“robot pollination”

I knew this day would come. People thinking we can replace nature’s services with robot technology…

I think it won’t work because of the following:

  • The energy requirements of robots are greater than insects. How long can a drone that small fly for? 5 minutes? 10 minutes? 15 minutes? 30 minutes? A bee flys all day long and doesn’t ever need to be “plugged in”; it refuels as it travels.
  • Bees and other insects already know what to do. They know where to go, how to get there, when to return, which flowers to visit. A bee already knows to avoid bad weather. They sleep in! No programming required!
  • Insects such as bees are already solar powered (they make their food from plants, which are powered by photosynthesis)
  • Robots are not currently biodegradeable and/or compostable. Are they? E-waste is a big problem today and this simply creates more of it. Recycling still requires the consumption of energy and the addition of new raw material to the batch.
  • Insects such as ants detect chemicals. They’re chemical detectors. That’s how they work (as far as I know). It’s not just their eyes, but their antannae.Do you want to know what the smallest CO² chemical detector is today? Unless there has been some amazing development in the field of gas chromatography that I am not aware of, current gas detectors would need to be mounted on a drone so big, that it would not be able to manouvre around individual flowers with enough precision. It would be like a fucking bald eagle trying to thread a needle with a cross wind.
  • Bees aren’t the only pollinators. There are pollinators even smaller than bees that can pollenise the tiniest of flowers only a few mm across.
  • Making one robot bee is not the same as making a whole swarm. Who is going to make the swarm? People? Or still more robots? So then there will be more “embodied energy” tied up in the manufacturing stage.
  • Most current manufacturing methods are not really sustainable in the long term. They just aren’t. Because they require things like lasers, magnets, chemicals, copper/PVC wiring, steel moulds, energy, transport.
  • Do we seriously see ourselves making an equivalent of the Earth’s biomass of insects for the next million+ years? Like a billion tonnes of robot bees? Where is all that material going to come from? More mines? Current mining operations endanger many species all over the world; habitat destruction will endanger further species… so it just seems to me that as we try to apply more and more technology to solve more problems, technology itself creates an ever-decreasing viscious circle.

Humans have this kind of “wait and see” approach, which I think is crap. Sure it “can be done”, but making robot bees is probably a thousand times less efficient than natural bees (if not a million times less).

I think it’s time robot technicians admitted something. That they cannot recreate a single bee, fly or mosquito. Like I say, is it biodegradeable, self-assembling, and self-regenerative? No. If you look at even the most advanced robot and then put an insect or bacterium alongside it, the natural version is way more advanced (even in terms of the hierarchical structure of the materials alone).

I’m open minded. I’m creative. I’m optimistic. But this is clunky at best. This is stupid. This is wrong. This will create more problems for ourselves. And I think anyone who knows about science, manufacturing, or ecology, will probably agree with me.

The way I see it, digging up the Earth is still quite a primitive thing to do. And there is only so much we can dig. Better to have a circular economy and manufacturing industry. That’s how nature does it, with zero waste!

I really think there is only one way we can go and that is a “less is more” approach. And I think if we don’t change, nature will simply force us to. It’s hard to be productive as well as profitable in a blizzard, a heatwave, a flood, etc.

I’ve been told that I shouldn’t even be garnering additional exposure for this idea by even discussing robot pollination, and to take my thoughts offline. But I think it’s better to leave this right up here so that some of my connections can put up their arguments as to why they think it won’t work. I’d particularly like to hear from biologists. Tell us all the ways insects are superior to synthetic robots. :)

The life cycle analysis of an automobile is more than just the battery

In this article I’d like to talk about the life cycle analysis of a traditional car with an internal combustion engine compared to that of an electric car. I’m not actually going to perform any detailed life cycle analysis calculations, just talk about the number of additional parts that a petrol or diesel powered car requires compared to an EV.

First of all, let’s get one thing straight. No one is saying that purchasing an EV car is ‘better’ for the environment than purchasing no EV car at all (and no petrol/diesel replacement either). Right? No one is saying that here, there or anywhere.

It’s nice that David Pilling has written about where materials come from when they buy an EV. But why not also write an equally-damning column on the materials that go into petrol powered cars? Likewise, it’s nice that Schalk Cloete has written about the hidden emissions of electric cars. But do the authors really think that petrol- or diesel-engined vehicles are any less exempt? That’s what pisses me off.

There are thousands of intricate moving parts that make up a conventional internal combustion engine. Thousands. In order that they function correctly, they require complicated electrical, lubrication and cooling systems. The first time I looked at my motorbike’s repair manual, I was shocked!

Let’s talk about how many individual parts there are in an internal combustion engine and compare shall we?

What about all the pistons, piston rings, driveshafts, camshafts, gearbox, valves, crankshafts, valve springs, fuel injectors, bearings, o-rings, timing belts, fan belts, flywheels, alternators, ignition coils, spark plugs, distributor, starter motor, fasteners, sensors, switches, relays, cables, wiring harnesses, oil pumps, water pumps, fuel pump, oil filters, fuel filters, petrol tank, radiator, exhaust system …I mean the list goes on and on and on and on!

My point is that none of the above mentioned parts are required in an EV. None. I will repeat that: none.

So fossil fuel driven cars are competing with a motor that has ONE moving part in it (well except for the ball bearings on the main drive shaft). So the internal combustion engine now is potentially at a huge manufacturing and environmental disadvantage.

The cost of manufacturing, moulding and machining all of those extra parts is huge! And they’re not made of crappy alloys either. What then is the environmental cost?

What about the lead in lead/acid batteries? What about the copper in the starter motor? And what about the aluminium in the radiator? What about the aluminium in the engine block and gearbox casing? Where do all these materials come from?

What about the Manganese, Molybdenum, Chromium, Vanadium and Nickel in all those hardened-steel moving parts inside the engine and gearbox? What about the energy that goes into mining, smelting, forging, forming, cutting, swaging, extruding, casting, injection moulding, machining, tempering, hardening, plating?

What about the environmental impact of building and maintaining all of the machines used in manufacturing, processing and production? What about the energy required by all of the machines on the assembly line? What about the energy required by the testing and tooling machinery to make sure all of the parts are within tolerance?

What about consumables? What about engine oil? What about the coolant? What about the battery acid? What about the transmission fluid? What about the gaskets? What about the grease? What about the air filter? What about the oil filter? What about the fuel filter? What about the environmental cost of changing those frequently?

None of those things are required with an EV either. None.

There are so many friggin’ parts, no one has even tallied up the environmental cost of them individually (instead they work out how much energy the factory or the entire transport energy sector uses). It’s a rough guess at best.

If EV cars were invented first, piston engined car would never have even been conceived, that’s how overly-complex they are to design, manufacture and produce. Of course EV manufacturers already know all of this, that’s why they’re all trying to jump on the band wagon now, because there’s potentially more profit in it.

Can you at least begin to see that it’s not just about the environmental impact of a lithium ion battery in an electric vehicle. And that it’s not just about where the electricity comes from? It’s much more ‘complicated’ than that.

Would fossil fuel proponents now like to sit there and calculate all of the life cycle factors and environmental impacts, taking into account all of the things I have just spoken about?

The bottom line is, you have got to be fuckin’ kidding me if you think combustion engines are more sustainable when everything is taken into account… and yes I really would hate to be the sorry bastard that gets lumped with all those calculations.

The Navier—Stokes problem and the three atom universe.

What is the ocean, but a multitude of drops?

Okay, I previously studied materials science (which is a cross between engineering, chemistry, physics and maths). Maths was never my strong point. It’s nice to see people speaking english here. I am hopeless at maths. Really hopeless. I am more of a visual/graphical person.

I am having trouble even VISUALISING the problem here. Can someone show me *what the problem is* in a more GRAPHICAL format than showing equations?

Are you asking for a mathematical solution so you can predict where laminar to turbulent flow will occur in any theoretical system? Or are you asking what causes turbulence, where does it originate from?

If you are trying to understand and model where turbulence comes from in the real world, then I think you need to understand the real world at both large and small scales. Turbulence happens at all scales, from gases to galaxies, so it is a universal constant. So I’ll try to explain it like this:

On large scales, interactions between one atom and quintillions of millions of other atoms do not matter (I wouldn’t say ‘nothing’ but not very much anyway). Why not? I think that should be obvious, but it’s because minor fluctiations in an atoms’ position do not change bulk properties very much. It’s like adding a drop of liquid to a cubic metre of water, no big relative change. Well okay, “a drop in the ocean” has even become a common expression in the English language.

And what is the difference between large and small scales except just looking ever-closer at your X, Y and Z coordinates?

If the entire universe consisted of just one atom, the universe would be easy to predict. This one atom would just sit there, possibly vibrating and rotating around itself… and life would be pretty boring.

Now, if there were two atoms in the entire universe, they would probably orbit around eachother in a very predictable, ‘linear’ way. By ‘linear’ I mean “not progressive”; of course the atoms would move in circular orbits around each other. Or they would simply collide into one another leading to something I would called “the little crunch”. It would all be very easy to model. The point is, still nothing much would change with time. Even though in motion, it would be a fairly ‘static’ rather than a ‘dynamic’ system

However. If the entire universe consisted of only three atoms, nothing else. Things get very complicated, very quickly. Because, first of all, there exists in physics something known as the “n body problem“. Given three initial starting vectors, apparently it’s very difficult to predict the exact position and momentum where three measly atoms will end up.

Why is this so? Firstly, all of the atoms are attracted to one another because of Van der Waals forces. Also, each atom technically imparts an infinitesimally small gravitational pull on the other two. And any time gravity is involved, well, Newtonian mathematics doesn’t work too well. But there are magnetic forces from the nuclei as well. And when all of those forces are acting upon each other in three dimensions, it gets tricky. Because of the inverse-square law, the forces that interact for each of the atoms upon on the other two will be different at each point in time and space  (based on their proximity).

So on smaller physical scales, however, we know that a drop of water contains roughly 10^21 molecules. And those molecules are vibrating all over the place. They have all sorts of vibrational modes. They rotate. They spin. They vibrate at different frequencies. Nothing at all stays still. If it did, matter would soon annihilate itself. The electrons do not just orbit the nucleus in a circular fashion, but in complex dumbell shapes. The orbitals will even be different according to the type of atom, there are s, p, d and f shaped oribitals. We don’t even know with certainty where the electrons are orbiting due to the Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle (which takes effect whenever you actually try to measure anything at the atomic or subatomic scale). And all of the subatomic particles may interact with each other as well. Who knows? We don’t know.

So even when looking at the behaviour of a few atoms, as compared to a whole ocean, their position and momentum starts to become significant with respect to each other. Let’s look at what I’m talking about. A few people have tried to estimate the number of water molecules in all of this world’s oceans. And the number we get is from around 5 x 10^46 to 5 x 10^47. Yes you’ll note that those two numbers are out by a factor of ten. That is one order of magnitude margin of error just in the counting. Yes it’s that inaccurate. Because this is the real world and it’s just a ‘guestimate’ (close enough for the purposes of argument). Now keep in mind that they are very approximate figures, we certainly would never know the exact number, let alone the position and momentum of all that lot!

So for example, if I added one more molecule of water to an entire ocean, how much do you think all of those existing water molecules affect one single atom. The answer is “quite a bit”, because the number of them completely overwhelms that one molecule. But what about if I think about it the other way around? Does our additional lone water molecule impart much change to the other ten or a hundred ‘quattuordecillion’? How much influence does this extra molecule provide. It’s not ‘nothing’. It’s never ‘nothing’. Most people would say it is ‘negligable’. It is insignificant. Right? It wouldn’t change too many of the others’ motion paths. Or would it? Who can say? It’s like putting one more person in a stadium. Almost all of the other 100,000 people probably won’t notice the extra person. But if I add one extra atom to a two atom universe —if I get a divorce from the only person I know in the universe— then yes it does become very significant for both atoms.

One guy even mentioned on Quora that his instinct was that quantum (subatomic) interactions cause turbulence. If that is the case, then it truly would get ‘complicated’. Furthermore, physicists and cosmologists are saying that space and time itself might be ‘granular’ and not smooth. And then you are assuming that fluids are incompressible. Are they? Perhaps not 100%, no. I personally think there are no such things as fractions…

“I do not see two halves of an apple. I see quadrillions of whole atoms on each side.” Leslie Dean Brown

There are just that many variables. People like to quote god here. I don’t believe in god, because it isn’t necessary for me to understand the way the world works. For those people that insist on quoting god at this point, I’d say it like this: “not even god knows; nothing could or would know what is going on with all atoms and interactions at one instant in time, because EVERYTHING is interacting with EVERYTHING at that point in time”.

If you ask me, laminar flow is where maths and theory works. Turbulent flow is where maths breaks down. Does that sound like a grey answer? It is meant to be. I don’t think there is an answer. By the time you have done the calculations, the atoms will have moved elsewhere. It should be a trillion dollar problem. It’s going to be that complicated to try and figure out.

What is the Great Barrier Reef worth today?

Illustration by leslie dean brown. © 2017. All rights reserved.
AUD$56billion? Ridiculous evalulation. Just ridiculous. Completely wrong!

Did economists consult with biologists or materials scientists for their evaluation I wonder?

I think it’s worth more like 56 trillion to 56 quadrillion dollars, if you take into account all the endemic species, all of the “natural services” they provide, the potential for developing new medicines, the potential to study lifeforms in terms of their unique material properties and the potential to one day eliminate e-waste altogether…

Because I don’t look at a fish and see just a fish. I look at a fish and see a self-replicating biodegradeable waterproof robot with twice the swimming efficiency of a traditional propellor driven-submarine. Name one electronic device or invention that has the combination of all these properties. Name one! If this civilisation truly wants to be more ‘sustainable’, then technology is going to have to start resembling more organic/biological structures… that is my vision of “the future”.

There is a lot of stuff that we still don’t know. I am no biologist, but do researchers know how genes influence species’ morphology (and patterns) in all marine species living in the Great Barrier Reef? The actual mechanisms?

How does the organisms final shape come about? Why does an octopus have eight arms? How does living tissue ‘know’ when to stop producing scales and start producing fins or something else? Why do fish eyes appear where they do instead of half way down the animals’ body?

AFAIK, those are still unanswered questions… when we know that, we might be able to create our own reef ecosystems. And I don’t mean ‘cheating’ by simply pfaffing about mixing pre-existing strands of DNA. I mean, starting by scratch (synthetic DNA). Until then, the Great Barrier Reef and the biodiversity that it contains is literally priceless, aren’isn’t it?

The trouble with estimating the long-term benefits of scientific research is that it is really unknown. Any half-way decent scientist would say “Where are your error bars?”

And here’s the thing. I don’t think you have taken into account the loss of potential revenue from future scientific research. Is that not significant?

For instance: What would the US military pay for adaptive camouflage? What would they pay for uniforms that blended into their surroundings like a cuttlefish or octopus? Because that would give them a HUGE advantage in close combat, wouldn’t it? If the ‘enemy’ could barely even see something approaching.

Is the human race a plague?

Of course modern man is a plague. When did man become a plague?

Probably with the rise of the industrial revolution, when we were able to affect our environment on a grand scale. We invented pollution and toxic chemicals. We use those toxic chemicals to kill off other species on purpose and we only ever do things for our own direct benefit.

The population has reached a crisis point. We’re on every continent on the planet. We are not really meant to last longer than about 35-45 years old, but better nutrition has pushed us to live 90+ years. So instead of one generation merely replacing the next, you have 3 or 4 generations of humans alive at the same time.

We know it’s not at all sustainable yet the first thing we do is congratulate someone when they give birth to another child. Congratulations. For what exactly? Doing what comes naturally? Doing what every single one of their ancestors did?

How about congratulating people for not having a child?

We destroy everything in sight and call that “urbanisation”. When we do plant stuff it is common green grass. We then try to keep that under control by mowing it all down rather than letting things grow naturally by themselves.

We still don’t value nature’s functions yet we cannot live without them.

Some people are so obsessed with conquering everything that they even want to travel in to outer space to spread the plague even further.

Native American Indians, Australian Aborignies and many other indigenous tribes lived in mutual harmony with their natural environments. In the case of Australian Aborigines, for 40,000 years.

Their materials and tools were biodegradeable. The valued art and music more than we do in our culture. In our culture it seems we value consumerism. A sad fact.

So I think we can learn a lot from their values.

Trophy hunter hypocrasy

Personally I think you trophy hunters are all basic cowards. Shooting animals from distance… Like wow.

And it’s always a giraffe. But they’re not venomous. Are they? So like they are really going to fight back… Wow. Or a zebra. They don’t appear to have claws either.

You had to take a selfie. You just had to take a selfie. That’s the thing with you trophy hunters, isn’t it? You always have to have a memento. But don’t serial killers always take mementos of their victims? I think they do. They might as well call it “souvenir hunting”.

And we all know that you greedy bastards want to collect the whole set, too. We know. Because they are all very “limited edition”, aren’t they? These endangered animals.

Is it really the thrill of the hunt? Or is it all just for that tacky piece of junk that is hanging on your wall that you need to keep there … to remind yourself every single day that “you’re really brave”. Yes I think that’s what it is. You all have such a subconscious inferiority complex, you need these bullshit reminders on your walls of your “manliness”. And you need to show it off to others, too.

And what’s this you little shit-turd? You killed a lion this time? With a gun. Well anyone can do that. Anyone with a finger.
And you put the gun over your shoulder like the little dip shit that you are, acting all ‘superior’. What’s that for?

But are you superior? Are you really? Let me tell you why you’re not superior, little man with a 4cm penis:

Because yes even crossbows are overpowered today. All those linkages. Made of advanced materials. You know. You know I know. Oh I know all about materials.

How about this? Next time, try it with a fucking wooden bow that you’ve carved from a tree that you cut down yourself. And no I don’t mean with a chainsaw. I mean you must chop that tree down by hand with an axe. To be fair. To be fair to the lion.

What about the string then? For the bow. Did you harvest that from natural fibres and make it into twine? I didn’t think so. You’re all using synthetic bow strings, aren’t you? Or is that what you are so convinced that human technology is ‘superior’, because of synthetic materials?

And the arrow. Let’s not forget the arrow. Did you also make that yourself? So you choose to make the arrow from metal. But let me ask you, hunter: did you obtain that metal from first principles? Including smelting from the ore? Did you dig that ore yourself? No. Did you light the fire for the smelting operation? Chop down that wood, too, by hand with an axe?

Something tells me that you didn’t. I didn’t think so. You did none of that. You all went to the shop and bought the metal rods. For the arrows. Didn’t you? Went in your car to get those? That’s what I thought. You drive more than me. And you think I pollute. You lot actually consume more than I do! And you thought it was the other way around…

And how did you shape that arrow? Not with a lathe! No, not with a lathe. Not with electricity that gets streamed right to your closest power outlet. I mean, lions don’t have electricity to help them out, do they? No they don’t. They don’t need electricity…

Here’s a thought. Why don’t you go and hunt with a knife? EH? Something tells me I don’t think you would be in that. Because then the risk is in the lions’ favour. Don’t fancy the odds? I thought not, coward.

You want a rush, you do it properly. Give the lion a fighting chance. Because how much adrenaline can you get from shooting fish in a barrel?

Maybe if you do all of the above, make your own bow and arrow, knife, using tools you made yourself, you’ll regain some of your actual life. And you won’t feel the need to shoot lions to feel ‘happy’. Maybe if you used your muscles a bit more, you might generate more endorphins that way.

And I see you strung up that lion. It’s like you’re trying to show people that it is an animal and you are the “all powerful” ‘human’. But you, too, are an animal. And I mean that in the derogatory sense, not in the sense of awe I have for a truly magnificent beasts that hunt every single day of their lives on the Serengetti.

Did someone help you haul that lion up there? Over that tree branch? Or did you do it all by yourself? Something tells me you had to order your pathetic cameraman ‘friend’ to help you out. I know your muscles simply are not big enough to move that lion even two lousy inches without help.

Not to mention the fact that the rope is acting like a pulley system, halving the effective weight. Wow, you lifted up a quarter of a dead lion. Wow. That must have been hard. You must be so proud of yourself! Well done. And I know you probably worked up more of a sweat lifting that dead lion two feet off the ground than actually pulling the trigger a few times too, didn’t you?

Because, you certainly didn’t hunt the lion on foot, did you? I mean if even this fat ugly bastard barely works up a sweat in an African climate, I’m sure you are making it too easy for yourselves. What do I mean by that? Too easy?

Well, you drove there in your comfortable safari jeep, powered with a diesel engine, didn’t you? It probably even has air-conditioning, doesn’t it? Well maybe on the ‘deluxe’ tour.

Oh sure you got out of the car AFTER driving all the way there from Cape Town. Or wherever. But you certainly did not arrive there on foot, you pathetic cheating little bastards.

Why not try cycling or walking, and hauling your own kit over there to the safari next time? Yes I’m talking about all the way from the international airport. Try actually using your leg muscles to get somewhere next time.

What bothers me is that you like to act all “tough and manly”. Yes even the trophy-hunter-bitches like to be all “tough and manly” too (because they’re probably just lesbians and don’t even realise it or won’t admit it to themselves). It’s okay to be butch you know. Or bi. It’s okay. Better to lick pussy than kill lions.

But, again, I digress. Where was I? Oh yes, you like to all “tough and manly”. But did you walk all the way to Africa from your hometown? Did you swim or row over the Atlantic ocean? No. I didn’t think so. You flew there. Well you didn’t fly. The plane flew. And you just sat there watching television. Once again, a ‘wow’ is in order. Wow. Gettting served your meals directly in your lap. Having other people carry your water for you.

And so you you claim you are “helping the environment”. But the flight to Africa certainly isn’t helping out the atmosphere, is it?

Oh that’s right, you ultra-conservative religious gun-toting motherfuckers don’t ‘believe’ that humans can cause something like that. It seems to me your puny little brain does not comprehend physics or chemistry. But I digress…

Even if you don’t believe in climate change, that flight you took —like everything we do in this world— has an ecological cost. You have just polluted the air.

But it’s not just that. Planes require fuel. And that fuel has do come from somewhere. And where does it come from? That’s right, it always comes from natural spaces, doesn’t it? And the metal in that plane. That metal has do come from somewhere. And where does it come from? That’s right, it too comes from natural spaces. The very same natural spaces you claim to care most about. Oh the hypocrasy!

Now you could argue that the plane was going to fly to Africa anyway, even without you. But something tells me you don’t think too much. All you alpha-male hunter types. You have a little too much latent testosterone. And not quite enough IQ to match.

By your own fucked-up “hunting logic”, modern aviation is supposedly not ‘sustainable’ either, is it? Or had you conveniently forgotten about that part of your trip? You know… all the modern things in life that you’re taking advantage of…

All this time, you have been sitting on your fat arse getting driven and flown to places! And meanwhile, what you think of as a ‘lesser’ lion has —all this time— been hunting on his own. No guns. No bows and arrows. No gunpowder. No laser cut blades. Just claws and teeth mate. Claws and teeth. No composites. No ceramics. No steel or cast iron or bronze. No metal whatsoever. No plastic handles. Not even natural materials like cotton or wood, for the lion.

No lap meals for the lion. No air conditioning. No television. No flight crew. Not even so much as a fucking tent for shelter. And yet you have a nice soft mattress to sleep on, princess!

I think, to be fair, you should have to fight the lion with no materials, no technology at all. Just you and your bare hands. Learn some karate maybe? Or maybe you could try to bite the lion with your own teeth, just in the right spot. Estrangulation? Or maybe you could grow your hair long, draw some of your own blood, make a composite out of that and try to suffocate it that way. But you’d have to be pretty quick. Lions don’t like being crept up on. They tend to kill unarmed people.

Now, see, I’m not some tree-hugging vegan. I don’t view the world with rose tinted glasses. I know lions get killed. And I know tribes eat lions. I think you should be forced to eat that entire lion within one week. Not with the help of your miserable friends, but, you know, on your ownsome. But I am starting to become vegetarian, because I don’t like the way meat is farmed.

Would you try to hunt me down if you knew I was armed? If I could shoot back? I don’t think so. I really don’t think so.

Quite frankly, I don’t even think of you as human. You are not part of my species. You don’t belong.

It’s too bad the law defines you as human. Were it legal, I would hunt YOU down! I might do it from a mile off. Or I might just walk up to you and shoot you in the face. I wouldn’t even think twice, because to me, you are not human.

You disgust me, trophy hunter.

It takes real courage to admit that a lion is the greater beast here among men.

Why am I a minimalist?

I am a former materials scientist. The first question I always get asked is: “what is that?”.

Materials science is the study of mostly synthetic materials such as metals, polymers, ceramic and composites. We study their physical & chemical properties and how they are extracted from the Earth.

I am telling you this because I think that people need to start listening to scientists. More people need to listen to more scientists.

That’s a two way thing. I think that more scientists should start their own blogs (and other mediums communication like that).

Right. So I am a former materials scientist. And do you know what I now think about materials? What I now know?

I think that everything that you buy kills some part of the world somewhere else. The metals in the electronics that you are buying come from mines and natural spaces have to be destroyed to get them. I think we have to realise that and remember it every time we go to buy something. We need to think about that whenever Apple tries to sell us some new product. Do we really need it? What is the environmental cost?

My view now is that the things that we buy have to come from somewhere. Ask yourselves where. Most plastics [polymers] in use today come directly from oil. Uh oh.

All metals that aren’t being recycled are mined. Mines are always built in the natural environment (just look what happens when they are not –like with coal seam gas– people complain their heads off and usually get their own way).

But the problem isn’t just big banks and mining companies. Because I think 99% of adults have simply forgotten where they get their stuff from. [Read more…]

Future optimism scale


Knowing what I know about materials, their effect on ecology and people’s obsession with consumerism, I give humanity a score of about, oooh, 2.9. (and that’s me trying *very* hard to be generous and optimistic)

And you can subtract 0.1 from that number for every decade after that.

The trouble I see is that people are becoming more and more disconnected from what they buy. They don’t see the impact that it is having on other parts of the world. They don’t see any direct or local impacts, so some people even think “everything is rosy”.

On top of that, product life cycles are getting shorter and shorter and shorter, which is bad. We should be reward companies that sell timeless designs. Because there is less of an environmental footprint if you manufacture the same thing without any changes. Every time a part changes shape, moulds also have to change, that is not good for the environment. And the manufacturing phase of synthetic products contributes more to pollution than their end-of-life disposal.

90% of people refuse to even talk about it, like the problems will all magically “go away”. Cat videos get more likes on social media than most current environmental issues. And I find that to be quite saddening.

I don’t even think climate change or overpopulation is the biggest threat. It’s probably land clearing. We’re not even giving nature the chance to recover! If urbanisation continues, there just won’t be anywhere for other species to go! And it has been said that if insects disappear, we will soon follow. I think a greater threat to humanity is a mass extinction.

People should try to realise that if you put a great big hermetically-sealed dome right over the top of Manhatten, for example, it probably wouldn’t even work, because central park does not produce enough oxygen, and there is not enough space to grow food and get other material resources…

Probably the worst thing of all is the collusion between government, politics and business. The wrong people are being the most rewarded.

It’s not even 2100 that people should even worry about. It’s the centuries that follow that. With the current rate of deforestation, it’s not going to be a very fun world to live in…

Do keep in mind, I give [some] other species a much higher score than us, many an 8, 9 or even 9.9999 for some. But unfortunately, many many others (mammals and amphibians) will be, like, 0.1, 0.2 or 0.3. That’s really how bad it is. There are species out there with only a dozen specimens in existence.

Time to change people. Time to change. Now.

The trouble is, from what I see, people only tend to believe in parts of science — and only when it suits them.

So when does it suit them? Whenever they want to use an electronic device or some other piece of latest technology they can’t do without.

I don’t hear many people denying … oh I don’t know… modern electron valence bond theory. Or semiconductor doping. We never hear about those subjects in parliamentary debates. Or anything at all to do with thermodynamics/physics/electronics/materials for that matter. Do we?

Why not? Because it’s this kind of knowledge that makes transistors and other electronic devices possible and allows things like computers and mobile phones to be built.

I don’t think people realise how serious this climate change thing is. Because scientists don’t like losing control of things. We don’t like it.

There ain’t no way of stoppin’ Jupiter’s great red spot. There ain’t no fixin’ the atmosphere of Venus either. And Mars is a fuckin’ frozen wasteland which right now is even more inhospitable than somewhere like the summit of mount Everest. Yet I don’t see people building houses way up there. Or on K2.

This planet Earth right here is all we’ve got. And there ain’t no guarantees.

Don’t make it hard for scientists in future.

I see politicians and leaders pleading with scientists in the future. Pleading for a way to get the Earth’s climate back on track.

And do you know what will happen? Some scientists will tell them –you– to just fuck off already. Or something like that.

“Why didn’t you listen to us when were telling you to change decades ago?” — Scientists of the future.

What I think of ‘Lord’ Christopher Monckton.

I‘ve become tired of being ‘nice’. So two years ago, okay, I got hypnotised. And this is basically the result of that. Now I call it like I see it. I don’t really care if I offend people. If they want to be stupid and remain ignorant, then that’s there perogative. Fine by me.

But don’t expect me to shut up and listen to you without calling you out on it. What am I talking about? This is what I am talking about. It is pretty hard to watch.
What kind of BULLSHIT is this? Seriously. The first thing I do is look up people’s credibility. And what do I see with this “Lord Muck” fellow? I see a degree in classics (languages). And another one in journalism. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But I don’t see any science education anywhere in his CV.

[Read more…]

Corvette owner defends his purchase…


“A guy looked at the Corvette the other day and said I wonder how many people could have been fed for the cost of that car. I replied I am not sure, it fed a lot of families in Kentucky who built it, it fed the people who make the tires, it fed the people who made the components, it fed the people in the copper mine who mined the copper for the wires, it fed people who make the trucks that haul the copper ore. That’s the difference between capitalism and welfare mentality. When you buy something,you put money in people’s pockets and give them dignity for their skills” — Anubhav Krishna

Yes that may well be true, but I say again, if everyone on the planet owned as many corvettes/helicopters/mansions at they wanted, for as many generations as they wanted, Earth itself would be really fúckéd (not the people, the planet).

If you understand all about the materials that go into your car, as you seem to, then you will also understand this. It all has to come from the Earth’s crust. So nature is what is getting fúckéd over here, not people. I say this as a former materials scientist. Perhaps a more relevant question should have been “what was the environmental impact of this car?”.

The real trouble today is that this capitalist/industrialist model is not at all sustainable in its current form. Just because it has ‘worked’ for a hundred or so years, doesn’t mean it will ‘work’ for another thousand (it won’t, it can’t). Apart from that, I find it SAD that people equate materials with success.

Take a look at this latest graph.

Go on, have the balls to actually look at it:


See where we are? We’re right at that point where we don’t want to be. That’s where we are. The appropriately red-coloured line that is beneath all the others (well beneath).

Look, I don’t claim to know much about climate science. I know about materials science. But if there’s one thing scientists know how to do, it’s to respect others’ areas of expertise. Especially the expertise of other scientists.

It’s a bit like the song:

“What you don’t know you can feel it somehow” — U2

We know that there are others who are cleverer than us. And we respect that knowledge.

So I admit that I don’t know how the Earth’s climate fully works. But this latest graph worries me. This graph worries me a lot.

Because its pretty darn obvious to anyone what is going on in this graph.

I don’t think the Earth is completely screwed just yet. But if we don’t change NOW, then it will be.

I think the Earth’s climate is remarkly resilient considering all we’ve thrown at it over the last century.

But all I know is, if man thinks he can change local environments —on a global scale mind you— without global consequences, well then he is sorely mistaken.

That is not the way this world works. That is not how any world works.

Because this is the graph of all graphs. This graph should be printed on the insides of all petrol tank lids.

Every time you wish to use your car, you should be thinking of this graph!

Every time you want to fly somewhere, you should be thinking of this graph!

Every time you eat meat, you should be thinking of this graph!

This is the “climate emergency” graph that James Hansen is referring to.

And what do I see? In reality? In reality, I look around today, and I see bugger all people talking about this problem. And yet it is a big problem. A very big problem.

People should be talking about this over their lunch break and their coffee break. And for some reason they’re not. They’re just not.

[Read more…]

The ultimate cure for cancer.

Every time I see this “cure for cancer” thing mentioned, I feel compelled to inform people…

There is already a ‘cure’ for cancer. All you have to do is avoid carcinogenic chemicals! (of which many synthetic materials are made). Benzene in petrol is one. Plasticiser additives used in polymers like PVC is another. And there are a *load* of others, especially the aromatic ‘organic’ compounds.

Now if you don’t want to accept the scientific evidence for some reason (lord knows there are a lot of deniers these days), then I’ll share with you a personal anecdote: our university laboratory demonstrator… who worked in the organic chemicals lab… contracted cancer.

So now you know. That new car smell is probably not good for you…

Why I am so concerned about the state of the world.

I am worried and very concerned, yes. My background is originally materials science.

From my perspective, the problem is that there is an environmental cost to every single material that you buy — be it gold, cotton, steel, or whatever. People forget that. The economy may benefit from materialism, but the environment certainly doesn’t.

Now, keep in mind that when I did my degree over 15 years ago, the ‘environment’ wasn’t even really discussed in that course. It was all about the properties and structure of materials.

First off, there is a lot of energy required to make materials. So if the country of manufacture uses coal power to generate their electricity, and they are not offsetting those emissions, then whatever physical goods you buy from them is contributing further to climate change.

Why? Because almost all materials either require either energy, heat, or other chemicals (which, in turn, require heat) in order to produce them. That’s a bit of a worry in itself. Because people are generally becoming more materialistic.

So for instance, hunters that shoot animals and think that is a ‘sustainable’ way of life, well I have news for you. If your gun is made of plastic or metal, where does that come from? It all comes from mines. And plastic comes from oil&gas. And your bullets. What are they made from? That too comes from mines. And the gunpowder contains chemicals like sulfur and potassium. And they have to come from somewhere too. And mines don’t last forever…

Currently, the manufacture of every single synthetic material results in carbon emissions somewhere along the line, if only from the energy that is required to create them. I think the correct term is “embodied energy”. [Read more…]

“Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?”

Ok. I am sick to death of hearing people rubbish climate change at this very late stage. Especially by the people who contribute most (manufacturing/engineering).

“Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?” …. down here on the Florida coast, the water-line remains the same it was fifty (50) years ago. Same goes for southern California, the high tide line remains the same as when I lived there in the early 1950s … hello Al Gore? you remain 100% wrong. The first thing that needs to be done is to ban any and all lawyers from any and all discussions about CC. — David Hubbell

David, I see you are a clever bloke. Engineers are always spouting off about how the world couldn’t work without engineering. Well ok. Fair enough. But it wouldn’t work without science either.

I put my trust in engineers every time I cross a bridge or catch an elevator. And you accept that your computer ‘works’, don’t you? So people put their trust in electronics every single day of the week. And who studies that stuff? Physicists. Materials scientists. That’s who.

But do you people ever question the theory behind semiconductors? No, because that enables computers. Do you question anything else to do with science for that matter? It’s these very same science and technological advances and principles that have enabled consumerism to spawn in the first place. These are the same people who invented MRI machines for Pete’s sake! And yet deniers say nothing about electron theory, magnetic domains or PN junctions.

What am I saying? I am saying that I think it’s time we showed the same level of respect for climate scientists. It looks to me the ONLY reason there are deniers today is that it means you have to “give up” something. And that something is called ‘lifestyle’.

Personally, I think that’s why you are on the denying side of the fence. Because if you accept what is happening, suddenly you’d have to take a long hard look at your own career choices. Because they contribute, don’t they? And you don’t want to do that, so you have these pre-conceived ideas about the world

Kindly educate yourself on the CO2 composition of the planet Venus and it’s surface temperature. And to all my connections, this is the real problem. The social intertia. That’s what I’m tackling here. It’s time to call out the bullshit “personal observations” for what they are. Personal observations.

What does this materials scientist think about all this plastic?

Today I’d like to talk about plastic and terrorism. Yes plastic and terrorism.

First of all, the proper term for ‘plastic‘ is ‘polymer‘. It’s not supposed to be called plastic, the correct term is polymer. Ther word polymer describes the material; the word plastic describes a physical property (and not all polymers are plastic, so its technically wrong).

Don’t get me wrong, plastic itself is not a ‘bad’ material. It’s just blatantly overused. One of the reasons why it is used is because of it’s properties. It’s electrically insulating for one thing, which is good for wiring. Otherwise, what would we use?

It’s also very cheap. And that’s another reason that it is blatantly overused. Well you know what I think? I think we need some form of “plastic control”. What makes me say that?

Well much ilke Chris Rock said “if a bullet cost five thousand dollars, there’d be no more innocent bystanders”. Well if a plastic bottle top cost five thousand dollars, there’d be no more innocent victims of plastic pollution!

I do not think companies should even be allowed to make everything they choose out of polymers. So right now there is no plastic control at all. Anyone can make anything of plastic that they want. And I think it’s about time their should be restrictions on its use. In all industries.

Take coffee capsules and disposable plastic cups for instance. I do not think that they should even be produced at all.

Do you know what they are using at the wellbeing clinic in Caringbah? Disposable plastic cups. And I’m damn sure that they are used in offices all around the country. Well that has got to stop!

And now to talking about terrorism:
[Read more…]

Development is not progress

I believe we cannot save the world by simply buying things all the time.
Illustration by Leslie Dean Brown. © 2015. All rights reserved.
Illustration by Leslie Dean Brown. © 2015. All rights reserved.

Even if we all bought 100% eco things 100% of the time instead of the plastic crap that everyone buys today, they are still ultimately things and it will mean that the demand for timber and other eco fibres will go up further, leading to further deforestation elsewhere (more plantations of whatever crop, be it corn for renewable plastic, bamboo or hemp for fibres, etc).

Personally I think the only real ‘solution’ for the entire human civilisation is … to do nothing. And by that I don’t mean “don’t change”. I literally mean: do nothing. For people to simply work less. Work a four day week. Work a four hour week.

We should be more like the Aborigines! We should look up to the Aborigines! The original (and best) custodians of this land.

More sleep and more meditation. That’s the only hope for humanity, for people to be more mindful. And that is the best that I can think of (after several years of thinking I might add).

And I can tell you first hand that it’s very hard to live with less, because we have all been brainwashed with “more more more”.

Of course it’s a huge problem because half the global economy is based on blatant overconsumption. I think one of the best things I ever did was to live in Spain — it taught me to be happier with much less.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t all try to be more eco, but what I am promoting these days is simply minimalism. So I would rather buy a wooden broom than have a vacuum cleaner (for example). Because I see the broom as being much less wasteful over the long term.

Unfortunately, when you begin to look at where all of our starting chemicals come from, the industrial processes used to get them, and where everything else is mined from, you realise how big the problem is.

People don’t want mines in their own backyard. And so the ONLY other place to get them is the natural spaces that are left. That is a very big problem. If only because “accidents happen”.

From my point of view as a former materials scientist, I find that life is so special, we should be fighting for every shred of biodiversity on this planet. We couldn’t even hope to artificially make anything like near as complicated as a fly or a worm from first principles using artificial methods (without cheating using genetic engineering etc).

[Read more…]

A message from our great elder, Savid Suzuki.

I went to see David Suzki talk about our planet’s health earlier this year at an event called ‘Hope for the Planet’. I’ve always been aware of the enviornment, ever since I did general studies way back in 1991.

So I paid to see this talk “hope for the planet”. I think all business owners, CEOs, directors, managers, millionaires, billionaires, developers, miners, indeed the entire human race should hear what David Suzuki has to say here. He speaks as a grandfather, an elder. Indigenous peoples will of course already know what he has to say.

“Nature couldn’t care less about human boundaries.” — David Suzki

Watch it & share. Because the fact that it only has a thousand views is unfathomable. Our future as a species depends on how many people listen to a talk like this.

We need to work collectively towards a better future. Otherwise, what’s the point of even working so hard on our businesses?

It’s so true when David Suzuki speaks about the most important things for us humans in this world: clean air, fresh water and uncontaminated, healthy food. Without aire, we’d all be dead in two minutes!

It is absolutely ridiculous that corporations can poison our world and get away with it. They are encouraged to do so by our own government. Workers in such industries are paid HUGE amounts of money and I see that as a form of environmental corrruption. When you pay your workers $100k, $200k, $1M, $10M salaries, it’s a way of getting them to forget about their conscience.

Anyway, I think seeing his talk [which is not quite what this video is about] made me realise my place in the world. I studied materials science so I know better than anybody where all these materials come from, how they are mined, extracted and used. I know that every time you buy something physical, something mandmade and synthetic, you are directly supporting the mining industry. 

And I’m sure if mining industries had their own way, no areas would be safe on this planet. They don’t truly care about this world. They only seem to care about profit. And that’s one of the many reasons why I try to reduce my consumption and materialism in all areas of my life. Ever since I decided to do this, it has made me much, much happier as a person.

I think that the whole concept of the “7 generations” that Indigenous American Indians have is way more evolved than the concept of industrialisation. I think that in that respect, Indgineous Australian Aborigines are probably a thousand years ahead of us in terms of sustainability. I think we need to look to them on how to best protect our world.

Chaos theory. The butterfly effect.

Today I’m going to talk about “sensitive dependence on initial conditions”, which is one of the foundations of chaos theory.

Chaos theory. I find it a fascinating subject to talk about, so here goes. Some people (me included!) can be really confused by the mathematics that is involved. So I’m not even going to put up a single formula here. Some people can’t seem to fathom how the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil can set off a tornado in Texas.”

I’m just going to explain the concept to you. How can I best explain this something called “sensitive dependence on initial conditions”? Easy.

I want you to think of a single marble on top of a mountain peak like the Matterhorn. Imagine if we placed a marble way up there on the very highest point.

Now imagine, too, if an abnormal amount of snow had built up over the previous winter and there is now the possibility of a great big avalanche. And you all know how avalanches are caused, right?

Avalanches are initiated by too much snow that accumulates on the side of a mountain. Even the smallest rock moving can set it off. Even the force of the snow melting in the sun can change the distribution of weight of built up snow on a slope.

We all know that the marble might dislodge a slightly bigger rock on its way down, thus causing an avalanche. So we have a situation where a very small physical event like a marble falling down could potentially generate a much larger event like an avalanche at the bottom of the mountain. Well ‘okay’ you might say.

Now this is just where it becomes interesting. Because the slightest change in the way we placed that single marble down onto the summit might have caused it to fall one way or another. Or the slighest breeze in one direction or the other. Or some small feature on the surface of the rock on which it is placed. [Read more…]

Here’s something manufacturers and industrial designers need to think more about: backlash on planned obsolescence.

If there’s one thing in this world that I can’t stand, it’s companies like Microsoft and Apple…

Who seem to make things go obsolete well before their time. And no one can tell them not to. They just keep getting away with it. Why? Probably because they make a lot of money getting away with it. That’s why.

But there are no laws to stop them getting away with it. And what this materials scientist thinks right now is “by fucken oath there should be [laws to stop them getting away with it]”. That is coming from an ex materials scientist. Right.

I think you all know what I am talking about. I’m talking about ‘old’ printers that don’t work with newer computers simply because the ‘drivers’ have ‘issues’ with the “operating system”. I’m talking about new software that won’t run on old hardware. I’m also talking about new hardware that won’t run old software. I’m talking about Apple’s proprietry connectors.

Let me tell you a little anecdote. I can even remember my dad saying about 15 or 20 years ago way back when I was a kid that Apple (you know, Macintosh it was once called) forced you to use their special cables and connectors, and thus were able to charge a premium.

At the time, I took what he said with a pinch of salt. I thought “well it’s their computer system, I suppose they would want to do that. Who can blame them?”. But now, fast forward twenty-odd years and my old man is dead [RIP, he died last year] and what he said to me in the 1990’s is looking even wiser now than it did when he said it all those years ago. Because it just so happens to be true. This man, my father, would be 90 years old if he were alive today. He was old but he knew something that I didn’t. That something is called ‘wisdom’ and all early adopters from what I’ve seen tend to suffer from a severe lack of it.

Back in the day, we used things called serial ports and parrallel ports to plug in our printers. So they got the information from one cable and they got their power from another completely separate cable. The thing is, they were slow. Really slow. But when USB came along, all those printers and mice and things became much less useful. The same thing happened to compact discs when Apple decided not to include a CD drives on their latest desktops.

People will always need to buy new peripherals to work with new plugs on their new computer system. That is now happening with USB-C connectors. Do you want to know what I think? I think USB C can go and get fucked, that’s what I think. All of my stuff (two external hard drives, external sound card for microphone, graphics tablet, mouse, wireless solar keyboard, external webcam, flash drives, the entire bloody lot is USB2 now isn’t it?). USB2 and it is plenty good enough. I’m sticking with it.

Yes, I’m talking about Apple ditching the 3.5mm headphone jack on it’s newest smartphone. Now, keep in mind that I don’t even own an Apple iphone. In fact I have never owned an Apple iphone. And here I am, compelled to write a blog article about how narky it makes me feel. Because knowing what I know, I probably won’t ever own an Apple iphone. I’m writing this from an imac retina. I don’t own an ipad. And right now, that is the way it is going to stay. After buying just one Apple product, I’m fast becoming anti-Apple. And the headphone jack decision is my last straw. It is the catalyst to me becoming “anti-Apple”.

So I’m going to just say it here in black and white. I’m going to share with all you strangers the reason it makes me so narky. Because this is my blog, my little ‘space’ and I can say pretty much whatever the hell I want. Right? There’s this thing called “free speech” in the West that not enough people take advantage of… this is vida enigmática… [Read more…]

Our environmental footprint

Most of the global economy is based on the idea of selling physical products. And if you’re not selling something yourself, your clients are people that do.

B I’ve noticed that in some environmental discussions and debates, Westerners automatically assume that their country is less polluting than poorer countries. I don’t think pointing the finger at China really helps. And here’s why:

I think our blatant consumerism in the West doesn’t compare favourably to the third world, because all of the things that we buy have a kind of “environmental footprint” if you like. And note that I’m not even really talking about CO2 emissions here (even though the US carbon emission per capita is 17.56 metric tons while that of China is ‘only’ 6.19 metric tons per capita). Carbon is not the only element on the periodic table although it is the one that goes into the atmosphere more than the others.

If China pollutes rivers or whatever making loads of stuff for the West, who is really doing (causing) the polluting? The chinese manufacturers? Or is the Western consumer demand for those products ultimately to blame?

My main backround if materials science. One of the more eye-opening subjects I found out about (in terms of environmental degradation) is called “extractive metallurgy”. Extractive metallurgy is the study of chemical processes that we use to extract an refine metals from their ores. Basically, in a nut shell, all materials have to come from somewhere. Ususally it’s either the Earth’s crust itself or sea water.

In most of the processes, you need either need huge amounts of electricity and/or high temperatures and/or huge amounts of other chemicals to obtain the desired elements and/or compounds.

For example, here is just one of the many steps in the refinement of germanium:

GeO2 + 4 HCl → GeCl4 + 2 H2O

In this step, the reactive gas chlorine is being used to make germanium more reactive. So chlorine, which is toxic, is used in one of the processes to extract the element germanium from its oxide. Okay.

And here is just one of the steps in tellurium refinement:

HTeO−3 + OH + H2SO4 → TeO2 + SO2−4 + 2 H2O

In this step, sulfuric acid is being used to make tellurium more reactive. Okay.

And where are germanium and tellurium being used you ask? They are two semiconductors that are the basis for integrated circuits and other electronic components in all sorts of electronic devices. Not so good.

In fact, many other nasty chemical compounds are used in the extraction, refinement and manufacturing industries. Many others.

I’m not 100% sure, but I think the worst offenders are the electronic consumer devices, simply because they contain the most number of hard-to-extract elements. The harder-to-extract elements require more chemical treatment steps. That’s just one of the reasons why they these elements are so expensive (not just that they’re rare). In fact I can probably go so far as to invent a new theory, which goes something like this: “the higher the unit price of an element, the more damaging its extraction process is to the environment.” But I digress…

Here’s the thing. There are a lot of chemical elements used in computers and extracting them from the ground and processing them taxes the environment (especially when you consider all of the planned obsolesence we see today). Our current way of life creates more and more electronic waste that cannot be recovered or recycled (except perhaps the gold bits)

I recently asked a few questions on Quora and I’d like to share those questions and answers with you now. Listed here are some of the toxic chemicals and semiconductors that are used in electonic decices. Go on, take a look. Can you begin to see how big the problem is now?

The point is, nasty chemicals are used at all steps of the extraction and refinement process. We just don’t ever see them being used in industry. Oh but they’re there alright. They’re being used all the time.

Suffice it to say that if Westeners think they pollute the Earth less than a typical 3rd-worlder, in my eyes, they are sorely mistaken. [Read more…]

Some perspective

Imagine if 7 billlion people had always lived on a dust-bowl Mars-like planet with no life outside of the base stations. Imagine if that’s the way it had always been. Imagine if that was humanities’ entire existence, on the red planet…

With that in mind, I’d like to do a little thought experiment. I want you to imagine what would happen if we were to start exploring the solar system, from our home Mars.

The closest other world, Earth, looks very promising. We’ve spent a hundred trillion dollars on this latest space mission, okay. It’s been 30 years in the planning stage alone…

So we go to this new place called ‘Earth’.

And we don’t find another dust-bowl freeze-your-arse-off planet with no oceans, a toxic atmosphere* and a severe lack of oxygen. We don’t find it to be uninhabited. We don’t find the gravity extremely off-putting. We don’t find a desolate, barren wasteland devoid of all life like the home planet. No.

Instead, what we encounter is another world no unlike this one, the one we already know as ‘Earth’, exactly the way it is now, but without all the humans. Without any civilisation.

Imagine if we found 60 amur leopards, 400 Sumatran tigers, 880 mountain gorillas, 1826 giant pandas, 4080 snow leopards, 4848 black rhinos and 10000 blue whales!

Impenetrable jungles! Countless species of insects! Fish! Crustaceans! Molluscs! Birds! Frogs!

“Frogs? What an unusual name. What are they? Oh they’re slimy but harmless critters –amphibians– that thrive both on the land and in the water and use jumping as a form of locomotion.”

[Read more…]

The problem with science

I think the problem is not with science, but with the entire 1st world civilisation.

Science is great and I don’t fundamentally disagree with any of it – but it doesn’t have any guiding moral or ethical principles. One problem with science right now is that scientists invent things without thinking through all of the possible consequences. And then some kind of “revenge effect” inevitably bites them in the arse later on down the track.

Another big problem is that businesses can take hold of any scientific discoveries and innovations they feel like and just exploit them for all they are worth.

So we know that this society will all too willingly absorb any new scientific knowledge into profitable new enterprises. Well ok – not so big a deal you might say – and it’s not. That’s the benefit of science. Right? Yes.

But then when those same scientists turn around and say: “No, now you are all going to have to change the way you do things, because we’ve figured out that this is not a sustainable industry” or “it turns out there’s this horrible side-effect”, no one listens. Not the people working for the industries, nor the people buying products from whatever those industries happen to sell.

So basically everyone is using the results of science whenever it suits them, and they are not heeding many of the warnings that science is giving…

People willingly accept, take and use the scientific discoveries. But the very same people never as willing to relinquish those very same inventions. Are they? [Read more…]

Who are the greenest printers in Australia?

I just finished a diploma of graphic design a few months ago. And during a subject called “prepress”, I found out that printing is not the most ecological part of graphic design. In fact traditional printing is not very good for the environment at all. It isn’t all just about the paper they use, but they also use loads and loads of metal printing plates and lots and lots of water.

So I have been shopping around for the most ecological printer for some time now (like 6 months, on and off). And I think I’ve finally found a quality one that is reasonably priced. [Read more…]

Smart materials

Natural materials

Message to the beauty industry

Someone recently wrote this on LinkedIn. And I think it is because of some of the more ‘critical’ things that people are writing on there. Here is what was said about us:

I am not sure that calling consumers vain, stupid or irresponsible is going to win hearts and minds. Many consumers will use these products to address real dermatological issues such as adult acne – if you’ve never suffered from it you are very, very lucky. It is not vanity to want to present yourself to the world blemish free.

Raise awareness, educate and inspire to use natural products like crushed apricots etc but as any parent, spouse, manager or mentor knows, constant streams of negativity do not win respect, admiration or a desire to follow/change.

I have taken a while to respond to your reply. Because I was thinking about how best to do that. Firstly, it’s not just consumers that are being “vain, stupid or irresponsible”, it’s the businesses that are as well! Perhaps ignorance is a better word to describe it?

Firstly, from a materials point of view, I do not understand why anyone would want *additional* exposure to synthetic polymers. Plastics frequently contain plasticisers and half of those are known to be carcinogenic… we touch plastic items all day long and I for one don’t think it is all that good for us.

Okay, so many plastics do not contain plasticisers you might say. Well here is something else that people should know more about. (antimony (III) oxide is used as a catalyst in the production of PET)

So yes, if you eat fish, or indeed any food that comes from an ocean and you use creams containing microbeads, and those same microbeads are found in one-third of fish that are being caught around the world, yes you are being kind of stupid. Sorry, but you are. I think all ecologists would probably agree with me on that one (because they cannot be considered good for the environment). Microbeads that is, not ecologists. Some things just need to be said. [Read more…]

In the future we will engineer termites to build skyskrapers.

Yes. In the future, I can confidently predict that we will engineer termites to build skyskrapers.

Because in the future, we will start to realise the power of “bottom up” systems of engineering. Currently, we do everything from a “top down” perspective. What does that mean? We start with a mine, dig that up, we then crush and grind the ore down, melt it, form it into large slabs of metal which then get progressively smaller as they are processed. Yes, we even obtain the metallic powders that are used in 3D printing this exact same way. This is a most inefficient process.

Nature does it the other way around. It uses local materials obtained from trace chemical elements and is then able to organise, redirect and assemble those individual atoms and molecules to build its own structures, in situ. It does this without any “larger scale” instructions or guidance. And it is able to replicate itself on top of that. So the more I think about it, the more evolution amazes me.

I read this fascinating book in 2014 called “Emergence”. And one of the traits of nature is that it has “emergent” properties. What does that mean? It means that complex systems or behaviours can arise from relatively few simple rules. In other words, it is “self assembling”. Organisms can do their own thing seemingly without any intererence from the outside world. Wouldn’t we like to be able to do that? Here is where we are currently at:

The other marvel of nature is that everything is an “ambient temperature process”. Think about that for a moment. Practically every synthetic material we produce today requires some form of heat to manufacture. Metals must be smelted. Ceramics must be fired. And plastics must be obtained by “thermal cracking” of crude oil. Sure there are a few exceptions, such as sol-gel technology.

Imagine for a moment a “homogenous” material with different chemical, thermal, electrical and physical properties along its length. In other words, a single material that was flexible at one end and rigid at the other, without being formed from two separate raw materials. If we could get that to happen, spontaneously, then I think we would be quite a clever species. Because an invention like that would literally change the world.

Imagine tyres that increased their coefficient of friction and gripped more in the wet. Or indeed, slicks that morph into treaded tyres in the presence of water. You see, from what I have read, I think all of that is ‘theoretically possible’, but the more biodiversity we lose, the less chance there is that it will happen. That is why protecting biodiversity is so important, so we can understand how genes work to create any morphology and material properties we desire.

Is a ‘circular’ electronics industry possible?

I think one of the biggest problems that humanity will face in the not–too–distant future is a lack of synthetic biodegradeable semiconductors.

Okay, so I’ve put that thought out there into cyberspace and now I suppose I should explain it. Why do I think this is going to be such a problem?

As we are all too much aware, human civilisation is fast becoming dependent on technology. You might say that the 1st world is already highly dependent on technology. And a big part of current technology includes electronics devices. Electronics drive everything from robots to computers. Without electronics, we go back to the analogue era. I’m sure that I don’t even need to explain that any further, do I? Without electronics, we’re screwed.

So earlier this year, I asked two questions on Quora:

  1. What are the main semiconductor compounds used today?
  2. What elements are used in the manufacturing of circuit boards and electronic components for consumer electronic devices?

It doesn’t make any sense to totally rely on something that we can only make in limited quantities, yet we are doing just that. Because the trouble is this: the way in which we produce electronic devices today is completely unsustainable. We mine the Earth for new minerals and the only element we recover from all of our electronic waste is gold (well, okay, we do sometimes also recycle lead and copper). But what about recycling all of the other elements that are used in electronic components?

Are we recycling tantalum? No. Are we recycling indium? No. Are we recycling gallium? No. Are we recycling arsenic? No. Are we recycling cadmium? No. Are we recycling selenium? No. Are we recycling tellurium? No. Are we recycling germanium? No. Are we recycling samarium? No. Are we recycling neodymium? No. Are we recycling niobium? No. Are we recycling antimony? No.

[Read more…]

What this angry scientist has to say about climate change:

Here I go again… why am I angry? Do scientists even get angry? Yes. Yes they do. Well I am angry. Very fucken angry!

I‘m angry at politicians in the mainstream parties. Because they aren’t doing enough to mitigate an environmental catastrophe. Most politicians today only care about one thing: money. The economy. Whoop-de-doo.

Scientists, if you remember from highschool, are the clever people. They are the nerdy ones with poor social skills. You’d think most countries would be run by the smartest of individuals. Are they? No. See, I think that’s where we’re going wrong. Our countries are run by politicians.

Likewise, I am angry at climate change deniers. Because they are now claiming that “climate change is a government conspiracy” (right, well if that is true it has to be the dumbest conspiracy theory I have ever heard, because the governments are the ones who support burning coal for fuck’s sake!).

Actually, I lie. Half of it is worry, not anger. For example, what’s actually worrying is that some people think an average temperature increase of a couple of degrees in only a few decades is at all “natural”. What’s worrying is that some people still don’t seem to grasp the concept of “rate of change”. I have seen on LinkedIn that the biggest climate change deniers are frequently either working for oil companies, have a vested interest in contruction, or are simply “uneducated fools”.

I find some people’s responses to climate change infuriating. Scientists are (mostly) a VERY clever bunch of people. If climate scientists are ringing alarm bells and making videos like this one, it’s enough to make me pay attention and completely change my lifestyle.

Right. I’ll say that again, but in a different way, because it bears repeating. Because I know that people skim read things. When the leading climate scientist, James Hansen, says (back in 2012 mind you) that we have a climate emergency, well, it’s enough to make me sell my vehicle. It’s enough to make me think up a new career choice, about how I can make the world a better place for future generations to come…

In science, we have to have a kind of ‘faith’ too. Scientists have faith in other scientists. We mutually respect each others’ fields of expertise. If I were to say, as a materials scientist, that magnesium has a hexagonal close packed atomic structure, I would hope the other scientists would give me the benefit of the doubt about that. And that is how the whole science community works. Things are checked and rechecked. Publications are reviewed. These people are working on these problems their whole lives. [Read more…]

My letter to Maurice Blackburn [PART 2]


[continued from part 1]

As a former scientist, knowing what I know, other forms of much more sustainable energy exist and yet the government allows this to continue. The WHOLE scenario is woefully depressing. That is basically the catalyst for my chronic ‘melancholy’ depression. The total lack of global accountability and responsibility to future generations to come…

Two decades ago, there was hope. Now, because of the reluctance for industry to change, I am fast losing that hope. Indeed, the situation is almost becoming ‘hopeless’. I just read that Australia has enough brown coal reserves to last another 465 years. Now WHO DOESN’T find that figure morbidly depressing I wonder? Who fuckingwell doesn’t? Eh?

I don’t want to live in a world that contributes to a worser future. I don’t want to use their dirty electricity. But what choice do I really have? I know that even if I buy ‘green’ electricity, the very same energy company supports fossil fuel companies.

I don’t want to pay taxes while all of this all continues. What’s the point? What’s the point of even working? Aren’t we supposed to be working for a *better* future? Well many people are working on it, on renewable energy technology like solar & wind power, yes, but some of these big corporations should have to pay. They are directly affecting my mental health right now.

The government has a duty of care to protect us. They aren’t doing that properly. Mining companies also have a duty of care to ensure that they won’t jeopardise our health or the future of this planet. They aren’t doing that properly either…

I’m willing to bet there are tens of thousands of people like me… if you want to find them, start with scientists. Start with climate change scientists, ecologists, even farmers, people like that.

Dr. Leslie Dean Brown.
(ex materials science researcher)

P:S I’d appreciate it if you could CC me Part 1…
unfortunately I lost that and I’d like a copy of it to put on my blog.

Wouldn’t it be cool if this became a reality?

This new petition is gathering a lot of momentum right now…

Why should people sign? Because it’s the little things like plastic bottle tops that are easily blown around in windy weather… and these small items are also the most easily mistaken for food by marine animals.

Most plastic floats and now an area of plastic waste that is twice the size of Texas has already accumulated in the Pacific ocean and it even has its own name… the “Pacific Garbage Patch”.

I’m sure that PepsiCo already knows this. The question is, what are they doing about it? I think it’s time they were held a little more accountable. They should be more responsible and invent a completely new bottle opening system, so that the bottletop will not (or cannot) physically separate from the rest of the container. That way, they can be recycled together as once piece (as it should be) — with a smart redesign, plastic bottle tops won’t ever end up in the ocean again!

How come the plastic bottle tops last a thousand years longer than the actual drinks inside? [Read more…]

GLOBAL PETITION: Tell McDonalds to replace all their one-time-use plastic straws with paper straws.

I have started yet another petition; this one is aimed squarely at McDonalds restaurants…

Small items like plastic straws and bottle tops are easily blown around in windy weather. Millions of plastic straws end up in the ocean and tonnes of plastic waste has already accumulated in the Pacific Garbage Patch.

I think ALL fast-food restaurants need to be much more aware about where materials come from and where they go at the end of their life.

Some of these long-lasting plastics end up in the stomachs of marine animals, and their young, including sea turtles and the black-footed albatross. Midway Atoll receives substantial amounts of marine debris from the patch. Of the 1.5 million Laysan albatrosses that inhabit Midway, nearly all are found to have plastic in their digestive system. Approximately one-third of their chicks die, and many of those deaths are due to being fed plastic from their parents. Twenty tons of plastic debris washes up on Midway every year with five tons of that debris being fed to albatross chicks.

[Read more…]

What is wrong with society today?

I was writing an e-mail today regarding a new illustration commission I received from the biodiversity alliance. I got a little side-tracked and this article is what came of it, although the illustration below is one I prepared earlier.
Illustration by Leslie Dean Brown. © 2015. All rights reserved.
Illustration by Leslie Dean Brown. © 2016. All rights reserved.

Yes we dance around and laugh and joke… at our peril. That is what we are doing as a civilisation. I do not think we should even have fireworks and such wasteful things unless we are meeting our targets for global emissions reductions (for example).

I’m not saying that it’s not worth talking about on your website, I just think that people have no choice left but to try to be happy and not get too sad about the state of the world… otherwise look at you and me… I suffer from chronic depression. I am sure that many other clever people suffer from clinical depression too. It is only by working at what we know is right in our hearts that we can feel better about what we are doing for the world. So I believe we must “be the change we want to see in the world”, be a part of the solution, not be a part of the problem. And to make it so that what we think, what we believe and what we do are all aligned. Otherwise, we are only fooling ourselves…

So yes unfortunately people are definitely “having fun while we roast ourselves.” But do we really want people to be miserable about our situation instead of ‘happy’? Miserable & depressed people probably cannot adjust and react to challenges as fast as happy people.

I think many older people are just “making the best of it” in the face of so many daunting challenges (and they really are and it is enough to make me not want to have children). I think a lot of young people are massively depressed because half of the older generation is still telling them what to do the old way based on the industrial model of business (sell more stuff, buy stuff because it is good for the economy, and money = happiness) and they are being simultaneously bombarded with mixed messages about the climate but I think many of them are feeling completely helpless. They are getting mixed messages (consumerism vs environment) and we are mostly stuck.

I think one of the reasons that the adolescent suicide rate has gone up is because of this (my sister who is a secondary high school teacher has told me so directly). I don’t think young people do all these ‘bad’ things intentionally; they behave how they were taught to behave, how society brought them up. I never questioned or considered the environment until year 9 general studies class. And then I heard about all these problems the world was facing essentially all at once…

One other problem is that the older generation is half-expecting that the younger generation will somehow come to the rescue and “save the planet”. How is that going to happen when the exact same mentality is being passed on? How is that going to happen when older politicians and wealthy people are essentially in charge? I think it is us older people who need to change first because all children naturally learn from role models. [Read more…]

“There are no accidents”

We assume that true “randomness” exists. But is there really such a thing as a purely random event or thing?

I think we only use the word random to describe things that we can’t fully explain. I think that the events which first appear to be random are actually be very structured and organised. It’s easier to say “it’s entirely random” than to explain the myriad of intricacies of any particular system…

Picture several hundred people moving at a train station or crossing a busy intersection. At first glance it looks purely random. But there is really nothing random about it. Each of the people has a distinct set of reasons for being there. Maybe some of them are going to work, or coming home from night shift or meeting a friend for a coffee. They are doing what people do: shopping, socialising, travelling, working, playing, walking, seeing, doing and a multitude of other things that other people do to make themselves feel happy. None of that is random.

“There are no accidents” — Master Oogway

[Read more…]

What is the environmental cost of consumerism?

“We’re very very disconnected from what we consume. So because of the widening degrees of separation between the consumer and the consumed we no longer have any real appreciation for the embodied energy, the embodied destruction, the embodied suffering that goes in to every stage of the supply chain in the things we buy.” — Mark Boyle

I‘m sure that most consumers don’t care less what chemical elements are used in the manufacture of all the products that they buy. I’m talking about all the elements and compounds required to make all of these products function like they do. But consumers should care. We should care about what products are made of, what they are made from.

But with things like consumer electronic devices, customers simply don’t think about their ‘ingredients’ much. I think the problem with this world today is that consumers don’t question the true origin of synthetic materials, let alone how they are extracted and processed.

I think people really need to wake up and ask where their materials are coming from, learn about all the many processing steps each material requires (extraction, refinement, manufacturing, production) and also ask what happens to all these materials at the end of the product’s life. In many cases, even with recycling of plastic/paper/metal, the majority of materials on the periodic table aren’t being recycled and are ending up in landfill (and/or the ocean).

I think each product sold should have an ‘ingredients’ label showing exactly what materials are in it. That way, people could [eventually] reference which materials have the highest ecological impact…

The obvious exception is of course food. Wherever food is concerned, then consumers quite rightly want to know what they are consuming. We want to know all the food ingredients. We want to know what we put into our bodies.

[Read more…]

Question the status quo.

WHEN I was a small boy, my father –who only died last December– once told me to question everything. And being an inquisitive young lad, I invariably asked “why?”, right after he told me. He just answered that someone named “Christian Murty” had once famously said it. So a few weeks ago, I looked this bloke up. And it turns out it wasn’t someone called “Christian Murty”, but rather “Jiddu Krishnamurti”:

You have to question everything that man has accepted as valuable, as necessary. –Jiddu Krishnamurti

One of my first ‘clever’ questions that I asked my parents was “how many atoms are in a teapot?”. Luckily for me, my mum was studying a degree in physics so she could provide me with a fairly accurate answer. I’m pretty sure most parents would have said ‘lots’.

I think being curious and asking questions about the world is a fundamental trait of all good scientists. I think that’s probably what started me on the path to science, because it tends to give the most accurate answers. Except that Krishnamurti wasn’t just talking about questioning how the world works, but rather questioning the status quo. Scientists question how the world works. Philosophers and revolutionaries question the status quo.

So pretty soon, I started questioning everyday things I’d notice like:

  • “why do so many people wear blue jeans?”1.
  • “why do people wear ties?”2.
  • “why do people drive cars?”3.
  • “why do people drink alcohol?”4.

…they are afraid that by observing and questioning everything, by experimenting and making mistakes you may find out something for yourself and break away from the authority of your parents, of society, of tradition. –Jiddu Krishnamurti

This may seem like rather an odd thing to write about, but the essence of questioning everything has made me who I am today. It is the fundamental reason for this website. It is an attempt to question why we do things the way we do. Could we be doing things a different way? A new way. A better way? Yes, I’m going to continue asking questions like an incessant five year old, and probably stirring up a lot of shit in the process. I believe that by questioning what we do, how we do it and ultimately why we do it, the answers can make this a better world (and increase our chances of long-term survival).

Nowadays I ask the following sorts of questions:

  • “What is the goal of humanity?”
  • “Do we want to still be around in 500 or 1,000 years’ time?”
  • “Does consumerism really make people happier?”
  • “Why do we still measure the prosperity of a nation by it’s Gross Domestic Product instead of its Gross National Happiness?”
  • “Where do the raw materials of consumer electronics come from?”
  • “If we want to to be more sustainable, shouldn’t we be looking more at indigenous cultures?”
  • “Why should citizens who have not voted for a current political party be forced to pay income tax?”