Trump is failing on climate change. But are the rest of us any better?

Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement has caused outrage around the world, with the US seemingly putting short-term economic gain over the environment. But are the rest of us all that better? We investigate

Rivers vanishing into thin air; melting icebergs; large-scale coral reef bleaching – we’ve all seen the images and videos in our newsfeeds. These instances are the shocking, visual proof of what climate change scientists have been telling us for years: we’re killing our planet; just two 2 °C more and humans are likely as good as dead.

There’s could be no worse time, then, to have a global warming truther running the White House. America’s newest POTUS, backed by a cherry-picked cabinet of fossil fuel millionaires, has used his first 100 days in office to roll back Obama-era regulations on offshore drilling, dismantle the Clean Power Plan, shred vital coal regulations, put a climate change denier in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency and now – to the horror of many – has pulled out of the Paris Agreement.

US President Donald J Trump, who has just announced that he is pulling out of the Paris climate change agreement. Image courtesy of JStone / Shutterstock.com

Even prior to this latest announcement, environmentalists have been showing their dismay, such as with a headline-grabbing protest at Trump Tower in NYC on May 8th. A week before that, an estimated 300,000 people – many working in STEM industries – braved 91°F heat to march on DC as part of the People’s Climate Movement. “Things have gotten so bad,” one placard read, “that even introverts have to protest”. Trump chose that afternoon to fly to the heart of coal country, snubbing the White House Correspondents Dinner for a rally in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

So, how important is the US’s increasingly non-co-operative stance on climate change to global emission-reducing efforts? Do we need the Trump administration on-board, or can we make earth-saving strides without them?

“The alliance between US and China under the Obama administration played a key role in securing the climate agreement,” explains Greenpeace’s Head of News, Stefano Gelmini, speaking before yesterday’s shock announcement.

“If Trump decides to pull the US out of the Paris Agreement, that will no doubt slow down global efforts to tackle climate change – but it won’t stop them. A growing number of countries are realising the obvious benefits of developing clean energy sources, which are safe, easy to deploy and getting cheaper every year.”

The case for renewables is sound, backed by sound scientific fact. But as we’ve learned, Trump is a “post-truth” businessman, a president who’ll ruthlessly target data that might impede his agenda. In a nutshell: he truly sucks when it comes to action on climate change. But are the rest of us any better?

The UK’s backyard emissions crisis

The UK has enjoyed some encouraging breakthroughs in recent months, including our first coal-free day – on April 21st – since the Industrial Revolution, thanks to alternative sources such as gas, nuclear, wind and solar. The preceding month, the National Grid reported that the UK had broken solar energy records, producing six times more electricity via the photovoltaic network than through the country’s coal-fired power stations.

With Britain’s last coal power station set to shut in 2025, these are encouraging milestones. “Photovoltaics are already the cheapest source of electricity in many countries,” Gelmini points out, “while power towers using mirrors to concentrate solar energy to produce thermal power can now supply electricity 24 hours a day.”

But is the switch from dirty fuel to renewables happening fast enough to honour our international commitments? Worryingly not, says WWF’s Gareth Redmond-King. “We haven’t made anything like the same progress on decarbonising buildings and transport. Whoever forms the next government after the general election, they must prioritise a plan for reducing emissions from all sectors.”

Whoever forms the next government after the general election, they must prioritise a plan for reducing emissions from all sectors

Honouring our commitments to the rest of world look doubtful when we fail to address the crises in our backyard. The government’s own data shows that UK air pollution causes 40,000-50,000 early deaths a years, a quagmire that MPs have called a “pubic health emergency”. After repeatedly refusing to address the issue, the Conservative government is now facing a class action lawsuit from asthma sufferers. Its not so much troubleshooting solutions that we’re lacking – mooted fixes include retro-fitting highly polluting public transport vehicles, introducing diesel vehicle charges and adapting traffic lights at particularly smoggy junctions to work as emission-mufflers – but state responsibility.

Current PM Theresa May gave climate change a single cursory mention in her 2016 party address; in April, she oversaw the sale of our Green Investment Bank for £2.3bn in a move roundly denounced by critics. “If the government picks up its pace, the UK could be a world leader in renewable and green technology,” Greenpeace’s policy director, Doug Parr, told The Guardian. “But selling a great British success story, which levered private money into eco-projects, to a controversial Australian bank [Macquarie] known for asset-stripping, is a disaster.”

European hopes for climate change action

Things look far more hopeful across the pond, in France, where the newly elected Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron has come out as a passionate, vocal advocate for climate change action.

Macron used a recent video to recruit America’s increasingly persecuted “researchers, entrepreneurs, engineers” to France, where he promised they would be welcomed by their French and European peers. “Please, come to France, you are welcome [here]… we like innovation. We want innovative people. We want people working on climate change, energy, renewables and new technologies.”

If we are truly to meet our obligations under the Paris Agreement, we will need to see a much faster growth of renewables and much faster reduction of fossil fuels

Macron hopes to build on the gains made by the EU in recent years. As a recent study by the European Environment Agency (EEA) has revealed, renewables – wind and solar, in particular – helped to cut Europe’s carbon emissions by 10% in 2015. It’s a promising, if patchily applied, number. Scandinavian countries, for example, rely on renewables for 30% of the power, while countries like Malta use it for just 5% of their energy needs.

Mihai Tomescu, who authored the EEA study, summarised the findings by explaining that while the renewable roll-out is picking up speed, it’s not happening fast enough to avert the ecocide we’re on course for. “The current level of effort needs to be stepped up and this is not necessarily going to happen without additional focus,” he told the Guardian.

It’s a warning echoed by James Watson, the chief executive of SolarPower Europe. “This is a good start and we must be positive about that but if we are truly to meet our obligations under the Paris Agreement, we will need to see a much faster growth of renewables and a commensurate, much faster reduction of fossil fuels, and coal power in particular.”

Trump contrast? Concerns for Canada while China shines

In Canada, Justin Trudeau promised an administration with a strong commitment to the Paris Agreement. But since coming to power in 2015, the prime minister has approved not just one but two oil pipelines, and one of Canada’s largest carbon dioxide-emitting liquefied natural gas projects, a move that “virtually [ensures] that Canada will not meet its own climate targets,” says award-winning scientist and broadcaster David Suzuki.

A worker installs a solar panel on a building in Jiujiang, China. The country has increasingly been embracing renewable energy. Image courtesy of humphery / Shutterstock.com

Despite this, like many environmentalists, Suzuki is not without hope. “Nature has the ability to continue to shock us. If we pull back and give nature room to recover, it may surprise us.”

China, a country increasingly pushing to the fore in terms of eco responsibility, are a growing cause for hope. “They’re one of the big reasons for optimism,” says Gelmini.

“China are the biggest emitter and still heavily dependent on coal, but as well as being a vocal advocate they also appear to be walking the walk, installing two wind turbines and three football pitches worth of solar panels every hour, while cancelling many of their planned coal plants. This commitment, as well as their vast economic power, means that the world listens to them.”

Money talks: the economic resistance to climate change action

The world may listen, but it’s money that talks, as the Asset Owner Disclosure Project’s most recent global index has revealed. For the first time, its the majority rather than the minority of global investor heavyweights who recognise the financial risks of climate change, with 60% of the world’s largest 500 asset owners now factoring the financial risks associated with climate change into their investments.

That’s not say there isn’t still “enormous resistance” among asset owners in countries like Australia to heed/invest in climate conscious projects, e according to AODP’s chairman John Hewson. That’s because managers tend to “take a very short-term focus, and rely on short-term remuneration, so they won’t take a medium to long-term challenge on easily”. It’s a dilemma exacerbated by governments downplaying the need to transition to renewables, says Hewson. “It’s not conducive to a serious assessment of risk, that’s for sure.”

And yet the continent is making real strides under premier Jay Weatherill, with a $150m renewable technology fund and the construction of a $1bn solar farm and the world’s biggest battery set to begin at the tailend of 2017.

Investors won’t always follow government policy robotically, AODP’s CEO, Julian Poulter, tells us. “As our report shows, climate change has eaten into the herd mentality that dominates finance – the leading funds have rejected the way that short term markets view climate risk and are doing very different things to the laggards; there has never been a bigger split in finance.”

This is the split that will ultimately prove the difference between a renewables-powered future and ecocide. As the one percenters are finally realising, short-term gains on a dying planet are increasingly valueless. We can’t drink oil, or eat money. An eco-responsible future is still possible – but speed, the data tells us, is everything.

Valve’s ‘Knuckles’ controller brings individual finger control to VR

With a prototype first revealed at the company’s Steam Dev Days conference last October, Valve’s new ‘Knuckles’ controller is now being shipped to developers as a prototype, while a blog post unveils a few more of the specs.

What’s important about the new controller is that it on only utilises an ‘open hand’ design that will mean you don’t have to spend your entire time gripping the controller like a weapon, but  it also features basic tracking for individual fingers.

The device is similar to the current HTC Vive motion controller, positioning in 3D space via Steam’s Lighthouse tracking system, but looks to build to the next stage of what can be done with motion control in VR. Specifically, Valve is looking to bring a much greater presence of your virtual hand into the market.

Moreover, they’re looking to make that virtual hand feel far more natural. With the controller able to grip onto your hand – think somewhat similar to securing your Wiimotes to your wrist – you’ll be able to operate in the virtual space with an open hand. While it may seem a small thing, it brings a whole new realism to any kind of grabbing or catching motion.

In addition, the ability of the Knuckles to track the movement of individual fingers could prove a real game-changer to virtual reality experiences.  Using a number of capacitive sensors to detect the state of your hands when your finger is on a button, or particular part of a controller, the controller will, according to the dev post, “return a curl value between zero and one, where zero indicates that the finger is pointing straight out and one indicates that the finger is fully curled around the controller”.

In essence, this means that the controller will be able to sense fine gradations of movement in each of your fingers, rather than relying on a binary “open” or “closed” status. Beyond lending a more organic feel to the use of your virtual hand, this will also allow users to make use of a range of hand gestures currently unavailable with VR controllers. A screenshot from a new version of SteamVR Home displays the possibilities with a Knuckles user’s avatar throwing up devil horns.

Images courtesy of Valve

It’s worth noting that this isn’t a perfect tracking system. While farther along than, for example, the Oculus Touch controllers, which allow you to slightly open your fingers while tracking the three non-index fingers together via an analog trigger, the Knuckles aren’t exactly ‘full’ finger tracking. Ideally, controllers will reach the point of knowing where your fingers are at all times with pinpoint precision. Until then however, the Knuckles are no small step forward.

The current Knuckles controller dev kit reportedly has a battery life of three hours and requires an hour of USB Micro charging to fill up (if accurate, these numbers put it roughly in the same realm as Vive controllers in regards to battery). We’ll have to wait on confirmation of this and other details,

Elon Musk speaks to LA's mayor about his Boring Company

Elon Musk said this week that he has held “promising conversations” with L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, regarding the potential of bringing his recently formed Boring Company to the city. One of the ideas reportedly under consideration would see an express line to LAX airport from LA’s Union Station being built.

Source: Tech Crunch

Atari is back with a new console

Last week, Atari began teasing a new product called the Ataribox. Now, in an exclusive interview with GamesBeat Atari CEO Fred Chesnais has confirmed that the pioneering video game company is working on a new game console. “We’re back in the hardware business,” said Chesnais.

Source: Venture Beat

Nasa find 10 planets that could potentially host life

Nasa has added a further 219 candidates to the list of planets beyond our solar system, 10 of which may be about the same size and temperature as Earth, and may host life. Scientists found the candidates in a final batch of Nasa’s Kepler Space Telescope observations of 200,000 sample stars in the constellation Cygnus.

Source: The Guardian

Tesla Model S told driver to put his hands on the wheel before fatal crash

Federal regulators said on Monday, the driver of a Tesla Model S, who was killed in a collision while the car was in autopilot mode, did not have his hands on the steering wheel for a prolonged period of time despite being repeatedly warned by the vehicle that having his hands on the wheel was necessary.

Source: Ars Technica

Uber founder Travis Kalanick resigns

Having last week said that he was taking an indefinite leave of absence, Uber boss Travis Kalanick resigned as chief executive of the company this week after pressure from shareholders. His resignation comes after a review of practices at the firm and scandals including complaints of sexual harassment.

Source: BBC

Facebook defends against injunction to remove Oculus Rift from sale

Facebook and Oculus want a federal judge to let them continue selling Rifts despite a jury deciding Oculus stole another company’s computer code. Lawyers for Facebook said halting the sale of Oculus Rifts “would serve no one but ZeniMax, who would use it only as leverage to try to extract money from Oculus”.

Source: Bloomberg