GCR News Summary August 2015

8613445170_08f45c47d1_kKorean Demilitarized Zone fence image courtesy of Sangmun Shin/Republic of Korea Ministry of National Defense under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license (image has been cropped)

North and South Korea exchanged artillery fire after two South Korean soldiers were injured by land mines. South Korea claimed North Korea was responsible for placing the mines near a South Korean guard post in the Demilitarized Zone separating the two countries. South Korea responded by using loudspeakers to broadcast propaganda across the border. The Centre for North Korea-US Peace’s Kim Myong-chol, who some believe is a mouthpiece for the North Korean regime, said that the confrontation could lead to a nuclear war. The two countries reached an agreement on August 25 to end the standoff after Chinese military maneuvers near the North Korean border, which may have been intended to exert pressure on North Korea to stand down.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) signed an agreement with Kazakhstan for the country to host the world’s first low-enriched uranium (LEU) storage bank. Starting in 2017, the facility—funded in part by billionaire investor Warren Buffett—would store up to 90 metric tons of nuclear fuel for IAEA member nations. The LEU bank is intended to reduce nuclear proliferation and to lower the risk of nuclear terrorism by guaranteeing states access to a secure source of nuclear fuel. Earlier in August, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) said it arrested four people trying to sell radioactive material that appeared to be uranium-238 (U238). U238 is fissile enough to be used to create a nuclear explosion, but could potentially be used in a “dirty bomb” designed to spread radioactive fallout.

A group of religious leaders, policy experts, and academics endorsed an “Islamic Declaration of Global Climate Change” at the International Islamic Climate Symposium in Istanbul. The declaration calls on the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which meets in Paris in December, to reduce both greenhouse gas emissions and the consumption of non-renewable resources while supporting poorer people and countries economically and technically. “Our species, though selected to be a caretaker or steward on the earth,” the declaration says, “has been the cause of such corruption and devastation on it that we are in danger ending life as we know it on our planet.”

Research in Nature Climate Change found that 40% of adults around the world are not aware of climate change. The study found a substantial difference in public awareness of climate change between the more and less developed countries of the world. While most adults in Europe, Japan, and North America have heard about climate change, up to 65% of adults are in developing countries unaware of the issue. Overall, the study found that educational levels are the greatest predictor of climate change awareness.

Another study in Nature Climate Change found that removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere will not undo the impact of atmospheric carbon on ocean chemistry. The study found that even reducing the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide to pre-industrial levels would not restore the oceans to their pre-industrial temperature, acidity, or amount of dissolved oxygen.

A joint US-UK task force found that the global food system is increasingly vulnerable to production shocks caused by extreme weather. The task force’s report said that the risk of global food crises could roughly triple by 2040. In addition, the report found that increases in the volume of global trade will make food production shocks worse. Production shocks will probably hit poor countries that depend on the import of food the hardest. “In fragile political contexts where household food insecurity is high, civil unrest might spill over into violence or conflict,” the report said. “The Middle East and North Africa region is of particular systemic concern, given its exposure to international price volatility and risk of instability, its vulnerability to import disruption and the potential for interruption of energy exports.”

Nicholas Evans argued in The Conversation that we need to know in advance the details of research on potentially dangerous infectious agents in order to make informed decisions about whether the research is worth the risk, how it should be conducted, and how results should be published. “Lab accidents are a fact of life; the stakes are raised when the subject of research is a new disease-causing microbe,” Evans said. “Not having good, detailed information about safety isn’t a reason to panic or shrug—it is a reason to go and get that information.”

Harvard cognitive scientist Steven Pinker argued in The Boston Globe that bioethicists should “get out of the way” of biomedical research. Pinker wrote that slowing down research on potentially valuable techniques like the use of CRISPR-Cas9 “has a massive human cost” and that “technological prediction beyond a horizon of a few years is so futile that any policy based on it is almost certain to do more harm than good”. Queen Mary University of London bioethicist Richard Ashcroft responded that while there is generally too much unwieldy regulation of biomedical research, the fact that it is impossible to know the impact of biomedical research cuts both ways: it could have enormous benefits, but it could also cause substantial harm. Pinker, Ashcroft said, is “making an asymmetrical argument: we should discount hypotheticals about bad things; but instead be guided by hypotheticals about good things.”

This news summary was put together in collaboration with Anthropocene. Thanks to Tony Barrett, Seth Baum, Kaitlin Butler, and Grant Wilson for help compiling the news.

For last month’s news summary, please see GCR News Summary July 2015.

You can help us compile future news posts by putting any GCR news you see in the comment thread of this blog post, or send it via email to Grant Wilson (grant [at] gcrinstitute.org).

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2 Comments on "GCR News Summary August 2015"

  • In the report on uranium smuggling in Ukraine I believe you meant to say that U238 is NOT fissile. U235 is of course what is used in nuclear bombs. That’s why we have centrifuges. Those kinds of typos happen all the time. I’ve been guilty of them myself. Thanks for your very useful service.