The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has ruled that Russian athletes can only compete under a neutral flag in South Korea in February. The decision comes following a panel hearing on the results of investigations involving Russia being accused of doping violations.
Competing as neutrals without a national team means that athletes will not take part in the opening ceremony, and their country’s anthem will not be played if they win any medals. Russian President Vladimir Putin described the option as a “humiliating” compromise.
If you spend any time on the internet, it seems every few months humanity is faced with a looming existential threat from the depths of space. Planet X/Nibiru, the rapture or a wayward comet are, according to conspiracy theorists, destined to destroy us.
However, there is one particular conspiracy, treasured by theorists, that our impending doom will come from within planet Earth - that lurking beneath America’s Yellowstone National Park is a supervolcano that will kill us all.
Yellowstone, in the midwestern US, is - they claim - about to erupt and send unfathomable amounts of matter into the sky, covering anyone in the vicinity in a pyroclastic flow of ash and rock, and blocking out the sun, wiping out almost all life on Earth in the process.
Conspiracy theories tend to draw on some grain of truth. The super volcano really has erupted before, three times in fact, over the last 2 billion years or so, but the theory goes that it’s bound to do so again soon, right? RT.com caught up with Michael Poland, Scientist-in-Charge at the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, to find out the full extent of this lurking supervolcanic ‘threat.’
Poland specializes in volcano geophysics, particularly in how volcanoes change and behave over time. Using GPS, satellites and other methods, he studies how the surface of Yellowstone National Park moves to figure out what’s happening below.
Firstly, what is a super volcano?
“Super volcanos, or super eruptions, are these eruptions that are on the eruption intensity scale, there’s something called the volcano explosivity index (VEI) and eruptions that have a VEI of eight are considered super eruptions. And that’s pretty massive, most eruptions that we see would be VEI three, four. Big ones are five and then once a century or so there’s a six, so a VEI eight is really, really tremendous.”
What would it take to cause one?
“You have to have a really amazing amount of magma in the subsurface, so that’s one of the criteria. In order to be able to put all of that stuff onto the surface and into the atmosphere you have to have it below the surface to begin with. And I think that’s something that is interesting about Yellowstone. We don’t know whether there’s enough magma beneath the surface to have a super eruption, the evidence suggests that a lot of the magma reservoir is actually solid, and about 15 percent of it is molten, so there may not be enough down there to have a super eruption.”
With that in mind, what are the odds of Yellowstone blowing it’s top?
“I think the odds of a supereruption in our lifetime, in our children's lifetimes, in our grandchildren’s lifetimes are astronomically small. I couldn’t even quantify it, it’s not something I’m worried about.”
“I find it strange that Yellowstone is the volcano that’s ‘going to doom humanity.’ One of the things that bothers me about that is that there have been super eruptions when humans have been on the planet. There’ve been two and, in fact, both of those were larger than the last Yellowstone eruption. There was one about 74,000 years ago from Indonesia and there was one 27,000 years ago from New Zealand. Both of those were larger than the last eruption at Yellowstone and humanity survived.”
What about so-called earthquake swarms at Yellowstone? And wasn’t there a particularly strong swarm earlier this year, 4.5 on the richter scale?
“Yeah 4.5 is definitely noticeable, you’d feel it and people did, but there was a 4.8 in 2014 and there was a 7.5 in 1959. Certainly this summer's swarm was really impressive, there were thousands of earthquakes, but that’s sort of what Yellowstone does. It has swarms all the time and one of them has to be the largest. I don’t see that as something to fear, however, instead I see it as an enormous opportunity for study."
“The idea that Yellowstone is going to erupt and kill us all is so demonstrably false. There’s an odd disconnect I think between common sense and reality and what we know to be true and false based on past events and this irrational fear about yellowstone in particular.”
Having a more alternative internet that is more controlled by its users offers better options to protect ourselves, says Dmytri Kleiner a privacy activist and software developer.
Telecom giants in the US are set for a significant victory if Washington goes ahead with its plan to repeal so-called 'net neutrality' rules. The Obama-era legislation was enacted to prevent internet service providers from potentially cornering parts of the digital market and charging extra fees. As a result, it's likely to have a direct impact on internet speeds in the US and cause a lot of inconvenience for users.
Meanwhile, Google has just been caught secretly collecting location data from Android phone users, even after they turned off location settings and had no SIM card in their devices.
So is there a way to escape from the increasing arbitrariness of the ‘regular internet’?
Kim Dotcom, the founder of Megaupload, who is wanted in America for alleged illegal file sharing, has pledged to create an ‘alternative internet’ to defend rights to privacy and freedom online.
RT: What are your thoughts on Kim Dotcom's idea? How is it possible to build an alternative internet?
Dmytri Kleiner: The current internet as it exists right now suffers from a lot of privacy concerns. A lot of those privacy concerns – some of them are inherent to the architecture of the platforms, but a lot of them are related more to the business models of a lot of the kind of companies that make money on the internet. Companies like Google and Facebook make their money by targeting advertising. And targeting advertising requires to know a lot more about you than untargeted advertising. So the more they know about you, the more they can sell these ads for.
Kim Dotcom's proposal is not something that I’ve seen too many details about, although he has been mentioning MegaNet for a few years now I think, as early as 2015. And there are a lot of things that sound pretty good about what he is proposing.
Especially the idea of using mobile devices more actively. It is not clear what he means by that – whether he means there will be an overlay network on top of the kind of IP internet that adds anonymity along the lines of something like Tor or Tox; or whether he plans to use Bluetooth, or NFC (Near Field Communication,) or direct Wi-Fi capabilities of the mobile phones themselves to create a so-called mesh network along the lines of Briar or several other applications.
But in any case, more development in this area would certainly be good – the better platforms that consumers have that deliver privacy and anonymity – the more we have – the better. But that won’t necessarily affect the actual concerns of data being collected by the likes of Google and Facebook.
RT: What about the speed at which people can use the internet. With these net neutrality rules being rolled back is Kim Dotcom's idea a way of circumventing those alternative rules that are going to come into force?
DK: We need to know more about the architecture to make a claim either way. If it is planning to use the kind of radio capabilities of mobile phones themselves, and the Bluetooth and NFC and Wi-Fi capabilities those phones have to create another mesh network, then you could have an advantage that it is much more difficult to block than centralized things. So net neutrality wouldn’t affect it directly. However, it is still may be a slower service to what people used to right now, given a neutral internet.
RT: What would be the drawbacks be to an alternative internet? Some people might say there is too much anonymity, and perhaps there would be sort of fair game for criminals and the like? What’s your response to that argument?
DK: It seems to me the criminals aren’t having a terrible amount of difficulty operating on the internet as it is today. Having a more alternative internet that is more controlled by its users, gives us better options in order to protect ourselves. We can have collaborative moderation, and collaborative block lists and stuff like that that could make user-driven ways to defend against this stuff more effective, rather than being completely in the hands of Facebook and Google and Twitter, and only being able to access the protections that they provide.
RT:Can you see the public taking to this alternative internet quickly, or would there be problems for them to connect? What are your thoughts on its accessibility?
DK: There are a lot of questions need to be looked at there. One is how user-friendly and usable this kind of stuff is. We know without a clear business model, like advertising that Facebook and Google have, you have to question where the investments are going to come from to create the kind of rich user experience that users are used to; to market it, to promote it, to support it – and all that kind of stuff. I mean given the right support I definitely think that an alternative could be made and it could be very popular.
However, it is not clear where that support could come from short of public institutions because as a private entrepreneur Kim Dotcom can only spend money that he can earn back. And it is not clear how he would earn money on such a thing, given that advertising and surveillance would not be used.