What’s the News: Disconnecting people from the Internet or unduly restricting the flow of information online is a violation of human rights and goes against international law, according to a United Nations report (pdf) released Friday.
The report, written by UN special rapporteur Frank La Rue, highlights “the unique and transformative nature of the Internet not only to enable individuals to exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression, but also a range of other human rights, and to promote the progress of society as a whole,” its summary says. Furthermore, the report specifies two dimensions of Internet acces: unrestricted access to online content and the availability of sufficient technology and infrastructure “to access the Internet in the first place.”
What’s the News: The world’s population is projected to reach 7 billion this October and continue climbing, reaching 10.1 billion by the end of the 21st century, says an official United Nations report (PDF) released earlier this week. This is a significant departure from earlier projections that said the population would peak at just over 9 billion, then level off and even slightly decline.
The state of our forests is troubled, but maybe on the mend.
The United Nations, as part of its effort to brand 2011 the International Year of Forests, released an assessment this week about forest extent, and quality, all around the world. First, the good news: Forest destruction is slowing down, according to assistant director general Eduardo Rojas-Briales of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.
The 4.032 billion hectares (9.9 billion acres) of forests in the world in 2010 is down from an estimated 4.085 billion in 2000, said the FAO. But the speed at which which trees are being cut down is slowing from 8.3 million hectares a year in 1990-2000 to 5.2 million in the past decade. “There are evident signs that we could arrive at a balance in a few years,” said Rojas-Briales, adding that the deforestation rate was 50 million hectares a year 30 years ago. [AFP]
Asian countries have achieved particularly impressive results, with many adding to their total of forested territory.
“China has increased its forest by three million hectares (30,000 sq km) per year – no country has ever done anything like this before, it’s an enormous contribution,” said … Rojas-Briales. “But we can also highlight the case of Vietnam, a small and densely populated country that’s implemented very smart and comprehensive forest reform – or India, which has not controlled its population as China has and where standards of living are even lower. Nevertheless India has achieved a modest growth of its forest area.” [BBC News]
But the world is not out of the woods, so to speak, in bringing back the forest health of old.
You know the old routine in sci-fi: Aliens show up, people of Earth freak out. Whether we provoke aliens a la The Day the Earth Stood Still or they arrive foaming with blood lust like in Mars Attacks, storytellers’ general feeling is that the mass of humanity would not respond well to the real presence of extraterrestrial life. We need Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones to keep ’em separated from us.
In 2011—the year after we were supposed to make contact—are we humans still a backwater mob of talking apes who would crumble into pandemonium, or cosmic self-doubt, at the discovery of life beyond Earth? This week, a special issue of The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society addresses that question and more.
You’ve come a long way, baby
Albert Harrison, psychologist at the University of California, Davis, may live to regret saying nice things about humanity. But it’s nice to see somebody giving us a vote of confidence:
The Brookings Report warned in 1961 that the discovery of life beyond Earth could lead to social upheaval. But [Harrison] says “times have changed dramatically” since then. Even the discovery of intelligent aliens “may be far less startling for generations that have been brought up with word processors, electronic calculators, avatars and cell phones as compared with earlier generations used to typewriters, slide rules, pay phones and rag dolls,” Harrison writes in one of the papers. [MSNBC]
SETI (the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) hasn’t been successful in its half-century hunt for alien civilizations, but it has ingrained into people the idea of looking for life beyond Earth. The continually increasing exoplanet count (one discovery was announced just today) is showing people just a small glimpse of the variety of worlds out there. Thus, Harrison says the people of Earth would respond to the discovery of alien life with “delight or indifference,” according to the Press Association.