Stand-out moments of 2012

2012 was an eventful year. It was both turbulent and destructive yet celebratory and joyous.

Olympics2012 best moments
In this year, we really saw the “Great” in Great Britain served up and shared with the rest of the world – from the amazing staging of the golden Games to an entrancing summer of sport and the Queen’s diamond Jubilee.  Despite the weather, people congregated and partied together in celebration of our British heroes.

Gary Dobson and David Norris were finally found guilty of Stephen Lawrence’s murder of 1993.
Later in the year, the British public saw the BBC in disrepute as the Jimmy Savile case erupted with 450 sexual abuse allegations made against him.  BBC director general, George Entwhistle resigned (with a £450,000 severance payment!) after just 54 days in the job (when a Newsnight report led to former Tory treasurer Lord McAlpine being wrongly accused of child abuse on Entwhistle’s watch) and the Lord Leveson report gave rise to question the need for greater press regulation.

Elsewhere, we saw the devastating effects of global climate change taking their toll – not least as we learned that the Arctic sea ice (aka the world’s natural air-conditioning unit) had shrunk to a record low, global sea levels were continuing to rise faster than predicted and the world was at the mercy of more extreme weather conditions – such as Hurricane Sandy that went on to destroy swathes of the east coast of America late in the year.

And while we saw austerity provoke discord in Spain and Greece, calling for a 130 billion euro bailout package for Greece, we also saw Edvard Munch’s harrowing painting, The Scream, (no. 5, 1948) sell for 140 million dollars.

Wars continued, including that in Syria which has seen over 44,551 people killed in the Syria crisis since March 2011 – with over 100 (many of them children) added in the Houla massacre in March 2012.

Soulful songstress, Whitney Houston died, as did Lonesome George, the last of the Pinta Island tortoises- a Galapagos giant and reportedly the rarest creature on earth.

Obama was re-elected to win a second term and a fearless Austrian dare-devil called Felix broke the sound barrier in a fall to Earth from space.

See it all here in the Guardian’s  interactive guide to the most extraordinary news and viral videos of 2012.

The new factories for food waste

One of the greatest challenges facing us today is feeding a growing human population on finite land, water and energy resources. In terms of production, we could meet this challenge but not before we stop wasting what we produce.

This waste is not limited to poor practices in harvesting, storage and transportation; ‘imperfect’ looking vegetables not being sold to consumers and food companies throwing food away. We also waste food by feeding it to industrially-reared livestock.

Farm animals are fed a third of the world’s cereal harvest. If that cereal were given directly to people, it would feed about 3 billion of us. In addition, 90% of the world’s soya beans are fed to factory farmed animals.

This means that farm animals are now in direct competition with us for food. And the rise of industrial farming means that we are losing out.

For every six kg of plant protein such as cereals etc. fed to livestock, only one kg of protein on average is given back in the form of meat or other livestock products. In terms of food value, for every 100 food calories of edible crops fed to livestock, we get back just 30 calories in the form of meat and milk; a 70% loss.

Compassion in World Farming CEO Philip Lymbery says: “Factory farms are food factories in reverse; they waste it, not make it; and they waste valuable cropland in the process.”

Philip says: “People don’t have to choose between eating cereals or meat. Both can be produced far more effectively if farm animals are kept in ways that add to the world’s food supply, rather than detract, as they do on factory farms. The industrial approach forces animals and people to compete for food in a way that ill-serves them both.”

“We can produce enough to feed our growing population, we just have to stop wasting it. Reducing food waste and ending factory farming go hand-in-hand in ensuring a better and well-fed world for everyone, now and into the future.”

There is enough food for everyone – see here for more.

Everything is contingent on randomness

We have an overriding need to “narrativise” everything, to turn it into a story – so Nicholas Nassim Taleb points out in his book The Black Swan.

It’s our way of compressing the information in the world to a manageable amount. But we overdo it: we make narratives when we have no data, we tell plausible but unfounded stories to fill gaps. So when something, for instance Harry Potter, becomes incredibly and unpredictably popular, we come up with reasons for it, even though we have no idea what the reasons are.

The real reason, incidentally, is usually that there is no reason, beyond randomness. It’s called positive feedback: a small disturbance from an equilibrium magnifies itself and causes a runaway process. The classic example is in crowds: everyone talks quietly, and everyone can hear each other, but one person speaks a little louder, so the people around have to speak a little louder to hear, until everyone is almost yelling. Then a small random dip in volume will cause people around to hush for a moment to see what’s happening, and a silence suddenly shoots around the hall.

Excerpt taken from Tom Chiver’s article in the Telegraph: “Gangnam Style at 1bn views: what does our obsession with chubby South Koreans say about society? Exactly nothing”