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Saturday, August 02, 2003

:: Satellites, UN reform, Liberia + Ozone recovery ::
I only have a couple of months to finish my PhD so please forgive this brief round-up of the news I have found interesting over the last few days...

The US has proposed setting up an Earth observation system. Earth-Info.Net senses that this proposal is a consequence of someone at NASA doing a few sums into the amount of money spent studying deep space versus our own planet! Although such a system would certainly provide useful information Earth-Info.Net feels there are many more efficient and urgent ways of altering spending priorities + behaviour. In particular we need to invest more time and money in tackling well understood problems with feasible solutions that have not been implemented. For example, many developing countries would benefit from funds being made available to train locals with key skills, to use natural resources in a more sustainable fashion or undertake the enforcement of existing legislation. Rich countries will also need to re-organise their economies and societies so that they can become more sustainable. In terms of biodiversity many of the world's biggest insect families have no living taxonomists that are able to identify them. Such organisms are known as orphan taxa.

The UN is considering how to reform itself in order to better represent the views and interests of all it's member states. If the UN is ever to have teeth and live up to the ideals of it's charter this will almost inevitably involve a measure of financial independence from donor countries who understandably, but expediently, pursue their own geo-political goals... This may well be achieved using an incarnation of the so-called Tobin Tax which won the 1981 Nobel Prize for economics...

The impressive ability of the Australians to go to the aid of the Solomon Islands, when invited to do so by brutalised islanders stands in stark contrast to the shameful prevarication still being exhibited by the US and ECOWAS in dealing with the anarchy in Liberia. A most powerful description of conditions in the Liberia's main hospital was posted by a Medicins sans Frontieres doctor on the BBC News Online website.

Following the banning of CFC gases as aerosol propellants in the late 1980s the hole in the ozone layer which protects the surface of the Earth from ultra-violet radiation seems to be recovering. Scientists report that ozone concentrations are now only dropping by 4% every 10 years, instead of the 8% of recent decades. This shows how effective the internationally agreed Montreal Protocol, which ensured the removal + subsititution of CFC gases, has been at dealing with what could have been a catastrophic problem... This scientifically guided policy also highlights the potential benefit of acting promptly on the basis of the best available science. Let's just hope the same sort of foresight can be applied to dealing with climate change + pollution...