All posts by LL

Emission Permission

Mexico kicked off 2017 with a 20 percent spike in gasoline prices, driven in part by the phasing out of subsidies. Some consumers set fires at gas stations—a response that highlights the backlash countries can face as they stop subsidizing carbon-based fuels and start encouraging climate-friendly alternatives. Now the Mexican government and stock market are experimenting with a gentler tool for discouraging carbon emissions: cap-and-trade. Mexico, which in 2012 passed the developing world’s first climate law, is well placed to set an example for other developing economies looking to shrink their carbon footprints.
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Photo: IBLI

How Kenya’s herders got their livestock insured

When the rains failed to come last year in central Isiolo County, Kenya, Mohamed Dahir figured he might lose 40% of his herd of 400 sheep and goats. Like several million other pastoralists in northern Kenya and across the border in Somalia and Ethiopia, Dahir and his herd live migrating between pastures.

Dahir did indeed lose some animals, but he received a payout from an emerging kind of livestock insurance: based on predictions of vegetation growth in the area and how many animals that might harm, his index-based livestock insurance policy gave him 50,000 Kenyan shillings (about £370) in cash before the drought and its consequences really settled in. He was able to buy enough hay from distant counties to save 95% of his herd.

Index-based livestock insurance gets its name from the ecological indices used to calculate it, such as rainfall and vegetation growth. It now covers over 15,000 Kenyans in both commercial and government-issued varieties. The Kenyan programmes, established by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), a CGIAR research centre in Nairobi, have paid out several times including a record US$2.2 million (£1.7 million) in early 2017.

But it took several tries and careful tuning to different communities across Kenya to create the livestock insurance policy. The insurance will probably require constant updating in the face of climate change and other shifts affecting its target population and the ecosystem in which they live.

Read the rest of this feature at Rethink: [html] [pdf].

Interview with Rob Fredrick for American Scientist

Rob Fredrick at American Scientist interviewed me for a podcast he made on one of the talks at the European Conference for Science Journalists in Copenhagen.  I told him about my 2009 Nature story “Fake Facebook pages spin web of deceit” and we discussed the talk.

See also my story on the Copenhagen talk for IEEE Spectrum: https://lucaslaursen.com/how-bots-win-friends-and-influence-people.

Fredrick’s story and podcast here: https://www.americanscientist.org/blog/from-the-staff/computational-propaganda

German breeders develop ‘open source’ plant seeds

There’s open-source software, open-source pharma research, and open-source beer. Now, there are open-source seeds, too. Breeders from Göttingen University in Germany and Dottenfelderhof agricultural school in Bad Vilbel, Germany, have released tomato and wheat varieties under an open-source license. Their move follows similar schemes for sharing plant material in India and the United States, but is the first that provides legal protection for the open-source status of future descendants of plant varieties. Continue reading