed with catastrophic implications for wildlife and people. Our food and agricultural systems depend in countless ways on the plants, animals and micro-organisms that comprise and surround them. Biodiversity, at every level from genetic, through species to ecosystem, underpins the capacity of farmers, livestock keepers, forest dwellers, fishers and fish farmers to produce food and a range of other goods and services in a vast variety of different biophysical and socio-economic environments. It increases resilience to shocks and stresses, provides opportunities to adapt production systems to emerging challenges and is a key resource in efforts to increase output in a sustainable way. It is vital to efforts to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda. Human have had a huge impact on the world but we make up a tiny fraction of the living world. Nature is likely to be hit particularly hard over the next 30 years,

The great transformation has already taken place in North America but the remote parts of South and Central America remain under threat. A new wave of destruction is transforming the Amazon and Pampas regions (of Latin America).

All of this comes at a huge cost and has implications for the systems that prop up life on this planet, throwing into doubt the ability of humans to survive. The loss of trees, grasslands and wetlands is costing the equivalent of about 10 percent of the world’s annual gross product, driving species extinctions, intensifying climate change and pushing the planet toward a sixth mass species extinction.

Africa is the world’s last home for a wide range of large mammals but the scientific consensus is that under current scenarios to 2100 more than half of African bird and mammal species could be lost. Around 20 percent of Africa’s land surface has already been degraded by soil erosion, loss of vegetation, pollution and salinization, adding that the expected doubling of the continent’s population to 2.5 billion people by 2050 will put yet further pressure on its biodiversity. Biodiversity makes production systems and livelihoods more resilient to shocks and stresses, including to the effects of climate change. It is a key resource in efforts to increase food production while limiting negative impacts on the environment. It makes multiple contributions to the livelihoods of many people, often reducing the need for food and agricultural producers to rely on costly or environmentally harmful external inputs.

While people are familiar with the threats to whales, elephants and other beloved animals, the problem goes far deeper than that. Animal populations have declined by 60 percent since 1970, driven by human actions, according to a recent World Wildlife Fund study. Insects, vital to the diets of other animals, as well as the pollinators of our food, are facing a bleak future as populations appear to be collapsing. Land use changes and increased pesticide use are destroying habitats and vastly reducing numbers. In Europe, up to 37 percent of bees and 31 percent of butterflies are in decline, with major losses also recorded in southern Africa.

Species which are not charismatic have been politically overlooked. Over 70 percent of freshwater species and 61 percent of amphibians have declined [in Europe], along with 26 percent of marine fish populations and 42 percent of land-based animals … It is a dramatic change and a direct result of the intensification of farming. Knowledge of associated biodiversity, in particular micro-organisms and invertebrates, and of its roles in the supply of ecosystem services needs to be improved. While a large amount of information has been accumulated on the characteristics of the domesticated species used in food and agriculture, many information gaps remain, particularly for species, varieties and breeds that are not widely used commercially. Information on wild food species is also often limited. Many associated-biodiversity species have never been identified and described, particularly in the case of invertebrates and micro-organisms. Even when they have, their functions within the ecosystem often remain poorly understood. Over 99 percent of bacteria and protist species remain unknown. For several types of associated biodiversity, including soil micro-organisms and those used for food processing, advances in molecular techniques and sequencing technologies are facilitating characterization.

Much of the remaining wealth of nature depends on indigenous people, who mostly live in the world’s remote areas and are on the frontline of the damage caused by destructive logging and industrial farming. The destruction is also driving mass human migration and increased conflict. Decreasing land productivity makes societies more vulnerable to social instability. In around 30 years’ time land degradation, together with the closely related problems of climate change, will have forced 50 to 700 million people to migrate.

This will likely have major implications in the coming years on how effective ecological and climate action is perceived. To succeed, the national and international community must embrace a new inspiring agenda for action – for one focused overall on keeping global warming within 1.5°C, but encouraging multiple different approaches, collaborations and initiatives.

 

Something different; What is life?

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In 1943 the great physicist Erwin Schrödinger, gave a series of lectures at Trinity College Dublin, published the next year as his book What Is Life? Schrödinger’s central question remains unanswered. There is still no agreed-on definition of what life is. Maybe, some suggest, there are biology-specific laws of nature that we have yet to identify. Indeed, Schrödinger himself argued that ‘living matter, while not eluding the ‘laws of physics’ as established up to date, is likely to involve ‘other laws of physics’ hitherto unknown’. We still struggled to make sense of this fundamental question. Life really does look like magic: even a humble bacterium accomplishes things so dazzling that no human engineer can match it. And yet, huge advances in molecular biology over the past few decades have served only to deepen the mystery. So can life be explained by known physics and chemistry, or do we need something fundamentally new?

Can we find the answers in a domain where computing, chemistry, quantum physics and nanotechnology intersect. To unify biology with physics, transform technology and medicine?

All matter, including living matter, is subject to the laws of physics. Biology and biological processes often deal with electrons and protons that are continuously being transferred between different parts of a cell or a macromolecular system. These transfer processes can only take place when the system exchanges energy with its environment in the form of molecular vibrations and phonons. Such a system is called an ‘open quantum system’, and special physical laws apply to it.

Good examples of biological processes in which quantum effects are visible are the transport of electrons and protons in photosynthesis, respiration, vision, catalysis, olfaction, and in basically every other biological transport process. Further examples include the transfer of electronic and/or vibrational energy, and magnetic field effects in electron transfer and bird migration.

Electrons, protons, excitations, chemical bonds, and electronic charges are by definition quantum, and an understanding of their dynamics requires quantum mechanics. Furthermore, these basic entities largely determine the properties of the next level of organization in biological systems. Biomolecular complexes, whose interaction with one another, and with their environment, often cannot be described accurately without considering the laws of quantum biology.

Fundamental biological processes that involve the conversion of energy into forms that are usable for chemical transformations are quantum mechanical in its nature. These processes involve chemical reactions themselves, light absorption, formation of excited electronic states, transfer of excitation energy, transfer of electrons and protons, etc.

In addition, often in biology, the environment plays an essential role in the outcome of a biomolecular process. Photosynthesis and vision are two prominent examples. Thus, to really understand biology, and the amazing selectivity of biological processes, we need quantum biology.

Biological systems are intrinsically ordered universes of biochemical, electromagnetic and gravitational interactions in constant flux. The components of such complex organisms oscillate about steady state systems to maintain global equilibrium. Coherence, cooperativity, and the congruence of oscillatory frequencies and trajectories of biological micro components essential to retain physiologic homeostatic signal transductive coupling mechanisms are maintained through interatomic communications networks.

In humans, the extremely complex neural system for disposition of sensory and extrasensory information is based on electro-chemical and neurohormonal signaling processes and concepts for quantum mechanical and electromagnetic operation of brain processes. An unique form of wave coherence is supposed to be present at multiple scales in biology and a better characterization of this may have broad consequences for the understanding of living organisms as complex systems. Identified a quantum electrodynamic basis for life?

Extensive scientific investigation has found that a form of quantum coherence operates within living biological systems through what is known as biological excitations and biophoton emission. What this means is that metabolic energy is stored as a form of electromechanical and electromagnetic excitations. These coherent excitations are considered responsible for generating and maintaining long-range order via the transformation of energy and very weak electromagnetic signals. After nearly twenty years of experimental research, the hypothesis was formulated that biophotons are emitted from a coherent electrodynamics field within the living system.

What this means is that each living cell is giving off, or resonating, a biophoton field of coherent energy. If each cell is emitting this field, then the whole living system is, in effect, a resonating field-a ubiquitous nonlocal field. And since biophotons are the entities through which the living system communicates, there is near-instantaneous intercommunication throughout. And this, is the basis for coherent biological organization. Quantum biology can potentially have a huge impact on numerous technologies, including sensing, health, the environment, and information technologies. For example chemical, magnetic, and biological sensing technologies may be taken to a new level when applying the principles found in natural equivalents.

Without the laws of quantum mechanics, we cannot understand life and life processes.

On the edge of transformative innovation and renewed creativity.

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A city is a continuously adapting complex network. This kind of network has been shown to be very resilient to network fault. It connects people in surprising ways, allowing for dissemination of information and influence through countless links. It’s a decentralized, living organism where each person is -more or less- free to change role, activity, occupation and domestic state. For the most part, it adapts to changing times well, through the millions of decisions taken by its citizens every day. There is no central management (regardless of what its governmental organization may think), no ‘strategic planning session’. No ‘chain of command’. The citizens of the city tend to have a very high stake in the success of the city, either because they are economically and socially active, or because it is part of their self-esteem, culture and persona.

The urban realm is changing rapidly and becoming increasingly interconnected across continents, and across contrasting types of land covers, while at the same time facing new environmental threats and experiencing new demographic and social pressures. The urban component of the global ecosystem can be made more sustainable by incorporating the ecological understanding of resilience into the discourse. Sustainability is seen as a social, normative goal, which can be promoted using the mechanisms of ecological resilience. Ecological resilience differs from engineering resilience. Ecological resilience emphasizes the capacity to adjust to external shocks and changes in controlling interactions, while engineering resilience emphasizes its ability to return to a state that existed before perturbation. Ecological resilience is particularly appropriate to urban systems, given the extent and open-ended nature of the changes and challenges they face. Adaptive processes are explored as contributions to the achievement of a successful adaptive cycle in urban socio-ecological systems. Key tools for incorporating the ecological thinking about resilience into the social discourse include landscape or patch ecology, the novel idea of the metacity, an assessment of ecological and design models, and the use of designs as experiments.

Resilience has been highlighted for the last years as one of the most important mechanisms of survival and evolution of systems. However, with the complexity, volatility, uncertainty and disorder becoming constant in our daily lives, it is time for adjustments and improvements in resilience, in order to maintain its efficiency. As a consequence, various skills, such as adaptation, learning, self-organization and others, have been added to it, increasing it to antifragility. Focusing on this process of evolution antifragility is resilience in its most advanced form.

The aspects of this ‘advanced resilience’ (persistence, adaptive capacity, transformability and evolution) describes important capacities of living systems: to resist collapse and maintain vital functions, to adapt to changing conditions (learn and self-organize) and in the case of Socio-Ecological Systems to apply foresight and anticipation to ‘design for positive emergence’ — to transform the system towards increased health and an improved capacity to respond wisely and creatively to disruptions and change.

The theory of complex dynamic systems describes the periodic, rhythmic dance between order and disorder (and sometimes chaos), between stability and transformation as a fundamental pattern of self-organization in complex (living) systems. As any system begins to mature, there is an accompanying increase in fixed and ordered patterns of interactions and resource flows. The system becomes over-connected, or better, the existing qualities and quantities of connections are such that they inhibit the formation of new pathways needed for the system’s overall adaptation to outside changes and its continued evolution. Eventually this leads to rigidity within the system, and it becomes brittle, less resilient, and more susceptible to disturbances from the outside.

At this point, the effects of detrimental run-away feedback loops inside the system can further challenge viability. The often resulting gradual or sudden breakdown of the old order and structures moves the system closer to ‘the edge of chaos’ — the edge of its current stability (dynamic equilibrium) domain. The reorganization of resource flows and changes in the quality and quantity of interconnections within the system at this point create a crisis that can be turned into an opportunity for transformation and innovation.

At the edge of chaos, complex dynamic systems are at their most creative. The world and humanity is currently at a crossroads between breakdown and breakthrough. If we take appropriate actions, the chaos point could be an opportunity to “leap to a new civilization”.

Understanding the overall dynamics of change we are in the midst of is important. We need to learn to work with rather than fight against these cyclical patterns of creative innovation, consolidation, ossification and eventual dissolution to make room for transformative innovation and renewed creativity.

Unexpected events have become more frequent, making it difficult to maintain a constant equilibrium and stimulating the emersion of a new mechanism of resilience, no longer centered on the search for balance nor on the return to its original form, but rather on the development of competences which promote improvements to the systems, allowing them to evolve through stress and disorder.

In this scenario, with increasing complexity and widespread diffusion, learning and self-organization skills present in complex systems become essential to survive, providing to the systems a greater adaptability and efficiency, which allow them not only to resist, but also to evolve in the face of disorder and chaos.

This mechanism of survival and evolution, called resilience by many, is called antifragility describing it as something beyond resilience because it improves with shocks and it is not only resistant to them.