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How some scientists are trying to get us to care about climate change

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Despite life-or-death warnings to curb climate change, the western world isn’t responding as urgently as many climate scientists are hoping.

Rising sea levels and the recent string of record-breaking global temperatures aren’t resonating enough, a conservation scientist and educator said in a phone interview with CTVNews.ca.

“Showing photos of decimated coral reef will tug at your heartstrings, but I’m not sure if it will actually change the way you vote or the choices that you really make,” said Sanjayan Muttulingam, CEO of Conservation International, a non-profit that works to protect natural resources for people’s livelihood and food.

This seems to be confirmed by the alarming admission from scientists that Canada is nowhere close to its own targets in fighting climate change. According to Muttulingam, westerners would change their behaviours if they “fully appreciated how this is impacting their own lives in a real way.”

CTVNews.ca spoke to Muttulingam and a climate change economics professor who both say they’re part of a growing cohort attempting to answer people who are bluntly asking: “Who cares? How’ll this actually affect me?”

They’re hoping to re-frame the scientific conversation by explaining how climate change is ruining the things people love and impacting their personal finances.

“Science isn’t science, until it’s communicated,” Muttulingam argued. But by failing to always put “humans at the centre of the equation,” he believes scientists inadvertently misjudged their audience.

“When it starts hitting our pocketbooks, our jobs, or the health of our children, that’s when you are going to start seeing consumers more willing to act than ever,” he said.

A bartender serves two mugs of beer at a tavern in Montpelier, Vt. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Toby Talbot

Beer and coffee: future luxury items?

One key way to potentially get people to care about climate change is showing how the foods which they take for granted such as chocolate, coffee, wine, avocados, meat, and beer will become luxury items due to the effects of a warming planet.

According to one study, if barley prices keep climbing, the price of beer will double in North America, triple in Ireland, and rise five-fold in the Czech Republic.

“The research is really to alarm people in the U.S. and Canada, if they still want to have the same quality of life they have right now,” the study’s co-author Dabo Guan, a climate change economics professor at the University of East Anglia in England, told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview.

He considers beer among “luxury essentials” because people don’t need it to live but it’s a key part of “social entertainment and even social stability.”

Guan said climate change research involving food has mostly focused on crop yield which can have life-or-death consequences for people. But research has been less focused on higher-quality crops — “more sensitive to climate change” — which are used in processed foods like beer, chocolate and coffee.

Muttulingam agreed and called these items staples of “everyday minimal living” and “expected parts of life, just as having bread for a sandwich would be part of life.” And driving that point home could reframe the conversation for people on the sidelines, he said.

In this April 29, 2013, file photo, Jon Kirkpatrick carries a solar panel up to Bevan Walker for an installation for SunCommon in Montpelier, Vt. (AP Photo / Toby Talbot, File)

Scientist: Make it about the economy

Muttulingam said scientists need to do more to show how climate change is intertwined with people’s top priorities, including jobs, “your taxes, what money you’re taking home and the impact to you this year and the next year.”

For example, activists need to hammer home the message that for people living in coastal areas hit by increasingly stronger storms, not responding to climate changes means a spike in insurance rates. Non-coastal residents may also be hit with higher taxes to “help folks who are in more serious conditions” as a result of storm damage.

Climate change researchers also need to showcase potentially big savings for people: taking action to conserve the environment can lead to a more affordable cost of living, scientists say. There is money to be made thanks to green jobs and energy independence through solar panels or wind power.

“There’s far more jobs to be had in tapping the abundant free energy that’s floating around on this planet” than people realize, Muttulingam said.

Climate change is affecting our health

Another aspect that shouldn’t be overlooked is putting a face to how climate change threatens good health, clean water and air and increases deaths, Muttulingam said.

Heat waves, forest fires, flooding, and exposure to fine pollutants — which can increase premature deaths from heart disease, strokes or lung cancer — all threaten lives around the globe, according to The Lancet’s most recent report on health and climate change.

To spur on parents to act, Muttulingam urged educators not to shy away from conveying how children are unwittingly on the front lines of the climate change effects: they face a higher risk of asthma and air pollution has led to 600,000 children dying annually.

In November, Muttulingam saw how alarming it was for people to see children and adults in face masks to protect themselves from wide-spread pollution in San Francisco, which forced the closures of schools, universities and museums.

“It’s very real. You definitely get the sense that something dramatic has just happened,” he said.

A group of school children walk on street with face mask because of high pollution in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2015. Because of high pollution mixed with fog. (AP Photo/Amel Emric)

Learning to understand the long-term impacts

Scientists might also need to concede that people have difficulty grasping abstract ideas and planning for decades ahead, Muttulingam said.

“We consistently underestimate long-term risk and consistently overestimate short-term risk … we just haven’t evolved to be able to deal with that,” he said, calling for more research and predictive models to focus on the immediate future, or in two-year outlooks.

Additionally, Guan said that for scientists to get climate change from the abstract world to the practical one, it will require more multidisciplinary research that can help develop a clearer narrative for people.

For Guan’s own beer study, he wrangled experts in crop growth, climate patterns and economics who all helped develop an encompassing, down-to-earth message: less barley crops will lead to more expensive beer.

To this end, Muttulingam said scientists need to realize climate science in written reports and peer-reviewed articles are a great first step but aren’t the “most effective way to communicate in a hyper connected world.”

He urged scientists to use every tool at their disposal to educate the public, including videos and targeting climate research to different demographics based on what is important to them.

The steel mills in the Hamilton waterfront harbour are shown in Hamilton, Ont., on Tuesday, October 23, 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

Why the western world needs to lead on this

Guan said there is an urgency to “make sustainable consumption fashionable” to the average person, particularly in the developed world. This is important because it could lead to changes in government attitudes, more adherence to the science and potentially starting a trend that could be adopted by developing countries.

Canadian greenhouse-gas emissions make up only 1.6 per cent of the global GHGs so even cutting them by 50 per cent wouldn’t be that significant to the world overall, according to one analysis from the Lawrence National Centre for Policy and Management at Western University. But Guan said the hope is to influence the emerging consumerist lifestyles of nearly 1.4 billion Chinese people and 1.3 billion people in India.

“They want our lifestyles … but unfortunately we only have one planet,” Guan said, referencing developed countries’ rate of greenhouse gas emissions and eating habits. “The planet is not going to have enough resources to have over two billion more people with our lifestyles.”

One study showed how the developing world can’t sustainably have the same living standards as the West. So Guan said westerners need to curb their own negative impact on the environment.

Otherwise, Guan said, it’s “going to be a disaster. We’d all need to all go to Mars basically.”

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Trudeau Government Should Turn to Sustainable Floor Heating In Its New Deal

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A consortium has been chosen by Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) to manage the $1.1-billion overhaul of five heating and cooling plants in the National Capital Region. However, this decision has been met with a lot of disapproval by the country’s largest federal public service union.

Early June, the department announced that Innovate Energy has been awarded the 30-year contract “to design, retrofit, maintain and operate the plants,”winning the bid over a rival group that included SNC-Lavalin.

Minister of Environment, Catherine McKenna, said the federal government was “leading by example” in its bid to drastically reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions across the country. McKenna noted that by supporting this project, they’re utilizing heating and cooling infrastructure to promote a more environmentally friendly option.

“We’re very proud that our government is working with partners like Innovate Energy to modernize this critical infrastructure,” she said during the announcement at one of the facilities that will be upgraded, the Cliff Heating and Cooling Plant in downtown Ottawa.

The plants would be known as the district energy system and would heat 80 buildings in the area with steam. It is also expected to cool 67 of these buildings with chilled water through more than 14 kilometres of underground pipes.

Under the Energy Services Acquisition Program, PSPC will be tasked with modernizing the outdated technology in the plants to lower emissions and supportgrowth in the eco-friendly technology sector.

During the first stage of the overhaul, the system would be converted from steam to low temperature hot water and then switched from steam to electric chillers—with the estimated completion date being 2025. PSPC notes that the project will reduce current emissions by 63 per cent, the equivalent of removing 14,000 non-eco-friendly cars off the road.

Afterwards, the natural gas powering the plant will then be replaced by carbon-neutral fuel sources, which according to estimated will reduce emissions by a further 28 per cent. The renovation project is bound to save the government an estimated fee of more than $750 million in heating and cooling costs in the next 40 years.

Furthermore, the implementation of radiant floor heating in Ottawa by the federal government would be an additional step in driving its agenda for a more eco-friendly state.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Savers website, radiant floor heating has a lot of benefits and advantages over alternate heat systems and can cut heating costs by 25 to 50 per cent.

“It is more efficient than baseboard heating and usually more efficient than forced-air heating because no energy is lost through ducts,” the website states.

Radiant floor heating provides an equal amount of heat throughout a building, including areas that are difficult to heat, such as rooms with vaulted ceilings, garages or bathrooms. Consideringit warms people and objects directly—controlling the direct heat loss of the occupant—radiant floor heating provides comfort at lower thermostat settings.

“Radiators and other forms of ‘point’ heating circulate heat inefficiently and hence need to run for longer periods to obtain comfort levels,” reports the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNet).

Radiant heating is a clean and healthy option—a perfect choice for those with severe allergies—as it doesn’t rely on circulating air, meaning there are no potentially irritating particles blowing around the room. Additionally, it is more energy efficient, aesthetically pleasing with wall radiators or floor registers and virtually noiseless when in operation.

“They draw cold air across the floor and send warm air up to the ceiling, where it then falls, heating the room from the top down, creating drafts and circulating dust and allergens.”

It is important for the leadership in Ottawa to equally drive the adoption of radiant floor heating as doing this would lead to increased usage in residential buildings—and even government-owned buildings.

However, in October, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), a representative body of employees of the plants,began a campaign target at the government against their decision to use a public-private partnership (P3) for the retrofitting project, citing concerns about costs and safety.

According to the union, outside employees won’t be bound to the same health and safety standards of government workers and that typically P3 projects cost a lot more than traditional public financing deals.

The union demands that the government scraps the proposed project and meet PSAC members and experts to brainstorm on a new way forward that would ensure federal employees continue to operate and maintain the plants.

However, parliamentary secretary to public services and procurement minister, Steve MacKinnon said that the union officials have consulted him but that after conducting an analysis, the P3 option was still the best for the job.

“We didn’t have (to) sacrifice on safety or health — we didn’t have to sacrifice on job security,” he said.

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Steps to becoming a Data Scientist

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Data science has become one of the most in-demand career paths in this century, according to Business Insider. With the amount of information being circulated online, it has created a huge demand for storing, interpreting and implementing big data for different purposes—hence the need for a data scientist.

Today, there too much information flying around for regular people to process efficiently and use. Therefore, it has become the responsibility of data scientists to collect, organize and analyze this data. Doing this helps various people, organizations, enterprise businesses and governments to manage, store and interpret this data for different purposes.

Though data scientists come from different educational backgrounds, a majority of them need to have a technical educational background. To pursue a career in data science, computer-related majors, graduations and post graduations in maths and statistics are quite useful.

Therefore, the steps to becoming a data scientist are quite straightforward.  After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in an IT related field—such as computer science, maths or physics—you can also further your education by obtaining a master’s degree in a data science or any other related field of study. With the necessary educational background, you can now search for a job and obtain the required experience in whichever filed you choose to invest your acquired skills.

Here are the necessary steps to be taken to become a data scientist.

Step 1: Obtain the necessary educational requirements

As earlier noted, different educational paths can still lead to a career in data science. However, it is impossible to begin a career in data science without obtaining a collegiate degree—as a four-year bachelor’s degree is really important. However, according to a report by Business Insider, over 73% of data scientist in existence today have a graduate degree and about 38% of them hold a Ph.D. Therefore, to rise above the crowd and get a high-end position in the field of data science, it is important to have a Master’s degree or a Ph.D.—and with various online data science masters program, obtaining one is quite easy.

Some institutions provide data science programs with courses that will equip students to analyze complex sets of data. These courses also involve a host of technical information about computers, statistics, data analysis techniques and many more. Completing these programs equips you with the necessary skills to function adequately as a data scientist.

Additionally, there are some technical—and computer-based degrees—that can aid you begin a career in data science. Some of them include studies in, Computer Science, Statistics, Social Science, Physics, Economics, Mathematics and Applied Math. These degrees will imbibe some important skills related to data science in you—namely, coding, experimenting, managing large amounts of data, solving quantitative problems and many others.

Step 2: Choose an area of specialization

There rarely exists an organization, agency or business today that doesn’t require the expertise of a data scientist. Hence, it is important that after acquiring the necessary education to start a career as a data scientist, you need to choose an area of specialization in the field you wish to work in.

Some of the specializations that exist in data science today include automotive, marketing, business, defence, sales, negotiation, insurance and many others.

Step 3: Kick start your career as a data scientist

After acquiring the necessary skills to become a data scientist, it is important to get a job in the filed and company of your choice where you can acquire some experience.

Many organizations offer valuable training to their data scientists and these pieces of training are typically centred around the specific internal systems and programs of an organization. Partaking in this training allows you learn some high-level analytical skills that were not taught during your various school programs—especially since data science is a constantly evolving field.

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Artificial intelligence pioneers win tech’s ‘Nobel Prize’

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Computers have become so smart during the past 20 years that people don’t think twice about chatting with digital assistants like Alexa and Siri or seeing their friends automatically tagged in Facebook pictures.

But making those quantum leaps from science fiction to reality required hard work from computer scientists like Yoshua Bengio, Geoffrey Hinton and Yann LeCun. The trio tapped into their own brainpower to make it possible for machines to learn like humans, a breakthrough now commonly known as “artificial intelligence,” or AI.

Their insights and persistence were rewarded Wednesday with the Turing Award, an honor that has become known as technology industry’s version of the Nobel Prize. It comes with a $1 million prize funded by Google, a company where AI has become part of its DNA.

The award marks the latest recognition of the instrumental role that artificial intelligence will likely play in redefining the relationship between humanity and technology in the decades ahead.

Artificial intelligence is now one of the fastest-growing areas in all of science and one of the most talked-about topics in society,” said Cherri Pancake, president of the Association for Computing Machinery, the group behind the Turing Award.

Although they have known each other for than 30 years, Bengio, Hinton and LeCun have mostly worked separately on technology known as neural networks. These are the electronic engines that power tasks such as facial and speech recognition, areas where computers have made enormous strides over the past decade. Such neural networks also are a critical component of robotic systems that are automating a wide range of other human activity, including driving.

Their belief in the power of neural networks was once mocked by their peers, Hinton said. No more. He now works at Google as a vice president and senior fellow while LeCun is chief AI scientist at Facebook. Bengio remains immersed in academia as a University of Montreal professor in addition to serving as scientific director at the Artificial Intelligence Institute in Quebec.

“For a long time, people thought what the three of us were doing was nonsense,” Hinton said in an interview with The Associated Press. “They thought we were very misguided and what we were doing was a very surprising thing for apparently intelligent people to waste their time on. My message to young researchers is, don’t be put off if everyone tells you what are doing is silly.” Now, some people are worried that the results of the researchers’ efforts might spiral out of control.

While the AI revolution is raising hopes that computers will make most people’s lives more convenient and enjoyable, it’s also stoking fears that humanity eventually will be living at the mercy of machines.

Bengio, Hinton and LeCun share some of those concerns especially the doomsday scenarios that envision AI technology developed into weapons systems that wipe out humanity.

But they are far more optimistic about the other prospects of AI empowering computers to deliver more accurate warnings about floods and earthquakes, for instance, or detecting health risks, such as cancer and heart attacks, far earlier than human doctors.

“One thing is very clear, the techniques that we developed can be used for an enormous amount of good affecting hundreds of millions of people,” Hinton said.

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