Sonic Weapons, Africa’s Green Revolution and Volcano Storms

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Science and Environment Round Up
By Tom Drake

There has been controversy concerning exportation of

Sonic Weapons


from the US to China. The manufacturer LRAD is understandably shy of


calling their product a weapon as the practice of exporting arms to


China has been banned in the US since the Tianamen Square massacre in


1989. Their ‘device’ works by directing high power sound waves at the


target. This is a painful and effective and while there is significant


risk of hearing damage it is generally less harmful than being shot!


However, what are the social/political consequences of a government


having access to a relatively non-harmful weapon? That it

seems


more acceptable could in fact be its greatest threat. If use of these


weapons becomes commonplace in a police force this would subtlely but


significantly increase the level of control a government has over its


people. Shooting your own people with bullets would cause outrage


across the globe but shooting them with sound? This is all the more


likely if the government in question already has an authoritarian


streak. Campaigners are concerned about the use of such devices at this


year’s Olympics in China.

Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary General and now Chair of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), has been discussing
the importance and practicalities of generating and agricultural boom
in the troubled continent. His words were big on intention and what needed to be done but the how
was glossed over. Some of the issues surrounding the proposed ‘Green
Revolution’ have been discussed previously on The Daily Banter; Philanthro-capitalism:
‘A white man's dream for a black continent’
, Institutional Reform on the African Continent, Philanthro-Capitalism
– The Eco Issues
.
Although Annan doesn’t mention Gates or a place for western investment
and industries this is where both the solutions and the problems arise.
With large scale corporate western involvement how do relatively weak
African governments retain control of their land and resources? How can
the production-driving profit motive be reigned in to avoid
environmental damage in the form of lost biodiversity access to clean
water?

In a very much related area Biopiracy, the act of patenting
biological material such as foods & medicines, is in spotlight this
week. A US company which has held a patent on a type of Mexican yellow bean
since 1999 recently had the patent overturned. The company had been
charging licensing fees on imports of the beans from Mexico. While
patenting biological material (or anything else) already in common
usage is not allowed, a legal challenge takes time and money.

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Last week two of the most destructive and chaotic forces in nature collided in Chile as a Volcano eruption met a lightning storm.
You can see the black and orange plume on the right mixing and reacting
with the electrically charged storm cloud. The Chaiten volcano had been
dormant for hundreds if not thousands of years. Its dramatic explosion
has resulted in the evacuation of ~5000 people, covering near-by towns
in 15cm of ash.