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Rich Counties Get More Help to Escape Climate Risk, New Data Show



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WASHINGTON — Federal programs to help Americans move away from disaster-prone areas are skewed by the income levels of communities seeking help — rather than being based solely on the risk they face — new data shows, blunting an important tool for helping people cope with climate change.

Since 1989, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has bought and demolished more than 43,000 homes in flood-prone areas, a strategy meant to make communities less vulnerable to disasters. But which homes get selected for the buyouts depends as much on the wealth of the affected neighborhoods as on the actual level of danger that those areas are exposed to, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.

The findings raise concerns that limited federal funding for adapting to climate change isn’t helping the areas that need it the most, according to the paper’s authors.

“Who benefits?” asked Katharine J. Mach, a professor at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and the paper’s lead author. “There is a real potential for our responses in a changing climate to make the fat cats fatter, so to speak.”

The data show that buyouts were disproportionately concentrated in wealthy and densely populated counties. The reason, according to the report’s authors, is that local officials must request federal funds for buyouts — and then successfully navigate a series of bureaucratic requirements — and wealthier jurisdictions are more likely to have the staff and expertise necessary to do that.

“Buyouts require resources and capacity to administer,” said Caroline M. Kraan, another of the study’s authors. “Not all governments may be equally able to access the program.”

In addition, once local officials receive the federal funds, buyouts aren’t evenly distributed within those counties, nor are they distributed according to risk levels alone. Instead, counties tend to use the money to buy and tear down homes in poorer neighborhoods, the authors found.

There are different possible explanations for that, according to A.R. Siders, a professor at the University of Delaware and one of the paper’s authors.

Officials might feel that the poorer neighborhoods are genuinely the most vulnerable, Ms. Siders said. Those officials might also conclude that a given amount of federal dollars can go further purchasing a greater number of low-value homes, rather than buying just a handful of more expensive beachfront properties for the same amount.

Another explanation, she said, could be that local officials “are using the buyouts as an opportunity to get rid of neighborhoods that they don’t feel are desirable parts of their community,” Ms. Siders said.

The research, however, wasn’t designed to examine which of those motivations was most prevalent. “All of these things are probably occurring,” she added.

David Maurstad, FEMA’s deputy associate administrator for insurance and mitigation, said the agency’s grant programs “are not designed to discriminate or address economic inequalities.”

“FEMA does not choose which properties participate in buyouts,” Mr. Maurstad said in a statement. “FEMA’s grant programs are designed to capitalize on the in-depth knowledge that each county floodplain manager and local official has regarding the needs of their communities.”

The new research is not the first to raise questions about the fairness or efficiency of FEMA’s buyout programs. Last month, the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental research and advocacy group, published a paper showing that it takes an average of more than five years between the time a flood strikes and when FEMA completes a buyout project.

As a result, many people give up waiting for the money and rebuild instead.

The reason buyouts take so long is that they require coordinated action by federal, state and local officials, as well as homeowners, according to Rob Moore, a senior policy analyst at N.R.D.C. and one of the authors of last month’s paper. A delay at any one of those stages compounds the wait.

“You could design a more cumbersome, complex process for buyouts,” Mr. Moore said. “But you’d have to think really hard.”

Still, the data also offers reason for optimism, according to Ms. Siders. “No matter how difficult managed retreat sounds,” she said, “we know that there are a thousand communities in the United States, all over the country, who have made it work.”

For more news on climate and the environment, follow @NYTClimate on Twitter.


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Campaign to stop ‘killer robots’ takes peace mascot to UN | Science




An international campaign takes its battle to outlaw “killer robots” to the UN this week with a new ally – a “peace robot”.

Created by an inventor from the BBC programme Robot Wars, the droid, known as David Wreckham, has been recruited to deliver a message to world leaders in New York on Monday.

The robot will drop a letter to UN diplomats demanding that robots not guided by human remote control which could accidentally start wars or cause mass atrocities should be outlawed by the same type of international treaty that bans chemical weapons.

Unlike drones, which are controlled by military teams often thousands of miles away from where they are deployed, critics say that autonomous killer robots have the potential to do disastrous things they were not originally programmed for.

Wreckham will also visit the Manhattan headquarters of hi-tech corporations, calling on them to desist from developing technologies for autonomous weapons.

Ray Tait built the robot out of old saucepans, the motor for an electric wheelchair and a soap dish for a mouth back in 2003.

“It has been in retirement in my garage up in Suffolk for years,” he said as he prepared to fly out to New York with a delegation from the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots for their Monday meeting with global leaders.

“Wreckham was never built as a fighting robot and was meant to do other things, like play football at the Olympics for Robots on a pilot programme called Techno Games.

“They only made the pilot programmes and then the show was cancelled because of cuts at the BBC. So poor old Wreckham went into the garage and looked like he’d never get out of it ever again.”

However, a call from Tait’s friend Noel Sharkey, an emeritus professor of artificial intelligence and robotics at the University of Sheffield and a prominent campaigner against killer robots, resurrected Wreckham.

“Noel asked me if his campaign group could use the robot as a kind of mascot for the campaign, to represent the good side of robots and what they can do for humanity. I agreed instantly, as I entirely support the aims of the campaign,” said Tait.

“The capacity for autonomous machines designed to kill to go completely out of control is massive. Even human remote-controlled machines like drones do strange things you don’t expect. I have seen my drone behave oddly and go wrong when I was flying it near pylons. It had gone out of control. But this could be much worse with an autonomous weapon or “killer robot” because there is no one who can press a button with an automatic kill-switch to destroy it if it gets out of control.”

Clare Conboy, the communications director for the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, said they had recruited Wreckham to “show that not all robots are going to be as friendly as he is”.

Conboy said 26 heads of state and 21 Nobel peace prize laureates have backed their campaign to have killer robots banned in international law.

During his trip to New York, Wreckham will also visit Times Square alongside a delegation including the UN under-secretary general and high representative for disarmament, Izumi Nakimitsu, Nobel peace prize laureate Jody Williams, Sharkey, tech worker Liz O’ Sullivan, and youth campaigner Mariana Sanz.

In contrast to military AI killing machines, Tait described his android as “the peace robot fighting for a cause I believe in”.

As for his invention’s name, he added: “Yes, he is named after David Beckham, because I loved watching him play football. Wreckham wasn’t too bad a player on that programme either, so the name was obvious.”


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Foundational Nanowire Technology Patent Issued to University of Washington, Licensed Exclusively to Cambrios




SNW is a key driver for touch sensors in foldable consumer electronics and super-large form factor interactive displays. Individual silver nanowires are first grown through chemical synthesis, then formulated into a liquid suspension for coating onto a flexible film to give the film conductive properties while maintaining high transparency. The University of Washington’s pioneering research into synthesis techniques for high-quality, mass-producible nanowires in the early 2000’s, resulted in multiple patent filings.

The United States Patent Office has issued a patent to University of Washington, U.S. Patent Number 10,384,936, which covers polyol synthesis, a commercially viable method capable of mass-production of metal nanowires and other nanostructures at high yield.

Cambrios is known throughout the industry for its significant patent portfolio and respect for intellectual property, and has been the exclusive licensee of U.S. Patent Number 10,384,936.

“We believe that the ‘936 patent is the strongest, earliest, and most encompassing patent covering the polyol synthesis process for producing silver nanowires and other nanostructures of commercial relevance, and we are pleased to be the exclusive licensee for this groundbreaking invention.  Since the beginning, Cambrios has been defined by its commitment to respecting the intellectual property rights of others. Our long partnership with the University of Washington continues to bear fruit, and there is more to come,” said Dr. Michael Spaid, Chief Technology Officer at Cambrios.

CoMotion is UW’s collaborative innovation hub dedicated to expanding the economic and societal impact of the UW community and beyond. By developing and connecting to local and global innovation ecosystems, CoMotion guides and partners with faculty, researchers, students, and entrepreneurs on their path to market, and helps them amplify the impact of their ideas.

Media Inquiries:
Neal Leavitt
Leavitt Communications
(760) 639-2900


SOURCE Cambrios Film Solutions


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Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala launches $250 million Middle East tech funds




Abu Dhabi city skyline, United Arab Emirates.

kasto80 | iStock | Getty Images

ABU DHABI – Abu Dhabi is doubling down on its push into the technology sector with a $250 million investment to support start-ups from the Middle East and North Africa region.

Mubadala, Abu Dhabi’s state investment arm, announced Monday its new MENA tech funds will invest in companies and venture funds that help boost local tech incubator Hub71.

Hub71 was launched earlier this year as part of a broader effort by the government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to diversify its economy. Microsoft and SoftBank are also partners in the Abu Dhabi-based scheme. Hub71 offers incentives like office space and health care coverage to encourage start-ups to set up shop in the region.

States like Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the UAE, as well as other countries in the Middle East, are increasingly pumping funds into local tech ecosystems, in part to help reduce their reliance on oil-dependent industries.

“There’s a huge amount of untapped potential in the UAE and the wider region and we are on the right path to foster more home-grown innovations, attract exceptional talent and accelerate the evolution of a flourishing tech industry in the Emirate,” said Ibrahim Ajami, Head of Ventures at Mubadala Capital, in a press release Monday.

Ajami said the new MENA tech funds will build on Mubadala’s ten years of experience investing in tech companies from around the world. The state investor committed $15 billion to Softbank’s Vision Fund I, which has bankrolled tech companies like Uber, WeWork and Slack. Mubadala started its tech portfolio in 2007 with $770 million stake in U.S. chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices, which it sold last month after making $4.25 billion, according to Reuters.

The first investment of the new Middle East-focused funds went toward a Dubai-based start-up called Bayzat. Bayzat, which helps companies automate HR administration, was one of the first companies to set up its operations in Hub71.

Meanwhile WeWork is planning to launch its first space in the UAE next year in Hub71. The embattled office-sharing start-up postponed its IPO last month as investors raised alarms over the company’s big losses and the leadership of its now-ousted CEO Adam Neumann.


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