The long-term lessons America learns from the coronavirus pandemic will spell life or death.
- As the US commences its early stages of COVID-19 vaccinations, Michael Dowling, president and CEO of Northwell Health, argues that now is not the time to relax. "There are lessons to be learned by systems like ours based upon our experience," says Dowling, adding that "we know what these lessons are, and we're working on them."
- The four major takeaways that Dowling has identified are that the United States was unprepared and slow to react, that we need a domestic supply chain so that we aren't relying on other countries, that there needs to be more domestic and international cooperation, and that leadership roles in public health must be filled by public health experts.
- If and when another pandemic hits (in the hopefully distant future), the country—and by extension the world—will be in a much better place to deal with it.
Humans churn out about 30 gigatons (30,000,000,000 tons) of material every year.
- The study compared estimates of the planet's total biomass (the mass of all living things) with anthropogenic mass, which includes all human-made materials.
- Every year, humans are bringing materials into the world at a higher rate.
- Concrete is the single biggest contributor to anthropogenic mass and it's a major source of greenhouse-gas emissions, suggesting that finding more sustainable alternatives could help curb climate change.
The Anthropocene<p>In 2000, the atmospheric chemist Paul J. Crutzen proposed that human activity has ushered us into a new geological epoch.</p><p>An epoch is a subdivision of geologic timescale. These broad categories help scientists think about changes on Earth over long periods of time. Currently, Earth is considered to be in the:</p><ul><li>Cenozoic Era — 66 million years ago</li><li>Quaternary Period — 2.6 million years ago</li><li>Holocene Epoch — 11,650 years ago</li></ul><p>The Holocene Epoch began at about the time when the planet was warming, glaciers were melting, and humans were beginning the agricultural revolution. Scientists like Crutzen argue that it's worth distinguishing the Holocene from our present human-driven epoch, the Anthropocene. (<em>Anthro </em>meaning "human", <em>cene </em>meaning "new".)</p><p>Proponents of the concept note that human activity has caused marked changes and damage to the planet, including <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/117/24/13596#:~:text=The%20ongoing%20sixth%20mass%20species,the%20degradation%20of%20ecosystem%20services." target="_blank">the sixth mass extinction</a>, the pollution of oceans and the atmosphere, and large-scale changes to the planet's terrain through agriculture, dwellings and industry, which currently cover 70 percent of land.</p>
Elhacham et al.<p>Not all scientists agree with the idea, and it hasn't been officially accepted by the geological community. These critics generally argue that while humans have left a mark on the planet, it's not significant or observable enough to warrant the creation of a new epoch. And some take issue with the political motivations that may underlie the concept.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The proliferation of this concept can mainly be traced back to the fact that, under the guise of scientific neutrality, it conveys a message of almost unparalleled moral-political urgency," <a href="https://books.google.com/books?id=w65mDwAAQBAJ&pg=PT6&lpg=PT6&dq=%E2%80%9CThe+proliferation+of+this+concept+can+mainly+be+traced+back+to+the+fact+that,+under+the+guise+of+scientific+neutrality,+it+conveys+a+message+of+almost+unparalleled+moral-political+urgency&source=bl&ots=QLcKzXWGx6&sig=ACfU3U2cUDn4VZkKwe64CeAdPJNJm5vhAg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwi_xI_qyMbtAhVKaM0KHbz8Cp0Q6AEwAnoECAUQAg#v=onepage&q=%E2%80%9CThe%20proliferation%20of%20this%20concept%20can%20mainly%20be%20traced%20back%20to%20the%20fact%20that%2C%20under%20the%20guise%20of%20scientific%20neutrality%2C%20it%20conveys%20a%20message%20of%20almost%20unparalleled%20moral-political%20urgency&f=false" target="_blank">wrote</a> the German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk.</p><p>Still, the researchers behind the recent study said the findings give "a mass-based quantitative and symbolic characterization of the human-induced epoch of the Anthropocene."</p>
Concrete<p>But never mind the Anthropocene or Holocene debate: It's clear that humans are producing a ton of stuff, and that stuff eventually becomes waste. So, what are policymakers and scientists supposed to do with this information?</p><p>The recent findings don't necessarily hold an answer, but they do highlight the single largest contributor to total human-made stuff: concrete. It's the most widely used material on Earth, and also one of the main culprits in emissions of greenhouse gas. </p><p>A <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-020-0733-0" target="_blank">2020 study published in Nature</a> found that, in terms of total emissions contributions, concrete production is responsible for "7.8% of nitrogen oxide emissions, 4.8% of sulfur oxide emissions, 5.2% of particulate matter emissions smaller than 10 microns and 6.4% of particulate emissions smaller than 2.5 microns."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If we invented concrete today, nobody would think it was a good idea," said architectural engineer and panel member Michael Ramage, an architectural engineer and member of Architecture of Emergency, at a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4tpHi3DLAIk" target="_blank">2019 summit</a>. "We've got this liquid and you need special trucks, and it takes two weeks to get hard. And it doesn't even work if you don't put steel in it."</p><p>In 2018, the Global Cement and Concrete Association issued six <a href="https://gccassociation.org/news/gcca-launches-sustainability-guidelines/" target="_blank">Sustainability Guidelines</a> to encourage better practices for the 30 percent of the cement and concrete production companies it represents. Still, it's unclear the extent to which the industry could make itself more sustainable. </p><p>One sustainable alternative building material to concrete is <a href="https://bigthink.com/technology-innovation/concrete-climate-change?rebelltitem=2#rebelltitem2" target="_blank">cross-laminated timber,</a> which is as strong as concrete, but is able to store carbon, which could help lower the carbon footprint of buildings.</p>
Ready to see the future? Nanotronics CEO Matthew Putman talks innovation and the solutions that are within reach.
Innovation in manufacturing has crawled since the 1950s. That's about to speed up. Using a combination of imagination and technology, science tech company Nanotronics aims to revolutionize the factory floor so that industries can have a smaller factory footprint, produce less waste, and rapidly increase the speed from R&D to production—it's this very philosophy that allowed Nanotronics to pivot and manufacture ventilators as a rapid response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.
- A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
- Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
- Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
A pile of recycled cardboard sits on the ground at Recology's Recycle Central on January 4, 2018 in San Francisco, California.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images<p>A large part of the reason is speed. In a competitive market, pure players use the equation, <em>speed + convenience</em>, to drive adoption. This is especially relevant to the "last mile" GHG footprint: the distance between the distribution center and the consumer.</p><p>Interestingly, the smallest GHG footprint occurs when you order directly from a physical store—even smaller than going there yourself. Pure players, such as Amazon, are the greatest offenders. Variables like geographic location matter; the team looked at shopping in the UK, the US, China, and the Netherlands. </p><p>Sadegh Shahmohammadi, a PhD student at the Netherlands' Radboud University and corresponding author of the paper, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/26/tech/greenhouse-gas-emissions-retail/index.html" target="_blank">says</a> the above "pattern holds true in countries where people mostly drive. It really depends on the country and consumer behavior there."</p><p>The researchers write that this year-and-a-half long study pushes back on previous research that claims online shopping to be better in terms of GHG footprints.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They have, however, compared the GHG emissions per shopping event and did not consider the link between the retail channels and the basket size, which leads to a different conclusion than that of the current study."</p><p>Online retail is where convenience trumps environment: people tend to order one item at a time when shopping on pure player sites, whereas they stock up on multiple items when visiting a store. Consumers will sometimes order a number of separate items over the course of a week rather than making one trip to purchase everything they need. </p><p>While greening efforts by online retailers are important, until a shift in consumer attitude changes, the current carbon footprint will be a hard obstacle to overcome. Amazon is trying to have it both ways—carbon-free and convenience addicted—and the math isn't adding up. If you need to order things, do it online, but try to consolidate your purchases as much as possible.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
The best and worst of yesterday has created the economy of today.
- Adam Davidson, co-founder of NPR's Planet Money, can trace a line through time from homemade clothing and baked goods to today's passion economy. Davidson argues that a combination of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries are how we got to where we are.
- We shifted from an intimate and localized economy of goods and services, to an economy of scale, and finally to what Davidson refers to as "intimacy at scale."
- There are, of course, positive attributes to this hybrid economic system, but it also comes with some of the flaws of its predecessors.