The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) releases its Fifth Assessment Report in 2014, which further discusses the possible future impacts of climate change.*
The first two reports were released in 1990 and 1995, respectively. Both of these highlighted the potential rise in global temperature and the long term effects of greenhouse gasses. The second report was particularly strong in clarifying that humans were affecting the climate.
The third report, released in 2001, provided even greater certainty on this, as well as the projected temperatures. Every model presented in the report showed global temperatures and sea levels rising significantly by the end of the 21st century.
The fourth assessment report was released in 2007. This was by far the most alarming to date. New data, along with state-of-the-art computer modelling, showed a global temperature increase as high as 6.4°C (11.5°F) by the end of the 21st century on a "business as usual" scenario. According to the report, a change of this magnitude would be enough to cause a global mass extinction.
Even these dire predictions proved to be an underestimate, however, due to an incomplete scientific understanding. They failed to include the amplifying effects of certain feedback mechanisms - such as methane, released from melting permafrost - and dynamic shifts in glacier melt. Another factor being overlooked was the sudden and rapid emergence of China and India. These nations, with their enormous populations, were now becoming industrialised at a phenomenal rate, creating a huge increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
Since 1990, each report from the IPCC has been more certain and more grim. The fifth assessment report continues this trend. By 2014, the next generation of Earth System Models has produced petabytes of new climate data, making available far more information for this document than in earlier reports. The fifth assessment expands on the predictions of the 2007 report - narrowing the range of possible temperature and sea level rises. More is known about how natural processes react to climate change, helping to build a comprehensive view of the future climate. The overall conclusion of the Fifth Assessment Report is that humanity is on a path to self destruction and is rapidly running out of time.** Despite these warnings, and a broad scientific consensus, much of the public remains skeptical about global warming.*
The European Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM) is operational
The Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM) is a new system which gives the European Central Bank (ECB) the power to intervene in any bank within the eurozone. Its aim is to reduce financial risk and prevent cross-border contagion. A new permanent rescue fund – the European Stability Mechanism – allows failing banks to be recapitalised directly without adding to a country's sovereign debt. The biggest contributors are Germany (27%), France (20%) and Italy (18%).
The SSM receives a mixed reaction. On the one hand, there are those who welcome the increased regulation, something which was largely absent for years and played a major role in the crisis of 2008. On the other hand, fears are raised over the centralised supervision of so many banks, viewed by many as another step towards a federal European superstate.
This banking union is of particular concern to the UK, which until now has dominated financial services with over half of all investment banking in Europe. With its own separate currency – pound sterling – it lies outside the group of eurozone members and their circle of influence, but within the European Union (EU). It therefore stands to be marginalised when decisions are taken on regulation in the EU as a whole. This triggers a major debate in the UK over the country's role in policymaking, leading to further calls for a referendum on its EU membership.
Scotland votes "no" to independence
Prior to the UK general election of 1997, popular arguments against a Scottish Parliament were that it would create a "slippery slope" to independence, giving the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) a route to power. John Major, Conservative Prime Minister until 1997, famously claimed it would end "1,000 years of British history" (although the Acts of Union uniting the countries were still less than 300 years old at the time). The Labour Party met these criticisms by claiming that devolution would fatally undermine the SNP, and remedy the long-felt desire of Scots for a measure of self-government.
Following the election of Tony Blair and Labour in 1997, a referendum was held in which the Scottish people voted in favour of a Scottish Parliament. This was established by the Scotland Act 1998, which set out its powers as a devolved legislature. The first meeting of the new Parliament took place on 12th May 1999.
In the 2007 parliamentary election the SNP emerged as the largest party but could only form a minority government. Its election manifesto had pledged to hold a referendum on independence in 2010. The draft of a referendum bill was launched to the public, detailing the options and proposals for Scotland's future. Due to opposition from the other main parties, however, the bill was eventually withdrawn after failing to secure enough support.
During the 2011 parliamentary election, the SNP repeated its earlier manifesto pledge. This time, the party won an absolute majority, gaining a mandate to hold an independence referendum. In 2012, the UK government offered to legislate to provide the Scottish Parliament with the specific powers to hold a referendum, providing it was "fair, legal and decisive". This would set terms of reference for the referendum, such as the question(s) asked, the electorate used and the organising body. The Scottish Government then announced that they intended to hold the referendum in autumn 2014. Negotiations continued between the Scottish and UK Governments until October 2012, when an agreement was reached.
Media reports speculated that autumn 2014 was chosen due to the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn – one of the decisive Scottish victories in the wars of independence. However, this was denied by First Minister Alex Salmond.
Salmond had been hoping to fund and build a campaign for a second question on greater devolution, but his efforts ended in failure. The referendum would instead ask a single "yes or no" question on independence.
The main arguments from those in favour of independence were political and economic freedom, allowing Scotland to have full control over its taxes, laws and natural resources. It was thought that being independent from England, Wales and Northern Ireland would give the country a greater presence on the world stage. Scotland could guide its own destiny, shaping its unique values, needs and aspirations while remaining friends with the rest of the UK.
On the other side of the debate, those who favoured maintaining the status quo pointed to the centuries-long economic and political success of the existing union – arguably one of the most stable and prosperous in the world. An independent Scotland would mean greater financial risks and a loss of security, diminishing the Union as a whole, at a time of global uncertainty.
A third viewpoint – known as Devo Plus – advocated for Scotland to have responsibility in raising the taxes it spent while keeping defence, pensions and foreign affairs at UK level.
Polls conducted prior to the referendum consistently favoured a continuation of the Union.*** In 2014, the majority of Scots voted "no" to independence. Scotland would retain its status as part of the United Kingdom, a position it had held since 1707.*
Internet has a greater reach than television
Citizens in developed nations now rely on the Internet more
than any other medium for news coverage. This trend* first became apparent in the early 2000s, when radio was overtaken by
Internet usage. The rapid shift towards web-based information then began
to affect print media, with newspaper sales being heavily impacted.
the trend has continued, with even television now having less reach
when it comes to news reporting. Television and the Internet are in
fact converging together as one. Social media, mobile technologies and
exponential bandwidth improvements have driven much of this change.
Google Glass is launched to the public
Google Glass is an augmented reality head-mounted display, allowing hands-free access to the web.* The product resembles normal eyeglasses where the lens is replaced by a small electronic screen. It provides interaction via natural language voice commands, as well as eye-tracking technology.* A miniature gyroscope can tell the user's position and orientation at all times. On the side frame is audio output, and a touch control pad, while on top is a button for recording photos and videos with a built-in camera. It is available to developers by 2013 and for the general public by 2014.* The design allows for integration of the display into people's day-to-day eyewear. It is light and weighs less than most sunglasses. A prototype unveiled in 2012 received criticism over the potential for Google to insert advertising (its main source of revenue) into the user's field of vision. However, the company denied it would use adverts.
The new World Trade Center is completed
After the terrorist attacks of 2001, then-President George Bush vowed that the World Trade Center complex would be fully rebuilt and the skyline made whole again. A competition was held between several architecture firms to design an iconic new landmark.
By 2010, however, only a single new building – 7 World Trade Center – had been completed, due to acrimonious disputes over money, security and design of the other buildings. The economic downturn had also slowed the project's progress considerably.
The following year, construction picked up, with all of the new buildings underway.* The new complex would be comprised of six towers, designed by five different architects. There would also be a memorial in the form of two square fountains in place of the previous Twin Towers' foundations. These would be located in a park at the centre of the development, along with a museum and visitor center.
The tallest of the new skyscrapers is One World Trade Center, previously called the Freedom Tower. Designed by David Childs of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (the same architecture firm behind the Burj Khalifa in Dubai) it stands a symbolic 1,776 ft from base to pinnacle, recalling the year in which the Declaration of Independence was signed. The tower is built with several key safety features including a blast-resistant steel and concrete internal structure, polymer-reinforced glass, chemical and biological filters, widened stairs and a more thorough sprinkler system. It also sets an example for environmentally-friendly design: the roof collects rainwater, to be used for its cooling system and, like all buildings on the site, it is heated by steam, reducing reliance on fossil fuels.
One World Trade Center is completed in 2013, becoming the tallest building in the US and third tallest in the world, before being overtaken by the Shanghai Tower.* The entire complex is finished by 2014.*
The Shanghai Tower is completed
The Shanghai Tower is designed by Gensler and constructed in the Pudong District of Shanghai, China. It is the tallest in a group of three supertall buildings, the others being Jin Mao and the Shanghai World Financial Center. Upon its completion in 2014, it becomes the tallest skyscraper in China and the second tallest in the world, surpassed only by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. The building rises 632 m (2,073 ft) and has 128 stories.
The tower is mixed-use and includes offices, a hotel, retail, entertainment facilities and observation decks. It is organised as nine cylindrical buildings stacked on top of each other and enclosed by the glass façade's inner layer. Between that and the outer layer, which twists as it rises, nine indoor zones provide public space for visitors. Each of these nine areas has its own atrium - featuring gardens, cafes, restaurants and retail space and providing 360° panoramic views of the city. These "sky gardens" cut the time needed for people to travel on the building's elevators and give visitors places to meet, eat and shop. Both layers of the façade are transparent.
Sustainability features heavily in the tower. Its twisting, asymmetrical design reduces wind loads by almost 25% meaning that fewer construction materials are needed. The building's spiralling parapet collects rainwater to be used for air conditioning and central heating systems. Wind turbines generate on-site power.
The building's form is a metaphor for the spirit and philosophy of China. Referencing the spiral as a symbol of the cosmos in Chinese culture, the tower's form symbolises China's connection with the world, space and time. Additionally, its triangular plan relates to the site's harmonious trio of buildings.*
hosts the FIFA World Cup
The 2014 FIFA World Cup is the 20th since the inaugural tournament
in 1930, and the second time that Brazil has hosted the competition.
It becomes the first World Cup to feature goal-line technology.* The
ball now has embedded magnetic strips, which send a signal to the referee
if they cross a sensor in the goal mouth. This is used in combination with a high-speed camera system which can triangulate the ball's exact location.
first solar aircraft to circumnavigate the globe
Impulse is a Swiss long-range solar powered craft being developed by
Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg. In 2014, it becomes the
first piloted fixed-wing plane to circle the Earth using solar power
has the wingspan of a large airliner, but weighs no more than a saloon
car. It uses 12,000 solar cells on its 64-metre wings to charge batteries
providing energy for 10-horsepower electric motors driving its propellors.
Its average speed is 70kph and it has a maximum altitude of 8,500 metres.*
of the Panama Canal expansion project
famous Panama Canal joins the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean and is a key
conduit for international maritime trade. Its capacity has now been
doubled, with the completion of a major expansion project. Following
eight years of excavation, a third set of locks has been added.
37% of shipping traffic was unable to pass through the canal because
of size, and the volume of shipping that did pass through was expected
to continue a steady rise. Global demand necessitated the construction
of this new, high tech passage.
program includes the construction of new locks in the Atlantic and Pacific,
the excavation of new access channels and the widening of existing channels.
It also includes deepening of the navigation channels in the Gaillard
Cut and Gatún Lake, and the raising of Gatún Lake’s
maximum operating level.
to traffic, the canal as a whole will be able to handle the projected
rise in volume to 2025 and beyond. This mega-project eases numerous
burdens on the shipping industry, as well as creating huge numbers of
jobs among the Panamanian people - generating enough wealth to reduce
poverty in the country by almost 30%. However, critics of the project
contend that there are serious environmental issues.*
sequencing technology is now so fast and cheap that an entire human
genome can be read in a matter of hours for less than $100. This has
been made possible by a revolutionary new device called a nanofluidic
treatments can now be delivered on a highly personalised level, tailored
to a patient's exact genetic code. For example, a doctor can biopsy
a cancer patient's tumor, sequence all of its DNA, and use that information
to determine a prognosis and prescribe treatment - all for less than
the cost of a chest X-ray.
case of lung cancer, the doctor can determine the precise genetic changes
in the tumor cells and order the chemotherapy best suited to that variant.
Meanwhile, parents of newborns now have the option of determining if
their baby is susceptible to conditions like diabetes, and then modifying
the baby's diet and medication from day one to reduce the chance of
it ever manifesting.
Better protection against tooth decay
A new molecule known as "Keep 32" is now present in a range of dental care products, as well as several foods like chewing gum. This eliminates Streptococcus mutans - one of the two main bacteria responsible for tooth decay.* Though not a 100% cure, it offers a dramatic improvement in tooth protection. As of 2012, around 73% of the world's population had cavities.
first products to use memristor technology are becoming available
theorised in 1971, memristors were described as the "missing link"
in electric circuitry. As a fourth fundamental circuit element, they
would have properties unachievable in the other elements (resistors,
years of research and development, they are now appearing in consumer
products.* Unlike conventional computer
memory, which stores data with electronic on and off switches, memristors
work at the atomic level. These nanoscale devices have a variable resistance,
able to "remember" their resistance when power is off.
them phenomenally faster, denser and more energy efficient than previous
electronics. Mobile phones and countless other gadgets can now benefit
from a vastly improved battery life, speed and memory capacity. Desktop
computers and laptops, meanwhile, can be booted-up almost instantly.
Because of their tiny size, memristors can also be used as microscopic
sensors, gathering a wide range of data from their surroundings.*
benefit of memristors is their reconfigurability. They can be similar
in behaviour to the synapses in brains. This offers the potential to
create electronics more capable of adapting to different situations
and exhibiting a form of learning, which may advance efforts in artificial
intelligence. Further into the future, it may be possible to build human
stable, quadruped robots are being deployed in military support roles
now. These are accompanying soldiers in terrain too difficult for conventional
vehicles. They use four legs for movement, allowing them to move across
surfaces that would defeat wheels or treads. They are capable of running
at 4 miles per hour (6.4 km/h), while carrying loads up to 340 lb
(150 kg) and climbing slopes with 35 degree inclines.* Locomotion,
navigation and balance are controlled by an onboard computer that receives
input from the robot's various sensors, which include a stereo vision system,
laser gyroscopes, joint position and ground contact monitors. These machines
greatly reduce the burden of equipment for soldiers.
Laser guns are in naval use
Following several years of research and development, Solid State Laser (SSL) weapons are now being deployed by the U.S. Navy as a form of short-range defence. These high-powered beams of directed energy can be fired at distances of four miles, hitting targets moving at 300 mph (480 km/h). This exceptionally
accurate system can protect against anti-ship missiles, as well as shooting
down drones and other flying vehicles, or it can be used on small "suicide" boats. It is actually cheaper than conventional projectiles, with a single shot costing under $1, compared to the hundreds of thousands of dollars required to fire a missile. This is extremely useful in a time of budget constraints. The weapons had been scheduled for deployment in 2016,* but were ready two years earlier than planned.** In the next decade, they will evolve into railguns with phenomenal range and power.*
Credit: U.S. Navy
of the International Space Station
The International Space Station is by far the largest man-made structure ever put into
orbit: 110m (360 ft) across, with a mass of 345,000 kg and a living
volume of 1,000 cubic metres. It is maintained in a nearly circular orbit with a minimum mean altitude of 330 km (205 mi) and a maximum of 410 km (255 mi). It travels at an average speed of 27,724 kilometres (17,227 mi) per hour, completing 15 orbits per day. Primary fields of research on board
the vessel include human research, space medicine, life sciences, physical
sciences, astronomy and meteorology. The station had been scheduled for completion in 2012. However, installation of the final two components, the Russian multipurpose laboratory module Nauka and the European Robotic Arm were delayed. Once built, the ISS remains in operation until
The Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle was originally part of NASA's Constellation Program which was cancelled in 2010. However, the design was carried forward as the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (Orion MPCV), as part of NASA's new plans for manned exploration to the Moon, Mars and asteroids.
The first test flight is in 2014.* For this particular mission, the capsule is unmanned. Nevertheless, it reaches a higher altitude than any spacecraft intended for human use since 1973. Orion makes two highly elliptical orbits of the Earth, before re-entering the atmosphere and splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.
This test supports the development of the Space Launch System - a new dedicated rocket, which itself will be tested in 2017. The first manned flight of Orion will occur in the 2020s, depending on Nasa's future funding.*
probe arrives at Mars
NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft
arrives at Mars, to study its atmosphere and climate history.* Its four
primary objectives are:
determine the role that loss of volatiles from the Mars atmosphere to
space has played through time.
2. To determine the current state of the upper atmosphere, ionosphere,
and interactions with the solar wind.
3. To determine current rates of escape of neutral gases and ions
to space and the processes controlling them.
4. To determine the ratios of stable isotopes in the Martian atmosphere.
India's first Mars mission
Joining the MAVEN probe this year is another orbiter, the first Indian mission to Mars.* Launched in November 2013, the probe enters a highly elliptical orbit of 500 x 80,000 km around Mars in September 2014. The payload of 25 kg consists of ten instruments - including a colour camera, infrared and thermal analysers, a radiation spectrometer, methane sensor, and a Plasma and Current Experiment. Controversy surrounds the mission, however, in light of foreign aid to alleviate the country's ongoing poverty and social problems.*
Launch of the Sunjammer solar sail
The Sunjammer is a NASA mission intended to demonstrate solar sail technology, a form of propellant-free spacecraft propulsion that allows travel using radiation pressure alone.* This involves a combination of light and high-speed gas particles, ejected from the Sun, pushing large ultra-thin mirrors (or sails) to high speeds.
Solar sails have the potential to offer major advantages over conventional spacecraft. Low weight and a complete lack of fuel means that project costs are reduced. Though initially slow, their constant acceleration means they can build up to extremely high speeds over long time periods. This makes them especially well-suited for deep space missions to the outer planets, or even interstellar space. They could also provide a solution to the problem of space junk in Earth orbit, by catching small fragments of debris, or de-orbiting larger pieces.
The Sunjammer weighs just 31 kg (70 lb) and is the size of a dishwasher, prior to launch. When fully unfurled, however, its sails reach 38 metres (124 ft), covering almost 13,000 square feet, or one-third of an acre. This is 130 times larger than NanoSail-D2, a previous effort by NASA that was deployed in 2011.
Other spacecraft utilising solar sails include the Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation Of the Sun (IKAROS) – a Japanese mission launched in 2010,* with a larger version later in the decade.* By the 2030s, probes with solar sails are reaching hundreds of metres in size.* A few centuries from now, spacecraft the size of entire countries will become possible.*
A comet is passing extremely close to Mars
C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) is an Oort cloud comet discovered in January 2013 by the Siding Spring Observatory. Subsequent analysis by NASA's NEO Program indicated that it could pass just 31,000 miles (50,000 km) from the Red Planet's surface: only two-and-a-half times the distance of its outermost moon, Deimos, and roughly the height at which communication satellites orbit Earth.* If the comet were to collide with Mars, it was estimated that a blast equivalent to a billion megatons of TNT would be produced, similar in scale to the impact which drove the dinosaurs extinct.
deploys its lander on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko
Rosetta is a probe launched in 2004 by the European Space Agency
and intended to study the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The craft
studies two asteroids, 2867 Steins and 21 Lutetia, before rendezvousing
with the comet in 2014. It then deploys a lander. This uses harpoons to anchor itself to
the surface, and has legs designed to dampen its initial impact. During
its week-long mission, the lander uses a variety of scientific instruments
to examine the surface and internal composition.*
phone calls are made via the Internet now
the majority of homes and workplaces use Voice over Internet Protocol
(VoIP) systems, such as Skype.* These
connections are made via the Internet, rather than traditional phone
lines. The biggest advantage of VoIP is the cost. PC-to-PC phone calls can
be made anywhere in the world, at any time, for free. PC-to-phone connections
usually charge a fee, but are generally much cheaper than standard phone
services with conventional handsets.
advantage is the portability. Phone calls can be made and received from any PC – provided there is a broadband connection – simply
by signing into a personal VoIP account. Phone-to-phone
VoIP is also portable. When you sign up with a VoIP servicer provider,
the Internet phone or adaptor that is used with that service is assigned
a unique number. This 'phone number' remains valid even if your VoIP
service provider is located in England and you are connected to the
Internet in Australia. An Internet phone is small and light enough to
take with you anywhere. It can simply be plugged into any broadband
connection, anywhere in the world, and used to make and receive calls,
just as though you were in your own home or office.
several other features that make VoIP attractive. Higher fidelity (wideband)
audio, video, call forwarding, call waiting, voicemail, caller ID and
multiple-way calling at no extra charge. Digital data such as pictures,
documents and other files can also be transmitted during calls.
automation in retail environments
operators of retail chains are increasingly being replaced with automated
systems, in order
to save costs and improve efficiency. The customer simply scans
the items themselves, and is prompted via on-screen instructions and
audio to insert their method of payment. In
2009, around 100,000 self-service checkouts were installed worldwide. By
2014, this number has more than quadrupled.*
38 "Future Solar Power Sail Demonstrator planned in the late 2010s will involve a large sized solar power sail with a diameter of 50m, and will have integrated ion-propulsion engines."
See Solar Power Sail Demonstrator "IKAROS", JAXA: http://www.jspec.jaxa.jp/e/activity/ikaros.html
Accessed 29th March 2013.