Geopolitics

Warnings Of "Extreme And Catastrophic Conditions" As Fires Ravage Australia

THE AGE, AAP, THE MERCURY, SYDNEY MORNING HERALD (Australia)

Worldcrunch

As wildfires rage across eastern and southern Australia, authorities warn that persistent record temperatures could spark the country's worst fire catastrophe in recorded history over the coming days.

With at least 100 people unaccounted for, people are being told to be diligent amid warnings that “extreme and catastrophic conditions” could spark fires very easily.

Map Wikipedia

In the state of Tasmania, a fire that has already burned through 10,600 hectares was still out of control on Monday, according to the AAP. Police has accused a 31-year old man of starting the fire by leaving his campfire unattended.

About 100 people were still unaccounted for in the Tasman peninsula, southeast of the capital of Hobart on Sunday, while hundreds more stranded in their homes as fires around them raged. According to Tasmanian newspaper The Mercury, more than 1000 firefighters and other emergency services were battling about 20 uncontrolled fires across the state.

Frontpage of The Mercury today

Sixty thousand hectares have already been burned in three separate fires. "I can't give a figure on when we are going to be able to contain these fires," Tasmania Fire chief officer Mike Brown told The Mercury.

Ninety fires were also reported in the state of New South Wales on Monday. Every national park in NSW was closed as the state faces its “worse fire danger day in history, with severe, extreme and catastrophic conditions,” on Tuesday reported the AAP. A total fire ban is enforced across the state.

There is a huge “dome of heat over the continent,” said Dr Karl Braganza, head of climate monitoring at the Bureau of Meteorology. According to The Age, statistics on Monday showed Australia had posted six consecutive days of averages above 39 degrees Celsius.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said on Monday that extreme bushfires were part of life in a hot and dry country, reported the Sydney Morning Herald. "And while you would not put any one event down to climate change ... we do know that over time as a result of climate change we are going to see more extreme weather events," she said.

"It's an awful scene," Gillard said while touring wildfire-hit regions in the Tasman peninsula. “The devastation and the randomness of it. There's so much cruelty, and luck and fate."

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Ideas

Saving The Planet Is Really A Question Of Dopamine

Our carelessness toward the environment could be due, in part, to the functioning of a very primitive area of our brain: the striatum.

Ad scuba-diver and brain coral

Stefano Lupieri

PARIS — Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.


This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Addictions to sex and social media

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the 'pleasure hormone.'

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

Transverse section of striatum from a structural MRI image

Lindsay Hanford and Geoff B Hall via Wikipedia

Tweaking genetics 

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Les Echos
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