Examples of China’s commitment to combating climate change

Click to enlargeReuters/Jason Lee

❝ Two years after President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that their countries would work together to combat climate change, Republicans and conservatives in the U.S. continue to cite China’s rising carbon emissions as a reason not to bother cutting our own.

Earlier this month, Donald Trump’s economic advisor Stephen Moore claimed that limiting our carbon pollution is pointless because of China’s supposedly growing coal dependency. “Every time we shut down a coal plant in the U.S., China builds 10,” Moore told E&E News. “So how does that reduce global warming?”

❝ Not only is Moore’s statement simply untrue, but the broader conservative theory behind it is badly outdated. China’s coal use and carbon emissions have dropped for the last two years. In 2015, China cut its coal use 3.7 percent and its emissions declined an estimated 1–2 percent, following similar decreases in 2014.

If China continues to cut its emissions, or even just keeps them at current levels, the country will be way ahead of its goal of peaking emissions by around 2030, which it laid out in 2014 and recommitted to during the Paris climate talks last December.

❝ In part, China’s emissions are dropping because the country is undergoing a dramatic shift in the nature of its economy. For years, China had been rapidly industrializing and growing at a breakneck pace. Growth often causes emissions to rise, all the more so when a country has an expanding manufacturing sector and is building out its basic infrastructure such as highways and rail lines. Heavy industrial activity — especially making cement and steel, which are needed for things like buildings, roads, and rail tracks — can be extremely energy intensive and have a massive carbon footprint…Now, as China is becoming more fully industrialized, its growth is slower and driven more by service industries, like technology, that are much less carbon intensive.

RTFA for several indicators. The author missed one of the most important because it’s still mostly under the radar of those who don’t read deeply into political economy.

Like the UK and many industrial Europeans nations – before the 1960s – China has relied on home coal fires for heating and cooking. China now is on the way to making the same change the West did. Switching to gas. Major pipeline conduits are under construction to bring natgas from Siberia, other regions outside of China. Different pipelines will link into LNG landing facilities at major harbors. As the last-mile, last city block hookups fall into place, the change will be rapid. And welcome.

China wants to deal with their immediate air pollution as much as the ongoing effect on climate. That shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Teleportation — the next generation moves closer

❝ Chinese and Canadian scientists say they have successfully carried out a form of teleportation across an entire city.

The two teams working independently have teleported near-identical versions of tiny particles called photons through cables across Calgary in Canada and Hefei in Anhui province.

The forms of teleported photons were destroyed in one laboratory and recreated in another more than 8km apart in the two cities through optical fibre.

Similar experiments have been carried out before, but only within the same laboratory.

❝ A physicist not involved in either of the studies said the research was a step forward in the development of a “quantum internet”, a futuristic particle-based information system that could be much more secure than existing forms of digital data.

Quantum networks make eavesdropping almost impossible because the particles used cannot be observed without being altered…

❝ Teleportation, the foundation for such a network, has largely been the realm of science fiction, and other scientists say the research is still a very long way from teleporting people or objects.

But in his commentary on the research in the scientific journal Nature Photonics, French physicist Frederic Grosshans said the two experiments clearly showed that teleportation across metropolitan distances was technologically feasible.

❝ The research was carried out by scientists at the University of Science and Technology of China and the University of Calgary and their papers were published in the journal on Monday, 19 September.

There are differences in approach between the two groups of researchers. RTFA for details – and a pleasant nudge to your imagination, eh?

The world’s largest radio telescope begins operations in China

Liu Xu/Xinhua

❝ The world’s largest radio telescope began searching for signals from stars and galaxies and, perhaps, extraterrestrial life Sunday in a project demonstrating China’s rising ambitions in space and its pursuit of international scientific prestige…

Measuring 500 meters in diameter, the radio telescope is nestled in a natural basin within a stunning landscape of lush green karst formations in southern Guizhou province. It took five years and $180 million to complete and surpasses that of the 300-meter Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, a dish used in research on stars that led to a Nobel Prize.

❝ The official Xinhua News Agency said hundreds of astronomers and enthusiasts watched the launch of the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope, or FAST, in the county of Pingtang.

Researchers quoted by state media said FAST would search for gravitational waves, detect radio emissions from stars and galaxies and listen for signs of intelligent extraterrestrial life…

Installation of the 4,450-panel structure, nicknamed Tianyan, or the Eye of Heaven, started in 2011 and was completed in July…

❝ The radio telescope has double the sensitivity of the Arecibo Observatory, and five to 10 times the surveying speed…

China has also completed the construction of tourist facilities such as an observation deck on a nearby mountain…Such facilities can be a draw for visitors — the one in Puerto Rico draws about 90,000 visitors and some 200 scientists each year.

There is something I’d love to visit. Wish I could drive there in my old pickup truck. I will not countenance the TSA crappola.

Moving from Globalization 2.0 to 3.0

While seemingly elegant in theory, globalization suffers in practice. That is the lesson of Brexit and of the rise of Donald Trump in the United States. And it also underpins the increasingly virulent anti-China backlash now sweeping the world. Those who worship at the altar of free trade – including me – must come to grips with this glaring disconnect.

Truth be known, there is no rigorous theory of globalization. The best that economists can offer is David Ricardo’s early nineteenth-century framework: if a country simply produces in accordance with its comparative advantage (in terms of resource endowments and workers’ skills), presto, it will gain through increased cross-border trade. Trade liberalization – the elixir of globalization – promises benefits for all…

In the US, Trump’s ascendancy and the political traction gained by Senator Bernie Sanders’s primary campaign reflect many of the same sentiments that led to Brexit. From immigration to trade liberalization, economic pressures on a beleaguered middle class contradict the core promises of globalization…

In short, globalization has lost its political support – unsurprising in a world that bears little resemblance to the one inhabited by Ricardo two centuries ago. Ricardo’s arguments, couched in terms of England’s and Portugal’s comparative advantages in cloth and wine, respectively, hardly seem relevant for today’s hyper-connected, knowledge-based world. The Nobel laureate Paul Samuelson, who led the way in translating Ricardian foundations into modern economics, reached a similar conclusion late in his life, when he pointed out how a disruptive low-wage technology imitator like China could turn the theory of comparative advantage inside out…

Of course, this isn’t the first time that globalization has run into trouble. Globalization 1.0 – the surge in global trade and international capital flows that occurred in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries – met its demise between World War I and the Great Depression. Global trade fell by some 60% from 1929 to 1932, as major economies turned inward and embraced protectionist trade policies…

Similarly, the means of Globalization 2.0 are far more sophisticated than those of its antecedent. The connectivity of Globalization 1.0 occurred via ships and eventually railroads and motor vehicles. Today, these transportation systems are far more advanced – augmented by the Internet and its enhancement of global supply chains. The Internet has also enabled instantaneous cross-border dissemination of knowledge-based services such as software programming, engineering and design, medical screening, and accounting, legal, and consulting work.

The sharpest contrast between the two waves of globalization is in the speed of technology absorption and disruption. New information technologies have been adopted at an unusually rapid rate. It took only five years for 50 million US households to begin surfing the Internet, whereas it took 38 years for a similar number to gain access to radios…

Unfortunately, safety-net programs to help trade-displaced or trade-pressured workers are just as obsolete as theories of comparative advantage…

The design of more enlightened policies must account for the powerful pressures now bearing down on a much broader array of workers. The hyper-speed of Globalization 2.0 suggests the need for quicker triggers and wider coverage for worker retraining, relocation allowances, job-search assistance, wage insurance for older workers, and longer-duration unemployment benefits.

Stephen Roach cautions, “the alternative – whether it is Brexit or America’s new isolationism – is an accident waiting to happen.” Globalization is not only inevitable, the most recent wave is complete. The backwash is populated with opportunist capitalists jumping ship this time for a 10% wage advantage instead of greater – some fleeing China to Mexico for the second time. Replicating the short lurch that followed the passage of NAFTA in the Clinton years.

What comes next in emerging markets, newly-developed and developing economies will be friendly competition and cooperation. That already is a central point of advocacy in China and ASEAN nations. Obama and President Hillary [probably] are stuck with the stereotypical American political solution of playing the blame game to unemployed and underemployed constituents – while Congressional know-nothings continue their death spiral-dance with religious conservatives hoping to retain their seat-of-the-pants veto of any legislation that might aid American workers. We’re faced with the potential of nothing changing in Washington until the elections of 2022 and 2024.

OTOH — If Americans are bright enough to remove bigots-pretending-to-be-conservatives from Congressional power in the November election, there may be an opportunity to implement the sort of safety net Dr. Roach suggests. We’ll see. Part of being both an optimist and cynic is my confidence in science and knowledge aiding our species in solving the problems we create. Just not in my lifetime.

China’s quantum satellite is designed to teleport data and create an unbreakable code

China’s quantum satellite launched from Jiuquan, August 16thReuters/China Daily

A few days ago, China launched the world’s first quantum satellite. So what exactly does this mean?

“The satellite is designed to establish ultra-secure quantum communications by transmitting uncrackable keys from space to the ground,” Xinhua, China’s state news agency, wrote after the equipment was launched on a rocket from the Gobi desert. “It could also conduct experiments on the bizarre features of quantum theories, such as entanglement.”…

Most human technology is built around the classical physics that Isaac Newton and his inheritors came up with…When engineers hit on electricity…they perceived it in aggregate as a kind of a force; it’s either on, or it’s off. This understanding led to electric switches, which became transistors, and when you put all those transistors in a box and start turning them off and on with instructions encoded “11010001101”… it’s a computer.

But as scientists were developing electric computers in the 20th century, theorists beginning with Max Planck were ripping up the rule books. Their experiments with light suggested that something about classical physics didn’t quite add up. Soon they developed mathematical proofs to explain that the tiny particles that make up matter — protons, neutrons, and electrons — don’t necessarily behave like you would expect particles to behave. They can act as if they are in two plac es at once, for instance…This is quantum theory. The first and most famous application of these ideas came in nuclear weaponry and energy.

Physicists are still trying to agree on how classical and quantum physics come together coherently. But quantum theory already underlies a lot of modern technology; the transistors on a silicon chip, in fact, wouldn’t work without it. Now engineers are trying to apply it to more futuristic things…

Scientists have done experiments with quantum teleportation already. They have instantaneously exchanged information about the quantum states of photons, which are particles of light, transmitted 143 km between two of the Canary Islands.

But testing quantum teleportation at extremely long distances requires going to space. It’s the easiest way to set up laser communication between two distant points on the earth’s surface. That’s what the Chinese satellite, developed in cooperation with the Austrian Academy of Science, intends to do.

Besides demonstrating a super-long entanglement, the scientists working with the satellite want to test new communications technology…This is where the unbreakable code comes in…

It may be easy to see in this shades of the Cold War race for technological dominance, but Spiros Michalakis at CalTech is confident that research will be shared within the scientific community. His hope is that this experiment is the first step toward a global network of research facilities sharing access to entangled particles beamed down from space—a kind of global, cloud-based quantum computer.

At the moment, though, it’s China that looks like the pacesetter.

I expect China’s scientists will share the main body of their research. It’s only human to expect the leading edge bits and pieces may be held aside as processes and experiments are worked out. Completed experiments will be published for peer review. That’s where science is moved forward – along with specialized conferences and convocations. Conservative steps tread the stairways of real science.

OTOH, do I think White House and Pentagon eggheads and Congressional know-nothings will start to panic over a “Quantum Gap”? You betcha!

China’s “One Belt, One Road” project will profit most of Asia – and probably Europe

Click to enlarge

China’s ambition to revive an ancient trading route stretching from Asia to Europe could leave an economic legacy bigger than the Marshall Plan or the European Union’s enlargement, according to a new analysis.

Dubbed ‘One Belt, One Road,’ the plan to build rail, highways and ports will embolden China’s soft power status by spreading economic prosperity during a time of heightened political uncertainty in both the U.S. and EU, according to Stephen L. Jen, the chief executive officer at Eurizon SLJ Capital Ltd., who estimates a value of $1.4 trillion for the project.

It will also boost trading links and help internationalize the yuan as banks open branches along the route…

“This is a quintessential example of a geopolitical event that will likely be consequential for the global economy and the balance of political power in the long run,” said Jen, a former International Monetary Fund economist.

Reaching from east to west, the Silk Road Economic Belt will extend to Europe through Central Asia and the Maritime Silk Road will link sea lanes to Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa [and, eventually, to The Netherlands].

While China’s authorities aren’t calling their Silk Road a new Marshall Plan, that’s not stopping comparisons with the U.S. effort to rebuild Western Europe after World War II.

With the potential to touch on 64 countries, 4.4 billion people and around 40 percent of the global economy, Jen estimates that the One Belt One Road project will be 12 times bigger in absolute dollar terms than the Marshall Plan. China may spend as much as 9 percent of gross domestic product — about double the U.S.’s boost to post-war Europe in those terms.

…There’s no guarantee that potential recipient nations will put their hand up for the aid…Still, at least China has a plan.

“The fact that this is a 30-40 year plan is remarkable as China is the only country with any long-term development plan, and this underscores the policy long-termism in China, in contrast to the dominance of policy short-termism in much of the West,” said Jen.

Sitting in a state – in a country – politically incapable of repairing crumbling infrastructure much less building new, I can only sit and wonder what it might feel like to watch any level of government demonstrate sufficient care and willingness to plan decades ahead.

China’s “Minecraft” military camo

Click to enlarge

On 3 September 2015, China celebrated the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II with a fairly stunning display of its military might, parading hundreds armoured fighting vehicles and some 12,000 troops from the normally secretive People’s Liberation Army through Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Many of these vehicles had never appeared in public and a notable theme — one that to many eyes came as a big surprise — was the Army’s use of dramatic ‘digital’ camouflage patterns. The Chinese pageant featured columns of military vehicles covered in pixelated squares, some in shades of green and khaki, others in outlandish schemes of blue, white and black.

The pattern, which resembles the blocky graphics from the computer game Minecraft, is a stark contrast to traditional variegated “organic” camo designs that militaries have employed since the 19th Century — schemes that use blotches of complementary colours to mimic foliage and other natural features. The boldly pixelated camo, which despite some initial reluctance has seen increasing use by military forces around the world, seems counterintuitive; nothing in nature is so rigidly shaped. But it does work, and its vastly improved performance even came as a surprise to the man — a US Army officer — credited with developing it 40 years ago.

“Well when I looked at the data I think my observation was something on the order of ‘holy crap’,” recalled now-retired Lieutenant Colonel Timothy R O’Neill, PhD, when we asked him about early tests of the camo.

In the late 1970s O’Neill suggested to the US Army that square blocks of colour would disguise an armoured fighting vehicle better than large blotches. His idea was to build a pattern that would work no matter how far the vehicle is from the observer. Large patterns work well at long distances, and small patterns are better at close range. But patterns made from small squares, or pixels, can be painted to mimic both. Close up, the small patches mimic natural patterns on the scale of leaves on a tree, but from farther away, the clusters of squares create a macro texture that blends with branches, trees and shadows…

The experiment exceeded expectations, but it took a long time for digital camouflage to catch on…“It really should have come to fruition in the late 70s,” says Guy Cramer, the President and CEO of the fantastically named HyperStealth Biotechnology Corp. He is one of the leading designers of modern camouflage…

“…testing continued to show that digital was actually working better, but still you got the armchair quarterbacks, and people who don’t know about camouflage jumping to the assumption that it can’t work, it shouldn’t work, and so it doesn’t work…”

But the low-tech solution of coloured squares, developed in the 1970s, still remains the simplest and most effective form of camo. Both O’Neill and Cramer continue to work on refining it, and we can still see — or should that be not see — vehicles based on the same principles in use today.

Yup. Why pay attention to reality when it conflicts with your beliefs, eh? Obviously, some people, some armies do.

Why should China respect the U.S. over South China Sea questions?

VCG/Getty Images

A great power refuses to play by international rules, declining to ratify a major U.N. convention to which more than 160 other countries are party. After years of complaints, the nation convinces the U.N. to tweak the treaty to many of its specifications. Yet even after those amendments, the great power’s legislature prioritizes protectionist sentiment over respect for global rule of law.

This renegade country, though, is not China, which has come under fire for saying it will flout an upcoming U.N. court decision on its territorial claims in the South China Sea. Instead, the longtime outlier is the U.S., one of the most vocal countries urging China to hew to the international order.

In 1982, after around a decade of wrangling, the U.N. hammered out a framework to guide global maritime affairs and ensure freedom of navigation. Called the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS), the treaty covers everything from the rules of maritime commerce to the ways in which resource-rich seabeds can be divvied up between nations. In certain cases, international courts like the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, can rule in maritime disputes.

On July 12, that judicial body will decide on a lawsuit lodged in 2013 by the Philippines, one of six governments that claim territory in the contested South China Sea…Many legal experts expect the court to rule at least partly in favor of the Philippines. Yet China says it won’t abide by the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling nor does Beijing even accept the U.N. tribunal’s authority over its South China Sea claims…

…Back to history. Shortly after UNCLOS was unveiled in 1982, U.S. President Ronald Reagan refused to sign what was touted as the “constitution of the sea,” claiming the convention undermined U.S. sovereignty. In 1994, after UNCLOS was revised to take into consideration American worries about losing control of valuable underwater oil and natural-gas deposits, U.S. President Bill Clinton signed an updated UNCLOS agreement, although not the entire treaty. Yet even though multiple presidential Administrations — both Democrat and Republican — have since supported the convention, Republicans in the U.S. Senate have routinely scuttled efforts to ratify UNCLOS…

As long as gerrymandered districts rule voters’ ability to choose Congressional representatives, as long silly structures like our Electoral College are in play centuries after any usefulness was worn away, until American voters decide to install officials capable of moving beyond imperial rationales for gunboat diplomacy — we’re stuck with being the cops of the world. And Uncle Sugar persists in ordinary taxpayers picking up the tab for policies which benefit the few at a cost to the many.

When you get past all the sovereignty of our allies crap — what counts is oil and gas deposits in the seabed of the South China sea. Which can and should be parceled out among nations with a history in the region millennia longer than the existence of the United States of America.

China tests new rocket before launch of 2nd space station

Republican version of space exploration

China on Sunday recovered an experimental probe launched aboard a new generation rocket, marking another milestone in its increasingly ambitious space program that envisions a mission to Mars by the end of the decade.

Space program authorities said the spaceship’s landing on the vast Inner Mongolian steppe keeps China on schedule to place its second space station into orbit later this year.

The launch of the spaceship aboard the newly developed Long March 7 rocket on Saturday was hailed as a breakthrough in the use of safer, more environmentally friendly fuels. The launch also marked the first use of the massive new Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on the southern island province of Hainan…

A source of enormous national pride, China’s military-backed space program plans a total of 20 space missions this year at a time when the U.S. and other countries’ programs are seeking new roles

China plans to launch a mission to land a rover on Mars by 2020, attempting to recreate the success of the U.S. Viking 1 mission that landed a rover on the planet four decades ago.

The Republican-controlled Congress has called for further United States research on SUVs weighing over 4 tons and using tractor treads instead of tires. They feel this is a cost-effective alternative to actually repairing our crappy highways.

So – no money for real space rangers.