The opinions expressed here are well-reasoned and insightful -- needless to say they are not the opinions of my employers

18 October 2009

GSA -- Sunday October 18

I went to the lunchtime seminar by Patricia Woertz on Carbon Sequestration. I don't have a general problem with geo-engineering, as pretty much every part of our lives has been geo-engineered (ok, sometimes just engineered). But I admit that I'm concerned at the degree to which major players have declared that the solution to climate change need not involve any kind of behavioral change on our part. This talk was about a project being undertaken by Archer-Daniels-Midland (lately of "The Informant" fame) in partnership with Monsanto and some coal companies and largely funded, of course, by the Department of Energy. My understanding is that ADM plans to ultimately capture up to 50% of the CO2 from one of their ethanol plants and inject it into a deep sandstone aquifer of saline water (can you say, "salty Perrier"?) and hope it stays there. Their project geologist suggested that it could be viable for several centuries (what happens after that I'm not sure). There are nine of these pilot projects around the country, and Stephen Chu apparently believes that the process could be "viable" within 5-8 years.

There were questions about hydrofracturing and migration of deep saline groundwater into adjacent basins, which the ADM people handled deftly by saying "trust our science" and that if pollution were a problem that they could have the laws changed to favor their position (well, they didn't literally say that but that's what I heard). They also went on about how great these "public-private partnerships" are, which always seems to be the attitude of the private partner when the public pays the bills and doesn't ask for anything in return.

OK, enough ranting. The Geoinformatics session this afternoon was good, even before we got to watch Ron test (and apparently find) Google Earth's limits. I'm ready to start gigapanning (whenever CA gets out of the red -- don't wait up...). I am ready to start geotagging all of my photos and sharing all of my data with the world. Maybe I'll start by posting two days in a row.

Actually, Lee Allison's talk about social networking made me think again about the Loma Prieta quake. Phone lines became completely jammed within the first 20 minutes after the quake, making it almost impossible to get through to family. Radio stations became bulletin boards for messages between family members, but you had to be listening when the host read your message. Today, text messaging clears a significant amount of space on the data lines (except for the part where everyone sends photo and video attachments)... A standard part of my earthquake safety lecture now is on the benefits of contacting loved ones only by text after a disaster.

Now in the Philippines and Indonesia we have people using mobiles and social networking to stay in contact and to keep one another updated about escape routes, relief supplies, evacuation centers, etc... This is of course on the heels of the Twitter protests in Iran.

I spoke with Callan and Silver Fox about this a bit today, and though the Iranian protesters were not successful in reforming their government, I see hope: in '82 there were anti-apartheid protests and strikes in South Africa. They were a lead story on the news around the world night after night -- until the government banned photos and video by foreign news organizations. With no visuals the story dropped off the table overnight. The pro-democracy demonstrations in China presented a similar problem, as reporters were swept off of the streets when the real crack-downs began. It was one cameraman who happened to have a good view from his hotel who shot the video of the man standing down the tank. And he then had to smuggle the video out of the country, or it would never have been seen.

In Iran the government couldn't shut down the networks because many of the servers were outside the borders. Video was released to the world by everyone with a cell phone and a view. We can't stop tanks or guns but they can't operate in secret either. Coups and revolutions used to begin with the takeover of the radio or TV station -- propaganda is important and useful, but information is no longer a monopoly item. This can be positive (@persiankiwi and the Iranian protesters) or negative (Jenny McCarthy and the anti-vaxers), it can be direct democracy or mob rule -- but it's never again going to be like it was.

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