We need to act on climate change for the sake of others

In the South Pacific ocean lies three tiny atolls that go by the name of Tokelau. These islands have a population of around 1,500 people, around the size of a big village.

The Tokelau islands

The three tiny atolls that make up Tokelau

However, bad news is on the way for the people of Tokelau, as climate change is threatening every single one of the residents lives. Droughts are a real problem in the area, as despite being surrounded by sea water, there is very little freshwater that locals can use. Climate change means that rains are decreasing in the area, and drought is increasing.

The second issue for this tiny group of islands is the sea itself. Sea levels around the world are rising for two main reasons: ice caps are melting, and thermal expansion (when water gets hotter, it expands) – these are both caused by climate change, i.e. global warming of the planet.


The final issue for these tiny atolls is that they are made out of coral. Coral is a very delicate substance, that requires very specific conditions to grow and survive.

Basically, these islands are stuck between a rock and a hard place, and it doesn’t look like their situation is getting any better.

It is rather unfair of one to say that the use of fossil fuels on these islands is what has sealed their fate, as compared with the likes of China, the USA and the EU, the islands have virtually no greenhouse gas emission – they probably are responsible for less than 0.0001% of global emissions, leaving the rest of the world responsible for the other 99.9999%.

Despite this, Tokelau has announced that by September 2012, there will be no greenhouse gasses produced there at all, they will run 100% on renewable energy! Photovoltaic solar panels will make up 97% of their energy, whilst the rest will come from local coconut oil made into biodiesel. What is really amazing is that its per-capita income is only about $1,000 per year, a fraction of that in many western countries.

Why is Tokelau bothering though? Their fate is sealed, sea levels will rise further, drought will increase and coral will decline. However, this tiny group of islands believes that if they make a stand now, maybe, just maybe the rest of the world will follow.

The people of Tokelau will most likely be taken in by nearby neighbours, however their home islands will be lost forever, along with their natural beauty and potential. But that’s not the point.

I believe that Tokelau is a warning for what is to come for the rest of the earth. Climate change is happening and it’s real. If we carry on the way we are, we will almost surely destroy the planet we call home.

I have read predictions that by 2050 most of the worlds megacities and centres of economic and political power will be underwater. That includes the likes of London, California, the Netherlands and Bangladesh. That’s a lot of people who will be affected.

We need to take a stand now, for the sake of the future of planet earth.


A Europe centred picture of the Earth

Why not install solar on your roof? It could heat your hot water or power your electricity, even creating extra which you could sell back to the national grid! Why not have a small wind turbine set up in your back garden, that could do wonders for your energy bills!

Think about it. It is our world, we need to look after it.

From the bottom of my heart I ask that you think green, save resources and our home. We really are so lucky that in the whole of space, the perfect conditions came about so that our planet were ever to exist, with it’s vital magnetism and ozone layer, which helped to create and now sustains life.

Earth suspended in spaceWhat’s your opinion on this?

The BOINC Home Network

A few months ago, I wrote about LHC@home 2.0, which is a project that you can get involved in that allows you to use your spare computing capacity to help ‘crunch’ scientific data from the Large Hadron Collider project.

Rather shamefully, at the time of writing the article, I hadn’t actually taken part in the project, however after buying a new PC, I thought that it was my duty to donate my spare processing power to help science!


I started off by going to the SETI@home website, where I worked out that in order to take part in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) project, I would need to download the ‘BOINC software’ – so I did. When I installed the software I was amazed with the amount of different projects that I was able to partake in.

The BOINC software is effectively a management tool which lets you choose which projects you want to help crunch data for. Then it sets about downloading, analysing and then uploading the data in the background.

The BIONIC LogoThere are so many great projects that people can get involved in, from looking for extraterrestrial life and the Higgs particle, to projects providing power to those who are doing vital research into malaria, cancers and other important global diseases, and even trying to work out how and why gravity works!

From finding new medicines to helping university students, there really is something for everyone to get involved in.

If you are worried that it may slow down your computer, then don’t be, you can set how much of your processor BIONIC can use, as well as the amount of hard disk space it can take up, and also how it uses your internet.

The BOINC software comes with an easy to follow interface, and gives you announces of important events and discoveries relating to @home projects.

The BOINC Manager Interface

The BOINC Manager Interface

Think where we would be in terms of scientific advancements, if everyone were to give just 10% of their PC to some of BOINC’s @home projects.

You can make a difference, and you can help science! Please go to the BOINC website to download the software today, and get stated with some of the brilliant projects they have on offer! I personally believe that the following projects are really worth a look at:

  • Poem@Home – investigating protein structures, how they determine protein function, how they interact with one another, etc.
  • LHC@home 1.0 – the Large Hadron Collider project – with some extra software, you can also take part in LHC@home 2.0
  • climateprediction.net – attempting to improve climate modelling, and predict the possible effects of climate change
  • Einstein@Home – searching through data from the LIGO detectors for evidence of continuous gravitational-wave sources, as well as searching radio telescope data from the Arecibo Observatory for radio pulsars
  • Cosmology@Home – comparing theoretical models of the universe in order to try to improve future technologies
  • malariacontrol.net – helping in the fight against malaria, via creating simulations and models of the history of Malaria
  • SETI@home – analysing data from outer space, to try and find extraterrestrial life

Unfortunately, I now have to give you a warning. Whilst I am sure that the software and projects are all 100% safe to participate in, some organisations would not want you to install them on their computers. You would be perfectly okay to install such projects on your home PC, however I wouldn’t advise that you do it at work or school, as there have been incidences in the past of firms pressing charges against people for increasing their internet usage and filling up there serves by unauthorised software like BOINC.

That aside, I really do urge you to download the BOINC manager today, any start helping science! If this makes the offer any more attractive, most projects have their own screensavers, many of which look pretty cool!

Install it and leave a comment below to let us know how you are getting on 🙂

Online Gamers as Scientists

If you thought that online gamers were just a load of geeks, incapable of socializing with the outside world, and living within the confines of their own in their bedrooms, you might like to have a look this website called Foldit. Foldit is a game, but its aim is to solve puzzles for science, and players have recently made some remarkable inroads into the world of protein modelling. Below is a model of an Amino Acid, and it is this type of thing that gamers manipulate.
An Amino Acid Protein MoleculeThis article that explains the process is in the online journal Nature, Structure and Molecular Biology, and begins with the following statement:

“Following the failure of a wide range of attempts to solve the crystal structure of M-PMV retroviral protease by molecular replacement, we challenged players of the protein folding game Foldit to produce accurate models of the protein. Remarkably, Foldit players were able to generate models of sufficient quality for successful molecular replacement and subsequent structure determination. The refined structure provides new insights for the design of antiretroviral drugs.”

The fold it game has existed for a couple of years now. Players create protein structures, with the most stable and low energy structures scoring the most points.

The gamers in general are not scientists and they manually manipulate the model from a base form that is provided to them at the start of the operation. They have a variety of tools but the most important thing is that they have better spatial reasoning skills than computers. Computer models had tried to solve the problem cited above for 10 years without success, gamers produced an adequate model that was then refined by scientists in just 3 weeks.

We could draw similarities to citizen science, having seen posts on this blog discussing loaning out some of your computer’s spare hard disk space and memory to solve scientific problems, and the now common use of similar set ups in astronomy.

Just this week the Astronomy and Telescope journal is entitled Citizen Science, and addresses the issue of amateurs classifying high definition photos of far off galaxies. They say that it is the future of astronomic discovery. See my post on The Bassetti Foundation website for a lay explanation.

The gaming process is an interesting innovation though, as it uses skills that may not be particularly associated with science, but reveal themselves to be extremely important.