Archive for June 1, 2009

“New York Street Advertising Takeover” Brings Art to Over 120 Illegal Billboards in NYC

Not the latest news, but nevertheless worthwhile spreading it, especially since a campaign against illegal billboards in New York has been going on for years. This latest campaign is Jordan Seiler’s incredibly ambitious “New York Street Advertising Takeover”, which became a reality in April 2009, when according to Wooster Collective “over 120 illegal billboards throughout the city were white washed by dozens of volunteers”.

NYSAT was organized as a reaction to the hundreds of billboards that are not registered with the city, and therefore are illegal. While illegal, these violations are not being prosecuted by the City of New York, allowing the billboard companies to garner huge profits by cluttering our outdoor space with intrusive and ugly ads.

After the illegal spots were white washed, late in the day yesterday over eighty artists transformed these spaces into personal pieces of art.

Here are some of the initial photos taken:





[Images nicked from Wooster Collective]

STORM-GUSTAV/Hurricanes, in particular in the North Atlantic, will increase in numbers. Just 1°C increase in water temperature would lead to a 31% increase in the gloabal frequency of category 4 an 5 storms according to current scientific understanding – and most likely the temperature will increase more than that 1°C. In actual figures, that means 17 instead of 13 storms, which might not sound much, but it only takes one hurricane with the destructive power of the one that flattened and flooded New Orleans to hit the Golf Coast or South East Coast.

The following article, reposted from Climate Progress, explains the details of the latest scientific insights.

Nature: Hurricanes ARE getting fiercer — and it’s going to get much worse

Hurricane season officially begins tomorrow.  So I’m updating one more 2008 post on the science.  Last September, Nature published a major analysis that supports my 2-parter (Why global warming means killer storms worse than Katrina and Gustav, Part 1 and Part 2).  As Nature explained:

… scientists have come up with the firmest evidence so far that global warming will significantly increase the intensity of the most extreme storms worldwide.

The maximum wind speeds of the strongest tropical cyclones have increased significantly since 1981, according to research published in Nature this week. And the upward trend, thought to be driven by rising ocean temperatures, is unlikely to stop at any time soon.

The team statistically analysed satellite-derived data of cyclone wind speeds. Although there was hardly any increase in the average number or intensity of all storms, the team found a significant shift in distribution towards stronger storms that wreak the greatest havoc. This meant that, overall, there were more storms with a maximum wind speed exceeding 210 kilometres per hour (category 4 and 5 storms on the Saffir–Simpson scale)….

“It’ll be pretty hard now for anyone to claim that cyclone activity has not increased,” says Judith Curry, an atmospheric researcher at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, who was not involved in the study….

“People should now stop saying ‘who cares, storm activity is just a few per cent up’,” says Curry. “It’s the strongest storms that matter most.”


Wings that waggle could cut aircraft emissions by 20%

perforated wingsWings which redirect air to waggle sideways could cut airline fuel bills by 20% according to research funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Airbus in the UK.

The new approach, which promises to dramatically reduce mid-flight drag, uses tiny air powered jets which redirect the air, making it flow sideways back and forth over the wing.

The jets work by the Helmholtz resonance principle – when air is forced into a cavity the pressure increases, which forces air out and sucks it back in again, causing an oscillation – the same phenomenon that happen when blowing over a bottle.

Dr Duncan Lockerby, from the University of Warwick, who is leading the project, said: “This has come as a bit of a surprise to all of us in the aerodynamics community. It was discovered, essentially, by waggling a piece of wing from side to side in a wind tunnel.”

“The truth is we’re not exactly sure why this technology reduces drag but with the pressure of climate change we can’t afford to wait around to find out. So we are pushing ahead with prototypes and have a separate three year project to look more carefully at the physics behind it.”

Simon Crook, EPSRC Senior manager for aerospace & defence, said: “This could help drastically reduce the environmental cost of flying. Research like this highlights the way UK scientists and engineers continue to make significant contributions to our lives.”

The UK aviation industry has announced targets to reduce emissions per passenger km by 50% by 2020.

Part of these savings will be made from lighter aircraft plus improvements in engines and fuel efficiencies but drag friction is also a major factor in fuel consumption during flights.

Engineers have known for some time that tiny ridges known as ‘riblets’ – like those found on sharks bodies – can reduce skin-friction drag, (a major portion of mid-flight drag), by around 5%. But the new micro-jet system being developed by Dr Lockerby and his colleagues could reduce skin friction drag by up to 40%,

The research, being carried out with scientists at Cardiff, Imperial, Sheffield, and Queen’s University Belfast, is still at concept stage although it is hoped the new wings could be ready for trials as early as 2012.

If successful this technology could also have a major impact on the aerodynamic design and fuel consumptions of cars, boats and trains.

More information on EPSRC funded ‘Active Aircraft’ projects can be found here

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK’s main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. The EPSRC invests more than £740 million a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change.

We will know of China’s climb to the top of the world pollution ladder; what is less known is that it’s phenomenal growth did not create the jobs one would expect from such expansion rates. So, where did all the money go: into expanding industries through reinvestment, creating infrastructure, paying officials well and filling state coffers. The following Sydney Morning Herald article provides the details.

building construction china

China’s sky-high growth does not tell the full story


June 1, 2009

Most policymakers, investors and environmentalists are by now aware that the future of the Australian economy and indeed the planet depends in no small part on China. But by focusing on China’s headline economic growth rate they are in danger of missing the story.

China’s gross domestic product growth is invariably impressive but its significance is swamped by changes in the composition of that growth. And if there is a single internal meta-trend to watch, it is the changing division of economic returns between capital and labour.

In 2002 Chinese corporate profits accounted for 20 per cent of GDP. Within five years that figure had risen above 30 per cent.

Rising corporate profits – largely captured by state-owned companies – is partly explained by urbanisation. Apartment blocks and freeways are capital intensive. They consume steel, cement, aluminium, chemicals and electricity.

The economic returns from China’s recent growth model have been naturally captured by heavy industry. Some of those profits have come from export earnings and been recycled into foreign exchange reserves. But mostly they have been ploughed back into investments in more steel, aluminium and cement factories in a self-reinforcing cycle.

In China the high profits, savings and investment of heavy industry have been amplified by government policy. UBS China economist Wang Tao lists the important ones:

  • Artificially lowering the prices of land, resources and energy;
  • Allowing state-owned firms to keep and reinvest profits;
  • Stalling on liberalising services and the financial sector in particular, which limits investment choices;
  • Favouring large, state-owned companies over other enterprises; and
  • Rewarding officials on raw GDP and production numbers.

It is no coincidence that the turbo-charging of Chinese profits, particularly in heavy industry, has exactly coincided with the biggest and longest global resources boom in at least 100 years. It also explains how China has vaulted prematurely into top spot on the world’s carbon emissions charts.

Exponential growth in heavy industry production explains how Chinese electricity consumption flipped from trailing GDP growth in the 1980s and ’90s to exceeding it.

Electricity consumption growth has averaged 13.5 per cent this decade, outstripping GDP growth of 10.4 per cent, while heavy industry has risen to consume 55 per cent of China’s (coal-dependent) electricity production.

The good news for the long-term health of the planet – if not for investors in BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto – is that China’s pattern of growth in heavy industry is “not remotely sustainable”, to quote Jonathan Anderson at UBS.

In fact it seems to be already reversing. (Mining investors should not yet fret – another seismic shift in the structure of the Chinese economy is that the slump in Chinese resources consumption has been overtaken by a larger slump in high-cost domestic production, opening the door for an unprecedented surge in Australian exports).

The surge in Chinese corporate profits this decade has not only manifested in soaring resources prices and the accelerated suffocation of the planet. Another way to look at rising profits is that a declining share of national income is flowing to workers.

The share of employee compensation fell from 53 per cent of China’s GDP in 1997 to 45 per cent in 2002 and a miserly 40 per cent in 2007.

That’s one of the sharpest shifts in any major economy anywhere in the world.

Economist Wang Tao again shows what’s been going on. She says the emasculation of employee income was not due to wage restraint. Rather, it was due to China’s lousy record of jobs creation. Growth in the number of non-farm jobs averaged just 3.4 per cent between 2000 and 2007, less than half of the 6.9 per cent rate recorded in the 1980s.

Not surprisingly, the relative decline in employee compensation has led to a commensurate relative decline in household consumption (from 45 per cent of GDP at the start of this decade to 35 per cent in 2007, compared to 70 per cent in the United States).

China’s disposable household income data shows a similar pattern, although the series appears to have been ruptured by a large GDP revision in 2005.

The relatively low growth in employee compensation explains how the Chinese Communist Party has managed to create the most un-egalitarian nation in Asia, equalled only by Nepal, according to the Asian Development Bank. Perhaps it also explains a large portion of the 100,000 “mass incidents” that the Chinese Government reportedly counted across the country last year.

These days China’s domestic problems and imbalances do not confine themselves within China’s borders. China’s falling consumption rate can explain its relatively low imports and its world record trade surpluses. These, in turn, have fed the world’s economic imbalances and created the preconditions for the global financial crisis.

These are all reasons why keeping pace with China’s impact on the world requires you to track the structural changes – and therefore the policy debates and political struggles going on within China.



Two reflective drawings by Armsrock from his ‘on the streets of berlin’ series.

Armsrock on Armsrock: “Armsrock (1984) works with drawing as means to communication and exploration. He is a collector of fragmentary visual information and a maker of archives. Through interventions in urban space and large scale indoors installations, he explores and challenges some of the grimmer aspects of the human condition.”

More on Armsrock here.

[Via Wooster Collective; Photos by Just]

The West’s Racist attacks on Islam are part of the daily news feeds – from the Iraq war to backing Israel’s ethnic cleansing strategies against Palestinians, casting the wide net of labelling the innocent ‘terrorists’, refusing permission to build Islamic schools in Western cities, or providing a matrix for violent attacks on Western citizens following Islam.  So, in a way, a Christian video stoking fears of Muslims by proclaiming the death of Western culture to take place in a few decades by non-Muslims in Western countries (speak ‘white Christians’) being outbred, is not really a surprise.

But, I can’t help feeling shocked by the flagrant and insolent audacity leading to the whipping up of sentiments of desperation triggered by survival fears, the fomenting of racial dissent and conflict, and the fanning of the flames of strife, hatred and in the end probably murder. After all: the video’s authors claim that it is too late for many Western countries to recover from declining birth rates in their indigenous populations; ethnic cleansing therefore seems to be the next strategic step the authors must have in mind.

So, what does that mean? More crusades of modern warfare? Detention camps for Muslims? Discrimination along racial lines? Taking away citizenships? Mass conversions of Muslims to Christianity? Pledges to denounce Islamic culture? Or creating a climate of racial domestic armed conflicts? Is this what we need?

Hasn’t the West’s century-old self-declared superiority and supremacy already created enough racial and religious hatred? And do we really still need religion to define our cultural content and boundaries? Can’t we instead rely on more universal, secular and humanistic concepts such as equality, freedom of expression, celebration of difference, tolerance, mutual respect and a focus on what unites rather than divides us?

I think this video once again shows how dangerous religious fundamentalism can be, and how wary we in the West need to be of our own ‘terrorists’ – rather than getting totally distracted by the external ones. The last thing we need in today’s world (that already is tested by wars, violence and climate change) is a call to action against Muslims out-populating Christians. That is just an insane distraction from what our survival really requires: actions that promote peace and give rise to solidarity and a creative intelligence which allows us to deal with the biggest challenge we are facing: a dramatically changing planet.