China has a new(ish) sustainability plan called “ecological civilization” that weaves together urban and regional planning, environmental quality, sustainable agriculture, habitat and biodiversity concepts. This is good because a rapidly developing country the size of China has the ability to sink the rest of civilization if they let their ecological footprint explode, regardless of what the rest of us do. Maybe they can set a good example for the rest of the developing world to follow.
The latest in the war on cancer is to turn the body’s immune system against it. Although this doesn’t work for everyone, it is what cured Jimmy Carter.
3 most interesting stories
I try not to let this blog get too political, really I do. But in an election season I just can’t help myself. This is a blog about the future of civilization, and the behavior of U.S. political, bureaucratic, and military elites obviously has some bearing on that. In May I mused on whether the U.S. could possibly be suffering from “too much democracy“, Dick Cheney, equality and equal opportunity, and what’s wrong with Pennsylvania. And yes, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, TRUMP IS A FASCIST!
The United Nations has a new report on China’s “ecological civilization” plan. What seems notable is that it takes an urban and regional planning framework, then weaves in goals related to environmental quality and sustainable agriculture. There are also a few targets related to habitat and biodiversity conservation. It’s a good vision and contains all the right rhetoric.
A variable carbon tax could be phased in a way that takes advantage of upswings in the economy without exacerbating the downswings.
3 most interesting posts
The U.S. election season certainly is getting interesting, although not really in a good way. ontheissues.org has a useful summary of where U.S. political candidates stand…what are the words I’m looking for…on the the issues. Nate Silver has an interesting online tool that lets you play around with how various demographic groups tend to vote.
Here’s a pretty awesome data analysis on where (legal) refugees who enter the U.S. come from, and where they go. It’s great both for the information, and for the presentation of the information, which is simple yet highly effective. Click on the link, but here are a few facts to whet your appetite:
The country of origin for the most refugees to the U.S. in 2014 was Iraq, at 19.651.
Surprisingly (to me at least), next is Burma at 14,577.
Rounding out the top five are Somalia (9,011), Bhutan (8,316), and D.R. Congo (4,502).
After Cuba (4,063), the next highest country from Central or South America is Columbia at 243.
I might have guessed Iraq, but I don’t think I would have guessed anything else on this list. In a number of cases, there are groups of essentially stateless people living in various places (Bhutan and Burma, for example) that the U.S. has agreed to resettle in fairly large groups. In other cases, there are just a handful of people from a given country granted refugee status in a given year. It is a little hard to make sense of why one group is allowed and the next is not.
Relative to last year, the recovery in advanced economies is expected to pick up slightly, while activity in emerging market and developing economies is projected to slow for the fifth year in a row, primarily reflecting weaker prospects for some large emerging market economies and oil-exporting countries. In an environment of declining commodity prices, reduced capital flows to emerging markets and pressure on their currencies, and increasing financial market volatility, downside risks to the outlook have risen, particularly for emerging market and developing economies…
the persistently modest pace of recovery in advanced economies and the fifth consecutive year of growth declines in emerging markets suggest that medium-term and long-term common forces are also importantly at play. These include low productivity growth since the crisis, crisis legacies in some advanced economies (high public and private debt, financial sector weakness, low investment), demographic transitions, ongoing adjustment in many emerging markets following the postcrisis credit and investment boom, a growth realignment in China—with important cross-border repercussions—and a downturn in commodity prices triggered by weaker demand as well as higher production capacity.
What did I learn in September? Let’s start with the bad and then go to the good.
Negative stories (-11):
The Environmental Kuznets Curve is the idea that a developing country will go through a period of environmental degradation caused by economic growth, but then the environment will improve in the long run. Sounds okay but the evidence for it is weak. (-1)
The Inca are an example of a very advanced civilization that was wiped out. (-1)
The U.S. clearly has lower average life expectancy than other advanced countries. Developing countries in Asia and Latin America are catching up, but life expectancy in Africa is still tragically low. (-1)
Pneumatic chutes for garbage collection have been used successfully on an island in New York City for decades. This technology has some potential to move us closer to a closed loop world where resources are recovered rather than wasted. (+1)
Scientists and engineers could learn some lessons from marketing on how to communicate better with the rest of humanity. (+1)
There has been some progress on New York City’s “lowline“, which is what a park in space might look like. The only problem is, it looks to me like a mall. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the exciting science fiction future may look a lot like malls in space. (+0)
NPR has a tabulation of life expectancy in hundreds of countries. What jumps out to me is that, outside of Africa, the gap between developed and developing countries is not all that great – most countries are in the 70s for men, and only a small handful (Andorra, Iceland, Israel, Japan) crack 80. Women consistently outlive men by a few years (Afghanistan and Zambia are the only two exceptions on the list, and Russia jumps out as a country where women outlive men by more than 10 years).
Just as a sample, here are the numbers for men in countries I have set foot in:
South Korea: 77
United Kingdom: 79
United States: 76
What accounts for the differences? I don’t know, but let me speculate. At first glance, national wealth seems to be an excellent predictor. But there are probably many nuances to the data. For example, infant mortality rates can make average life expectancy a little misleading. If the numbers were based instead on life expectancy for those who make it to age 5, they might be a little different. Don’t get me wrong, infant mortality is an awful thing, but the measures needed to reduce it are different from the measures needed to keep adults healthy. Beyond that, universal and affordable health care almost certainly plays a role in the list above (hello, U.S., you stand out clearly as the sickest rich country on this list). Diet, obesity, and smoking all must play a role.
I’m experimenting with my +3/-3 rating system again this month, just to convey the idea that not all stories are equal in importance. The result is that July was a pretty negative month! Whether that reflects more the state of the world or the state of my mind, or some combination, you can decide.
Negative stories (-21):
In The Dead Hand, I learned that the risk of nuclear annihilation in the 1980s was greater than I thought, and the true story of Soviet biological weapons production was much worse than I thought. (-3)
I playfully pointed out that the Pope’s encyclical contains some themes that sound like the more lucid paragraphs in the Unabomber Manifesto, namely that the amoral pursuit of technology has improved our level of material comfort and physical health while devastating the natural world, creating new risks, and leaving us feeling empty somehow. (-1)
Bumblebees are getting squeezed by climate change. (-1)
The Cold War seems to be rearing its ugly head. (-2)
Joel Kotkin and other anti-urban voices like him want to make sure you don’t have the choice of living in a walkable community. (-2)
I think Obama may be remembered as an effective, conservative president, in the dictionary sense of playing it safe and avoiding major mistakes. Navigating the financial crisis, achieving some financial and health care reforms, and defusing several wars and conflicts are probably his greatest achievements. However, if a major war or financial crisis erupts in the near future that can be traced back to decisions he made, his legacy will suffer whether it is fair or not. (-0)
Passive house technology is slowly drifting from Europe back to the U.S., where it was first invented but then forgotten. (+1)
Cities seem to cause depression, and nature seems to cure it. Since we can’t send everybody in the cities to the countryside (because by definition that would just reverse the two), we have to bring nature to the city. (+1)