China has become notorious in recent years for its high levels of air pollution. This, however, is only one of many issues facing China as the country’s middle class continues to grow.
Beijing, China’s capital city, is home to around 20 million people. As a result, the city produces a lot of trash.
On a number of occasions, academics have attempted to estimate just how much trash Beijing produces. They have all failed, due in large part to the fact that the massive trash collection industry in China is extremely unorganized.
So back in 2012, the government of Beijing came up with an innovative solution to their trash problem: reverse vending machines that reward people who recycle with credits that can be applied to phone cards or public transit costs.
The machines are equipped with scanners that can identify what type of bottle you are recycling to determine its value. More valuable bottles get you more credit.
Beijing has contracted Incom, the company building the kiosks, to build 100 of the machines across the city (Incom thinks the number will eventually be in the thousands).
34 kiosks have been built so far. Check out the video below to see one of the machines in action and hear how local people are responding to them:
The U.S. actually has one of the largest illegal ivory markets in the world, second only to China.
And just last month, we got to hear the touching story of Raju.
This asian elephant spent 50 years being tortured and mistreated, all while sharp chains and spiked shackles cut painfully into his legs.
But in early July, a group of animal charity workers pulled off a daring rescue, freeing Raju from his nightmare. He was visibly emotional during the rescue, and even wept.
They delivered Raju to an elephant sanctuary in India, where he is already making new friends.
There are plenty of things to be optimistic about, but we have to keep reminding ourselves that the illegal ivory trade is still a big problem, and one that is actually getting worse.
More ivory was confiscated last year than in any of the previous 25 years. The problem is that poachers can get anywhere between $100-000 to $200,000 for a single tusk, which is a massive incentive to any would-be poacher.
The graphic below shows the relationship between elephant poaching in Africa and ivory seizures in Asia. Click to enlarge:
The problems facing elephants are serious indeed, but today is a celebration of the majestic creatures.
In light of that, I think it’s only fair that I finish this post off with three of the cutest baby elephants ever.
Roger Shawyer is one of the most persistent and driven individuals in the world.
For years, he has been working on a new type of propulsion engine that could theoretically run forever without needing any fuel. He calls his device the EmDrive.
The engine works by bouncing around microwave radiation in a small space to produce thrust, rather than burning a propellant fuel. The microwaves are produced by solar power which is generated from panels on the outside of the engine.
When he first began proposing the idea for a quantum vacuum plasma thruster, Shawyer was laughed at. Most scientists he talked to told him the idea was ludicrous, saying that (among other issues) it defied the theory of conservation of momentum.
Only a group of Chinese scientists was willing to actually try out the idea. In 2009, they built a model of Shawyer’s engine that actually worked, producing enough thrust to power a small satellite.
Even then, many people weren’t convinced. But recently, American scientist Guido Fetta and a team at NASA Eagleworks (NASA’s experimental technologies division) recreated the engine for themselves, and found that the design actually does in fact work.
In a statement about their findings, the NASA research team said:
“Test results indicate that the RF resonant cavity thruster design, which is unique as an electric propulsion device, is producing a force that is not attributable to any classical electromagnetic phenomenon and therefore is potentially demonstrating an interaction with the quantum vacuum virtual plasma.”
The whole mystery behind the engine stems from the difference between how physics operates on a large scale in our every day world, and how it operates on the microscopic, quantum level (ie. quantum physics).
When we observe molecules in their most basic form, they often don’t follow the same rules of physics that govern our visible world.
For example, if you throw a tennis ball off of a wall, you wouldn’t expect it to speed up after hitting the wall- its acceleration is totally dependent on how much force you release the ball with.
But on the quantum level, things change. Shawyer describes the principles of how the engine works here, but the wording is a bit overly scientific if you’re not an engineer, so I’ll try to break it down as best I can.
Basically, the microwave particles that the EmDrive uses can travel extremely fast (up to almost the speed of light). Because of this high velocity, the particles exert a force (albeit a very, very small one) on the reflective inner walls of the engine.
So, each reflector has a different velocity at its surface, depending on how many radiation molecules are hitting it and how fast they’re moving. Imagine someone throwing marbles at the surface of a number of drums- the drum being hit by the largest amount of fast-moving marbles is going to be vibrating the most.
The radiation molecules have virtually no mass. Because of this, their momentum can actually be increased by bouncing them from a reflector with a lower surface velocity to one with a higher surface velocity. This added momentum comes from the difference in force between the two surfaces.
By taking advantage of this principle and carefully designing the inner geometry of the thruster, Shawyer was able to create a compartment that perfectly bounced the microwave radiation between reflectors, steadily increasing its momentum until it gets released out of the end as thrust.
And since the microwaves are generated using solar panels, the engine could theoretically work forever, or at least until its hardware fails.
There still needs to be much more extensive testing to prove that the engine can be replicated and utilized on a larger scale, but the basic concept has been demonstrated twice now.
The lesson: never stop pursuing your dreams. The people who make the biggest impacts on our society are usually people who have been called crazy more than a handful of times throughout their lives.
So, to you Roger Shawyer: thanks for being a stubborn dreamer. I hope your engine plays a big role in revolutionizing this era of space exloration and discovery!
Villagers from a village in the Sichuan province of China just collected the largest ever aquatic insect specimen.
The bug, a massive dobsonfly, has a wingspan of more than 8 inches. The previous record-holder for the world’s largest aquatic insect was a South American helicopter damselfly, which had a wingspan of 7.5 inches.
Though dobsonflies are relatively common (there are over 200 species across Asia, Africa and South America), one of this size had been unheard of until now.
Looking at a dobsonfly can actually be very misleading. For one, those massive, grisly-looking mandibles protruding from its head are actually only used for mating. Males flaunt them to impress the females and hold them in place during the actual mating process.
Also, those massive wings are pretty much all for show. The insect almost never flies, preferring to spend the bulk of its time in the water (both underwater and on the surface), or sheltering underneath rocks.
Dobsonflies are also a biological indicator of water quality. They prefer clean water with very low levels of pollution and a relatively neutral pH. If water quality falls below their standards, they will leave and find a new body of water to call home.
The villagers gave the record-setting specimen to the Insect Museum of West China.
The Chinese government has sealed off about 30,000 residents in parts of Yumen, a city in northeast China.
The move comes a week after a 38-year-old man died from the bubonic plague (also known as the black death). The man is said to have contracted the disease after coming in contact with a marmot- a rodent similar to the groundhog.
Residents have been told they cannot leave the area, and police have set up roadblocks to enforce that decree. Yumen has a population of 100,000 people, but only certain portions of the city have been isolated.
Besides the 30,000 people sealed off, the government has also put 151 people who had direct contact with the man under quarantine.
There is no word yet on how long the situation will last, but city officials have said they have enough rice, flour and oil to supply the 30,000 residents for a month.
Although the bubonic plague is rare in China, it is not totally unheard of. Since 2009, there have been an estimated 12 cases in China, with four deaths.
The plague can work extremely fast, sometimes killing a person within 24 hours of the initial infection. However, modern antibiotics have proven effective in treating the disease if it is detected quickly. Beijing officials say the chances of the outbreak spreading are low.
Check out the original story from the Daily Mail here.
China’s economy has been growing at an extremely fast pace over the last couple of decades. Their annual GDP has been rising rapidly, especially since the late 90s, and is expected to surpass U.S. GDP next year.
A huge part of this growth has come from construction and real estate. Real estate has become a larger and larger portion of the Chinese economy in recent years.
But even those who have been well aware of China’s rapidly growing real estate sector will be shocked by this tweet posted by Bill Gates a few days ago.
Just to add some more perspective, in the last 100 years the U.S. has built pretty much the entire interstate highway system, as well as thousands of skyscrapers, tens of thousands of dams and hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses.
China’s real estate market is not really what it seems, though. There are a number of ghost towns in China- extravagantly built new neighborhoods full of shiny new buildings and beautiful parks and gardens. The only thing missing is people.
While some argue that the towns will eventually be inhabited as more and more Chinese citizens move up to the middle class, many analysts say that very few people will actually be able to afford to live in these new developments any time soon.
60 Minutes did a great piece on China’s ghost towns last year. You can watch it below. You can check out aerial images of some of the ghost towns courtesy of Business Insider here.
It’s also worth noting that China’s housing market has taken a downturn recently. China is the world’s largest trading nation- the fact that their economy depends so heavily on this sector is fueling worries that a Chinese housing slump could cause economic reverberations across the globe.
Today is the 25th anniversary of the government massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators in China’s Tiananmen Square. The massacre was the culmination of a prolonged campaign by the communist Chinese government to crackdown on dissent.
After the death of the liberal reformer Hu Yaobang, pro-democracy student activists occupied the square to mourn his death and protest against the increasingly oppressive communist regime.
After the students had occupied the square for about seven weeks, the government sent in soldiers and tanks to clear them out and enforce the martial which had been declared amid the protests.
Protesters who chose to defy them were met with assault rifles and gunpowder. The event also produced this now famous clip of a man attempting to stop a whole battalion of tanks by himself:
The crackdown was bloody. There were hundreds of injuries and many deaths, though the government has never released official figures on the loss of life from the massacre. In fact, the government has been doing its best to totally remove the event from the collective memory of Chinese citizens since it happened.
Even now, 25 years later, China has enacted strict laws forbidding the commemoration of the massacre. Since April, 50 people, including writers, activists, artists, lawyers, journalists, filmmakers and relatives of those killed in 1989, have been, “detained, disappeared or summoned for police questioning” for discussing or planning to observe the 25th anniversary of the massacre today.
Renee Xia, who heads the Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), says that this year’s censorship is the worst it has ever been:
“The leaders are more nervous because they feel less secure due to increasing social conflict and widespread discontent. They fear any display of dissent might spark protests against the government.”
Despite the risks, however, many of the victims’ relatives are still choosing to speak out about the tragedy. Liu Meihua lost her 21-year-old son in the massacre. She had this to say in an interview with the Telegraph:
“My only wish is for the government to reevaluate the June 4 incident. I have felt sad every single day since my son’s departure… I doubt I will live to see that day because of my age. No government body has ever offered us an explanation or a solution or taken responsibility for the issue. Young people today know little about June 4, since it is rarely read about or talked about, and the older people are dying out.”
As the relatives of those lost grow older, the bullying tactics of the Chinese government seem to have less and less of an effect. Sharon Hom is executive director of the organization Human Rights in China (HRIC), which just released a video with rare footage of statements being made by the families of five of the massacre victims. She puts it this way:
“The surveillance, the threats, the monitoring, the phones, all of that: they have kind of reached a plateau. Fear is no longer effective to keep them silent because they are saying: ’What more can you do to us?’ Now they are going to speak out.”
Last month, on April 1, China’s Anhui province announced a very strange new policy: as of the 1st of June, the province will be banning all burials. Anyone whose death isn’t registered before that deadline will have to be cremated.
However, any deaths registered before the deadline will still be allowed burial rights, so dozens of elderly Chinese residents in Anhui have been committing suicide so that they can die in time to be buried.
Why is Anhui province doing this? According to authorities, who have been visiting Anhui’s funeral homes and smashing up all the coffins, cemeteries are simply taking up too much space.
The policy hasn’t been met with too much opposition in the urban areas of Anhui, where the people are more modernized and are therefore less bothered by the idea of cremation.
However, many Chinese residents living in rural areas still follow very traditional systems of belief, including the belief that cremation is abhorrent and disgraceful.
There have been a number of stories of elderly people committing suicide and leaving behind notes explaining that they wanted to die in time to receive a proper burial. Three villages in the province have reported seven or more suicides each since the announcement of the new policy, and there have also been a number of deaths in Anhui’s provincial capital.
A team from Texas, California and Washington recently published research which found that pollution from Asia (the bulk of which is from China), is causing more intense tornados and increased precipitation levels in the United States as well as an increase in the amount of warm air in the mid-Pacific.
This air is part of a weather system known as the Pacific storm track- many storms that end up on the United States’ west coast originate in this weather system. The warmer air being fed into the Pacific storm track due to the air pollution increases the potential for storms originating there to be larger and more violent.
Here’s Ellie Highwood, climate physicist at the University of Reading:
“Mid-latitude storms develop off Asia and they track across the Pacific, coming in to the west coast of the US … The particles in this model are affecting how strong those storms are, how dense the clouds are, and how much rainfall comes out of those storms.”
The pollution problem in China is widespread. Just last moth, their environmental ministry reported that 71 of the 74 cities monitored by the government failed to meet air quality standards.
The government does seem to finally be taking the issue seriously, however. Just yesterday, Beijing’s leadership announced that very soon, major revisions would be made to the country’s environmental protection laws, including giving environmental protection authorities power to,
“Shut polluting factories, punish officials and restrict industrial development in some areas.”
After years of rhetoric, it will be the first real change to the environmental protection law since 1989.
Ok, “literally” may be a bit of an exaggeration, but I’m of the opinion that you must have a healthy dose of insanity to do what Russian free-climber Kirill Oreshkin does, so I stand by that title. Here’s some of his more insane pictures- click an image to enlarge and check out his website to see more photos.
Here’s a video of Kirill and his buddy Vitaly Raskalov climbing China’s Shanghai Tower, the world’s second tallest building at just over 2073 feet tall. It really gets crazy at around the 2:00 mark. If you’re not good with heights, prepare yourself…
Here’s another video that shows some of the highlights of his various climbs.