Using recycled plastic for building roads

As we already know, very little plastic is actually recycled.  “The vast majority ends up being dumped, most of it in landfills.”  Much plastic also ends up as litter, a portion of that gets into waterways and washes out to sea.  The vast amount of plastic fouling the oceans and the many problems it causes is well-documented.

Bitumen is a substance that is used to make asphalt; asphalt is used to build and repair roads.  Plastic and bitumen are similar polymers produced from petrochemicals.  Plastics are strong and last a long time–features also useful for roads.

As a result, recycled plastic is now beginning to be used for road building.  A project in the Netherlands–a bicycle track–was made from 70% recycled plastic and 30% polypropylene.  The track was constructed from prefabricated sections.

“Prefabricated plastic roads should last 2 to 3 times longer than conventional roads and cost less … mainly because construction times would be reduced by almost two-thirds.”  The plastic road sections, when replaced themselves, could then also be recycled.

Another project in California uses recycled plastic mixed with hot bitumen to make asphalt.  In this case, a variety of mixes are being tested–using plastics that are “not easily or cheaply recycled” and thus usually end up in landfills.  Other projects have involved recycled plastic being used for “roads, car parks, and airport runways” in various places including Britain, India, and Australia.

“Cleaning and sorting plastic made out of multiple polymers can be relatively expensive,” but using this plastic for road building “is cost-effective.”  Plus, plastic used for roads is that much less going into landfills.

Read the article (Recycling, The Economist, September 13, 2018).

For more information about recycling and plastics, search the Science Primary Literature Database and the Headline Science Database.

Climate change is impacting airports and air travel

Another impact of climate change–“a quarter of the world’s 100 busiest airports are less than 10 meters/32 feet above sea level.”  “12 of those airports–including hubs in Shanghai, Rome, San Francisco, and New York–are less than 5 meters above sea level.”

This makes these airports–and significant amounts of world air traffic–especially vulnerable to rising sea levels and extreme weather.

The Kansai International Airport, built on an artificial island near Osaka, Japan, was inundated by sea water amid the typhoon that hit Japan the first week of September (2018).  The airport and runways were damaged, planes were grounded, and passengers were stranded at the airport for 30+ hours.  Hurricane Sandy flooded all 3 New York City airports in 2012 impacting air travel for days.  Devastating floods in Kerala, India closed Cochin Airport for 2 weeks in August 2018.  And, there are many other examples.

“Air travel accounts for about 3 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide,” but that is expected to triple by 2050.  Climate change is also impacting air travel in other ways–“extreme heat can ground planes because hotter, thinner air makes achieving lift difficult; a changing climate can also increase turbulence.”

Read the article (Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times, September 7, 2018).

For more information about the impacts of climate change, search the Science Primary Literature Database and the Headline Science Database.

Chatbots; propaganda is being taught how to speak

Bots–“simple computer scripts–were originally designed to automate repetitive tasks … sparing humans hours of tedium.”  But, bots “can also be used to operate large numbers of fake [social media] accounts, which makes them ideal for manipulating people.”

As became evident after the 2016 election in the United States and from many other examples, not only do bot-operated fake social media accounts “broadcast extremist viewpoints,” but they also enhance and amplify similar views from authentic human accounts by “liking, sharing, retweeting,” etc., etc.  They game the algorithms and give those posts and tweets more visibility.

While current bot technology uses brute-force (large numbers of bots) to have influence, and some progress has been made to try and limit them, the next generation of bots will be harder to recognize and control.  Just like Alexa, Cortana, and Google Assistant, the new bots (chatbots) will behave and talk a lot more like real people.

While Alexa and other current chatbots (also used by various companies for customer service purposes) declare themselves to be automated, chatbots used for propaganda will not do that.  They will present themselves as humans participating in online comment sections, group chats, message boards, and private chat channels.  Will you be able to tell that you are talking to a machine?

The technology to make chatbots indistinguishable from humans in speech is not there yet.  But, it is getting close.  “Some simple preprogramed bot scripts have been successful at misleading users.”  The open development strategies used by companies like Google and Amazon to improve natural-language processing by machines–by “opening their language-processing algorithms to the public” via APIs–also help the developers teaching chatbots to spread propaganda.

“There’s still a long way to go before a bot will be able to spoof a human in one-on-one conversation.  Yet as the algorithms evolve, those capabilities will emerge” and probably sooner than we think.

This is important; read the article (Lisa-Maria Neudert, MIT Technology Review, August 22, 2018).

For more information about the impacts of social media, algorithms, and bots, search the Science Primary Literature Database and the Headline Science Database.

Algorithms increasingly control our lives; is that a good thing?

Read this article; it’s important.  We’ve discussed this topic before.

Social media, e-commerce, and entertainment sites (Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon, gmail/Microsoft, Instagram, Netflix, Hulu, etc.) increasingly make decisions for us–what news we see and pay attention to, which people we communicate with, what products we are likely to buy, which movies we watch, who we date, who we marry, how we respond to email, what we eat, etc., etc.

Is this good?  Or, is this bad?

“Internet companies will tell you it’s a good thing; algorithms can apply data and process-learning to help us make better decisions and optimize every aspect of our lives.”

“Skeptics will point out that those algorithms are designed by corporations to serve their interests, not yours.”

How much power and control over our daily lives have we already surrendered to algorithms?  How much more are we willing to give up?

Take this paragraph to heart–“it’s telling that companies like Facebook are only beginning to understand, much less manage, any harm caused by their decision to divert an ever-growing share of human social relations through algorithms.  Whether they set out to or not, these companies are conducting what is arguably the largest social re-engineering experiment in human history and no one has the slightest clue what the consequences are.”

Remember, you can still make your own decisions.  You can choose whether or not to use social media, e-commerce, etc. and, if you do, you can choose how and how much you will use it.  That’s the crux.  Make choices based on real knowledge and understanding–not out of fear or inertia.  Your life and our society is not a spectator sport.

(Amanda Taub and Max Fisher, New York Times, September 6, 2018).

For more information about the impacts of social media, search the Science Primary Literature Database and the Headline Science Database.


Higher temperatures will lead to additional crop damage from insects

Hotter temperatures brought by climate change are already bringing additional challenges to world agriculture–more weather extremes including more drought, more flooding, and more high heat all of which damages crops causing lower yields and lower nutritional content.

A new study confirms another threat.  A study from 2008 showed that “as temperatures rise, nearly all insects multiply and rev up their metabolisms.”  More heat means “living things start to speed up, and they need to consume more calories.”  Even without warming temperatures, “insects already consume 5% to 20% of major grain crops” worldwide.

The new study used a computer model “that combined physiological data on hundreds of insect species with climate models.”  Studies predict that global wheat crops will decrease by 46%, rice crops will decrease by 19%, and corn crops will decrease by 31% as the Earth warms by an average of 2 degrees C by the year 2100, if not sooner.

On top of those losses, “yield lost to insects will increase by [another] 10% to 25% per degree C of warming” especially for corn and wheat.  These losses due to increased insects will have the greatest impact in temperate areas worldwide like the corn belt in the United States Midwest where large amounts of grain are currently produced.

While other factors might impact and possibly limit the predicted insect crop losses, the United Nations estimates that at least “815 million people worldwide already go hungry every day, and corn, rice, and wheat are the main food sources for about 4 billion people.”  “The people hardest hit by crop loss will be the world’s poorest households.”

We need to plan for this added impact on the global food supply.  Read the article (Frankie Schembri, Science, August 30, 2018).

For more information about the impacts of climate change, search the Science Primary Literature Database and the Headline Science Database.

The world IS warming … and there are consequences.

See this interactive graphic that illustrates an impact of climate change–the increase in the number of 90+ degree (F) days (32 degrees C) since 1960 in locations world-wide.

The impact of hotter weather has been variable to date; some regions–like the midwestern United States–have yet to see noticeable increases (on average) in 90+ degree days.  Other areas though have already seen substantial increases in hot weather.  For example, Delhi, India has seen a 27% increase in 90+ degree days from 1960 to 2017, Karachi in Pakistan has seen a 32% increase, and Miami, Florida, USA has seen a 56% increase (from an average of 85 days in 1960 to 133 days in 2017).

The graphic then projects warming to the year 2089–using the assumption that countries will take action to meet the emissions goals established through the Paris Agreement.  In reality, many countries are not likely to meet their goals, and the actual increase in hot weather is likely to be even greater than forecast in the graphic.

For example, the further increase in 90+ degree days from 2017 to 2089 may be 13% for both Delhi and Karachi, 23% for Miami, Florida (from 133 days to 163 days), and a 140% increase for the midwestern U.S.

“Already hot tropical regions can expect even more heat in the future.”  Another example–Jakarta in Indonesia experienced an average of 5 months of 90+ degree weather in 1960.  By 2089, 90+ degree heat “may last for most of the year.”

“More very hot days worldwide bring direct and dangerous impacts on people and the systems on which we depend.  Food, water, energy, transportation, and ecosystems will be affected both in cities and the country.  High-temperature health effects will strike the most vulnerable”–the elderly, infants, people with chronic medical conditions, and people with lower incomes.

Explore the graphic (Nadja Popovich, et al., New York Times, August 31, 2018).

For more information about the impacts of climate change, search the Science Primary Literature Database and the Headline Science Database.