WHO says new flu “unstoppable”

July 15, 2009

h1n1

Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO director of the Initiative for Vaccine Research, declares H1N1 “unstoppable”.

“The committee recognized that the H1N1 pandemic … is unstoppable and therefore that all countries need access to vaccine,” Kieney said.

“The SAGE recognized first that healthcare workers should be immunized in all countries in order to retain a functional health system as the virus evolves,” she added.

After that, each country should decide who is next in line, based on the virus’s unusual behavior.

The United States alone is projected to spend over $850 on vaccines, which have yet to be tested or produced.

Full report here.


Bill Gates files patents for geo-engineering ships

July 11, 2009

hurricane-Burns

Bill Gates and colleagues are seeking patents for a flotilla-based hurricane suppression system.

The patents, discussed here, are intended to use the temperature differential between the warm, surface water and the cold, deeper waters below.

Hurricanes are caused when ocean water temperatures rise, releasing warm, moist air into the atmosphere. This water condenses and creates cyclonic wind storms due to the pressure difference between hot and cold air fronts in the atmosphere.

Gates’ idea is to use giant floating bath tubs to capture warm water on the surface, then suck it down to the ocean depths in a kind of thermohaline exchange mechanism.

The basic idea is to draw cold water up from the ocean depths to cool the ocean surface, thus reducing the frequency and intensity of tropical storms.

This appears to be the latest effort in climate change, weather suppression technologies, discussed on this blog in a series of posts here and here.

From TechFlash:

Patent watcher “theodp,” who tipped us off to the filings, says he was reminded of “The Simpsons” as he read through them. “The richest man in the world hatches a plan to alter weather and ecology in return for insurance premiums and fees from governments and individuals,” he writes. “It’s got kind of a Mr. Burns feel to it, no?”

The hurricane-suppression patent applications date to early 2008, but they were first made public this morning.


“Climate Wars” by Gwynne Dyer serialised on CBC

July 10, 2009

Gwynne Dyer’s book, “Climate Wars“, came out in 2008, and was a sobering investigation into the security implications of climate change.

The book was recently serialised into a three part special on the Canadian Broadcast Company show, “Ideas“.

It won’t be anything surprising or new to the weather beaten, war torn readers of our hirsute blog, but it is a nice bringing together of ideas in a very presentable fashion that may help make the case for lay listeners.

From the show’s website:

Program Excerpt

About 2 years ago I noticed that the military in various countries, and especially in the Pentagon, were beginning to take climate change seriously. Now, it’s the business of the military to find new security threats. It’s also in their own self-interest, since they need a constant supply of threats in order to justify their demands on the taxpayers’ money, so you should always take the new threats that the soldiers discover with a grain of salt. You know, never ask the barber whether you need a haircut.

But I did start to look into this idea that global warming could lead to wars. It turned into a year-long trek talking to scientists, soldiers and politicians in a dozen different countries. I have come back from that trip seriously worried, and there are four things I learned that I think you ought to know.

The first is that a lot of the scientists who study climate change are in a state of suppressed panic these days. Things seem to be moving much faster than their models predicted.

The second thing is that the military strategists are right. Global warming is going to cause wars, because some countries will suffer a lot more than others. That will make dealing with the global problem of climate change a lot harder.

The third is that we are probably not going to meet the deadlines. The world’s countries will probably not cut their greenhouse gas emissions enough, in time, to keep the warming from going past 2 degrees celsius. That is very serious.

And the fourth thing is that it may be possible to cheat on the deadlines. I think we will need a way to cheat, at least for a while, in order to avoid a global disaster.

Here is a link to the full show, with embedded audio.


Dengue fever to spread in 28 US states thanks to climate change

July 9, 2009
Red states are already at risk for Dengue Fever, blue states will likely become at risk thanks to climate change

Red states are already at risk for Dengue Fever, blue states will likely become at risk thanks to climate change

The Natural Resource Defence Council (NRDC) just released a report measuring the spread of the tropical disease Dengue Fever in new states thanks to climate change.

Also known as “bonebreaking fever”, dengue is “characterized by agonizing aching in the bones, joints and muscles, a pounding headache, pain behind the eyes, a high fever and a classic rash. There is no cure or vaccine against the virus, only preventative and supportive care.”

The NRDC press release states that, “Many factors may be contributing to the rise in dengue fever, including increasing international travel and trade, densely-populated communities living in poverty in many countries including the United States, and the effects of global warming. Researchers project that because of global warming, in the next 75 years 3 billion additional people will become at risk for the disease across the globe.”

The full PDF of the report goes into more detail:

Global warming is likely to increase the number of people at risk of dengue epidemics by expanding both the area suitable for the mosquito vectors and the length of dengue transmission season in temperate areas. By 2085, an estimated 5.2 billion people—more than 3 billion additional people worldwide—are projected to be at risk for dengue because of climate change–induced increases in humidity that contribute to the disease’s spread, based on models that use observed relationships between weather patterns and dengue outbreaks.6 Researchers in Australia and New Zealand calculated that climate change is projected to increase the range and risk of dengue in these countries. According to their study, another 1.4 million Australians could be living in areas suitable for the dengue mosquito vector by 2050. Moreover, the number of months suitable for transmission may rise, increasing the costs of dengue management three- to fivefold.In the United States, dengue fever outbreaks have so far been limited to the U.S.-Mexico border region and Hawaii. However, our analysis reveals thatglobal warming could result in increased vulnerability to dengue fever throughout the United States and the Americas. The findings are cause for concern: The analysis shows an increase in dengue fever in recent years in the United States and its neighbors to the south. And the mosquitoes that can transmit this disease have become established in a swath of at least 28 states, making disease transmission more likely.

The political blow back from an increase in tropical disease in the US will likely be quite significant.  A few seasons of bone breaking disease should change people’s belief in climate change, for instance.  The pressure to “do something” will most likely be focused on the CDC and private health care providers, however, and could be too diffuse to translate into stronger support for climate change action.


Water crisis = food crisis

July 8, 2009
Australia's rice production drops to practically zero because of water shortages; Image via SF Gate

Australia's rice production drops to practically zero because of water shortages; Image via SF Gate

When water availability diminishes, food crops tend to suffer.

TreeHugger has an excellent discussion of the impact of drought on food production in Australia.

Rice is a water intensive crop, and when drought hits, production suffers.  In Australia, “production has dropped from 1.6 million tons in 2000 to a mere 18,000 tons in 2008.”

This has important implications for planning for climate change.

Taking the experience of Australia to heart now can help other areas be proactive about water use and avoid sharp changes in agriculture, and therefore economy, such as what Australia is now facing. Getting started today and reduce our water use to only what we need as well as make practical decisions in the agricultural sector, can help a region avoid a more dire crisis in the future.


Is Huawei behind GhostNet?

July 8, 2009

huawei_logo_001

Huawei is the state run Chinese telecom infrastructure provider, who’s aggressive pricing and high quality devices have made them the favourite of many national IT backbones (including Britain).  Are they involved with GhostNet and could they be used for further international espionage?

IT security threats and web wars are an integral component of today’s security and humanitarian landscape.  Much has been made about Twitter’s role in the recent Iranian social unrest, for example.  A recent Reuters report suggests that Isreal is turning to cyberwarfare for increasingly sophisticated jamming attacks and offensives.

“Asked to speculate about how Israel might target Iran, Borg said malware — a commonly used abbreviation for “malicious software” — could be inserted to corrupt, commandeer or crash the controls of sensitive sites like uranium enrichment plants.

Such attacks could be immediate, he said. Or they might be latent, with the malware loitering unseen and awaiting an external trigger, or pre-set to strike automatically when the infected facility reaches a more critical level of activity.”

Organised and swarm-based attacks on central state infrastructure has become so common as to barely warrant news mention.  A North Korean bot net is currently attacked dozens of US government websites in Seoul (“North Korea Launches Massive Cyberattack on Seoul“)  From Slashdot:

“A botnet composed of about 50,000 infected computers has been waging a war against US government Web sites and causing headaches for businesses in the US and South Korea. The attack started Saturday, and security experts have credited it with knocking the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC’s) web site offline for parts of Monday and Tuesday. Several other government Web sites have also been targeted, including the Department of Transportation.”

GhostNet

Although these attacks are from North Korea, many others originate in China.  A recent study from by the InfoWar Monitor uncovered a “massive Chinese espionage network,” called GhostNet.  The Guardian reports:

“GhostNet appears to target embassies, media groups, NGOs, international organisations, government foreign ministries and the offices of the Dalai Lama.

After 10 months of study, the researchers concluded that GhostNet had invaded 1,295 computers in 103 countries, but it appeared to be most focused on countries in south Asia and south-east Asia, as well as the Dalai Lama’s offices in India, Brussels, London and New York. The network continues to infiltrate dozens of new computers each week.

There was a similar article in the New York Times, Vast Spy System Loots Computers in 103 Countries“.

The Huawei Connection

No definite proof has been found linking the Chinese state to these actions.  Yet many are worried that the Chinese government may play a role in such attacks.  A recent white paper from the University of Cambridge, entitled “The Snooping Dragon“, claims to have documented concrete evidence of state officials using malware to infiltrate pro-Tibet activist computers.

The link to China’s state communications company, Huawai, appears particularly suspect.  Huawei technology is at the core of BT’s new 10 billion communications upgrade.  A NetworkedWorld article discusses the close connections between Huawei and the Chinese military.  It reports,

Huawei maintains deep ties with the Chinese military, which serves a multi-faceted role as an important customer, as well as Huawei’s political patron and research and development partner.

Both the government and the military tout Huawei as a national champion, and the company is currently China’s largest, fastest-growing, and most impressive telecommunications equipment manufacturer.

In a related report entitled “Spy Chiefs Fear Chinese Security Threat”, The Times Online reports,

INTELLIGENCE chiefs have warned that China may have gained the capability to shut down Britain by crippling its telecoms and utilities.
According to the sources, the ministerial committee on national security was told at the January meeting that Huawei components that form key parts of BT’s new network might already contain malicious elements waiting to be activated by China.
Working through Huawei, China was already equipped to make “covert modifications” or to “compromise equipment in ways that are very hard to detect” and that might later “remotely disrupt or even permanently disable the network”, the meeting was told.
This would be likely to have a “significant impact on critical services” such as power and water supplies, food distribution, the financial system and transport, which were dependent on computers to operate.

INTELLIGENCE chiefs have warned that China may have gained the capability to shut down Britain by crippling its telecoms and utilities.

According to the sources, the ministerial committee on national security was told at the January meeting that Huawei components that form key parts of BT’s new network might already contain malicious elements waiting to be activated by China.

Working through Huawei, China was already equipped to make “covert modifications” or to “compromise equipment in ways that are very hard to detect” and that might later “remotely disrupt or even permanently disable the network”, the meeting was told.

This would be likely to have a “significant impact on critical services” such as power and water supplies, food distribution, the financial system and transport, which were dependent on computers to operate.

Discussion

Many wonder how Huawei might accomplish these security breaches.  WTWU at SpyBlog suggests that it would be silly for Huawei to do so.  They write,

It would be incredibly risky for the Chinese Government to attempt to insert such trojan horse “backdoors” into Huawei manufactured equipment, especially into the hardware, where the evidence cannot be deleted after a Denial of Service attack etc.

The cost of using such a capability, if it even exists, would be to immediately destroy the multi billion pound Huawei company commercially.

Yet in a recent confidential interview, an ex-Huawei employee suggested that the speed of sales and the level of complexity of such systems has little to no quality control checking or safety assurance of the components.

It would therefore be close to impossible to monitor the security of the commercial services sold by Huawei, given the tremendous volume of such sales.

Worse than hardware might be a software backdoor, which is easily modifiable and less risky than hardware breaches.

Although there is no evidence that Huawei is related to the kinds of cyberattacks and web espionage efforts such as GhostNet, there does appear to be a plausible connection.

The impact of such a link, and its relationship to development and humanitarian aid, may be worthy of monitoring and consideration.


An agent-based model of why incompetence spreads through big organisations

July 7, 2009

Italian research scientists use agent-based modelling to demonstrate the “Peter Principle” or organisational incompetence.

It is a truism amongst disgruntled workers in large organisations that their managers are complete idiots.  This is often justified with reference to the “Peter Principle”, named after the Canadian psychologist Laurence Peter who first observed this phenomena in 1969.  The international aid sector is no exception.

Stated simply, the Peter Principle is:

All new members in a hierarchical organisation climb the hierarchy until they reach their level of maximum incompetence.

A new study by researchers at the Universita di Catania has produced computational evidence explaining why this might be the case.  From the MIT Technology Review article on their paper:

[The researchers] say that common sense tells us that a member who is competent at a given level will also be competent at a higher level of the hierarchy. So it may well seem a good idea to promote such an individual to the next level.

The problem is that common sense often fools us. It’s not so hard to see that a new position in an organization requires different skills, so the competent performance of one task may not correlate well with the ability to perform another task well.

Peter pointed out that in large organizations where these practices are used, it is inevitable that individuals will be promoted until they reach their level of maximum incompetence. The unavoidable result is the runaway spread of incompetence throughout an organization.

The research team has used agent-based modelling to simulate this common practice of promotion. They found that, contrary to intended effect, performance-based promotion leads to, “a significant reduction in the efficiency of an organization, as incompetency spreads through it.”

The best way to counter this effect?  Alternately promote competent and incompetent people or simply promote people randomly (or based on non-competence criteria).

A nice review can be found at the MIT Tech Review and the full text can be found here, “The Peter Principle Revisited: A Computational Study”