Category Archives: BUSINESS-FINANCE

How the U.S. Could Pressure North Korea Tomorrow: Quit the $100 Bill; North Korea is minting superdollars

How the U.S. Could Pressure North Korea Tomorrow: Quit the $100 Bill; North Korea is minting superdollars | Business | TIME.com.

 

 

 

Photo-Illustration by TIME

Photo-Illustration by TIME

U.S. negotiators are heading into a second day of what have been dubbed “serious and substantial” talks with North Korean officials. Yet amidst all the discussion of how the U.S. will attempt to work with Kim Jong Un, there has been little (open) speculation as to whether Dear Leader Junior might crank up production of $100 and $50 bills. No, not North Korean 100- or 50-won banknotes, worth about as much as old tissues. I’m talking about fake greenbacks — or, as the U.S. Secret Service has dubbed them, “superdollars.”

 

These ultra-counterfeits are light years beyond the weak facsimiles produced by most forgers, who use desktop printers. As an anti-counterfeiting investigator with Europol once put it: “Superdollars are just U.S. dollars not made by the U.S. government.” With few exceptions, only Federal Reserve banks equipped with the fanciest detection gear can identify these fakes.

Yet as unpatriotic as this may sound, perhaps America would be better off if Kim Jong Un were to try and enrich himself with D-I-Y Benjamins. Let me explain, by way of a little background about superdollars.

(MORE: Can a Second Bailout Save Greece?)

The “super” moniker does not stem from any particular talent on the part of the North Koreans. It’s a matter of equipment. The regime apparently possesses the same kind of intaglio printing press (or presses) used by the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing. A leading theory is that in 1989, just before the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the machines made their way to North Korea from a clandestine facility in East Germany, where they were used to make fake passports and other secret documents. The high-tech paper is just about the same as what’s used to make authentic dollars, and the North Koreans buy their ink from the same Swiss firm that supplies the US government with ink for greenbacks.

Forging $100 bills obviously gels with the regime’s febrile anti-Americanism and its aim to undercut U.S. global power, in this case by sowing doubts about our currency. State level counterfeiting is a kind of slow-motion violence committed against an enemy, and it has been tried many times before. During the Revolutionary War, the British printed fake “Continentals” to undermine the fragile colonial currency. Napoleon counterfeited Russian notes during the Napoleonic Wars, and during World War II the Germans forced a handful of artists and printing experts in Block 19 of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp to produce fake U.S. dollars and British pounds sterling. (Their story is the basis for the 2007 film “The Counterfeiters,” winner of the 2007 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.)

Superdollars can be viewed as an act of economic warfare, but Pyongyang’s motive is probably more mundane: The regime is broke. The 2009 attempt to raise funds by devaluing its already pathetic currency revealed not only the country’s fiscal desperation, but also the abuse Dear Leader was willing to inflict on his people. The won was devalued 100-fold, which meant 1,000 won suddenly had the purchasing power of 10 won. (Imagine waking up to a learn that a slice of pizza costs $250.) Officials set a tight limit on how much old money could be exchanged for new, so whatever value existed within people’s paltry savings evaporated overnight. Compared to devaluation, generating quick cash by counterfeiting some other country’s more stable currency looks downright humanitarian.

(MORE: TIME’s Interview With Warren Buffett)

The superdollar affair has a certain comic-book quality: copying the currency of the evil capitalists so you can buy cognac and missiles. But Washington isn’t laughing. At the end of December, Ireland’s high court rejected a U.S. request to extradite former Workers Party president and IRA veteran, Sean Garland, for his alleged involvement with the superdollar plot. There is also the question of what exactly the North Koreans hope to procure with all of this “money.” According to the House Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, superdollars may be part of the regime’s effort to acquire materials for nuclear weapons.

Since the superdollars were first detected about a decade ago, the regime has been pocketing an estimated $15 to $25 million a year from them. (Other estimates are much higher—up to several hundred million dollars’ worth.) That sounds like a lot of money, but compared to the $1 trillion in cash circulating in the great ocean of commerce, a few hundred million is chump change. Although certainly costly for small business owners who unknowingly accept a bunch of forgeries, counterfeits probably won’t bring about a crisis of faith in our paper money anytime soon.

Yet taking the long view, maybe a rash of new superdollars from the hermetic regime of Kim Jong Un would be beneficial. How so? Because counterfeits have a way of reminding people of what material money is and how it functions, and that could lead to a discussion of its pros and cons. Cash is, and always has been, such an uncontested part of everyday life that we rarely stop to consider its toll on society as the currency of crime, to say nothing of the heaping expense of printing, transporting, securing, inspecting, shredding, redesigning, reprinting, re-inspecting, and redistributing it ad nauseum, plus the broader costs of prosecuting and incarcerating the thousands, if not millions, of people who commit cash-related crimes. That’s not to suggest we could get rid of paper money tomorrow; we still don’t have a substitute that’s equally convenient, universally accepted, and adequately secure. But that day may be closer than you think. (Coins, however, we could—and should—do away with. As in, right now.)

(MORE: Google Takes Another Experimental Step Toward Delivering TV)

Superdollars, and the untold billions of (electronic) dollars spent combating them could be the wake-up call that finally forces us to think more clearly about the costs of physical money. If killing all cash strikes you as a little too radical, consider for a moment what it would mean to get rid of high-denomination banknotes. Who would be most inconvenienced if Washington were to outlaw $100 and $50 bills tomorrow? Cartel bosses in Juarez, Mexico jump to mind. So do human traffickers in China and Africa, aspiring terrorists in Afghanistan, wildlife poachers, arms dealers, tax evaders, and everyday crooks who hold up mom and pop groceries. And, or course, North Korean government officials.

So then. At the risk of infuriating cash-hoarding militia members, anonymity-obsessed ACLU’ers, the U.S. Treasury, Russian mob, Laundromat owners, and just about every person who has ever hid a purchase from a spouse or income from the government, I would say this to Kim Jong Un and his posse of counterfeiters: Bring it.

David Wolman is a contributing editor at Wired and the author of The End of Money: Counterfeiters, Preachers, Techies, Dreamers—and the Coming Cashless Society, out this month from Da Capo Press. Follow him on Twitter: @davidwolman

Read more: http://business.time.com/2012/02/24/how-the-u-s-could-pressure-north-korea-tomorrow-quit-the-100-bill/?iid=biz-article-mostpop1#ixzz1nVl122r1

World economy on verge of new jobs recession

BBC News – ILO: World economy on verge of new jobs recession.

The global economy is on the verge of a new and deeper jobs recession that may ignite social unrest, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has warned.

It will take at least five years for employment in advanced economies to return to pre-crisis levels, it said.

The ILO also noted that in 45 of the 118 countries it examined, the risk of social unrest was rising.Watch movie online Rings (2017)

Separately, the OECD research body said G20 leaders meeting in Cannes this week need to take “bold decisions”.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said the rescue plan announced by EU leaders on 26 October had been an important first step, but the measures must be implemented “promptly and forcefully”.

The OECD’s message to world leaders came as it predicted a sharp slowdown in growth in the eurozone and warned that some countries in the 17-nation bloc were likely to face negative growth.

‘Moment of truth’

In its World of Work Report 2011, the ILO said a stalled global economic recovery had begun to “dramatically affect” labour markets.

It said approximately 80 million net new jobs would be needed over the next two years to get back to pre-crisis employment levels.

But it said the recent slowdown in growth suggested that only half the jobs needed would be created.

“We have reached the moment of truth. We have a brief window of opportunity to avoid a major double-dip in employment,” said Raymond Torres from the ILO.

The group also measured levels of discontent over the lack of jobs and anger over perceptions that the burden of the crisis was not being fairly shared.

It said scores of countries faced the possibility of social unrest, particularly those in the EU and the Arab region.

Loss of confidence

Meanwhile, in its latest projections for G20 economies, the OECD forecast growth in the eurozone of 1.6% this year, slowing to 0.3% next year.

OECD’s forecasts on GDP growth

Country 2011 2012
US 1.7% 1.8%
Euro area 1.6% 0.3%
Japan -0.5% 2.1%
China 9.3% 8.6%

In May, it had forecast growth of 2% per year in both 2011 and 2012.

It also cut its growth forecasts for the US to 1.7% in 2011 and 1.8% in 2012. It had previously expected growth of 2.6% and 3.1% respectively.

The organisation called for G20 leaders, who meet on Thursday and Friday, to act quickly.

“Much of the current weakness is due to a generalised loss of confidence in the ability of policymakers to put in place appropriate responses,” the OECD said.

“It is therefore imperative to act decisively to restore confidence and to implement appropriate policies to restore longer-term fiscal sustainability.”

It also called for the eurozone to cut interest rates.

Markets dive on Greek referendum

BBC News – Eurozone debt crisis: Markets dive on Greek referendum.

US and European markets have fallen following Monday’s announcement of a Greek referendum on the latest aid package to solve its debt crisis.

Eurozone leaders agreed a 50% debt write-off for Greece last week as well as strengthening Europe’s bailout fund.

But the Greek move has cast doubt on whether the deal can go ahead.

New York’s Dow Jones ended the day 2.5% lower, after a mid-afternoon rally on hope that Greek MPs may block the referendum proved short-lived.

One of Mr Papandreou’s MPs, Milena Apostolaki, resigned from the ruling Pasok parliamentary group on Tuesday, leaving the government with a two-seat majority in parliament.

Six other party members have called for Mr Papandreou to resign, according to the state news agency.

There are doubts whether the government will last long enough to hold the referendum, pencilled in for January.

A confidence vote is due to take place in the Greek parliament on Friday.

Banks down

Earlier in the day, London’s FTSE 100 had ended trading down 2.2%, while the Frankfurt Dax fell 5% and the Paris Cac 40 some 5.4%.

Analysis

January seems to be the best bet for when a referendum will take place.

If a week is a long time in politics, two months is an eternity in financial markets in their current state of mind.

A “no” would blow away one leg of the euro rescue package agreed in Brussels last week, and it was a precarious, unfinished structure in the first place.

Some even see the vote as a referendum on Greek membership of the eurozone.

Perhaps Mr Papandreou is gambling that voters will see it that way and reluctantly say “yes”.

The markets may have good and bad days, but they won’t quietly bide their time while they wait to see if the bet pays off.

Shares in French banks saw the biggest falls, with Societe Generale down 16.2%, BNP Paribas 13.1% and Credit Agricole 12.5%.

Other European banks also fared badly for the second day, with Germany’s Commerzbank and Deutsche Bank and the UK’s Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland all 8% to 10% lower.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy issued a joint statement following a telephone conversation between the two leaders saying: “France and Germany are determined to ensure with their European partners the full implementation, as quickly as possible, of decisions taken by the summit, which today are more necessary than ever.”

The two also said that eurozone leaders and the IMF would meet on Wednesday to hold talks over Greece.

Confidence vote

Greek opposition parties have accused Prime Minister George Papandreou of acting dangerously, and called for an early election.

“Elections are a national necessity,” conservative leader Antonis Samaras said, adding that Mr Papandreou was putting Greece’s EU membership at risk.

Opinion polls in Greece suggest that most people do not support the deal and there have been demonstrations against the austerity measures across the country, some of them violent.

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Last week’s eurozone rescue package could unravel long before political events in Greece take their course”

Mr Papandreou told a meeting of his governing Socialist party on Monday that Greek people would have the final say on the austerity package, which is designed to reduce Greek debt by about 100bn euros through a series of measures including public sector pay cuts, tax rises and falling pensions.

The austerity measures are a condition of the bailout packages from the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

Some analysts are saying that the referendum would in effect be on whether Greece should abandon the euro.

Nobel Prize winning economist Christopher Pissarides said, “If there is a ‘no’ vote, Greece would immediately declare bankruptcy. I do not see how Greece could remain in the euro.”

There is also concern that the referendum would be unlikely to take place before January, which would create months of uncertainty for the markets.

In Athens, some Greeks greeted the referendum plan with scepticism

“We cannot wait until 15 January,” said Konstantinos Michalos, president of the Athens Chamber of Commerce.

“Personally, I do not think we will ever get there.”

A senior member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition in Germany said he had been irritated by the referendum announcement.

“The prime minister had [agreed] to a rescue package that benefited his country,” Rainer Bruederle told Deutschlandfunk radio.

Latest Planned Austerity Measures

  • New pay and promotion system covering all 700,000 civil servants
  • Further cuts in public sector wages and many bonuses scrapped
  • Some 30,000 public sector workers suspended, wages cut to 60% and face lay off after a year
  • Wage bargaining suspended
  • Monthly pensions above 1,000 euros to be cut 20% above that threshold
  • Other cuts in pensions and lump-sum retirement pay
  • Tax-free threshold lowered to 5,000 euros a year from 8,000

“Other countries are making considerable sacrifices for decades of mismanagement and poor leadership in Greece.”

He added that the only thing to do now would be to prepare for the Greek state to be insolvent and try to limit the damage to Europe’s banking system.

On the currency markets, the euro continued to slide, falling a further 1.3% against the US dollar.

The yield on German bonds fell to near-record lows, while the difference between the yield of German bonds and those of Italian and Belgian bonds rose to the highest since the introduction of the euro.

Earlier, the Nikkei in Tokyo closed down 1.7% and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong closed down 2.5%.

Europe’s main share markets had all fallen before the referendum announcement as well, with the FTSE, Dax and Cac 40 all dropping by about 3% on Monday.

High-Tech Hydroponic Farm Transforms Abandoned Bowling Alley

High-Tech Hydroponic Farm Transforms Abandoned Bowling Alley | Wired Science | Wired.com.

Gotham Greens

NEW YORK CITY — On top of an old bowling alley in industrial northern Brooklyn sits an expansive translucent greenhouse. Inside, a bounty of produce thrives under the supervision of a computer-controlled network of sensors, motors and plumbing.

The 15,000-square-foot hydroponic greenhouse facility, called Gotham Greens, is reputedly the first commercial-scale urban operation of its kind in the United States. Thousands of lettuce and basil seedlings were plopped into a soil-less farming system in May. Since then, three local entrepreneurs say their operation is on track to deliver 100 tons of produce by the one-year mark.

While that pales in comparison to about 1.5 million tons of soil-free produce trucked into the city each year, and is far less than the output of nearby soil rooftop farms, the $2 million startup can’t keep up with demand from the city’s top chefs and upscale grocery stores.

“On the first harvest day we had so much lettuce we almost didn’t know what to do with it all, but now we can’t grow it fast enough,” said greenhouse director Jennifer Nelkin.

Gotham Greens is already eyeing some of the the city’s more than 940 million square feet of rooftop space to expand their high-tech operation.

The hardest task, said co-founder and CEO Viraj Puri, is convincing landlords to entertain the idea of putting a watery business on their rooftops. After that it’s a matter of navigating zoning restrictions, building codes and figuring out how to engineer the plumbing.

“You can’t bury anything on a roof,” Puri said. “It requires some clever technology.”

Images: 1) Inside Gotham Greens at 810 Humboldt St. in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. (Dave Mosher/Wired.com) 2) The outside of the greenhouse. (Copyright of Gotham Greens)

 

seedlings in basalt rock plugs

 

Plant Plugs

The greenhouse begins its work by germinating seeds of four lettuce types and one basil variety in plastic bins. Fibrous plugs, spun from a volcanic rock called basalt, draw water to the fledgling roots and provide a medium for them to grow in.

“Not just hydroponic growers use the plugs,” Nelkin said. “A lot of farmers try and get a head-start at their soil farms, usually about six weeks before they can plant, by germinating seedlings in them.”

Images: Dave Mosher/Wired.com

 

irrigation system

 

Irrigating Gutters

Between 10 and 14 days after planting in the basalt plugs (above), the seeds sprout into seedlings and are ushered into hydroponic gutters (below). A series of pumps and drains constantly move nutrient-rich water through the gutters. Gotham Greens uses the nutrient film technique, which circulates a very shallow layer of water to supply roots with ample oxygen. Tight control over the nutrients and climate gives growers extreme control over their products.

“Many [hydroponic] tomatoes in the store, for example, taste like a swimming pool — and it’s too bad they’re giving hydroponics a bad name. It’s indicative of the grower, not the method,” Nelkin said. “You can really manipulate produce with hydroponics. You can choose to grow a tasteless tomato full of water, or grow the best, sweetest, juiciest tomato you’ve ever had.”

Images: Dave Mosher/Wired.com

 

calcium iron micronutrient bucket

 

Produce Juice

Plants primarily need water, carbon dioxide, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur to grow. Most of these  materials come from air and tap water, but some trace nutrients need to be supplemented.

Gotham Greens stores nutrient mixes in giant buckets (above). When low levels are detected by sensors or in human-collected samples, computer-controlled pumps move the fluid into a nearby lagoon. (For proprietary reasons, Wired.com was only allowed to photograph this part of the system.) From there the solution is delivered to the gutters, and runoff returns to the lagoon for recycling.

The irrigation system is less complex than those of other hydroponic greenhouses, but Nelkin said anything more would be cost-prohibitive. “For our scale, it doesn’t make practical sense to micromanage every nutrient,” she said. “We’re not that large.” Their water comes from the tap.

Image: Dave Mosher/Wired.com

 

weather station

 

Climate Control

Important to Gotham Greens’ farming efficiency is a computer controller that monitors environmental conditions, keeping the greenhouse climate as ideal as possible for each type of veggie.

A weather station (above) monitors outdoor conditions while a photometer (below) and other sensors help keep tabs inside.

“When it hits a certain climate, [the controller] can turn on the fans, draw the sun shades, open vents, turn on the lights, turn on the heaters and so on,” Nelkin said.

Images: Dave Mosher/Wired.com

 

fly paper

 

Shoo, Fly

But what of the pests found in abundance near any unprotected plant? Gotham Greens doesn’t use pesticides. They fight fire with bug-eating fire.

Colored plastic cards covered with sticky goo attract the pests, which Nelkin and others check each day. When a bothersome bug is identified, Nelkin shops online for its predator, orders it and releases hordes of them in the greenhouse.

For aphids (above), a tray of ladybugs (below) usually does the trick.

“About 1,000 ladybugs costs probably $20,” Nelkin said. “It’s more expensive than pesticides, but it works.”

Controlling other pests requires the introduction of predatory wasps.

Images: Dave Mosher/Wired.com

 

solar panels

 

Green Power

Intelligent, organic greenhouses require electricity for lamps, pumps, computers and more. Solar panels installed by Gotham Greens satisfy about half of the facility’s needs, roughly enough to power 12 New York City households.

“Over the summer, we generated a good amount of power,” Puri said. “We’re going to track that data so we’ll be able to say exactly how much they help per year.”

Image: Dave Mosher/Wired.com

 

Jennifer Nelkin and Viraj Puri

 

Co-founders

Jennifer Nelkin (above, left) and Viraj Puri dreamed up Gotham Greens in 2008 after collaborating on a greenhouse that floated on the Hudson River. They’re now spending 100 percent of their time to develop Gotham Greens along with co-founder Eric Haley.

Their local food business may cut back carbon emissions better than most farms by minimizing transportation and relying on solar energy, but Puri said their main focus is delivering good produce. “The green aspects are a great bonus, but we want to be known for the quality of our products,” he said.

After Gotham Greens’ trial year ends in 2012, the company hopes to expand its line of crops to include tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, squash, strawberries and even eggplant.

Images: Dave Mosher/Wired.com

World will miss economic benefit of 1.8 billion youth

UN: World will miss economic benefit of 1.8 billion young people | Environment | guardian.co.uk.

Population report says lack of education, infrastructure and jobs will mean a generation’s potential will be wasted

Write a letter to the 7 billionth person

Shoeshine boys wait for customers in New Delhi, India

Shoeshine boys awaiting customers in New Delhi, India. Photograph: Kevin Frayer/AP

The world is in danger of missing a golden opportunity for development and economic growth, a “demographic dividend”, as the largest cohort of young people ever known see their most economically productive years wasted, a major UN population report warned on Wednesday.

The potential economic benefits of having such a large global population of young people will go unfulfilled, as a generation suffers from a lack of education, and investment in infrastructure and job creation, the authors said.

“When young people can claim their rights to health, education and decent working conditions, they become a powerful force for economic development and positive change. “This opportunity [for] a demographic dividend is a fleeting moment that must be claimed quickly or lost,” said the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), in its Global Population Report, published just days before the UN forecasted the world population will pass 7 billion. Of this 7 billion, 1.8 billion are aged between 10 and 24, and 90% of those live in the developing world.

The report also reveals average life expectancy across the globe has risen by 20 years since the 1950s, from 48 to 68, as healthcare and nutrition have improved, while infant mortality has fallen fast, from 133 deaths per 1,000 births in the 1950s to 46 per 1,000 today.

These successes area a cause to celebrate, the United Nations said. Fertility has also halved, from 6 births per woman to 2.5 over the same period, though there are stark regional differences – fertility is 1.6 births per woman in east Asia but 5 per woman in some parts of Africa.

The report found a “vicious cycle” of extreme poverty, food insecurity and inequality leading to high death rates, that in turn encourages high birth rates. Only by investing in health and education for women and girls can countries break the cycle, as improving living conditions will allow parents to be more confident that their children will survive, and therefore have smaller families.

Crucial to this will be allowing women and girls greater freedom and equality, in order to make their own choices about fertility. Hundreds of millions of women would prefer to have smaller families, but are unable to exercise this preference owing to a culture of repression.

“Governments that are serious about eradicating poverty should also be serious about providing the services, supplies and information that women need to exercise their reproductive rights,” said Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the UNFPA. On the empowerment of woman, he said at a press conference in London: “we have come a long way, but we are not there yet. There is no group that gives up power voluntarily. Men will not give up power to women voluntarily. Women have to fight. Women need to work together.”

One way of doing so highlighted in the report is to provide a good level of sex education to adolescents, and access to modern methods of contraception.

The report said: “When women have equal rights and opportunities in their societies and when girls are educated and healthy, fertility rates fall … the empowerment of women is not simply an end in itself, but also a step towards eradicating poverty.”

The difference between a future of high fertility rates and one where people are better able to choose is stark: if fertility rates in areas of high population growth come down towards the global average, the world will reach a global population of about 9.3bn in 2050, and about 10bn in 2100. But if fertility rates remain high in the most populous countries, the 2100 population will be more than 15bn.

Osotimehin said countries must do more to help themselves: “It is unacceptable for countries to rely on donor money for reproductive health. The welfare of their people is their mandate.” He said it would cost only $2bn to give access to family planning to the 250 million women who would like it but lack access. “The budget of the average developing country does not give enough money to issues of women and reproductive health. That has to change. If it does not change, it becomes unsustainable.”

But he also said donors were failing to make sufficient commitments. “Family planning has not been funded as it should have been. Donors need to provide resources … there has been a reduction [in money made available].”

Osotimehin also said at the press conference that the opportunity had been missed to educate people on reproductive health and family planning, during a drive to prevent HIV infection, echoing comments he made to the Guardian earlier in the month.

With high population growth, many scientists predict thatthe pressure on food and agricultural productivity and other natural resources may become intolerable, and conditions for the poorest people will deteriorate further, rather than improving.

John Cleland, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “The escape from poverty and hunger is made more difficult by rapid population growth.”

Rapid growth will also exacerbate the impact of other global problems, such as climate change and other environmental impacts. Steven Sinding, a population expert at Columbia University, said: “The pace of growth poses enormous challenges for many of the poorest countries, which lack the resources not only to keep up with demand for infrastructure, basic health and education services and job opportunities for the rising number of young people, but also to adapt to climate change.”

Separately on Wednesday, the Official for National Statistics forecast that the UK population would grow to 70 million by 2020, up from 62.3 million in 2010.

World economy on verge of new jobs recession

BBC News – ILO: World economy on verge of new jobs recession.

The global economy is on the verge of a new and deeper jobs recession that may ignite social unrest, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has warned.

It will take at least five years for employment in advanced economies to return to pre-crisis levels, it said.

The ILO also noted that in 45 of the 118 countries it examined, the risk of social unrest was rising.

Separately, the OECD research body said G20 leaders meeting in Cannes this week need to take “bold decisions”.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said the rescue plan announced by EU leaders on 26 October had been an important first step, but the measures must be implemented “promptly and forcefully”.

The OECD’s message to world leaders came as it predicted a sharp slowdown in growth in the eurozone and warned that some countries in the 17-nation bloc were likely to face negative growth.

‘Moment of truth’

In its World of Work Report 2011, the ILO said a stalled global economic recovery had begun to “dramatically affect” labour markets.

It said approximately 80 million net new jobs would be needed over the next two years to get back to pre-crisis employment levels.

But it said the recent slowdown in growth suggested that only half the jobs needed would be created.

“We have reached the moment of truth. We have a brief window of opportunity to avoid a major double-dip in employment,” said Raymond Torres from the ILO.

The group also measured levels of discontent over the lack of jobs and anger over perceptions that the burden of the crisis was not being fairly shared.

It said scores of countries faced the possibility of social unrest, particularly those in the EU and the Arab region.

Loss of confidence

Meanwhile, in its latest projections for G20 economies, the OECD forecast growth in the eurozone of 1.6% this year, slowing to 0.3% next year.

OECD’s forecasts on GDP growth

Country 2011 2012
US 1.7% 1.8%
Euro area 1.6% 0.3%
Japan -0.5% 2.1%
China 9.3% 8.6%

In May, it had forecast growth of 2% per year in both 2011 and 2012.

It also cut its growth forecasts for the US to 1.7% in 2011 and 1.8% in 2012. It had previously expected growth of 2.6% and 3.1% respectively.

The organisation called for G20 leaders, who meet on Thursday and Friday, to act quickly.

“Much of the current weakness is due to a generalised loss of confidence in the ability of policymakers to put in place appropriate responses,” the OECD said.

“It is therefore imperative to act decisively to restore confidence and to implement appropriate policies to restore longer-term fiscal sustainability.”

It also called for the eurozone to cut interest rates.

20 Ways to Build a Cleaner, Healthier, Smarter World

World Changing Ideas: 20 Ways to Build a Cleaner, Healthier, Smarter World: Scientific American.

What would happen if solar panels were free? What if it were possible to know everything about the world—not the Internet, but the living, physical world—in real time? What if doctors could forecast a disease years before it strikes? This is the promise of the World Changing Idea: a vision so simple yet so ambitious that its full impact is impossible to predict. Scientific American’s editorial and advisory boards have chosen projects in five general categories—Energy, Transportation, Environment, Electronics and Robotics, and Health and Medicine—that highlight the power of science and technology to improve the world. Some are in use now; others are emerging from the lab. But all of them show that innovation is the most promising elixir for what ails us.  —The Editors

The No-Money-Down Solar Plan
A new wave of start-ups wants to install rooftop solar panels on your house. Upfront cost: nothing
By Christopher Mims

The biggest thing stopping the sun is money. Installing a rooftop array of solar panels large enough to produce all of the energy required by a building is the equivalent of prepaying its electricity bill for the next seven to 10 years—and that’s after federal and state incentives. A new innovation in financing, however, has opened up an additional possibility for homeowners who want to reduce their carbon footprint and lower their electric bills: get the panels for free, then pay for the power as you go.

The system works something like a home mortgage. Organizations and individuals looking for a steady return on their investment, typically banks or municipal bond holders, use a pool of cash to pay for the solar panels. Directly or indirectly, homeowners buy the electricity produced by their own rooftop at a rate that is less, per kilowatt-hour, than they would pay for electricity from the grid. Investors get a safe investment—the latest generation of solar-panel technology works dependably for years—and homeowners get a break on their monthly bills, not to mention the satisfaction of significantly reducing their carbon footprint. “This is a way to get solar without putting any money down and to start saving money from day one. That’s a first,” says SolarCity co-founder Peter Rive.

SolarCity is the largest installer of household solar panels to have adopted this strategy. Founded in 2006 by two brothers who are also Silicon Valley–based serial entrepreneurs, SolarCity leases its panels to homeowners but gives the electricity away for free. The net effect is a much reduced utility bill (customers still need utility-delivered power when the sun isn’t out) plus a monthly SolarCity bill. The total for both comes out to less than the old bill. SunRun in San Francisco offers consumers a similar package, except that the company sells customers the electricity instead of leasing them the panels.

Cities such as Berkeley and Boulder are pioneering their own version of solar-panel financing by loaning individuals the entire amount required to pay for solar panels and installation. The project is paid for by municipal bonds, and the homeowner pays back the loan over 20 years as a part of the property tax bill. The effect is the same whichever route a consumer takes: the new obligation, in the form of taxes, a lease or a long-term contract for electricity, ends up costing less than the existing utility bill.

“What we’re really seeing is a transition in how we think about buying energy goods and services,” says Daniel M. Kammen, director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley. Kammen, who did the initial analysis on Berkeley’s financing model, believes that by turning to financing, consumers can overcome the inherent disadvantage renewables have when compared with existing energy sources: the infrastructure for power from the grid has already been paid for and, in many cases, has been subsidized for decades.

All three approaches are rapidly expanding across the country. Despite the Berkeley program being less than two years old, 10 different states have passed legislation allowing their cities to set up a Berkeley-style bond-financed loan program. With the passage of the Waxman-Markey climate bill, the option for cities to set up these programs would become federal law. SunEdison in Maryland is currently active in nine states. SolarCity, which has more than 4,000 customers, is active in California, Arizona and Oregon and has promised to announce additional states after the new year.

Right now it is not possible to lower the overall cost of rooftop solar to “grid parity,” that is, to the same price as electricity from local utility companies, without federal subsidies such as the investment tax credit, which lowers the tax bill of banks financing these projects. Those subsidies, which amount to 30 percent of the cost of a solar installation, are guaranteed for at least eight years. By then, SolarCity and its competitors claim they won’t need them.

“Grid parity is driven by multiple factors,” says Attila Toth, vice president of marketing at SunEdison, including the cost of capital, the cost of panels and their installation, and the intensity of sunlight in a given region. “It will occur in different states at different times, but, for example, we expect that California will be one of the first states in the U.S. to get to grid parity, sometime between three and five years from now.”

While the cost of electricity from fossil fuels has increased 3 to 5 percent a year for the past decade, the cost of solar panels has fallen on average 20 percent for every doubling of its installed base. Grid parity is where these trend lines cross—after that, solar has the potential to power more than just homes. It’s hardly a coincidence that Elon Musk, head of electric car company Tesla Motors, sits on SolarCity’s board of directors.

More Ideas to watch
by Christopher Mims

The Gasoline Garden
It is the next step for biofuels: genetically engineered plant life that produces hydrocarbons as a by-product of its normal metabolism. The result will be fuel—common gasoline, even—using nothing but sunlight and CO2. In July, Exxon Mobil announced plans to spend more than $600 million in pursuit of algae that can accomplish the task. Joule Biotechnologies claims to have already succeeded, although the company has yet to reveal any details of its proprietary system.

Hot Nukes
Uranium and plutonium are not the only fuels that can power a nuclear reactor. With an initial kick from more traditional fissile materials, thorium can set up a self-sustaining “breeder” reaction that produces uranium 233, which is well suited to nuclear power generation. The process has the added benefit of being resistant to nuclear proliferation, because its end products emit enough gamma rays to make the fuel dangerous to handle and easy to track.

Save Energy with Information
Studies show that simply making customers aware of their energy use lowers it
by 5 to 15 percent. Smart meters allow customers to track their energy consumption minute by minute and appliance by appliance. Countless start-ups are offering the devices, and Google and Microsoft are independently partnering with local utilities to allow individuals to monitor their power usage over the Web.

Wind Power from the Stratosphere
According to a Stanford University study released in July, the high-altitude winds that constantly blow tens of thousands of feet above the earth hold enough energy to supply all of human civilization 100 times over. California’s Sky WindPower has proposed harvesting this energy by building fleets of giant, airborne, ground-tethered windmills, while Italy’s Kite Gen proposes to accomplish the same feat using kites.

Delivering the U.S. from Oil
Plug-in hybrid trucks are improving the long view of the short haul
By Amanda Schupak

Cargo trucks gulp about 40 percent of the fuel pumped in the U.S. While most consumer attention focuses on improving the fuel economy of consumer vehicles, a major opportunity goes rumbling by. “Folks do not realize that the fuel use of even a small truck is equal to many, many cars,” says Bill Van Amburg, senior vice president of Calstart, a clean transportation technology nonprofit, and director of the Hybrid Truck Users Forum. “A utility truck as a hybrid would reduce more petroleum than nine Priuses.”

Some 1,300 commercial hybrids on the road today get up to twice the fuel efficiency of their conventional counterparts. But these traditional hybrids are inherently limited. They make more efficient use of petroleum-based fuel by capturing some of the energy lost during braking.

Plug-in hybrids, on the other hand, draw energy from the grid. They can drive for miles—in many cases, an entire day’s route—without using any fossil fuel at all. This shifts energy demand away from petroleum and toward grid-based sources. (Last year zero-carbon renewables and nuclear supplied 30 percent of all electric power in the U.S.)

In many ways, plug-in hybrid technology makes more sense for delivery trucks than for consumer sedans. A cargo truck runs a short daily route that includes many stops to aid in regenerative braking. Most of the U.S. Postal Service’s 200,000-plus mail trucks, for example, travel fewer than 20 miles a day. In addition, fleet vehicles return nightly to storage lots that have ready access to the 120- or 240-volt outlets required to charge them.

The Department of Energy recently launched the nation’s largest commercial plug-in hybrid program, a $45.4-million project to get 378 medium-duty vehicles on the road in early 2011. The trucks, which will go to 50 municipal and utility fleets, will feature a power system from Eaton, a large manufacturer of electrical components, on a Ford F-550 chassis. (For its part, Ford will wait for the market to prove itself before designing its own commercial plug-ins.) “These are going to start breaking free in 2011,” says Paul Scott, president of the Electric Vehicle Association of Southern California.

Start-up company Bright Automotive has a more ambitious plan. It aims to replace at least 50,000 trucks with plug-in hybrids by 2014. Bright’s IDEA prototype travels 40 miles on battery power before switching to a four-cylinder engine that gets 40 miles to the gallon. The streamlined aluminum body has the payload of a postal truck yet is far more aerodynamic. The truck weighs as much as a midsize sedan.

John E. Waters, Bright Automotive’s founder and the former developer of the battery system for General Motors?’s groundbreaking EV1 electric car, says that each IDEA would save 1,500 gallons of fuel and 16 tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year over a standard utility truck. Waters says he is ready to begin assembly in his U.S. plant once a pending $450-million federal loan comes through.

Despite the appeal of the carbon savings, the fleet owners who are the trucks’ primary customers have more practical considerations. Bright’s executives are coy about the IDEA’s eventual price tag but assert that a customer with 2,000 trucks driving 80 miles a day five days a week could save $7.2 million a year. Right now that is probably not enough to justify large-scale purchases without additional rebates—or a price on carbon. Van Amburg estimates that going hybrid currently adds $30,000 to $50,000 in upfront costs per vehicle, although that figure should come down as production volumes increase.

Improved battery technology will also help. Today the IDEA’s 13-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack accounts for nearly a quarter of the vehicle’s total cost. Much of the research being done for the batteries going into the Chevy Volt? and other consumer plug-ins should also be applicable to commercial batteries. “For all the good we all want to do,” says David Lauzun, Bright’s vice president of product development, “these vehicles will not take over the world until it becomes the economic choice—‘I have to have them because it saves me money.’”

Bus Rapid Transit
Subwaylike bus lines mobilize the urban future
By Michael Moyer

For the first time in human civilization, more people now live in urban areas than in the countryside. This shift creates a number of dilemmas, not least of which is how to move people within the world’s rapidly growing metropolises. Pollution and traffic point away from car-based options, while light-rail systems are slow to construct and prohibitively expensive. One disarmingly simple—and cheap—possibility is Bus Rapid Transit, which is engineered to operate like a subway on wheels. In these systems, concrete dividers on existing roads separate high-capacity buses from the rest of traffic. Riders pay before boarding, then wait in enclosed stations. When a bus arrives, sliding partitions open to allow riders to board from a platform that is level with the bus floor. The traffic-free thoroughfares, quick boarding times, and modern, comfortable stations resemble light-rail systems more than the chaos of typical bus travel. In Bogotá, Colombia, which has had seven Bus Rapid Transit lines in operation since 2001, the buses handle 1.6 million trips a day. Its success has allowed the city to remove 7,000 private buses from the city, reducing consumption of bus fuel and its associated pollution by more than 59 percent.

Ocean Overhaul
Marine zoning is a bold remedy for sick seas
By Sarah Simpson

These days not even many politicians deny that the oceans are ill. Protecting the health of coastal waters is now a matter of national policy in dozens of countries, including the U.S., and world leaders are beginning to prescribe a revolutionary remedy that conservationists have been promoting for years: marine planning and zoning.

The idea is a natural extension of management policies that have guided the development of cities and landscapes for nearly a century. Porn shops aren’t next to preschools, after all, and drilling rigs aren’t the centerpieces of national parks. Similarly, zoning advocates envision a mosaic of regional maps in which every watery space on the planet is designated for a particular purpose. Drilling and mining would be allowed only in certain parts of the ocean; fishing in others. The most critically threatened areas would be virtually off-limits.

Whereas people can easily find maps telling them what they can do where on land, the marine realm is a hodgepodge of rules emanating from an army of agencies, each one managing a single use or symptom. In the U.S., for example, one body regulates commercial fishing, usually a single species at a time. Another group manages toxic substances, still another seabed mining, and so on—some 20 federal agencies in all. They tend to make decisions without regard to what the others are doing, explains Duke University? marine ecologist Larry B. Crowder. “Imagine all of the medical specialists visiting a patient in intensive care one at a time and never talking to one another,” he says. “It’s a wonder that the oceans aren’t in worse shape than they are now.”

Ocean advocates such as Crowder eagerly await the final recommendations of a special task force President Barack Obama charged with presenting a plan for overhauling management of U.S. waters, which extend 200 nautical miles offshore. The scope of such an undertaking is huge: the U.S. controls 4.4 million square miles of seascape, making the country’s underwater real estate 25 percent larger than its landmass. The committee’s preliminary report, released in September, suggests that the best way to minimize harmful human impacts on the oceans is to manage regions rather than symptoms.

Many environmentalists are hopeful that such plans will be implemented through the marine equivalent of municipal zoning, which would give them some influence in areas where they now have none. In zones where conservation is designated as the dominant activity, fishing and industrial activities such as mining would no longer have free rein. Under current rules, about the only way a conservation group can block a project it deems harmful—say, a new site for offshore drilling—is through expensive litigation.

So far, though, the president’s task force has been careful not to suggest that ocean zoning will be the only treatment plan, in great part because any effort to restrict commercial interests is bound to meet stiff opposition. “Zoning isn’t anybody’s favorite exercise,” notes John C. Ogden, director of the Florida Institute of Oceanography at the University of South Florida at Tampa. “Someone’s ox is always getting gored.” Most resistant to such change will most likely be the traditional users of the open ocean—namely, commercial fisheries and the petroleum industry. “They’ve had the place to themselves for a long time,” Ogden says.

Ogden and others are quick to point out, however, that zoning practices can benefit commerce as much as conservation. By giving up access to certain areas, industries gain the security of knowing their activities would be licensed in a more predictable and less costly manner than they are today, explains Josh Eagle, associate professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law. Now an oil company can apply for permits to drill virtually anywhere, but it takes on a significant financial risk each time. The business may dump millions of dollars into researching a new facility only to have a lawsuit derail it at the last moment. When opposing parties have more or less equal voices early in the planning process, Eagle says, they are less inclined to block one another’s activities once zones are drawn on a map.

Whether the final report of the president’s task force will promote ocean zoning explicitly is uncertain. But the group has already promised to overhaul the structure of ocean governance by proposing the creation of a National Ocean Council, whose job it will be to coordinate efforts of the myriad federal agencies now in charge.

The move comes just in time. Just as society is beginning to appreciate the enormous efforts it will take to preserve the health of the oceans, it must ask more of them—more energy, more food, and better resilience to coastal development and climate change. The reason the oceans are in trouble is not what people put in and take out. It is a failure of governments to manage these activities properly. Says Crowder: “We have to treat the oceans holistically, not one symptom at a time.”

The Power of Garbage
Trapped lightning could help zap trash and generate electricity
By John Pavlus

Trash is loaded with the energy trapped in its chemical bonds. Plasma gasification, a technology that has been in development for decades, could finally be ready to extract it.

In theory, the process is simple. Torches pass an electric current through a gas (often ordinary air) in a chamber to create a superheated plasma—an ionized gas with a temperature upward of 7,000 degrees Celsius, hotter than the surface of the sun. When this occurs naturally we call it lightning, and plasma gasification is literally lightning in a bottle: the plasma’s tremendous heat dissociates the molecular bonds of any garbage placed inside the chamber, converting organic compounds into syngas (a combination of carbon monoxide and hydrogen) and trapping everything else in an inert vitreous solid called slag. The syngas can be used as fuel in a turbine to generate electricity. It can also be used to create ethanol, methanol and biodiesel. The slag can be processed into materials suitable for use in construction.

In practice, the gasification idea has been unable to compete economically with traditional municipal waste processing. But the maturing technology has been coming down in cost, while energy prices have been on the rise. Now “the curves are finally crossing—it’s becoming cheaper to take the trash to a plasma plant than it is to dump it in a landfill,” says Louis Circeo, director of Plasma Research at the Georgia Tech Research Institute. Earlier this summer garbage-disposal giant Waste Management partnered with InEnTec, an Oregon-based start-up, to begin commercializing the latter’s plasma-gasification processes. And major pilot plants capable of processing 1,000 daily tons of trash or more are under development in Florida, Louisiana and California.

Plasma isn’t perfect. The toxic heavy metals sequestered in slag pass the Environmental Protection Agency?’s leachability standards (and have been used in construction for years in Japan and France) but still give pause to communities considering building the plants. And although syngas-generated electricity has an undeniably smaller carbon footprint than coal—“For every ton of trash you process with plasma, you reduce the amount of CO2 going into the atmosphere by about two tons,” Circeo says—it is still a net contributor of greenhouse gases.

“It is too good to be true,” Circeo admits, “but the EPA has estimated that if all the municipal solid waste in the U.S. were processed with plasma to make electricity, we could produce between 5 and 8 percent of our total electrical needs—equivalent to about 25 nuclear power plants or all of our current hydropower output.” With the U.S. expected to generate a million tons of garbage every day by 2020, using plasma to reclaim some of that energy could be too important to pass up.

More Ideas to watch
By John Pavlus

Cement as a Carbon Sponge
Traditional cement production creates at least 5 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, but new materials could create carbon-neutral cement. Start-up Novacem, supported by Imperial College London, uses magnesium oxide to make cement that naturally absorbs CO2 as it hardens. California-based Calera uses seawater to sequester carbon emissions from a nearby power plant in cement.

The New Honeybee
Colony collapse disorder (CCD) has killed more than a third of honeybee colonies since 2006. Farmers who depend on bees to pollinate such crops as almonds, peaches and apples are looking to the blue orchard bee to pick up the slack.

One efficient Osmia lignaria can pollinate as much territory as 50 honeybees, but the bees are harder to cultivate because of their solitary nature. These pinch hitters won’t completely replace honeybees, but as scientists continue to grapple with CCD, they could act as an agricultural safety net.

Saltwater Crops
As the world’s freshwater supply becomes scarcer and food production needs balloon, salt-tolerant crops could ease the burden. Researchers at Australia’s University of Adelaide used genetic engineering to enhance a model crop’s natural ability to prevent saline buildup in its leaves, allowing the plant to thrive in conditions that would typically wither it. If the same gene tweak works in cereal crops such as rice and wheat—the researchers are testing them now—fallow lands destroyed by drought or overirrigation could become new breadbaskets.

The Omnipotence Machines
Tiny, ubiquitous sensors will allow us to index the physical world the way the Web maps cyberspace
By Gregory Mone

Earlier this year Hewlett-Packard announced the launch of its Central Nervous System for the Earth (CeNSE) project, a 10-year effort to embed up to a trillion pushpin-size sensors across the planet. Technologists say that the information gathered by this kind of ubiquitous sensing network could change our knowledge of the world as profoundly as the Internet has changed business. “People had no idea the Web was coming,” says technology forecaster Paul Saffo?. “We are at that moment now with ubiquitous sensing. There is quite an astonishing revolution just around the corner.”

The spread of versatile sensors, or “motes,” and the ability of computers to analyze and either recommend or initiate responses to the data they generate, will not merely enhance our understanding of nature. It could lead to buildings that manage their own energy use, bridges that flag engineers when in need of repair, cars that track traffic patterns and detect potholes, and home security systems that distinguish between the footfalls of an intruder and the dog, to name a few.

CeNSE is the boldest project yet announced, but HP is not the only organization developing the technology to make ubiquitous sensing possible. Intel is also designing novel sensor packages, as are numerous university labs.

For all the momentum in the field, though, this sensor-filled future is by no means inevitable. These devices will need to generate rich, reliable data and be rugged enough to survive tough environments. The sensor packages themselves will be small, but the computing effort required will be enormous. All the information they gather will have to be transmitted, hosted on server farms, and analyzed. Finally, someone is going to have to pay for it all. “There is the fundamental question of economics,” notes computer scientist Deborah Estrin of the University of California, Los Angeles. “Every sensor is a nonzero cost. There is maintenance, power, keeping them calibrated. You don’t just strew them around.”

In fact, HP senior researcher Peter Hartwell acknowledges that for CeNSE to hit its goals, the sensors will need to be nearly free. That is one of the reasons why HP is designing a single, do-everything, pushpin-size package stacked with a variety of gauges—light, temperature, humidity, vibration and strain, among others—instead of a series of devices for different tasks. Hartwell says that focusing on one versatile device will drive up volume, reducing the cost for each unit, but it could also allow HP to serve several clients at once with the same sensors.

Consider his chief engineering project, an ultrasensitive accelerometer. Housed inside a chip, the sensor tracks the motion of a tiny, internal movable platform relative to the rest of the chip. It can measure changes in acceleration 1,000 times as accurately as the technology in the Nintendo Wii?.

Hartwell imagines situating one of these pins every 16 feet along a highway. Thanks to the temperature, humidity and light sensors, the motes could serve as mini weather stations. But the accelerometers’ vibration data could also be analyzed to determine traffic conditions—roughly how many cars are moving past and how quickly. The local highway department would be interested in this information, he guesses, but there are potential consumer applications, too. “Your wireless company might want to take that information and tell you how to get to the airport the fastest,” Hartwell says.

All of this gathering and transmission of data requires power, of course, and to guarantee an extended life, the HP pushpin will not rely solely on batteries. “It is going to have some sort of energy-scavenging ability,” Hartwell says. “Maybe a solar panel or a thermoelectric device to help keep the battery charged.”

With the power hurdle in mind, other groups are forgoing batteries altogether. At Intel Labs in Seattle, engineer Josh Smith? has developed a sensor package that runs on wireless power. Like the HP pushpin, Intel’s WISP, or Wireless Identification and Sensing Platform, will include a variety of gauges, but it will also draw energy from the radio waves emitted by long-range radio-frequency ID chip readers. Smith says a single reader, plugged into a wall outlet, can already power and communicate with a network of prototype WISPs five to 10 feet away—a distance that should increase.

Smith cites many of the same infrastructure-related possibilities as Hartwell, along with a number of other uses. If WISPs were placed on standard household items such as cups, these tags could inform doctors about the rehabilitation progress of stroke victims. If the cups the patient normally uses remain stationary, Smith explains, then the individual probably is not up and moving around.

The potential applications for ubiquitous sensing are so broad—a physicist recently contacted him about using WISPs to monitor the temperature outside a proposed neutrino detector—that, as with the Internet, Smith says it is impossible to foresee them all. “In terms of the impact it is going to have on our lives,” Hartwell adds, “you haven’t seen anything yet.”

The Do-Anything Robot
Your PC can accomplish any computing task you ask of it. Why isn’t the same true for robots
By Gregory Mone

Robots have proved to be valuable tools for soldiers, surgeons and homeowners hoping to keep the carpet clean. But in each case, they are designed and built specifically for the job. Now there is a movement under way to build multipurpose machines—robots that can navigate changing environments such as offices or living rooms and work with their hands.

All-purpose robots are not, of course, a new vision. “It’s been five or 10 years from happening for about 50 years,” says Eric Berger, co-director of the Personal Robotics Program at Willow Garage, a Silicon Valley start-up. The delay is in part because even simple tasks require a huge set of capabilities. For a robot to fetch a mug, for example, it needs to make sense of data gathered by a variety of sensors—laser scanners identifying potential obstacles, cameras searching for the target, force feedback in the fingers that grasp the mug, and more. Yet Berger and other experts are confident that real progress could be made in the next decade.

The problem, according to Willow Garage, is the lack of a common platform for all that computational effort. Instead of building on the capabilities of a single machine, everyone is designing robots, and the software to control them, from the ground up. To help change this, Willow Garage is currently producing 25 copies of its model PR2 (for “Personal Robot 2”), a two-armed, wheeled machine that can unplug an appliance, open doors and move through a room. Ten of the robots will stay in-house, but 10 more will go to outside research groups, and everyone will pool their advances. This way, Berger says, if you want to build the robotic equivalent of a Twitter, you won’t start by constructing a computer: “you build the thing that’s new.”

Pocket Translator
The military, short on linguists, is building smart phone–based devices to do the job
By Gregory Mone

Sakhr Software, a company that builds automatic language translators, recently unveiled a prototype smart phone application that transforms spoken English phrases into spoken Arabic, and vice versa, in near real time. The technology isn’t quite ready for your next trip to Cairo, but thanks to recent advances in machine-translation techniques, plus the advent of higher-fidelity microphones and increasing processing power in smart phones, this mobile technology could soon allow two people speaking different languages to have basic conversations.

Before the 1990s automatic translation meant programming in an endless list of linguistic rules, a technique that proved too labor-intensive and insufficiently accurate. Today’s leading programs—developed by BBN Technologies?, IBM, Sakhr and others as part of a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency effort to eliminate the military’s need for human translators—rely on machine-learning techniques instead. The software works from a database of parallel texts—for example, War and Peace in two different languages, translated United Nations speeches, and documents pulled off the Web. Algorithms identify short matching phrases across sources, and the software uses them to build statistical models that link English phrases to Arabic ones.

John Makhoul, BBN’s chief scientist, says the current technology is at its best when confined to subject areas with specific phrases and terminology—translating a weather report from English into French, for example, or helping soldiers gather basic biographical information from people in the field. Makhoul envisions the first consumer applications, five years from now, being similarly constrained. A tourism-related translation app on a smart phone could help an American in Florence get directions from a non-English-speaking local, but they won’t chat about Renaissance art. “It is not going to work perfectly,” he says, “but it will do a pretty good job.”

Know if Disease Grows Inside You
Complex diseases have complex causes. Luckily, they also leave a multitude of traces
By Melinda Wenner

With the exception of certain infectious diseases, few of humanity’s ailments have cures. More than 560,000 Americans will die of cancer this year, and despite the 250,000 coronary bypass surgeries doctors perform annually, heart disease is still the country’s number-one killer.

The hardest diseases to cure are the ones that take the longest to develop. They are the end result of decades of complex molecular interactions inside your body. Yet this complexity also pre­sents an opportunity. Scientists have discovered that these interactions leave discernible fingerprints on the body. By unweaving the complex tapestry of molecular clues—changes in the body’s proteins, nucleic acids and metabolites, collectively called biomarkers—doctors hope they will soon be able to not only detect disease but predict a coming illness in time to take action.

Biomarkers are not new. Since 1986 doctors have monitor­ed prostate cancer by measuring blood levels of the protein known as prostate-specific antigen (PSA). But tests that rely on a single biomarker to detect disease are rare, because most disorders involve intricate changes in a collection of biomarkers.

Take schizophrenia: in January 2010 scientists will release a biomarker test that distinguishes schizophrenia from other psychiatric conditions. The test, which is being commercialized by Rules-Based Medicine, a laboratory in Austin, Tex., is based on the characteristics of about 40 blood-based proteins.

To find potentially useful biomarkers, researchers collect blood samples from thousands of healthy people and analyze them. Biomarker levels in these samples provide a baseline reading. Then they do the same for people with a specific condition such as diabetes or breast cancer. If reproducible differences emerge between the groups, scientists can use the patterns in the disease group to diagnose the same condition in others. By collecting samples over time, researchers can also go back and analyze early samples from individuals who later become ill to identify patterns indicative of early disease or high disease risk.

Biophysical Corporation, a sister company to Rules-Based Medicine, is one of several companies that has developed blood-based biomarker tests and marketed them to the public [see “The Ultimate Blood Test,” by Philip Yam; Scientific American, June 2006]. The company searches for up to 250 biomarkers suggestive of cancer, inflammatory conditions, heart disease and other illnesses. Mark Chandler, Biophysical’s chair and CEO, says that the real value of the tests lies in long-term monitoring. A person could “get a test monthly, just a finger stick, that would be able to say, we have had a serious change here that is indicative of an early-stage cancer,” he explains.

Yet not all experts are convinced that the age of biomarkers is at hand. Cheryl Barton, an independent U.K.-based pharmaceutical consultant who authored a Business Insights market analysis report on biomarkers in 2006, says she remains “a little bit skeptical about how clinically useful they are.” A study of 5,000 subjects published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in July 2009 found that six cardiovascular biomarkers were only marginally better at predicting heart disease than were standard cardiovascular risk factors, such as whether the subjects smoked or had diabetes.

Adding to the overall difficulty, a person might suffer from two or more diseases—prostate cancer and heart disease, for example. No one knows how multiple diseases might affect overall biomarker signatures or how profiles will change as other diseases develop. “When you get to be 65 or 70, almost everybody has other conditions,” Chandler says. “We don’t know how to deal with that right now.” And scientists still need to discern which biomarkers are truly relevant to disease—a difficult task when working with blood, which contains tens of thousands of proteins at concentrations spanning more than 10 orders of magnitude.

Some companies have simplified the problem by avoiding blood altogether. LabCorp recently commercialized a biomarker test that analyzes colon cells in stool for the chemical signatures indicative of colorectal cancer. “The stool is in intimate contact with the lining of the colon, so it becomes much more highly populated with these rare molecules than would get into the bloodstream from colon cancer,” says Barry Berger, chief medical officer of Exact Sciences, a Madison, Wis.–based biotechnology company that developed the test technology.

In time, scientists are confident that they will eventually crack the more difficult problem of finding distinct disease signatures in the noisy data. “The evolutionary process, being complex and unknown, does not always give us an easy route,” Berger notes, “but it definitely gives us lots of opportunities.”

Satellites Diagnose Disease Outbreaks
Space-based data are helping to track and predict the spread of deadly diseases ?
By Katherine Harmon

Many contagious diseases spread through carriers such as birds and mosquitoes. These vectors in turn move with heat and rainfall. With this in mind, researchers have begun to use satellite data to monitor the environmental conditions that lead to disease. “Ideally, we could predict conditions that would result in some of these major outbreaks of cholera, malaria, even avian flu,” says Tim Ford of the University of New England at Biddeford and co-author of a paper on the subject published this past September in Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Satellite data have already been used to map the advance of the H5N1 avian influenza in Asia. The domestic duck, a common inhabitant of Southeast Asia’s rice paddies, is one of the main carriers of the disease. Xiangming Xiao, associate director of the University of Oklahoma?’s Center for Spatial Analysis, uses satellite images to map agricultural patterns in the region. These maps show where the ducks are most likely to live and thus where the avian influenza is most likely to spread.

Migratory birds also carry the virus, but their travel patterns are more difficult to predict. Xiao and his colleagues combine the satellite imagery with satellite-gathered surface-temperature data to estimate the birds’—and thereby the virus’s—trajectory. Computer models then link these environmental drivers to the spread of the flu in human populations.

Of course, not all of the work can be outsourced to orbiting observatories. Xiao says that judging the severity of avian flu’s spread from satellite imaging required knowing details about the human populations as well—for instance, how likely certain communities were to raise ducks for poultry consumption. “Satellite monitoring has a capacity to provide consistent observation,” Xiao says. “On the other hand, the in situ observations are still very, very important, so the key is to combine those together. That is a real challenge.”

More Ideas to watch
By Melinda Wenner

Quick Clots
Emergency technicians could prevent up to 35 percent of prehospital trauma deaths if they had better and cheaper ways to prevent blood loss. Now a University of Maryland–affiliated start-up called Trauma Solutions has developed a synthetic hydrogel that can clot blood by prompting the body to make fibrin, a protein that seals wounds and stops bleeding. Future iterations could simultaneously release such medicines as antibiotics and painkillers. Each application will cost about $5, compared with some natural blood-clotting substances that cost upward of $500.

Lab-on-a-Stamp
Liver damage is a major side effect of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis drugs, yet few developing countries have enough trained scientists or equipment to monitor it. Nonprofit Cambridge, Mass.–based Diagnostics For All has developed an inexpensive fingernail-size device made almost entirely of paper that monitors liver damage using a single drop of blood. Channels in the paper guide blood to regions that change color depending on the levels of two damage-related liver enzymes.

Bacterial Toothpaste
Streptococcus mutans bacteria in the mouth decay teeth by converting sugars into enamel-eroding lactic acid. Florida-based Oragenics has genetically engineered a new strain of bacteria that converts sugars to trace amounts of alcohol instead. Because the new strain permanently displaces natural S. mutans, the therapy, which is currently in clinical trials, will be available as a one-time prescription that will protect teeth for life.

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Slovakia blocks euro rescue fund

Slovakia blocks euro rescue fund | Reuters.

BRATISLAVA/ATHENS | Tue Oct 11, 2011 7:39pm EDT

(Reuters) – The parliament of tiny Slovakia stalled the expansion of a bailout fund to rescue the euro zone from its debt crisis on Tuesday, but international lenders said they were likely to grant a loan to Greece next month, buying time for a broader response.

European Central Bank chief Jean-Claude Trichet said the debt crisis had become systemic and must be tackled decisively.

Slovakia is the only country in the 17-member currency zone that has yet to approve giving new powers to the European Financial Stability Fund. The expansion was agreed by euro zone leaders in July but must be ratified by each country.

The EFSF is Europe’s main weapon to respond to a debt crisis that threatens the European common currency, the region’s banks and potentially the global financial system.

The government of Slovak Prime Minister Iveta Radicova fell on Tuesday after a small party in her ruling coalition refused to back the plans. The outgoing government still expects to be able to enact the measure as a caretaker administration by the end of this week with support from an opposition party.

“There is an assumption that the EFSF, one way or the other, will be approved by the end of the week,” Finance Minister Ivan Miklos told parliament ahead of the vote.

The failure in the Slovak parliament underlines the difficulty of forging a united response to the worsening debt crisis in a currency zone where all 17 member states must act in concert, and voters are increasingly angry at the growing costs.

Leaders are struggling to find a response that would protect euro zone banks if Greece defaults on its debts.

For now, Athens needs an immediate infusion of cash within weeks just to meet state payrolls. A loan programme has been held up while the European Union and IMF assess whether Greece is doing enough to get its finances in order.

After a weeks-long review of Greece’s finances, inspectors from the European Union, IMF and European Central Bank, known as the troika, said an 8 billion euro loan tranche should be paid in early November. It still requires approval by euro zone finance ministers and the IMF.

MORE REFORMS NEEDED

The troika warned that Greece had made only patchy progress in meeting the terms of a bailout agreed in May last year.

“It is essential that the authorities put more emphasis on structural reforms in the public sector and the economy more broadly,” the troika said in a statement.

It said additional measures were likely to be needed to meet debt targets in 2013 and 2014, and a privatization drive and structural reforms were falling short.

Germany, the euro zone’s biggest economy, said a decision on whether to make the aid payment was still open.

A German Finance Ministry spokesman said the troika’s verdict showed “both light and shadows”:

“We’ll wait and look at the report, analyze it and then decide what will happen with the sixth tranche.”

That money would anyway only buy Greece and its euro zone partners a small amount of time.

Germany and France, the leading powers in the 17-nation euro zone, have promised to propose a comprehensive strategy to fight the debt crisis at an EU summit delayed until October 23.

After Athens admitted it would not meet its deficit target this year, there is a growing acceptance that a second Greek bailout agreed in July with private bondholders’ participation may need to be renegotiated. A rush is now on to beef up the currency bloc’s rescue fund and bolster its banks.

Europe’s top financial watchdog warned that the euro zone’s sovereign debt crisis threatened global economic stability.

Trichet issued the dramatic warning as chairman of the European Systemic Risk Board, created to avoid a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis, amid growing fears that Greece will default on its massive debt.

“The crisis is systemic and must be tackled decisively,” Trichet told a European Parliament committee in his final appearance before retiring at the end of the month.

“The high interconnectedness in the EU financial system has led to a rapidly rising risk of significant contagion. It threatens financial stability in the EU as a whole and adversely impacts the real economy in Europe and beyond.”

NEW BANK DATA SOUGHT

European banking regulators meanwhile asked banks across the continent to provide updated data on their capital position and sovereign debt exposures to help reassess their need for recapitalization.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the EU executive would present proposals for bank recapitalization and other aspects of the crisis response on Wednesday.

Industry sources said the EU banking regulator had demanded lenders achieve a core capital ratio of at least 7 percent in a new round of internal stress tests, and banks that failed to reach that mark would be asked to bolster their capital.

That would mean some 48 banks would be required to raise a total of 99 billion euros in capital, according to a Reuters Breakingviews calculator using data from previous stress tests. Greek banks would need nearly a third of the total.

For a comprehensive deal to come together, the bloc’s leaders must resolve differences over how to recapitalize banks, whether to force a Greek debt restructuring or stick to the existing voluntary deal with private bondholders, and how to use the euro zone’s rescue fund.

Europe’s inability to draw a line under the crisis has caused growing international alarm, with Japan weighing in on Tuesday after the United States and Britain pressed EU leaders to take decisive action.

Tokyo said it would consult with Washington before it considers buying more euro zone bonds. Finance Minister Jun Azumi urged Europe to restore market confidence in the run-up to a Group of 20 finance leaders’ meeting in Paris this week.

Interbank lending rates in Europe continued to rise amid growing concern over European banks’ ability to operate, despite the prospect of massive ECB liquidity support.

Some European banks voiced concern at the prospect of being forced by governments to raise additional capital that some say they do not need, possibly by taking public money. One senior banker said that could lead to legal challenges in Germany.

Germany’s BDB banking association said Europe should look at recapitalization on a case-by-case basis rather than taking a blanket approach apparently envisaged by Berlin and Paris.

The director of the association, Michael Kemmer, also told ARD television that politicians should stick to a July agreement on private bondholder involvement in a rescue plan for Greece, which called for a 21 percent writedown.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble and the chairman of euro group finance ministers, Jean-Claude Juncker, have said that figure may no longer be sufficient and the talks may have to be reopened.

Speaking on Austrian television late on Monday, Juncker refused to rule out a mandatory debt restructuring for Greece, which many market analysts and economists say is bound to happen in the coming months. Many analysts see the rush to recapitalize European banks as a prelude to an enforced write-down of 50 percent or more on their Greek debt holdings.

(Additional reporting by Michael Winfrey and Martin Santa in Bratislava, Paul Carrel, Jonathan Gould, Philipp Halstrick, Edward Taylor and Sakari Suoninen in Frankfurt, and Huw Jones in London; Writing by Paul Taylor, Mike Peacock and Peter Graff)

New bankruptcy ripples may emerge

Insight: New bankruptcy ripples may emerge | Reuters.

<span class="articleLocation”>Three years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers touched off a tidal wave of bankruptcy filings, corporate failures may be about to pick up again, with some big-name companies among those struggling for survival.

Companies in a range of businesses, including hair salons, restaurants, renewable energy, and the paper industry, have tumbled into Chapter 11 in the past few months.

The weak economy, lackluster consumer spending, a shaky junk-bond market and increasingly tight lending practices are also threatening struggling companies in industries as diverse as shipping, tourism, media, energy and real estate.

AMR Corp’s American Airlines may need to go to court to restructure its labor contracts, though a spokesman for the airline reiterated on Monday that bankruptcy is not the company’s goal or preference.

Kodak confirmed that a law firm known for taking companies through bankruptcy has been advising on strategy as attempts to overcome the loss of its traditional photography business falter. It has denied any intention of filing for bankruptcy.

Some bankruptcy and restructuring experts warn a fresh U.S. recession could trigger a string of failures to rival the one that followed Lehman Brothers, which in 2008 filed the biggest bankruptcy in U.S. history.

“It’s getting busier for everyone I know,” said Jay Goffman, global head of the Corporate Restructuring Group at law firm Skadden Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. “I think 2012 will be a busy year and 2013 and 2014 will be extraordinarily busy years in restructuring.”

No one is currently predicting a second Lehman-type collapse. Its $639 billion bankruptcy came after a loss of confidence in the investment bank as asset values plummeted, leading to the drying up of credit lines.

In fact, predicting a bankruptcy wave at all is a tricky task, experts say. It could depend on several unknowns: how much money banks and other institutions are willing to lend troubled companies, whether the economy lands in a double-dip recession and what happens in the European debt crisis.

The sovereign debt crisis in Europe could be the most important X factor. Even the experts who say that a bankruptcy crisis is not coming because current low interest rates make it easy for companies to get cash to finance their way out of trouble, say that the euro zone’s problems could trigger defaults here.

“It is possible that one or two sovereign debt defaults would increase the pressure we’d feel in the U.S. credit market. Then we might see an environment like we had in 2008,” said Peter Fitzsimmons, president for North America for turnaround advisory firm AlixPartners LLP.

MORE FILINGS

Chapter 11 filings are picking up, bankruptcy data show. Ten companies with at least $100 million in assets filed for bankruptcy in September, the most since 17 filed in April, which was the busiest month since 2009, according to Bankruptcydata.com.

For a graphic click here link.reuters.com/nuw34sp:

Recent failures included renewable energy companies Evergreen Solar and Solyndra. The latter collapsed in a politically-charged bankruptcy after taking a $535 million loan from the federal government.

Other recent bankruptcies include glossy magazine paper manufacturer NewPage Corp, which was the largest bankruptcy of the year and the largest non-financial company filing since 2009; Graceway Pharmaceuticals, which makes skin creams; Hussey Copper Corp., which makes the copper bars used in switchboards, and the Dallas Stars of the National Hockey League.

So far this month, five companies with more than $100 million in assets have filed, including the Friendly’s ice cream chain – and wireless broadband company Open Range Communications Inc.

It is difficult to predict trends in filings. For example, experts who focused on macroeconomic credit indicators and default projections in 2006 or 2007 wouldn’t in many cases have been prepared for the severity of failures that followed.

In 2009, General Motors, Chrysler Group, LyondellBasell Industries and General Growth Properties all filed for bankruptcy, contributing to a record number of filings and topped the list of largest bankruptcies ever.

At the same time, some experts were predicting an even deeper and longer list of corporate collapses. But within a year of bankruptcy filings breaking records, banks and other financial institutions were buying debt and lending, making it easy for companies to finance their way out of trouble.

Two months after Lehman failed, the U.S. Federal Reserve slashed rates to near zero. Once confidence began to return to the debt markets, investors flocked to high-yield bonds sold by ailing companies, allowing them to refinance.

Other failing companies were able to “amend and extend” – or to critics, “amend and pretend” – by striking new borrowing terms with lenders that delayed debt maturities in the hopes the economy would rebound smartly and business would pick up.

Those measures often avoided operational overhauls, creating what some experts called “zombie companies” that cut staff and prices to survive, but were too sick to invest in new projects.

Bankruptcy court allows troubled companies to shed debt and also become more operationally efficient as they renegotiate labor contracts, as airlines have done, or reject pricey store leases, which retailers often do.

But these changes do not always work, especially when companies find little support among suppliers or creditors for their turnaround plans. Bankrupt book chain Borders, for instance, recently closed its doors after failing to find a buyer.

In addition, confidence in the economy and easy access to debt allowed companies to complete restructurings in 2009 and 2010 with business plans and debt loads that were based on an economic pickup that has now faltered. That could create the potential for trouble at companies that have already restructured once.

SIGNS OF TROUBLE

Restructuring advisers agree that a dimming economic outlook will force lenders to make some tough calls about troubled companies. Those who see a broader wave of bankruptcies expect the economy to dip back into recession as the U.S. government cuts spending and Europe’s debt problems worsen.

They also look beyond the equity market for less visible signs of trouble. They see a junk-bond market that has suffered its worst sell-off since the Fed cut rates to near zero in 2008 and falling loan market prices as lenders reduce their exposure to weak borrowers.

There are even troubling signs coming from otherwise sanguine rating agencies that assess corporate debt. Moody’s noted that the number of downgraded liquidity ratings for troubled companies rose for a third straight month in September, an ominous sign that was similar to the third quarter of 2007 when the economy last slid into recession.

Indeed, one analyst said the Evergreen Solar bankruptcy as well as the recent filing of restaurant operator Real Mex Restaurants Inc show that weak companies are finding it hard to borrow. Both failed to reach the kind of refinancing deal with creditors that until recently was saving many troubled companies from Chapter 11.

“The idea that a couple of companies can’t even go to existing lenders for a real lifeline is quite telling right now,” said Kevin Starke, an analyst with CRT Capital Group, a brokerage that specializes in distressed securities.

LACK OF HOME RUNS

Still, not everyone is convinced more bankruptcies are on the way. Jim Hogan, the head of GE Capital’s restructuring finance unit who works with a lot of medium-sized companies, said he expects only a gradual increase in business, limited to the weakest industries.

“I’m not telling anyone internally I’m expecting some big home runs for us,” Hogan said.

Some said the current rise in bankruptcy filings is routine as fatigued lenders pull the plug on deadbeat companies. While debt and equity markets may have recently been in a swoon, many credit indicators generally show Corporate America to be in decent health.

For example, corporate balance sheets are stuffed with cash, and the rate of corporate loan defaults is expected to end the year at 0.23 percent, well below the historical average of 3.57 percent, according to Standard & Poors.

One of the biggest concerns of recent years, a looming “wall of maturities” of bonds that come due in the next few years, has largely been refinanced, according to Moody’s.

Despite this, the level of debt held by consumers, the federal government and the corporate sector weighs heavily on the economy and will likely spell trouble for some major companies.

“You have this huge overhang of debt. You don’t see a significant amount of improvement in the economy. How long can that continue?,” said Jay Indyke, chair of the bankruptcy and restructuring practice at law firm Cooley LLP.

(This story corrects Jay Goffman’s title in paragraph 7 to head of restructuring, from co-head)

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware, Susan Zeidler in Los Angeles, Caroline Humer in New York; Additional reporting by Nick Brown in New York; Editing by Martha Graybow and Martin Howell)

The real Greek tragedy may be the climate

The real Greek tragedy may be the climate – opinion – 14 October 2011 – New Scientist.

Greece’s debt crisis threatens more than the collapse of the euro and the European Union – it would also be a climate disaster

GREECE is going to default, one way or another, that much is clear. The bigger question is whether it will also leave the euro and what that would mean. What is so far underappreciated is that a Greek exit would have appalling consequences for the climate.

Just three months after a second bailout, Greece is failing to deliver its end of the bargain and bond markets are signalling that it will not repay all its debt. The International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the European Central Bank are struggling to deliver a third rescue package.

Even if that succeeds, the wild card remains Greek politics. The country is wracked with strikes, riots and protests. Deep cuts to jobs, wages and pensions were passed by a slender majority, and it would not take much of a political shift for Greece to abandon its debts – and the euro.

Departure would be economic suicide, though. Paul Donovan, a London-based economist at UBS investment bank, calculates the Greek economy would shrink by half in the first year. Moreover, a Greek exit would likely trigger a domino effect. Ireland, Portugal, Spain and even Italy could go too. It would be a short step to the break-up of the euro and a continent-wide credit crunch.

The climate always takes a back seat when economies turn sour, but the impact of a euro break-up would be profound. Any country leaving the euro would also breach the treaties of Maastricht, Lisbon and Rome, and therefore be forced to leave the EU. A euro break-up is likely to shatter the EU, and with it the hard won architecture of climate policy.

For a start, the Emissions Trading System would be unlikely to survive. True, the ETS has been widely criticised as ineffectual, but the system at least imposes an international framework which could be strengthened and expanded. That would all be swept away, along with any obligation for countries to deliver their 2020 targets on emissions, renewables and energy efficiency.

On one level that matters little. Given the scale of the likely economic collapse, emissions would fall far below the targets and could stay low for years. The collapse of the EU, so long in the vanguard of climate policy, could ironically be seen as a desirable outcome. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Emissions might fall dramatically, but so would our ability to do anything about the remainder.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says holding global temperature increase to 2 °C means cutting emissions by up to 85 per cent by 2050. That would require an investment of $18 trillion by 2035, according to the International Energy Agency. It is hard to imagine governments in the midst of a depression mobilising anything like enough money or political will.

There is much more riding on the outcome of the Greek crisis than the future of Europe or even the world economy. The danger is that a euro collapse could destroy the capital and institutions needed to combat climate change.

It is bitterly ironic that the meltdown of a minor economy that has little to sell but sunshine could condemn the planet to uncontrollable global warming.

David Strahan is a former BBC business correspondent and author of The Last Oil Shock (John Murray, 2008)