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FC109: Dawn Of The Heliocene

Plus, conscious crows, Curly the Robot, predatory gaming chairs, and good news on electric vehicles in California, parental leave in France and community rights in Ecuador.

Future Crunch
Future Crunch

Good news you probably didn't hear about 🌈


California just became the first US state to say it will ban the sale of new internal combustion engines, starting the clock on a future that would’ve been unthinkable a few years ago. Automakers now have 15 years left until their products become illegal in one of their most important markets. It's a big deal. California consumes about 1% of global oil production. NPR

The announcement came less than a day after China pledged to go carbon neutral by 2060. The move is largely symbolic given the lack of details. It does however, bring the world's third biggest economy into a loose but vitally important consensus with the second largest (EU), fourth largest (Japan), and fifth largest (California). Four of the world’s six largest economies now have end dates for their carbon emissions. Bloomberg

“When a baby arrives in the world, there is no reason it should be just the mother who takes care of it. The presence of the father is much more important than we thought, much earlier than we believed.” France has just doubled paternity leave from 14 to 28 days starting next summer, and fathers will be required to take at least a week off work after their babies are born. NYT

Kazakhstan has joined an international protocol on the abolition of the death penalty. It's the 88th nation to become a signatory to the protocol, which fulfills a fundamental right to life and human dignity. The country's head of state, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, quoted the Kazakh poet and philosopher Abai, stressing the need for “love, compassion, bold actions, deeds and thoughtfulness.” Astana Times

Ecuador’s highest court has ruled that communities have the right to vote on whether to allow large and medium-sized mining projects in their areas. The court’s decision follows a petition by the government of Cuenca, a city in the country’s highlands, to propose a referendum on seeking to ban mining near water sources. Mining.com

France's environment minister has announced that wild animals will no longer be allowed in travelling circuses, and that starting immediately, France’s three marine parks won’t be able to import or breed dolphins and killer whales. The measures will also bring an end to mink farming within the next five years. "It is time to open a new era in our relationship with these wild animals." ABC

Indistinguishable from magic 🐇


An ice-skating, stone-throwing robot has just mastered curling, one of the most delicate and methodical sports in the world. The robot (inevitably named Curly), just beat two of South Korea's top teams. It's an incredible engineering achievement - not only does the robot have to be able to accurately slide a granite stone down the ice, it also needs to constantly adjust its game strategy. Wired

robot curling on ice
Curly shows the meatsacks how it's done.

News from the future. Paramedics in the UK are testing the idea of using jet suits to deliver critical care services. Flying doctors could reach patients in hilly or remote areas in seconds, rather than having to hike in on foot. "We could see the need. What we didn't know for sure is how this would work in practice. Well we've seen it now and it is, quite honestly, awesome." BBC

Remember the plastic-eating enzyme scientists discovered inside landfill? They've  upgraded it into a super-enzyme that degrades plastic bottles six times faster than before. The new super-enzyme works at room temperature, and is now being tested at custom built facility in Portsmouth. "This is one of those stories about learning from nature, and then bringing it into the lab.” Guardian

Science has confirmed what bird lovers have always known - our feathered friends are capable of the kinds of higher intelligence and analytical thought long believed to be the sole province of humans and a few other mammals. New research shows that crows might be conscious, capable of pondering their own minds, because their brains, along with pigeons and barn owls, have something known as the pallium, the equivalent of a cerebral cortex. Science

Researchers from Singapore have figured out a way to grow human red blood cells that's twice as fast as existing methods. It's a breakthrough that may have a significant impact on blood banks worldwide - over half the world’s countries do not have sufficient supplies to meet their needs. It would also be a gamechanger for research, giving scientists cheaper and faster access to blood cells for lab testing. Science Daily

In Italy, a collective of researchers, orthopedists, industrial designers and patients have designed a prosthetic hand that is able to restore over 90% of functionality to people with upper-limb amputations. The hand has a fully movable wrist, weighs 450 grams, performs a full closed grasp in less than a second, exerts 15 kg of force, and has a battery life of 24 hours. TechXplore

man with prosthetic arm
The Hannes prosthetic hand, by the Centro Protesi Inail

Off the beaten track in the Dark Forest 📡


Paleoclimatologist, Summer Praetorious, has a very, very good suggestion. Rather than calling our new geological age the Anthropocene, because humans have changed the climate, we should name it the Heliocine, for when we tapped the sun’s energy. "Before it comes time to engrave it in stone, to nail in the golden spike of our new epoch, we should reconsider (...) we should define our epoch by what is ahead of us." Nautilus

Hey, gamers. Your chair is trying to kill you. Seriously. It's no coincidence that it looks like a predatory insect; the only difference is that the effect of the chair is more of a slow paralysis, eroding your bodily functions until all that remains are those that merge with the computer. If that sounds like an exaggeration, read the article and see whether you're still willing to spend another 12 hours in that thing. Real Life

When people say food is cultural, it feels like a throwaway line. And yet these two brilliant essays, from second generation Indian immigrant, Sudeep Agarwala, and Black Appalachian, Crystal Wilkinson, manage to make that idea real in a way we haven't seen before. Threads of love, loss and family weave their way through both of these, read them together. Grow and Emergence << and yes, we've spotted the synchronicity.

We're mildly obsessed with prodigy hacker turned activist turned digital minister of Taiwan, Audrey Tang. No decision maker in the world right now is doing a better job of threading the needle between digital democracy and personal privacy; and between corporate interests and the welfare state. Someone who actually understands the 21st century has finally gotten themselves into a position of power and is doing something genuinely new. Rest of World

While we're on that theme, perhaps we're all thinking about digital governance the wrong way? Instead of comparing the internet's lack of accountability unfavourably with the trappings of modern democracy, we should be comparing it with earlier forms of democracy, which were a lot messier. This reframe opens up new possibilities, like opinion polling through AI, cryptographic juries and the dynamic selection of delegates in real-time, issue by issue. Neoma

We're always on the lookout for cool things from South America, the internet's Dark Continent (if you ever find anything PLEASE SEND IT TO US). This one definitely ticks the box, a stunning video by Colombian multi-instrumentalist and producer, Mente Orgánica, and featuring dancers Melissa Álvarez and Adelaida Henao. Straight out of a DMT dream, and onto your screen. Perfect. Youtube

"His productions alchemize organic sounds with electronic elements to take the listener on a deep reflective journey within."

Human kind 💖


Meet Jamal Galves.

He grew up in Gales Point, a small fishing and farming village in southern Belize, where he developed a love for animals. At the age of 11, he caught the attention of a field research team that visited the region every summer to tag and track manatees. They noticed his enthusiasm and brought him along on their boat to observe. He came back day after day, eager to learn more. “Before you knew it, my cousins and I were playing ‘manatee rescue’ on our lawn. I was just fascinated, and I learned so much. Then I realized that these guys were in trouble, and decided I was going to do everything I could to protect them.”

He's been true to his word. For the last two decades Galves has dedicated his life to manatee conservation. He's the program coordinator for the Belize Manatee Conservation program at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute, responsible for countrywide community-related education and outreach programs, and also coordinates the Belize Marine Mammal Stranding Network, helping track and monitor tagged manatees in the wild.

Antillean manatees are an endangered species, so Galves works tirelessly to educate surrounding communities who are unaware of their importance in the food chain, shifting local attitudes and behavior. “Not everybody cares,” he says. “But that doesn't make me lose hope. I'm still optimistic that people want to be a part of something, to feel that they are contributing to change. It’s one world, one people. That's the approach we need to have if we're going to save this planet.”

man feeding manatee
"Just because they can't speak doesn't mean that they don't have something to say.” Youtube

That's a wrap, thanks for sticking with us.

Careful of that news live wire. It's hanging there, well within range, and sizzling away like crazy right now. There's a lot of electricity running through it, millions of volts worth of 'presidential' debates and parliamentary sandpit fights and political dumpster fires and rising death counts and arguments over lockdowns. We're not suggesting you pretend the cable is invisible - it's hard to ignore those sparks - but at least be sensible and put on some heavy duty gloves if you're going to handle it.

Remember it's okay to put it down, to step back and find intellectual engagement elsewhere. As Margaret Atwood says, “It may be enough to cultivate your own artistic garden.” This doesn't mean shrinking from the fight. Rather, it's a turning inward in an effort to expand your horizons beyond the events of the day. We've still got a long way to go with this pandemic and if you keep on electrocuting yourself like that you're going to be a wreck by the time it's over. The world needs you at full capacity for what comes next.

Hang in there, be nice to your mind, and we'll see you next week.

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.