Google researchers have reportedly achieved “quantum supremacy”

Google's quantum computer
Google | Erik Lukero

The news: According to a report in the Financial Times, a team of researchers from Google led by John Martinis have demonstrated quantum supremacy for the first time. This is the point at which a quantum computer is shown to be capable of performing a task that’s beyond the reach of even the most powerful conventional supercomputer. The claim appeared in a paper that was posted on a NASA website, but the publication was then taken down. Google did not respond to a request for comment from MIT Technology Review.

Why NASA? Google struck an agreement last year to use supercomputers available to NASA as benchmarks for its supremacy experiments. According to the Financial Times report, the paper said that Google’s quantum processor was able to perform a calculation in three minutes and 20 seconds that would take today’s most advanced supercomputer, known as Summit, around 10,000 years. In the paper, the researchers said that, to their knowledge, the experiment “marks the first computation that can only be performed on a quantum processor.”

Quantum speed-up: Quantum machines are so powerful because they harness quantum bits, or qubits. Unlike classical bits, which represent either a 1 or a 0, qubits can be in a kind of combination of both at the same time. Thanks to other quantum phenomena, which are described in our explainer here, quantum computers can crunch large amounts of data in parallel that conventional machines have to work through sequentially. Scientists have been working for years to demonstrate that the machines can definitively outperform conventional ones.

How significant is this milestone? Very. In a discussion of quantum computing at MIT Technology Review’s EmTech conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts, this week before news of Google’s paper came out, Will Oliver, an MIT professor and quantum specialist, likened the computing milestone to the first flight of the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk in aviation. He said it would give added impetus to research in the field, which should help quantum machines achieve their promise more quickly. Their immense processing power could ultimately help researchers and companies discover new drugs and materials, create more efficient supply chains, and turbocharge AI. MORE

Naomi Klein: To fight eco-fascism, Canada needs Green New Deal champions

Naomi Klein. Image: Adolfo Lujan/Flickr
Image: Adolfo Lujan/Flickr

“This is all wrong.”

Climate activist Greta Thunberg’s speech at the United Nations Climate Summit in New York City on Monday, in which she condemned world leaders for their “empty words” and “fairytales of eternal economic growth,” went viral immediately.

If the international political establishment’s failure to treat the climate crisis as an emergency that requires a total, radical transformation of our economies and societies is, as Thunberg put it, “all wrong,” then the global scale and grassroots ambition of the mass mobilization for climate justice is exactly right.

Just a couple days prior, four million people took to the streets in 185 countries around the world to demand serious climate action from world leaders. Climate actions will continue throughout this week, culminating in a massive climate strike on Friday, September 27 in Canada.

We spoke with Naomi Klein about her new book, On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal; the Global Climate Strike; what’s at stake in the upcoming Canadian federal election; and how the movement for a Green New Deal can counter a rising tide of eco-fascism. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Sophia Reuss: On Friday last week, we saw millions of people around the world join the Global Climate Strike. This upcoming Friday, people in communities across Canada are planning to strike. In past interviews, you’ve said that Canada owes the world a climate debt. How did we accumulate that debt, and what will it take for Canada to repay it?

Naomi Klein: Canada is a signatory to the United Nations Climate Convention, which says that all countries have a common responsibility to act on climate change, but that that responsibility is differentiated. It’s known as the “common but differentiated responsibility” clause. This is something that successive Canadian governments have agreed to throughout the 30 years since governments have been meeting to talk about lowering emissions. So it isn’t news that Canada has a responsibility as a large historical emitter of greenhouse gases. This is true of all of the major industrialized economies that have been burning carbon on an industrial scale for a couple hundred years.

[Canada has] more responsibility than countries that have a very small carbon footprint or have only started emitting large amounts of carbon relatively recently. What that means is that we need to move faster to lower our emissions in line with what scientists are telling us. They’re telling us that we need to have [reduced] global emissions in the next 11 years, which the IPCC report from last year told us we needed to do if we want to keep temperatures below 1.5 degrees Celsius. That means that countries like Canada have to do it even faster to make atmospheric space for countries that have smaller carbon footprints.

But also, part of that differentiated responsibility is that we need to pay into the UN Climate Fund, which is a flawed financial mechanism, but it’s the only one we’ve got right now. We need to provide financing for poorer countries to deal with the impacts of climate change, and to leapfrog over fossil fuels and go straight to green [technology], and also to help communities keep their carbon-sequestering forests intact. We need forests to stay intact. It’s to the benefit of the whole planet, so it shouldn’t only be the responsibility of relatively poor countries to give up revenue that they could be getting if they felled those forests […] and if we don’t want them to do it, we need to help.

What are the components of a Canadian response?

I think there’s a few components to this. One is ambition. Meaning, if global emissions need to be cut in half in 11 years, Canada needs to do more. We need to cut faster. We also need to pay. We need to provide climate financing, and there are also responsibilities to provide asylum. I don’t think that we can talk about our climate responsibilities without talking about migrant rights, and really questioning the legitimacy of our borders at this stage in history where so many millions of people are being displaced and have a right to seek asylum.

There are many drivers of migration right now. Climate is one of them. Climate is also a contributor to conflict. It’s an accelerant to conflict. It’s really hard to pry it apart from any of the other drivers to migration. But we currently don’t even recognize climate refugees under international law, so we don’t have the mechanisms really to address this. It’s unfortunate that a lot of the ways in which we’re talking about a Green New Deal right now are not making the links with migration, and then not making the links enough with international financing either. MORE

Ecocide Should Be Recognized As a Crime Against Humanity, But We Can’t Wait for The Hague to Judge

Image result for Darren Woods climate villan
People gather and march during the Global Climate Strike march in Washington, DC on September 20, 2019. – Crowds of children skipped school to join a global strike against climate change

THE IMAGE OF Darren Woods, CEO of Exxon Mobil, loomed over the climate strike in New York last Friday afternoon. Rendered in cardboard, 15 feet tall and clutching a bag of fake, bloodied money, the puppet of Woods wore the label “Climate Villain.” It bobbed among the 250,000-strong crowd, joined by cutout versions of BP CEO Bob Dudley and Shell CEO Ben Van Beurden. By the time the puppets were set down in Battery Park, the terminus of the New York protest, the faces of the fossil fuel executives had been daubed with marker-pen devil horns.

As millions of workers and students filled city streets around the world last week, there was no shortage of bold and inventive protest signs. While many expressed broad concerns about the burning planet and an imperiled future, a number, like the CEO puppets, were unambiguous in their antagonism towards the fossil fuel industry and its political enablers. With the stakes of global heating intolerable, and the fanglessness of international climate agreements undeniable, it is little wonder that activists are calling for the major perpetrators of environmental decimation to be seen as guilty parties in mass atrocity, on a par with war crimes and genocide. The demand that ecocide — the decimation of ecosystems, humanity and non-human life — be prosecutable by The International Criminal Court has found renewed force in a climate movement increasingly unafraid to name its enemies.

The push to establish ecocide as an international crime aims to create criminal liability for chief executives and government ministers, while creating a legal duty of care for life on earth. Its strength, however, lies not in the practical or likely ability of The Hague — a profoundly flawed judicial body — to deliver climate justice. The demand that ecocide be recognized as a crime against humanity and non-human life is most powerful as a heuristic: a framework for insisting that environmental destruction has nameable guilty parties, perpetrators of mass atrocity, against whom climate struggle must be waged on numerous fronts.

“There are situations in which framing a specific enemy is not useful and obscures more than it reveals — for example, when the systematic violence of policing is blamed on ‘bad apple’ cops,” said political scientist Thea Riofrancos, co-author of the forthcoming book “A Planet to Win.” “Here, we seem to have the opposite. Fossil fuel companies have sown confusion, and we need clarity about who our opponents and our allies are.” While warning about the “judicialization of politics” potentially wasting activists and lawyers’ time and resources on legal proceedings, Riofrancos noted that she has observed powerful examples of communities deploying the language of legal rights as a tactic outside courtrooms and state houses.

“Fossil fuel companies have sown confusion, and we need clarity about who our opponents and our allies are.”

Image result for Thea RiofrancosIn another forthcoming book, Riofrancos explores the case of indigenous communities in Ecuador who have invoked legal rights established in the country’s progressive 2008 constitution as a tool and weapon to use in and out of court. These groups enacted legal norms in Ecuador through various creative, interpretative strategies, which “took place in a wide variety of venues, consisting not only, or even primarily, of courtrooms, but also of ministry offices in the capital and in the provinces, state and corporate information centers in affected communities, social movement organization headquarters, anti-mining and anti-oil demonstrations, popular assemblies in repurposed auditoriums and soccer fields, and texts of various genres.”

Other terrains of social justice struggle, such as #MeToo, have also shown the potential uses of criminal justice lexicon and narrative, necessarily deployed outside of a problematic criminal justice apparatus. Those of us who believe that no lasting justice can come from carceral solutions (given the inherent violence of that system) see the intolerable risks of relying on, or bolstering, criminal justice as a path to social justice. The strength of #MeToo revelations lay not in their ability to convince a judge, but to build consensus around the need to unseat powerful perpetrators of sexual violence.

Legal norms and rights can and do take on political life through direct action, community consultation and protest…. Collective action — like last week’s mass climate strike, like voting for leaders pushing a Green New Deal, like fighting for our lives against capitalism — must be pursued with vigor. This is how we take the fight against ecocide to its perpetrators. MORE



DrinkingwaterPhoto: CTV News

A new report is raising alarms over water shortages in B.C. affecting people and salmon.

The report is dubbed “Tapped Out,” was released by the Watershed Watch Salmon Society, and calls on the province to dedicate more resources to improve monitoring and measuring, along with more stable funding for water management and water governance.

Science and Policy advisor and lead author, Tanis Gower, says about 63% of B.C.’s population lives in water-stressed areas, and while areas with the highest level of water stress covers only 3.7% of the province — 23% of the population lives in those places:

” In our report we found that there were 8 different regions of most concern. So we are talking in the areas around Kamloops, Kelowna, Nelson, and on the east coast of Vancouver Island. Watersheds like the Okanagan, and the Nicola and the Cowichan.”

Gower says B.C.’s population has doubled since the 1970’s and some of the water stressed areas have higher than average growth rates.

The report says there is an urgent need for increased efforts and funding to safeguard water for people, and the survival of wild salmon.

Tapped Out may be viewed HERE


Photo Credit: Bruce Adams/Associated Newspapers

“I think when we look at the damage eating meat is doing to the planet it is not preposterous to think that one day it will become illegal,” British barrister Michael Mansfield said.

This week, Michael Mansfield—a top lawyer recognized by the Queen’s Counsel in Britain—spoke about the devastating environmental effects of animal agriculture at the launch of vegan group Viva!’s new campaign “Vegan Now” during the Labour Party conference in Brighton.

Mansfield explained that “ecocide”—or the willful destruction of the environment as perpetuated by the meat and dairy industries—should be treated as seriously as other forms of widespread injustice.

“There are plenty of things that were once commonplace that are now illegal such as smoking inside,” Mansfield said. “We know that the top 3,000 companies in the world are responsible for more than £1.5 trillion ($1.9 trillion) worth of damage to the environment with meat and dairy production high on the list. We know that because the UN has told us so.”

The Vegan Now campaign will focus on educating the public about the effects of animal agriculture on climate change, habitat destruction, and biodiversity leading up to World Vegan Day on November 1.

“I think when we look at the damage eating meat is doing to the planet it is not preposterous to think that one day it will become illegal,” Mansfield said. “It is time for a new law on ecocide to go alongside genocide and the other crimes against humanity.” SOURCE

Tesla May Soon Have a Battery That Can Last a Million Miles

Elon Musk promised Tesla would soon have a million-mile battery, more than double what drivers can expect today. A new paper suggests he wasn’t exaggerating.

tesla at a charging station

Last April, Elon Musk promised that Tesla would soon be able to power its electric cars for more than 1 million miles over the course of their lifespan. At the time, the claim seemed a bit much. That’s more than double the mileage Tesla owners can expect to get out of their car’s current battery packs, which are already well beyond the operational range of most other EV batteries. It just didn’t seem real—except now it appears that it is.

Earlier this month, a group of battery researchers at Dalhousie University, which has an exclusive agreement with Tesla, published a paper in The Journal of the Electrochemical Society describing a lithium-ion battery that “should be able to power an electric vehicle for over 1 million miles” while losing less than 10 percent of its energy capacity during its lifetime.

Led by physicist Jeff Dahn, one of the world’s foremost lithium-ion researchers, the Dalhousie group showed that its battery significantly outperforms any similar lithium-ion battery previously reported. They noted their battery could be especially useful for self-driving robotaxis and long-haul electric trucks, two products Tesla is developing.

What’s interesting, though, is that the authors don’t herald the results as a breakthrough. Rather, they present it as a benchmark for other battery researchers. And they don’t skimp on the specifics.

“Full details of these cells including electrode compositions, electrode loadings, electrolyte compositions, additives used, etc. have been provided,” Dahn and his colleagues wrote in the paper. “This has been done so that others can recreate these cells and use them as benchmarks for their own R+D efforts.” MORE

Climate change the sword as Liberal and Conservatives battle for power

To suggest that either party has a credible climate plan is ludicrous while both support the further development and expansion of the tar sands ecocide, the world’s largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna announces support for Canada’s agricultural sector during a press conference at the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa on Friday, Aug. 9, 2019. File photo by The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick

Long-simmering political differences over climate change boiled over into a series of personal attacks between the Liberal and Conservative leaders on the campaign trail Tuesday.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau characterized his Conservative opponent Andrew Scheer as a do-nothing denier of climate change, lumping him in with other political opponents such as Jason Kenney and Doug Ford, the Alberta and Ontario premiers.

Scheer branded Trudeau an irresponsible steward of the public purse who was doling out vague and desperate environmental promises that would ruin Canada’s economy.

The Liberals unveiled two key planks in their environment platform Tuesday: a commitment to combat climate change by achieving zero net carbon emissions in Canada by 2050 and halving the income-tax rate for companies that produce zero-emission technologies.

The pledge would bring Canada in line with a promise made by 65 other countries at this week’s United Nations Climate Summit to work to become carbon-neutral by mid-century. Trudeau hitched his wagon to teenaged climate activist Greta Thunberg who has pointedly scolded world leaders this week at the UN for their inaction on climate change.

“These kids are scared because they know this will become their mess to clean up,” Trudeau said in Burnaby, B.C., at a company working on cutting-edge battery technology for uses such as electric vehicles.

“Doug Ford, Jason Kenney, Andrew Scheer — this generation of Conservative politicians are all the same when it comes to the environment. They just don’t care and they just don’t get it.”

Scheer dismissed the Liberal climate plan, calling Trudeau “a master of improvisation” who is making policy up on the fly. And he reiterated his past criticism of the Liberals’ carbon tax, saying it makes life more expensive for Canadians.

Scheer was non-committal about whether a Conservative government would consider adopting the zero-carbon target itself. MORE


NDP and Liberals turn to climate as Greta Thunberg’s arrival nears

Carbon pollution must be ‘sharply’ cut to lessen destruction of rising oceans: IPCC report

“Hurricane Sandy” by jaydensonbx is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The world’s scientists are urging countries to harness Indigenous knowledge and deploy more renewable energy technology after concluding that carbon pollution levels are leading to unprecedented sea-level rise and loss of glaciers, ice sheets and permafrost.

The latest study by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the most comprehensive to date of the current and future impacts of the climate crisis on Earth’s oceans and the cryosphere, or the parts of the planet that are covered in ice. It represents the work of 104 scientists from 36 countries and draws on 7,000 publications.

The report concludes that ice will continue to disappear and sea levels will continue to rise at staggering rates — even if the international community is able to limit the pollution created by the burning of fossil fuels and their products, like coal, gasoline and natural gas, and limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

The shrinking cryosphere has led to “predominantly negative impacts” on people’s “livelihoods” and their “health and well-being,” the report reads, affecting everything from food and water availability to infrastructure, business and the “culture of human societies,” especially for Indigenous Peoples.

Scientists say there are solutions to address this crisis — but only if the global community acts urgently and adopts the knowledge and capabilities of those who will be most affected by climate change. “Adaptation efforts have benefited from the inclusion of Indigenous knowledge and local knowledge,” it states.

But time is of the essence. The world’s oceans have already absorbed “more than 90 per cent of the excess heat in the climate system,” and since 1993, the rate of ocean warming has more than doubled, reads the Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC).

Rising ocean temperatures means more intense tropical cyclones, with more powerful storm surges and downpours, leading to more extreme weather along the coasts and potentially devastating loss of marine ecosystems.

“If we reduce emissions sharply, consequences for people and their livelihoods will still be challenging, but potentially more manageable for those who are most vulnerable,” Hoesung Lee, chairman of the IPCC, said in a statement.

One-quarter of North’s permafrost in danger

The Earth’s population depends on the global ocean, covering almost three-quarters of the planet’s surface and containing almost all of the Earth’s water. Around a tenth of Earth’s land area is covered by glaciers or ice sheets. All of these ecosystems are deeply threatened by global heating, the IPCC’s new report finds.

“The open sea, the Arctic, the Antarctic and the high mountains may seem far away to many people,” said Lee. “But we depend on them and are influenced by them directly and indirectly in many ways — for weather and climate, for food and water, for energy, trade, transport, recreation and tourism, for health and well-being, for culture and identity.”

The picture the SROCC report paints is extremely dire, and will deeply affect the roughly 650 million people living in low-lying coastal areas, as well as the four million people who live in the Arctic region permanently, including 400,000 Indigenous Peoples. MORE


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