Trump’s Defense Secretary Cites Climate Change as National Security Challenge

Secretary of Defense James Mattis has asserted that climate change is real, and a threat to American interests abroad and the Pentagon’s assets everywhere, a position that appears at odds with the views of the president who appointed him and many in the administration in which he serves.

In unpublished written testimony provided to the Senate Armed Services Committee after his confirmation hearing in January, Mattis said it was incumbent on the U.S. military to consider how changes like open-water routes in the thawing Arctic and drought in global trouble spots can pose challenges for troops and defense planners. He also stressed this is a real-time issue, not some distant what-if.

“Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today,” Mattis said in written answers to questions posed after the public hearing by Democratic members of the committee. “It is appropriate for the Combatant Commands to incorporate drivers of instability that impact the security environment in their areas into their planning.”

Mattis has long espoused the position that the armed forces, for a host of reasons, need to cut dependence on fossil fuels and explore renewable energy where it makes sense. He had also, as commander of the U.S. Joint Forces Command in 2010, signed off on the Joint Operating Environment, which lists climate change as one of the security threats the military expected to confront over the next 25 years.

But Mattis’ written statements to the Senate committee are the first direct signal of his determination to recognize climate change as a member of the Trump administration charged with leading the country’s armed forces.

These remarks and others in the replies to senators could be a fresh indication of divisions or uncertainty within President Donald Trump’s administration over how to balance the president’s desire to keep campaign pledges to kill Obama-era climate policies with the need to engage constructively with allies for whom climate has become a vital security issue.

Mattis’ statements on climate change, for instance, recognize the same body of science that Scott Pruitt, the new Environmental Protection Agency administrator, seems dead-set on rejecting. In a CNBC interview last Thursday, Pruitt rejected established science pointing to carbon dioxide as the main driver of recent global warming.

Mattis’ position also would appear to clash with some Trump administration budget plans, which, according to documents leaked recently to The Washington Post, include big cuts for the Commerce Department’s oceanic and atmospheric research — much of it focused on tracking and understanding climate change.

Even setting aside warming driven by accumulating carbon dioxide, it’s clear to a host of experts, including Dr. Will Happer, a Princeton physicist interviewed by Trump in January as a potential science adviser, that better monitoring and analysis of extreme conditions like drought is vital.

Mattis’ statements could hearten world leaders who have urged the Trump administration to remain engaged on addressing global warming. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is scheduled to meet Trump on Friday.

Security questions related to rising seas and changing weather patterns in global trouble spots like the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa are one reason that global warming has become a focus in international diplomatic forums. On March 10, the United Nations Security Council was warned of imminent risk of famine in Yemen, Somalia and South Sudan.

As well, at a Munich meeting on international security issues last month, attended by Mattis and Vice President Mike Pence, European officials pushed back on demands that they spend more on defense, saying their investments in boosting resilience to climate hazards in poor regions of the world are as valuable to maintaining security as strong military forces.

“[Y]ou need the European Union, because when you invest in development, when you invest in the fight against climate change, you also invest in our own security,” Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, said in a panel discussion.

Concerns about the implications of global warming for national security have built within the Pentagon and national security circles for decades, including under both Bush administrations.

In September, acting on the basis of a National Intelligence Council report he commissioned, President Obama ordered more than a dozen federal agencies and offices, including the Defense Department, “to ensure that climate change-related impacts are fully considered in the development of national security doctrine, policies, and plans.”

A related “action plan” was issued on Dec. 23, requiring those agencies to create a Climate and National Security Working Group within 60 days, and for relevant agencies to create “implementation plans” in that same period.

There’s no sign that any of this has been done.

Whether the inaction is a function of the widespread gaps in political appointments at relevant agencies, institutional inertia or a policy directive from the Trump White House remains unclear.

Queries to press offices at the White House and half a dozen of the involved agencies — including the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Defense, Department of Energy and Commerce Department — have not been answered. A State Department spokeswoman directed questions to the National Security Council and the White House, writing:

“We refer you to the NSC for any additional information on the climate working group.”

Mattis’ statements were submitted through a common practice at confirmation hearings in which senators pose “questions for the record” seeking more detail on a nominee’s stance on some issue.

The questions and answers spanned an array of issues, but four Democratic senators on the committee asked about climate change, according to a government official briefed in detail on the resulting 58-page document with the answers. The senators were Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the ranking member, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Excerpts from Mattis’ written comments to the committee were in material provided to ProPublica by someone involved with coordinating efforts on climate change preparedness across more than a dozen government agencies, including the Defense Department. Senate staff confirmed their authenticity.

Dustin Walker, communications director for the Senate Armed Services Committee, said responses to individual senators’ follow-up questions are theirs to publish or not.

Here are two of the climate questions from Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, with Mattis’ replies:

Shaheen: “I understand that while you were commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command you signed off on a document called the Joint Operating Environment, which listed climate change as one of the security threats the military will face in the next quarter-century. Do you believe climate change is a security threat?”

Mattis: “Climate change can be a driver of instability and the Department of Defense must pay attention to potential adverse impacts generated by this phenomenon.”

Shaheen: “General Mattis, how should the military prepare to address this threat?”

Mattis: “As I noted above, climate change is a challenge that requires a broader, whole-of government response. If confirmed, I will ensure that the Department of Defense plays its appropriate role within such a response by addressing national security aspects.”

In a reply to another question, Mattis said:

“I agree that the effects of a changing climate — such as increased maritime access to the Arctic, rising sea levels, desertification, among others — impact our security situation. I will ensure that the department continues to be prepared to conduct operations today and in the future, and that we are prepared to address the effects of a changing climate on our threat assessments, resources, and readiness.


From (find the original story here); reprinted with permission.

from Scientific American

Buzz Aldrin turns to VR to explain how we can get to Mars

Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11 astronaut and the second person to set foot on the moon, may be 87, but he’s keeping his mind focused on the next space frontier. For decades now, he’s thought about how to get astronauts to Mars, becoming more vocal about his plans in recent years. He’s also a fan of virtual reality as a medium to communicate his vision: He partnered with NASA to build a Mars Hololens experience last year, and now he’s hosting a 10-minute VR experience that walks you through his vision of how to get to Mars.

Cycling Pathways to Mars features a holographic Buzz Aldrin walking viewers through a VR landscape that starts on the moon and uses that as a jumping-off point to show our solar system and how we might get to Mars. It’s not easy to sum up, but Aldrin envisions having two ships constantly cycling between Earth and Mars on six-month schedules, taking advantage of when the planets line up favorable for moving back and forth between the system. Smaller launchers would dock with the two big cycling ships and head down to Mars’ moon and eventually down to the planet’s surface.

That’s an extremely high-level overview of what Aldrin shows off in the VR feature, which debuted at SXSW this week. That’s just part of Aldrin’s presence in Austin this week, however: He also participated in a panel discussing how to get to Mars and then took the time to sit with a small media group to answer some questions.

After trying Aldrin’s VR experience for myself, I wanted to know how we can make his vision a reality. To make a long story short, his answer was: baby steps. "First, we have to understand the conditions under which we’re going to use something," he said, referring to everything we need to built to get us to Mars and make it safe to live there. "Then we design something and we can see how it works on the ground, and then we can put it in orbit."

The next step is a big part of the plan, using the moon as a localized testing site. "We need to bring a lot of things together to make [Mars] a habitable place for a number of people," Aldrin said. "It would be nice to design something like that at the moon." There will be intermediate steps between the moon and Mars, but the idea is to then use Mars’ moon Phobos as a place where we can land and make final preparations for actually reaching the red planet’s surface.

"We don’t have to get people there until we need to do the delicate [work]. We get them up there, they know what they have to do and they get it done," Aldrin said. He believes we’ll be able to do a lot of work remotely, from Earth, but we’ll need to be closer for final preparations because of the time delays between executing a command here on Earth and seeing how it works 225 million kilometers away on Mars. But we can also build the time delays into all the practice we do, whether it’s here on Earth, communicating between the Earth and the moon, or another situation.

One thing Aldrin made clear in his Q&A session is that he wants to colonize Mars — which means some travelers won’t be coming home. "I think it’s better to do [let people live there permanently] than to go through the expense of having people there for a year and a half, two years and then bring them home," Aldrin said. "Especially if they have prepared to and made the decision, have the willingness and desire to go and spend the rest of their lives there, pioneering." Aldrin specifically said he hopes that colonizing Mars can become a national objective. "I think the objective is to expand the human race outward, and [Mars is] the most likely place to set up permanently."

Aldrin won’t live to see this goal met, but he’s still committed to doing what he can to make it happen as soon as is reasonable. To that end, he’s not interested in playing politics. When asked if he was worried about the current administration’s policies slowing things down, he simply said, "I’m not involved in politics. Whoever is in the White House has to be my friend." But even if he was going to live long enough to go to Mars, he doesn’t think it would be the best use of his time. "I’m more valuable here than I ever think I could be there," he said before jokingly noting, "I’m not an outdoorsman."

Click here to catch up on the latest news from SXSW 2017.

from Engadget

Tiny liquid battery cools chips while powering them

Scientists from IBM and ETH Zurich university have built a tiny "flow" battery that has the dual benefit of supplying power to chips and cooling them at the same time. Even taking pumping into account, it produces enough energy to power a chip while dissipating much more heat than it generates. The result could be smaller, more efficient chips, solar cells that store their own energy or devices used for remote monitoring that don’t require external power sources.

"Redox flow" batteries that use liquid electrolytes are normally used on a large scale to store energy. For instance, Harvard Researchers recently created one that can last over ten years with very little degradation, making it ideal to store solar or wind energy.

Building them on a scale tiny enough for chips is another matter, however. The team from ETH Zurich and IBM managed to find two liquids that are suitable both as flow-battery electrolytes and cooling agents that can dissipate heat from chips in the same circuit. "We are the first scientists to build such a small flow battery so as to combine energy supply and cooling," says doctoral student Julian Marschewski.

Using 3D printing, the team developed a wedge-shaped micro-channel system that supplies the system with electrolytes using very little pumping power. The resulting electrodes press liquid into the membrane layer where ions can flow, generating power. The result is a system that generates 1.4 watts per square centimeter, with 1 watt left over to power the battery after taking pumping into account. Moreover, it gets rid of a lot more heat than it makes, pulling off the neat trick of powering and cooling chips at the same time.

The battery needs to generate more electricity than it does right now, so the idea now needs to shift from the research into the engineering stages. However, the team thinks that it has a lot of potential for not just chips, but also lasers that require internal cooling, solar cells that store electricity directly in the battery cell and even large flow batteries optimized with liquid cooling channels.

Source: Eth Zurich

from Engadget

Canada’s first spaceport could host launches in 2020

Canada will finally have its own spaceport courtesy of private space corporation Maritime Launch Services. The company plans to start building (PDF) the facility next year in an isolated town on Nova Scotia’s eastern coast. It decided on the site after assessing 14 different candidates. The town’s and surrounding areas’ low population density and the fact that rockets launching from the spaceport will fly over a large body of water make it the perfect location.

The spaceport is a commercial venture between MLS and a Ukrainian firm — there’s no government funding involved at all. MLS wants the first launch to happen as soon as 2020, and it wants to the spaceport to host as many as eight launches per year by 2022. Most of those missions will involve Ukrainian-built Cyclone 4M rockets, and it’s unclear if Canada’s space agency and other private space companies can use it. If the agency can, then it’ll no longer have to ship rockets to Virginia. For now, the company is working on getting federal and provincial approval so it can break ground and start with the spaceport’s construction.

Via: Popular Mechanics

Source: Maritime Launch Services, CTV News

from Engadget

Samsung unveils Bixby, its Siri competitor

It was only a matter of time until Samsung launched a full-fledged virtual assistant of its very own — "S Voice" just never quite cut it. Today the company unveiled Bixby, a new assistant that’ll debut with the Galaxy S8 on March 29th. Naturally, it’s meant to help Samsung differentiate itself from Apple’s Siri and Google’s Assistant. Bixby seems different on a conceptual level: It’s meant to serve as a new voice-based interface for controlling your apps, rather than just something that you can ask a few questions.

"Instead of humans learning how the machine interacts with the world (a reflection of the abilities of designers), it is the machine that needs to learn and adapt to us," Samsung senior vice president InJong Rhee wrote in a blog post. "The interface must be natural and intuitive enough to flatten the learning curve regardless of the number of functions being added. With this new approach, Samsung has employed artificial intelligence, reinforcing deep learning concepts to the core of our user interface designs."

Yes, that all reads a bit like a buzzword salad, but there’s definitely a need for a different sort of virtual assistant. Siri has mostly been a disappointment, and Google Assistant is still getting off the ground. The big problem for Samsung is that, historically, it hasn’t been known for innovating with software as much as it has with hardware. Just look at how disappointing S Voice has been for the past few years.

As the company explains it, Bixby will be able to control almost everything you could do in an app with a touchscreen. It will reportedly also be contextually aware, allowing you to jump between voice and touch commands as you’re trying to accomplish something. Finally, Samsung claims Bixby can understand incomplete commands, so you hopefully won’t be forced to memorize rote phrases.

It’s still unclear what’s powering Bixby at this point. Samsung picked up the AI assistant company Viv last year, which showed off some intriguing capabilities when it was first demoed. But according to the WSJ, Bixby is actually based on an upgraded version of S Voice. We’ll most likely see Viv’s technology integrated into Bixby down the line, though.

Source: Samsung

from Engadget

Researchers develop a drone that swoops and lands like a bird

Watch out, birds. The drones are coming for your jobs. Researchers at BMT Defence Services (BMT) and the University of Bristol in Britain have built a fixed-wing UAV that can land as well as its avian counterparts, reports Popular Mechanics. Although BMT’s project is currently part of a wider defense program called Autonomous Systems Underpinning Research, the team believes their drone could one day be used for other tasks like putting out fires or delivering packages.

When birds land, they perform a "deep stall," meaning they swoop in at low altitude and angle their wings upward before landing. BMT’s drone does this too, thanks to a new morphing wing that can sweep forwards and backwards to create a pitching moment, or twist to allow the aircraft to roll. With this kind of high maneuverability, researchers envision a future where UAVs can easily fly through urban environments, dodging lampposts and power lines.

But, it takes more than high-tech wings for a drone to safely do a deep stall. The team also had to build it a bird-like brain, one that could compensate for slight changes in speed, wind, angle and wing position. They achieved this through something called "Q-learning," a technique where an artificial intelligence learns an optimal course of action by raising its "Q," or satisfaction level. Like a kid in an arcade, it kept trying to beat its high score, until it worked out how to get from its starting point to its destination. After about 5,000 practice attempts, BMT says the drone pulled off a soft landing without a runway.

Source: Popular Mechanics

from Engadget

HIV breakthrough may help scientists kill sleeping virus cells

AIDS patients must endure a lifetime of drugs because the virus conceals itself in the immune system and reactivates with a vengeance once the treatment stops. However, French scientists have discovered a marker that makes it possible to identify dormant, HIV-infected T-cells from healthy ones. That could lead to drugs that target those "reservoir cells," eradicating the virus completely and curing the patient.

Expensive HIV antiretroviral drug regiments massively knock down levels of the virus, letting patients lead relatively normal lives. However, a tiny number of the virus cells remain in around one in a million disease-fighting T-cells. Once the therapy is stopped, the virus rapidly multiplies, meaning the patient can never be totally cured.

However, while working with infected cells in a lab, the team from Montpellier University noticed a biomarker protein called CD32a that wasn’t present in healthy cells. They then studied blood samples from 12 HIV patients living under treatment and isolated cells expressing that marker. Using an antibody that sticks to CD32a, the team pulled cells expressing the protein from those samples and, as expected, they were laden with hidden HIV. "You absolutely could not have done that before now," says lead author Monsef Benkirane.

The fact that this work has been done by such competent investigators, and the data looks good, makes me optimistic.

It turned out that almost all the T-cells expressing the same protein were "reservoir cells" loaded with the virus. By contrast, neither normal T-cells or those that carried active HIV virus (that can be killed by antiretroviral drugs) did not show the same marker.

Unfortunately, CD32a was not present on all the T-cells caching latent HIV, so drugs targeting the marker wouldn’t kill enough of the virus to cure a patient. However, it’s still a huge breakthrough, marking the first time researchers have been able to identify latent virus cells after trying since 1996. The technique could be used to augment "kick and kill" treatments that activate latent virus and then kill it with antiretroviral drugs.

Next, the Montpellier team will try to duplicate the findings on a more diverse group of patients and test tissue that HIV usually infects from the stomach and lymph nodes. Tony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Disease, is cautiously hopeful that it will lead to something. "The fact that this work has been done by such competent investigators, and the data looks good, makes me optimistic," he told Nature.

Via: Amrisro

Source: CNRS (translated), Nature

from Engadget