A 2013 study estimated the number of annual premature deaths due to air pollution in the U.S. at about 200,000. That’s kind of a shocking number considering it is more than deaths from other preventable causes like car accidents and suicides. An interesting (not in a good way) finding is that road transportation causes more deaths (~53,000/yr) from air pollution than from crashes. On the other hand, it means you can kill two birds with one stone when you institute policies and technologies that reduce vehicle emissions, driving, or both. Of course, a shift to electric cars just shifts the emissions to power plants in the short term, but that means many fewer centralized sources of emissions, which might be easier to deal with. A shift to more muscle-powered transportation in our cities is a huge win in terms of health (less violent death and injuries, less death from dirty air, more exercise in all that clean fresh air, probably better mental health), and a win in terms of land use and vibrancy and getting to know one another in our cities.
Combustion emissions adversely impact air quality and human health. A multiscale air quality model is applied to assess the health impacts of major emissions sectors in United States. Emissions are classified according to six different sources: electric power generation, industry, commercial and residential sources, road transportation, marine transportation and rail transportation. Epidemiological evidence is used to relate long-term population exposure to sector-induced changes in the concentrations of PM2.5 and ozone to incidences of premature death. Total combustion emissions in the U.S. account for about 200,000 (90% CI: 90,000–362,000) premature deaths per year in the U.S. due to changes in PM2.5 concentrations, and about 10,000 (90% CI: −1000 to 21,000) deaths due to changes in ozone concentrations. The largest contributors for both pollutant-related mortalities are road transportation, causing ∼53,000 (90% CI: 24,000–95,000) PM2.5-related deaths and ∼5000 (90% CI: −900 to 11,000) ozone-related early deaths per year, and power generation, causing ∼52,000 (90% CI: 23,000–94,000) PM2.5-related and ∼2000 (90% CI: −300 to 4000) ozone-related premature mortalities per year. Industrial emissions contribute to ∼41,000 (90% CI: 18,000–74,000) early deaths from PM2.5 and ∼2000 (90% CI: 0–4000) early deaths from ozone. The results are indicative of the extent to which policy measures could be undertaken in order to mitigate the impact of specific emissions from different sectors — in particular black carbon emissions from road transportation and sulfur dioxide emissions from power generation.
The Onion shared this uncharacteristically unfunny observation: “MYTH: There is nothing mankind can do to prevent climate change. FACT: There is nothing mankind will do to prevent climate change”. It’s not funny because it’s probably true.
There were 910 deaths from drug overdose in Philadelphia last year. Interestingly, I started writing a post thinking I might compare that to car accidents, and ended up concluding that the lack of a functioning health care system might be our #1 problem in the U.S.
On the climate front: There are some new ideas for decoupling human wellbeing from energy use by focusing on the distinction between needs and wants, which mainstream economics does not do. Electric cars and self-driving cars may explode onto the scene at the same time. Al Gore released An Inconvenient Sequel. Will it start to turn the tide against willful ignorance of science and logic? Fingers crossed, although I doubt the people who are most impervious to science and logic will watch it. Maybe there are still some people on the fence who will.
Most interesting stories, that were not particularly frightening or hopeful, or perhaps were a mixture of both:
Tile is a sort of wireless keychain that can help you find your keys, wallet, and those other pesky things you are always misplacing (or your significant other is moving, but won’t admit it).
“Fleur de lawn” is a mix of perennial rye, hard fescue, micro clover, yarrow, Achillea millefolium, sweet alyssum, Lobularia maritima, baby blue eyes, Nemophila menziesi, English daisy, Bellis perennis, and O’Connor’s strawberry clover, Trifolium fragiferum.
The Ohio attorney general is suing pharmaceutical companies over their role in the opioid crisis. Who knows if it goes anywhere, but if it does I can imagine this being as big as the tabacco lawsuits, and eventually every state will want a piece. In other words, the argument would be that massive highly profitable companies are making their profits by killing their customers, are well aware of it, and are hiding it. Unlike cigarettes though, there are clearly legitimate uses of the drugs, they are prescribed by doctors, and there are all kinds of warnings printed on the labels.
This also reminded me of the very long expose from the LA Times called Oxycontin’s 12-Hour Problem. I admit I haven’t read the whole thing, but the basic problem is they tell people in excruciating pain the drug will work for 12 hours, only it doesn’t, so they take it more often to help with the excruciating pain, but it is only safe to take it every 12 hours.
La Paz, Bolivia, is in a serious crisis caused by loss of its glacier-fed water supply. At the same time we are losing glaciers and snowpack in important food-growing regions, the global groundwater situation is also looking bleak. And for those of us trying to do our little part for water conservation, investing in a residential graywater system can take around 15 years to break even at current costs and water rates.
Trump admires Andrew Jackson, who I consider a genocidal lunatic and the worst President in U.S. history.
Fluoridated drinking water could eventually be looked back on as a really stupid idea that damaged several generations of developing brains, like leaded gasoline. Or not…I’m not sure who to believe on the issue but caution is clearly warranted.
Most hopeful stories:
A new political survey says there is a chance that a majority of Americans are not bat-shit crazy. Which suggests they might not be too serious about Steve Bannon, who believes in some bat-shit crazy stuff. There are a number of apps and guides out there to help sane people pester our elected representatives when they fail to represent our interests.
South Korean women are projected to be the first to break the barrier of an average life expectancy of 90, with a 50% probability of this happening by 2030.
Advanced power strips can reduce the so-called “vampire loads” of our modern electronic devices that are never really off.
Most interesting stories, that were not particularly frightening or hopeful, or perhaps were a mixture of both:
This long NASA article first gets you excited about the possibility of life on eight new planets it has just discovered, and then throws cold water (actually, make that lethal X-rays) all over your excitement.
Bill Gates has proposed a “robot tax”. The basic idea is that if and when automation starts to increase productivity, you could tax the increase in profits and use the money to help any workers displaced by the automation. In related somewhat boring economic news, there are a variety of theories as to why a raise in the minimum wage does not appear to cause unemployment as classical economic theory would predict.
CRISPR could be used to create new crops out of the wild ancestors of our current crops.
A coalition of groups including the American Academy of Environmental Medicine and the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology is petitioning the EPA to ban the practice of water fluoridation.
EPA should exercise its authority under TSCA to prohibit fluoridation additives because application of the Agency’s own Guidelines for Neurotoxicity Risk Assessment to the existing database on fluoride shows that (1) neurotoxicity is a hazard of fluoride exposure, and (2) the reference dose that would reasonably protect against this hazard is incompatible with the doses now ingested by millions of Americans in fluoridated areas. In fact, the amount of fluoride now regularly consumed by many people in fluoridated areas exceeds the doses repeatedly linked to IQ loss and other neurotoxic effects; with certain subpopulations standing at elevated risk of harm, including infants, young children, elderly populations, and those with dietary deficiencies, renal impairment, and/or genetic predispositions.
The risk to the brain posed by fluoridation additives is an unreasonable risk because, inter alia, it is now understood that fluoride’s predominant effect on tooth decay comes from topical contact with teeth, not ingestion. Since there is little benefit in swallowing fluoride, there is little justification in exposing the public to any risk of fluoride neurotoxicity, particularly via a source as essential to human sustenance as the public drinking water and the many processed foods and beverages made therefrom. The addition of fluoridation chemicals to water thus represents the very type of unreasonable risk that EPA is duly authorized to prohibit pursuant to its powers and responsibilities under Section 6 of TSCA, and Petitioners urge the Agency to exercise its authority to do so.
I admit I hadn’t heard of these particular groups, but at first glance they appear to be reputable. I might have previously lumped the anti-fluoride movement in with the anti-vaccine movement or the anti-global warming movement, as pseudo-scientific mumbo jumbo at best and a serious danger to the public at worse. But unlike vaccines, the health benefits of fluoridation might not be all that great. If something is not useful and we are not sure if it is toxic or not, there is a strong argument for erring on the side of caution. Maybe one day we’ll look back at water fluoridation similarly to how we look at leaded gasoline or mercury thermometers today – “what were we thinking?”
The Doomsday Clock was moved to 2.5 minutes to midnight. The worst it has ever been was 2 minutes to midnight in the early 1980s. In related news, the idea of a U.S.-China war is looking a bit more plausible. The U.S. military may be considering sending ground troops to Syria.
Russian hackers are cheating slot machines by figuring out the pattern on pseudo-random numbers they generate.
From a new book called Homo Deus: “For the first time ever, more people die from eating too much than from eating too little; more people die from old age than from infectious diseases; and more people commit suicide than are killed by soldiers, terrorists and criminals put together. The average American is a thousand times more likely to die from binging at McDonalds than from being blown up by Al Qaeda.”
The Lancet has an open-access article on projected life expectancies in 35 industrialized countries by 2030. A few interesting findings are that South Korea seems to have some of the longest life expectancies and some of the largest gains in life expectancy among both sexes. South Korean women are projected to be the first to break the barrier of an average life expectancy of 90, with a 50% probability of this happening by 2030. The USA is consistently below the middle of the pack. The good news is that life expectancy is projected to increase in all countries studied, and the gap between men and women is projected to narrow. The graphics in this article are really interesting – I have picked just one below.
Figure 3 from Future life expectancy in 35 industrialised countries: projections with a Bayesian model ensemble
Teeth – I have always thought they are one of the weakest links in our evolution, and an example of how nature does not always come up with an optimal design. They just don’t make any sense. Why make them out of substances that dissolve in acid when most of our food is made of acid? They just don’t last as long as most of our other body parts, and they cause us tremendous pain and suffering. Maybe in the future we will just have them all pulled out at some point and replaced with titanium or something else durable. Something I didn’t know, though, is that teeth actually have the ability to heal themselves at a slow rate, and this ability could maybe be accelerated using drugs.
The geopolitical situation is not good. If Russia did hack the U.S. election, it wouldn’t be the first election they have hacked. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are not over, and the rest of the greater Middle East is increasingly a mess.