Tag Archives: Development

Keeping The Carbon In The Ground Elsewhere: Developing Nations

John Abraham has an interesting post up at the guardian called “Global warming action: good or bad for the poor?” It is a response to a post by a group of guys who tend to write annoying stuff about climate change (you can go to John’s post for that information). Here, I want to make a brief comment related to John’s excellent post.

The crux of John Abraham’s post is this, in two parts: 1) Some have argued that mitigation against climate change is bad for “the poor” (read: people in developing countries) because they have a right to go through the same phases of technological and social development we (read: The West) have done, which would presumably include building numerous dirty coal plants so everyone can have a washer and dryer and blender and other stuff. This, John argues, is wrong at several levels. 2) As John demonstrates through is own activities, described in his post, it is possible to skip the 19th and 20th centuries in developing energy technologies and go right to the mid 21st century, installing carbon-free efficient inexpensive easily maintained and sensible technology.

I worked for several years in South Africa, as you probably know. When I first started to work there, we had problems with communication because we were usually in remote areas where there was no phone. We did get cell phones, but there were two problems with them. First, there were two major TeleCom carriers, and we worked in areas that were serviced, if they were serviced at all, by one or the other but usually not both. So we’d get two sets of cell phones. Second, as just implied, there was no cell phone service in many areas. During one field season we worked in a remote area of the Northern Cape. We were working on a farm not far from Upington for a while. We could get brief and unreliable cell phone service if we climbed a hill and stood near a certain water tank and held the phone up really high in the air. Sometimes. Farther out in the bush, where we spent considerable time, we had no cell phone access at all. There were land lines here and there but this required traveling way out of our way to use an unreliable pay phone.

During a later year, we prepared for our return to that remote area by getting the usual two cell phones, and also, carrying out all of the communications we could prior to leaving, letting people know we’d be mostly out of touch for a few weeks at a time. We packed up the Toyota Prado and the trailer with our gear and food, piled into the vehicle, and set out across the southern African subcontinent. A few days later we came to a key stop in our journey, the entranceway to what was then known as the Kalahari Gemsbok Reserve, on the border of Namibia and Botswana. I was chatting with the students who were on the field school about how our cell phones would be useless here, but there was a land line at the park headquarters that we could use now and then with the TeleCom cards we could purchase at the gift shop. As I was saying this, my field manager, Lynn, drove the car out of the river bed we had been following, and we ascended a hill overlooking the campsite at the entrance of the park. From there we could see dozens of camp sites, occupied by South African campers with their 4X4 vehicles, their amazingly tricked-out trailers deployed to form bedrooms and kitchens. The campers were standing around cooking their braai (that’s South African for BBQ) as it was nearing dinner time, late in the afternoon.

Two sights took my breath away. Well, not really, but these two sights made me stop talking and change my story about making phone calls. First, there was the huge cell phone tower ascending from behind the camp site, the alp glow of the setting sun accentuating it’s technological glory. The other was this: About half the people standing around in the camp site, cooking their boerwors and t-bones, were chatting on their cell phones.

Remember World War II? Yeah, I don’t either. But it happened. Part of World War II involved bombing the crap out of German Industry. Japanese Industry was also bombed but there was probably less of it to begin with. The point is, at the end of the war, German and Japanese industry was toast, and those two countries were under occupation. Then there was the Marshall Plan and all that. This involved rebuilding industry in those two countries. Then, later, each in their own way, Germany (well, West Germany) proceeded to kick our industrial asses by more or less starting from scratch, combining in-place ingenuity, effective corporate culture, and brand new factories to grab several major international markets. There were a couple of decades there, overlapping with the ones I grew up in, during which it was not uncommon to hear Americans griping about that. Those guys, they started the war, we defeated them, then we gave them all this stuff, and now my commie neighbor drives a Japanese car. Dammit and get off my lawn. That sort of stuff.

I remember doing an archaeological survey in a newish exerb in the Boston area during one of those periods when Americans were especially mad at the Japanese for making great cars. In that particular neighborhood, some good ol’ boys (yes, they have the in the Greater Boston Area) had gone around the neighborhood and, using chalk, marked up the driveways of anyone who had a Japanese car. They drew nasty pictures and wrote obnoxious and racist words. So, part of Western Culture, mainly that sub-part that arises from the Allied Powers, or maybe just America (but I suspect the United Kingdom as well) developed an anti-Japanese, and to a lesser extent, anti-German thing based on post Marshall plan resentment.

John Abraham is a nice guy and I am not. Perhaps. John saw the article he critiqued in his blog post as being misinformed and stupid. Fine. I suspect, in my not-as-nice-guy way, that there is something deeper. Let me review before I reveal.

First, some climate change science denialists make the argument that mitigation against climate change by implementing new technologies will hurt poor people in third world countries.

Then, an expert on climate change and energy, John Abraham, notes that this is wrong, because we can implement the newest technologies in places like Sub Saharan Africa and go right from a sort-of-pre-industrial state to a 21st century state.

I note that not only is John right, but that it has happened before, in Japan, Germany, and with my example here South Africa, with various industries (cars, TeleCom, etc.)

And then we have this idea that people in the West have been known to resent those who have sailed past us in technology achievement because they ended up in a situation where they needed to move from the stone age (into which they had been bombed) to absolutely modern, or even next-gen, times.

If we give effective, inexpensive, workable, modern non-carbon energy technology to Africa and help it get deployed, then African nations will, in the near future, show up at international climate change summits with a new message that climate change science denialists and carbon-based energy magnates will not want to hear. They will say this. “Look, we’re doing pretty well without carbon based energy technologies. We’re advancing the standard of living without destroying the planet. Why haven’t you done that, The West?”

And, when it comes to production, new ideas, technology, stuff you want to buy, the raw material of the global free market, the Africans are going to kick our asses.

And that will be great. But some are afraid because of a thing they have. It’s called racism.

Allen's Rule, Phenotypic Plasticity, and The Nature of Evolution

ResearchBlogging.orgAllen’s Rule. One of those things you learn in graduate school along with Bergmann’s Rule and Cope’s Rule. It is all about body size. Cope’s Rule … which is a rule of thumb and not an absolute … says that over time the species in a given lineage tend to be larger and larger. Bergmann’s Rule says that mammals get larger in colder environments. Allen’s Rule has mammals getting rounder in colder climates, by decreasing length of appendages such as limbs, tails and ears.

All three rules seem to be exemplified in human evolution. Modern humans tend to be larger and rounder in cooler environments than in tropical environments. Over time, the human lineage has gotten larger … australopiths of the Miocene and Pliocene were smaller than Homo erectus and modern Homo sapiens. In comparing contemporary African modern humans and European Neanderthals, the latter are rounder and have shorter limbs, especially the distal parts of the limbs (forearms and the leg below the knees). In fact, this difference in body proportion is one of the key features that physical anthropologists use to distinguish between regular modern humans and Neanderthals when faced with that task.

[Revised and Reposted. Teachers, here is a PDF version of this post (slightly revised for better use as a handout). ]

Bunnies demonstrating Allen’s rule.

The usual assumption is that these changes in body form are selected for as a result of various environmental pressures, and that these features of body size and shape become adaptive features seen in particular populations. The body shape story is part of the Darwinian story of adaptation as well as, in some cases, the story of racial differentiation among humans or other organisms.

And of course, it is all wrong, as usual.
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Driving The Patriarchy: Demonic Males, Feminism, and Genetic Determinism

Behaviors are not caused by genes. There is not a gene that causes you to be good, or to be bad, or to be smart, or good at accounting, or to like bananas. There are, however, drives. “Drives” is a nicely vague term that we can all understand the meaning of. Thirst and hunger are drives we can all relate to. In fact, these drives are so basic, consistent and powerful that almost everyone has them, we share almost exact experiences in relation to them, and they can drive (as drives are wont to do) us to do extreme things when they are not met for long periods of time. While eating disorders are common enough and these affect a hunger drive, it is very rare to find a person thirst themselves to death.
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What is the most important human adaptation?

Human infants require more care than they should, if we form our expectations based on closely related species (apes, and more generally, Old World simian primates). It has been said that humans are born three months early. This is not accurate. It was thought that our body size predicted a 12 month gestation, and some suggested that Neanderthals would have had such, but this research conclusion has been set aside based on new analysis. But it is still true that developmentally, human children do not reach a stage of development that allows some degree of self care for a very long time compared to apes. The actual sequence of development is not directly comparable: It is not the case that after a certain amount of time humans reach a specific stage reached earlier in the lifecycle by Chimpanzees, as the differences are more complicated than that. For the present purposes, we can characterize the human condition for early development like this: Human babies are more helpless in more ways and for longer than comparable ape babies.
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Why do women shop and men hunt?

Or, when the hunting season is closed, watch teh game (the guys), or when there are no sales, admire each other’s shoes (the gals)?

This is, of course, a parody of the sociobiological, or in modern parlance, the “evolutionary psychology” argument linking behaviors that evolved in our species during the long slog known as The Pleistocene with today’s behavior in the modern predator-free food-rich world. And, it is a very sound argument. If, by “sound” you mean “sounds good unless you listen really hard.”

I list this argument among the falsehoods, but really, this is a category of argument with numerous little sub-arguments, and one about which I could write as many blog posts as I have fingers and toes, which means, at least twenty. (Apparently there was some pentaldactylsim in my ancestry, and I must admit that I’ll never really know what they cut off when I was born, if anything.)

Before going into this discussion I think it is wise, if against my nature, to tell you what the outcome will be: There is not a good argument to be found in the realm of behavioral biology for why American Women shop while their husbands sit on the bench in the mall outside the women’s fashion store fantasizing about a larger TV on which to watch the game. At the same time, there is a good argument to be made that men and women should have different hard wired behavioral proclivities, if there are any hard wired behavioral proclivities in our species. And, I’m afraid, the validity from an individual’s perspective of the various arguments that men and women are genetically programmed to be different (in ways that make biological sense) is normally determined by the background and politics of the observer and not the science. I am trained in behavioral biology, I was taught by the leading sociobiologists, I’ve carried out research in this area, and I was even present, somewhat admiringly, at the very birth of Evolutionary Psychology, in Room 14A in the Peabody Museum at Harvard, in the 1980s. So, if anyone is going to be a supporter of evolutionary psychology, it’s me.

But I’m not. Let me ‘splain….
Continue reading Why do women shop and men hunt?

Genes are only part of the story: ncRNA does stuff

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchYou know that organisms develop, grow, and function in part because genes code for proteins that form the building blocks of life or that function as working bioactive molecules (like enzymes). You also know that most DNA is junk, only a couple percent actually coding for anything useful. Most importantly, however, you know that everything you know is wrong. Right? Continue reading Genes are only part of the story: ncRNA does stuff