Blueprint for a Better World

I’m really loving this series in New Scientist called Blueprint for a Better World.

Below are summaries and links to the points discussed in Part I. They make some interesting points which I’ve never considered. I’m not sure I agree with it all but there’s definitely some food for thought and discussion here.

1. Beware of Common Sense

beware of common sense

The gist – Government should base policy on proven evidence instead of “what sounds good” to lobbyists and voters.

The big challenge is to get politicians and policy-makers to understand what constitutes rigorous evidence and to base their decisions on it, rather than on the urgings of lobbyists. The only alternative is to spend vast sums on programmes and policies that, far from achieving their aims, may be making matters worse.

2. Legalize Drugs


The gist – Drug prohibition does nothing to decrease the number of drug     users, but it does increase illness, death and robbery as well as allowing criminals involved in the illegal drug trade to become powerful and dangerous.

Taking any drug – including alcohol and nicotine – does have health risks, but a legal market would at least ensure that the substances people ingest or inject are available unadulterated and at known dosages. Much of the estimated $300 billion earned from illegal drugs worldwide, which now funds crime, corruption and environmental destruction, could support legitimate jobs. And instead of spending tens of billions enforcing prohibition, governments would gain income from taxes that could be spent on medical treatment for the small proportion of users who become addicted or whose health is otherwise harmed.

3. Give Police Your DNA


The gist – Although complicated due to privacy issues, databases of citizen’s DNA would allow officials to convict the guilty and release the innocent much more frequently.

Many other countries are wrestling with this issue. One possible answer – not yet adopted anywhere in the world – is to record everybody’s profiles at birth or on entry to the country. A universal DNA database of this kind would not solve all crimes: in many cases, no DNA sample is available, or would be irrelevant because the alleged perpetrator’s identity is not in question. But it would ensure a match could be found for most crime-scene DNA samples, while also ensuring people arrested but not convicted are treated no differently to the rest of the population. There is no other way to achieve this.

4. Redefine the Bottom Line

redefine bottom line

The gist – A new measurement which takes into account life satisfaction and sustainability is needed instead of counting success in GDP dollars.

That’s not to say that money plays no role in our well-being; the inhabitants of the poorest nations have the worst health and the lowest life satisfaction. But above a certain threshold, increasing wealth seems to matter less and less to our overall well-being. As a result, focusing on GDP as the prime measure of progress gives only a partial picture of social and personal welfare. A better indicator is needed.

5 – Find Out if We Can Cool the Planet

cool planet

The gist – Geoengineering may be our best option for cooling the planet while we look for ways to reduce carbon emissions, however, it is not without its dangers.

… Given the possibility that researchers have underestimated the scale and speed of climate change, and with emissions rising faster than ever, it would be foolish not to investigate what geoengineering might achieve. Is it our best bet for ensuring that Earth remains a benign home to future generations, or a dangerous delusion? We need to find out.

6 – Tax Carbon and Give the Money to the People

money people

The gist – A universal carbon tax should be charged during the initial purchase of the fuel. This cost would trickle down to the consumer persuading them to use less fossil fuels. In addition, the revenue from the taxes would be redistributed to those making the greenest choices.

A universal carbon tax could be far simpler. NASA climatologist James Hansen is a vocal proponent, favouring a variant in which fossil fuels are taxed at source or at a country’s port of entry. The most polluting fuels in terms of carbon emissions, such as coal or tar-sand-derived oil, could be taxed more heavily than others. Consumers would not pay the tax directly, but its effect would permeate through to everything from the price of gas to the price of food: the more carbon-intensive goods or services are, the more heavily they will be hit.

7 – Learn to Love Genetic Engineering

genetic engineering

The gist – Bioengineering could play a major role in saving the planet by producing stronger and more nutritious crops.

It won’t be easy. Farming causes more global warming than all the world’s cars, trains, ships and planes put together. The worst culprit is a greenhouse gas called nitrous oxide, a breakdown product of nitrogen fertilisers (including organic ones). Next in line is methane from livestock and manure. To meet demand for food and other materials such as biofuels without turning all the remaining wilderness into farmland, and without producing yet more greenhouse gases, we are going to have to exploit every trick we can.

8 – End the Pillaging of the High Seas

pillaging seas

The gist – Large areas of marine reserves are imperative to the health of the oceans and its inhabitants which provide endless benefits and services to us.

The oceans provide us with many vital services: a significant proportion of the food we eat; underpinning for the tourism industry that is many countries’ lifeblood; soaking up half of the carbon dioxide we pump out, and much more. But pollution and overfishing are taking their toll. In places, entire habitats are being destroyed, from fishermen dynamiting reefs to trawlers trashing slow growing deepwater corals. Fishing fleets roam increasingly far afield and work in ever deeper waters. Mining the deep-sea floor for minerals and other destructive forms of exploitation are on the horizon. And looming above it all is the threat posed by climate change and ocean acidification

9 – Generate a Feed-In Frenzy


The gist – Money talks when it comes to encouraging companies and the public to help in creating renewable energy.

This approach is known as a feed-in tariff, and since Germany introduced feed-in tariffs in 1990, the proportion of electricity it generates from renewable sources has grown from less than 3 per cent to about 15 per cent in 2008. By comparison, the UK, which tried to boost renewable energy through an alternative “green certificate” scheme, generated just 5 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources in 2008.

10 – Take Friday Off.. Forever

fridays off

The gist – A 4-day workweek has a number of benefits, including increased energy conservation, decreased unemployment rates and  improved morale and personal satisfaction.

The full results of this experiment won’t be published until October, but an ongoing survey of 100 buildings suggests energy consumption has fallen by around 13 per cent. The survey also found that 70 per cent of employees prefer the 4/10 arrangement, and that people took fewer days off sick.

[All pics from]


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