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FC105: Rice Cooker Voodoo

Plus, real conspiracies, zeppelins, quantum chemistry, and good news on global AIDS deaths, refugees in Germany and ocean conservation in Belize and the Seychelles.

Future Crunch
Future Crunch

Good news you probably didn't hear about 🌈


Following staggering losses, Asia’s largest oil and gas producer, PetroChina, has announced a zero emissions target by 2050. This is its first ever emissions target; what makes it so meaningful is that it's the listed arm of state-owned China National Petroleum. Further proof that a major strategic shift is now underway in global oil and gas markets. Reuters

Global AIDS deaths decreased again last year. According to the latest figures from the UN, the number of people who died from the disease fell by 5.4% between 2018 and 2019, reaching the lowest level since 1993. Also crucially, for the first time ever, more than two thirds of HIV-positive people around the world now have access to anti-retroviral treatments. UNAIDS

In 2015, Germany opened its borders to people fleeing war and persecution: arguably the greatest humanitarian act of the 21st century. The country now has 1.7M refugees, the second highest population in the world, and the gamble has paid off. More than half are employed and paying taxes, and over 80% say they feel a strong sense of belonging (C'mon Straya). Guardian

Belize has added another jewel in its crown as a global leader in ocean conservation. Last month, it increased the size of its Sapodilla Cayes reserve to 1,300 km2 to encompass the Cayman Crown, one of the best preserved reef ecosystems in the region, home to many endangered species of corals, as well as previously undocumented reef types. EDF

It's not just Belize. In the last five years the Seychelles has progressed from protecting 0.04% to 30% of its national waters, covering 410,000 km2 of ocean – an area larger than Germany. 85% of the Seychelles’ coral reefs and 88% of the nation’s shallow waters are now protected from fishing, oil exploration and other marine development. BBC

Indistinguishable from magic 🐇


Physicists have managed to create the same pressures found in white dwarf stars - and white dwarfs are dense. Using the highest-energy laser system in the world, they subjected a 1x1 mm plastic bead to 450M times the Earth's atmospheric pressure. Want to see the word 'ablate' used properly? Check this out. Science Alert

The biggest commercial rooftop greenhouse in the world just opened in Montreal. It covers an area of three football fields, collects and reuses rainwater, bumblebees pollinate the plants, while wasps and ladybugs keep aphids in check. "We are now able to feed almost 2% of Montreal with our greenhouses and our partner farms." Phys.org

Scientists from Cambridge University have made another breakthrough in their quest to crack 'artificial photosynthesis'. Previously, the same researchers had developed an artificial leaf but ran into problems. This new device is easier to make, relatively stable, and converts sunlight, carbon dioxide and water into clean energy, wirelessly and without any outside electricity. Independent

Google researchers have used a quantum computer to simulate a chemical reaction for the first time. This doesn't sound like a big deal, but it is. It's one of the first practical demonstrations of quantum computers doing something we think they will actually be good at - simulating reality (because reality isn't binary). New Scientist

Say it ain't so! Apparently Zeppelins and dirigible airships are back after 80 years out of favour, and they're faster, safer and cleaner. The UK is at the centre of the airship revival, going head to head with France. The goal is to capture part of the $120bn air freight market and displace a slice of the vastly greater truck haulage business. Telegraph

airship in a field
One of these things carries 10 tonnes of freight or 90 passengers, takes off and lands anywhere flatish with a 600 m expanse (including water), without the need for airports or buildings.

Off the beaten track in the Dark Forest 📡


This is the best article on the robot revolution we've ever read. Trust us, keeping track of these stories is part of our job, and somehow David Berreby has captured everything. If you are at all curious about robotics, automation, or deal with the subject in any way in your professional life, bookmark this and give yourself some proper time to get through it. We mean it. Thank us later. Nat Geo

Speaking of robots, here's one that's up there with the washing machine as a contender for the most transformative robot ever invented: the rice cooker. This humble little device has changed the lives of billions of people, mostly women. Also, we finally learned how they work (no, it's not magic, but it still feels like it). Atlas Obscura

Cory Doctorow on why conspiracy theories are so popular right now. "What if it’s the material circumstances, and not the arguments? What if the trauma of living through real conspiracies all around us — conspiracies among wealthy people, their lobbyists, and lawmakers to bury inconvenient facts and evidence of wrongdoing, commonly known as “corruption” — is making people vulnerable?" OneZero

Philosopher and evolutionary game theorist Cailan O'Connor says that animals do not have genders, because they don't have culture. She's got a very good point. We do not, for instance, see killer whale pods where females learn special behaviors only from females, and pass these on only to other females. Top draw critical theory, and good ammo for the next family gathering. Nautilus

Rock never dies, it just gets passed on to a new generation. Meet Nandi Bushell, a 10 year old British girl who's been getting into drum battles with rock legend Dave Grohl. "I LOVE Everlong it’s really hard to play as it’s so fast but so much FUN.” Next up in their duel? Dead End Friends, by Them Crooked Vultures. Rolling Stone

10 year old girl playing drums
Everlong by the Foo Fighters Drum Cover. Youtube

Humans: Kind 🌏


When Hurricane Laura bore down on a hospital in Lake Charles, Louisiana, the staff stayed behind to care for 19 babies in need. Some of the babies were on respirators and ventilators, some weighed less than a kilogram, some of them were born at just 23 weeks. A doctor and a team of 19 nurses and therapists hunkered down all night and cared for the little ones without knowing the condition of their own homes and families.

The city got some of the worst of the storm, with winds gusting up to 220km. Water leaked through the windows, the air-conditioning broke, and the water went out. The wind got so bad they had to move their tiny patients to the hallways to keep them out of harm. Despite it all, the staff kept all 19 babies safe through the Category 4 storm.

They'd already had a wild ride before the hurricane hit. Earlier that day, the threat of flooding forced the neonatal intensive care unit with babies to evacuate from Lake Charles Memorial Hospital for Women to the main hospital. Doctors, residents and the sheriff's department came together and transported the precious cargo and all of the equipment across the city in record time. People are awesome (and thank you CNN for a story that didn't have the words 'unsurvivable' in it).

nurses huddling in corridor
Hospital staff shelter in place as Hurricane Laura swept through Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Give a damn 💖


Gorongosa National Park is one of the most amazing conservation success stories in Africa, and a place that's very close to our hearts. Rather than walling off the reserve from people that live in the area, they're pioneering an approach that puts surrounding communities at the centre. As with so many parks in southern Africa though, they're struggling with resources. The pandemic has impacted on their operations, complicating communications over a very large geographic area.

To help out, we're sending them US$4,000 to acquire a more professional audio-visual setup at their park headquarters. They told us that many of their managers and staff have been exposed for the first time during this pandemic to the potential of teleconferencing, but they need a central hub to run it all. That's what this donation will do, allowing them to buy a large screen, proper microphones, plus all the extras, to create a more immediate and intimate setting for communication. It'll help them to do more with less.

Thanks to all our paying subscribers for making this possible. Here's a video message to you from their team.

girl holding picture
Thank you message to Future Crunch from Gorongosa National Park. Youtube

That's it for this edition, thanks as always for reading.

A word of warning before we go - there are just over two months to go until the US election, and that means we're in for some serious shock and awe from the media sphere. Even at the best of times, American news drowns out all other news for the simple reason that 90% of visible English-speaking journalists on the internet come from there. If you think it's been intense for the last few years though, get ready because the barrage is about to get a lot worse.

The country is going through its most difficult period since the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War, and so the dial is currently turned up to 10 on everything. Prepare yourself for a non-stop, 60 day, wall-to-wall blitz from every news outlet on the planet. Joe Biden, and the current incumbent and Republican nominee, are going to be everywhere you look. Journalists are going to be OBSESSED. Between that, and the pandemic, there's not going to be any oxygen left for anything else.

If you're feeling overwhelmed, turn it off. Drop to the floor and breathe from time to time. Don't forget there are other news stories out there. We'll be here with you, cheeks pressed to the cool earth, looking forward to when it's all over.

FC HQ

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We're a team of science communicators. Our mission is to foster intelligent, optimistic thinking about the future, and create a 21st century that works for people and the planet.