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Climate change to make outdoor work more dangerous
Today's agriculture workers face 21 days of heat that exceed safety standards. That number will double by 2050.
Discussions of the climate crisis tend to view future consequences on a global scale. Hot and more acidic oceans will lead to coral death and species die-offs. Increased growing seasons and less snowpack will stress watersheds. Acts of God (or Mother Nature) such as droughts, hurricanes, and forest fires will become alarmingly frequent parts of our annual routines.
Even when we turn our attention to the human toll, our focus can be statistically stoic. Effects like large-scale human migration, interstate competition for resources, and degradation of habitable land are terrifying, but from our contemporary vantage, they too easily read like local news from several states over. Horrible but distant.
But a recent study in Environmental Research Letters has narrowed the focus. It shows that an increase in global temperatures by 2°C will affect everyone, neighbors and friends, whose job takes them outside.
Turning up the heat index
Three maps showing the maximum daily heat index, in Fahrenheit, for the top 5% of the hottest days in the growing season.
The study's authors spotlighted how the climate crisis will transform agricultural work. They chose agriculture not only because its workers are essential, but because few studies had looked at the men and women who support this economic cornerstone.
"Studies of climate change and agriculture have traditionally focused on crop yield projections, especially staple crops like corn and wheat," Michelle Tigchelaar, the study's lead author and a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University, said in a release. "This study asks what global warming means for the health of agricultural workers picking fruits and vegetables."
The researchers obtained employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' (BLS) Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages program and used it to determine the number of workers in the America's agricultural counties during the growing season (May through September).
They then compared that data to models of climate change, using "business-as-usual scenarios" in which carbon emissions neither increase nor decrease drastically in the coming years. According to these conservative models, global temperatures are projected to increase by 2°C (~36°F) by 2050 and 4°C (~39°F) by 2100.
Finally, the researchers used the heat index—a single value that combines temperature with humidity—to determine risky work conditions. According to OSHA guidelines, a heat index of 91–103° represents a moderate risk and requires precautionary measures. Anything higher represents a serious workplace hazard, requiring additional precautionary measures by employers.
Their use of the heat index is critical as climate change won't only increase the planet's temperature. It will increase global humidity, too.
It's the humidity
Typically, our bodies perspire to cool down. On dry summer days, sweat evaporates from our skin to transfer our metabolic heat into the air around us. But when humidity rises, sweat evaporates much slower as the surrounding air is thick with water.
Because of this, humid days don't just feel hotter. According to our bodies, humid days are hotter. We experience an 88°F day with 85 percent humidity as though it were a stifling 110°F.
Exposure to such heat can cause illnesses such as sunburn, heat cramps, and heat exhaustion. If a person's temperature reaches 103°F or higher, they may suffer from heatstroke which can result in headaches, nausea, fatigue, confusion, loss of consciousness, and even death.
Chronic overheating has been correlated with stress-related heart, kidney, and liver damage, though studies have not shown conclusive causation.
This makes a hotter, more humid planet more dangerous for outdoor workers.
Today, the average U.S. agricultural worker experiences 21 days per growing season when the daily heat index exceeds safety standards. Even then, agricultural workers are four times more likely to suffer heat-related illnesses than non-agricultural workers and suffer four heat-related deaths per one million workers per year, a rate 20 times higher than other U.S. civilian workers.
When global temperatures rise by two degrees, according to the study, the average agricultural worker will face 39 days of heat that exceed safety standards. At four degrees warming, that number grows to 62 days. Their data also show that heatwaves—defined as a three-or-more-day stretches of extreme heat—will become five times as frequent by 2050.
"The climate science community has long been pointing to the global south, the developing countries, as places that will be disproportionately affected by climate change," David Battisti, co-author and a UW professor of atmospheric sciences, said in the same release. "This shows that you don't have to go to the global south to find people who will get hurt with even modest amounts of global warming -- you just have to look in our own backyard."
It's worth noting that those numbers are averages, and agricultural workers in different locations will encounter drastically different conditions.
For example, the study's data show counties in Washington state remaining on the cooler side of the median. Meanwhile, workers in Imperial, California already contend with 105 days that exceed safety standards. By the year 2100, that number will jump to 136—nearly the entire growing season!
The costs will be global
The heat won't just affect agricultural workers; billions of people of people worldwide live without air conditioning and other cooling amenities.
Heat-related illnesses are a concern for all outdoor workers, but agriculture workers are particularly vulnerable as they typically lack health insurance and have low incomes.
The study authors propose strategies to help offset forthcoming heat hazards. They recommend reducing the pace of work; adopting thinner, breathable clothes; and taking longer breaks in cooled and sheltered areas.
But these recommendations come with trade-offs. Breathable clothing is not an option when personal protective gear is necessary to protect workers from dust, pesticides, and UV radiation, and the slower pace would hurt productivity and, as a consequence, worker's already low pay.
According to Patrick Behrer, an environmental and developmental economist and Harvard Ph.D. candidate in the Graduate School of Arts and Scienceswho was not involved in the research, the relationship between heat and pay will take its toll on workers:
"Relative to the other damages of climate change, the impact of any given hot day is small, both in absolute and relative terms; some of our other work suggests that just one additional hot day removes a fraction of a percent of your annual take-home pay. When you start talking about going from eight extremely hot days to 50 extremely hot days, then that adds up very quickly. It also adds up very quickly when you're taking a fraction of a percent of pay away from large parts of the United States."
Of the U.S.'s most fatal occupations, eight of the nine are either performed outdoors or in environments that make heat-regulation difficult to manage, such as iron and steel-working. Without proper preparation, it isn't difficult to imagine how fatigue, confusion, and other heat-related symptoms may exacerbate dangerous conditions for these essential workers.
And it is not only workers. By one study's estimate, the billions of people worldwide who can't afford air conditioning will be at risk—any one of which may be a friend, neighbor, or essential member of society much closer than the next state over.
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What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Is Bitcoin akin to 'digital gold'?
- In October, PayPal announced that it would begin allowing users to buy, sell, and hold cryptocurrencies.
- Other major fintech companies—Square, Fidelity, SoFi—have also recently begun investing heavily in cryptocurrencies.
- While prices are volatile, many investors believe cryptocurrencies are a relatively safe bet because blockchain technology will prove itself over the long term.
Presentation slide from Sanja Kon's presentation on the evolution of money at 2020 Web Summit
Credit: Sanja Kon<p>The move came shortly after the payments company Square invested $50 million into Bitcoin, and after Fidelity announced that it was opening a Bitcoin fund into which qualified purchasers could invest <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-08-26/fidelity-launches-inaugural-bitcoin-fund-for-wealthy-investors" target="_blank">(minimum investment: $100,000)</a>. Together, this institutional backing might have something to do with Bitcoin's recent surge back to near its 2017 price peak of $19,783. (Bitcoin is listed at 19,384.30 as of Dec. 3.)<br></p>
Presentation slide from Sanja Kon's presentation on the evolution of money at 2020 Web Summit
Credit: Sanja Kon<p>But more importantly, it suggests cryptocurrencies might soon have the opportunity to prove themselves in real-world use cases. After all, skeptics have long doubted the ability of cryptocurrencies to go mainstream as a form of everyday payment. But people seem increasingly comfortable with digital payment systems.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The entire world is going to come into digital first," Schulman said at Web Summit, adding that PayPal's services already go hand-in-hand with cryptocurrencies. "As we thought about it, digital wallets are a natural complement to digital currencies. We've got over 360 million digital wallets and we need to embrace cryptocurrencies."</p><p>Sanja Kon, vice president of global partnerships at the cryptocurrency payments processor company UTRUST, also spoke at Web Summit about the increasing adoption of digital payments:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Physical cash is becoming more and more obsolete. And the next step in the evolution is digital currency."</p><p>Kon noted some of the inherent advantages of cryptocurrencies, namely ownership. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"For many people, this is really the main benefit of cryptocurrency: Users owning cryptocurrencies are able to control how they spend their money without dealing with any intermediary authority like a bank or a government, for example," Kon said, adding that there are no bank fees associated with cryptocurrencies, and that international transaction fees are significantly lower than wire transfers of fiat currency.</p><p>Kon said cryptocurrencies have unique growth opportunities in areas where people aren't integrated into modern banking systems:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"With cryptocurrencies and blockchain, with the use of just a smartphone and access to internet, Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies can be available to populations of people and users without access to the traditional banking system."</p>
Bitcoin as 'digital gold'<p>Still, it could take years for people to start using cryptocurrencies for everyday purchases on a large scale. Despite this, many cryptocurrency advocates see digital currencies, particularly Bitcoin, as a way to store value—digital gold, essentially.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"I don't think Bitcoin is going to be used as a transactional currency anytime in the next five years," billionaire investor Mike Novogratz recently told <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-10-23/novogratz-says-bitcoin-is-digital-gold-not-a-currency-for-now?srnd=markets-vp" target="_blank">Bloomberg</a>. "Bitcoin is being used as a store of value. [...] "Bitcoin as a gold, as digital gold, is just going to keep going higher. More and more people are going to want it as some portion of their portfolio."</p><p>There are obvious parallels between gold and Bitcoin: Both are mined, do not degrade over time, are finite in supply, and aren't directly tied to the value of fiat currency, making them <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-gold-inflation/gold-as-an-inflation-hedge-well-sort-of-idUSKCN1GD516" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">relatively invulnerable to inflation</a>. The obvious objection is that the price of Bitcoin, and cryptocurrencies in general, is far more volatile than gold.</p><p>But for investors who believe the inherent value of cryptocurrency technology will prove itself over the long term, these price fluctuations are just bumps on the long road to the future of currency. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It's no longer a debate if crypto is a thing, if Bitcoin is an asset, if the blockchain is going to be part of the financial infrastructure," Novogratz said. "It's not if, it's when, and so every single company has to have a plan now."</p>
A new study finds that some people just want privacy.
- Despite its reputation as a tool for criminals, only a small percentage of Tor users were actually going to the dark web.
- The rate was higher in free countries and lower in countries with censored internet access.
- The findings are controversial, and may be limited by their methodology to be general assumptions.