Hey Bill Nye! What's the Best Way to Handle Overpopulation?
How will we deal with the impending overpopulation crisis – and how much of a crisis is it anyway?
Bill Nye, scientist, engineer, comedian, author, and inventor, is a man with a mission: to help foster a scientifically literate society, to help people everywhere understand and appreciate the science that makes our world work. Making science entertaining and accessible is something Bill has been doing most of his life.
In Seattle Nye began to combine his love of science with his flair for comedy, when he won the Steve Martin look-alike contest and developed dual careers as an engineer by day and a stand-up comic by night. Nye then quit his day engineering day job and made the transition to a night job as a comedy writer and performer on Seattle’s home-grown ensemble comedy show “Almost Live.” This is where “Bill Nye the Science Guy®” was born. The show appeared before Saturday Night Live and later on Comedy Central, originating at KING-TV, Seattle’s NBC affiliate.
While working on the Science Guy show, Nye won seven national Emmy Awards for writing, performing, and producing. The show won 18 Emmys in five years. In between creating the shows, he wrote five children’s books about science, including his latest title, “Bill Nye’s Great Big Book of Tiny Germs.”
Nye is the host of three currently-running television series. “The 100 Greatest Discoveries” airs on the Science Channel. “The Eyes of Nye” airs on PBS stations across the country.
Bill’s latest project is hosting a show on Planet Green called “Stuff Happens.” It’s about environmentally responsible choices that consumers can make as they go about their day and their shopping. Also, you’ll see Nye in his good-natured rivalry with his neighbor Ed Begley. They compete to see who can save the most energy and produce the smallest carbon footprint. Nye has 4,000 watts of solar power and a solar-boosted hot water system. There’s also the low water use garden and underground watering system. It’s fun for him; he’s an engineer with an energy conservation hobby.
Nye is currently the Executive Director of The Planetary Society, the world’s largest space interest organization.
Martina: Hey Bill it's Martina from Slovakia. I'm studying medical chemistry and I have two questions to be answered. The first one is the question how would you probably solve the problem of still growing population? And the second question is very important is…
Bill Nye: Will I marry you? So Martina, I'll get to your second question at the end. A growing population is a problem, but notice that the rate that the human population is growing is slowing down and this is almost certainly not so much a consequence of finite resources, which is what people like Malfis speculated late in the 18th century, it's not a question of finite resources it's apparently raising the standard of living of women and girls, people like you. As women and girls get better educated they have fewer kids and the kids they do have have more resources so they're better taken care of and they are more successful. So what we want to do, in my world over here in science education, is get women and girls around the world as educated as best we can as fast as we can so that there will be more resources per person in the coming years. The world's population is almost certainly going to go to nine billion humans, it very well may go to ten billion. And apparently the earth has enough resources for that and we just have to redistribute or reconfigure the way we use energy, water and the way we distribute information.
These are solvable problems and I'm excited to be working on them everyday. Like even right now I'm working on of them. So how do we go about doing this? It's important to keep in mind that if somebody in Niger has five kids, the impact of each of those five kids on the world's environment is far, far less than the effect of me on the world's environment. I live in the United States in a developed country; we use energy like crazy; we use clean water like crazy; most of us have access to the Internet. My environmental impact is way higher because I fly around in planes; I got here on an electric subway train; we're on the electric computer systems right now so my effect in the environment is way higher than kids in the developing world. But what we want to do is not do less for people in the developed world, we want to do more for people in the developing world with less. We want to use our resources more efficiently and that's where young people like you come in. You're studying chemistry and biology, you are going to make the changes to our agricultural systems, our disease management and the way we educate the people in your class and the people coming behind you, I'm talking about women and girls. We're going to change all that.
And so I talked about this all the time, we want renewably produced reliable electricity for everybody in the world, we want clean water for everybody in the world and we want access to information to the Internet for everybody in the world because when you provide those things people have a chance to get educated. They have access to educational materials, they have access to good food and a healthy lifestyle because they don't have to combat diseases as much and they become more productive. And so it is women like you that are going to make all this happen.
Now as far as whether or not I'll marry you, I'll have to say it's unlikely. I don't want to say categorically no because I got a glimpse of you, but I just wouldn't count on it. I just wouldn't count on it. We live in different countries; we're from different cultures; my assessment based on the videos we're of different ages with different life experiences and you would just want something else in about 15 minutes. But thank you. I'm flattered for the question. Carry on.
The population is growing, says Bill Nye, but it’s important to note that the rate of growth is slowing down. Why? Because the more our societies educate girls, the fewer children they have once they’re women. The population will very likely rise to 9 or 10 billion people and the world does have enough resources to look after us all, provided we do three things to redistribute resources globally, not just in developed nations. We need to produce reliable renewable energy to get electricity to every individual on the planet. We need to use that clean energy to increase the quality of water sanitation systems in developing nations so we lose less time and lives combating diseases, time which children could better spend in school. We must continue to educate girls and women, as quickly as we can, which means providing access to the internet and other information resources, globally. It’s in our best interest; if women have more control over their lives and reproductive choices, the world’s resources become more ample for each individual. Bill Nye's most recent book is Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World.
Bill Nye's most recent book is Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World.
A large new study uses an online game to inoculate people against fake news.
- Researchers from the University of Cambridge use an online game to inoculate people against fake news.
- The study sample included 15,000 players.
- The scientists hope to use such tactics to protect whole societies against disinformation.
Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.
- Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
- They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
- The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.
The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?
But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.
What's dead may never die, it seems
The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.
BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.
The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.
As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.
The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.
"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.
An ethical gray matter
Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.
The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.
Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.
Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?
"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."
One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.
The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.
"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.
It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.
Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?
The dilemma is unprecedented.
Setting new boundaries
Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."
She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.
Many governments do not report, or misreport, the numbers of refugees who enter their country.
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