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Going Green Like We Mean It

Question: What would a responsible national energy policy look like?

Alex Matthiessen: Well I tell you, I think the simple answer to or let me rephrase that, it’s actually not so simple but I think that a key to environmental problems in general and energy issues in particular is that we need a tax or a cap in auction program, trading program is a different way to do it but I think you need to make it expensive to emit carbon and frankly emit other pollutants into the atmosphere and expensive to pollute our waterways and so on and until you do that I think that the risk we run is that all the green work that we’re doing and it has become so popular over the last year or two is just a passing fad. You really have to make polluting cost money for these companies and in terms of an energy policy again there’s no quicker way to start to develop all these promising technologies in terms of the biofuels and solar and wind and geothermal and cell fuel technology and so on until gasoline and oil becomes prohibitively expensive and, you know, I’m not saying they should be unfairly taxed, the problem is that those, again those fuel sources have been subsidized for so long that we are not capturing the true cost of using those sources, you know, in terms of all the money that goes into building national highway system, all of the health impacts that burning fossil fuels have on our health, the climate change impacts that are coming down the road that we’re already seeing, which are gonna have huge economic impacts on our economy and so on. So the key in my view is to make carbon emissions cost real money and the only real way and the most efficient way to do that is through a carbon tax.

Question: What, if anything, can sustain the green movement?

Alex Matthiessen: Well, you know, the truth is that the environmental movement in my view has been enormously successful in its, you know, modern incarnation, you know, meaning from the late ‘60s early ‘70s when we passed our modern environmental laws til now, we’ve had huge gains there. We eliminated ozone polluting chemicals and we’ve done a lot but the problem is, is that we’re such a specialized country that it’s really been left up mostly to environmental groups and environmentalists to do this work and we’ve been up against enormous odds, you know, you’ve been up against these corporations that, you know, the way the system works, don’t have a real clear financial interest in protecting the environment all the time and frankly the government doesn’t do a very good job of enforcing the laws which is another regulatory way to stop companies from polluting. And you have certainly the concern of a lot of Americans who support us but they’ve got a million concerns and the environment often is kind of ranked low.

So it’s really the environmentalist and the environmental groups kind of working on their own with a vast gap in resources, you know, to take on some of these colossally large, expensive programs. So I think one of the results of that has been that our progress has been relatively incremental and because of that we are now starting to realize that some of the gains that we’ve made haven’t been nearly enough and you’re starting to see real kind of ecological crisis and collapse and potential for collapse, you know, when you’re talking about our fisheries, our air quality, you know, record level asthma rates, a change in climate and so on. So suddenly Mother Nature is speaking back to us and telling us that whatever progress we’ve made isn’t nearly enough and we gotta do a lot more.

So I think in order for us to get to the next level as an environmental movement if you will, it has to be about every American, every citizen in the world, we have to recognize that we’re all in this together. We can no longer say “Okay, they’re the environmentalists, they’re gonna take care of the problem or technology’s gonna take care of the problem” everybody has to take a very hard look at the way that they’re living and that we’re living together and figure out how to minimize their impact on the planet and it can no longer be just write your check and send it off to Riverkeeper, NRGC or one of these other groups, we’ve got to have everybody doing their part and really making those personal lifestyle changes and choices in order to minimize that impact and, you know, the myth is I think that it’s gonna mean a radically—it’s gonna mean this radical sacrifice and that we are gonna have to, you know, go back to cavemen days and living very frugally and uncomfortably and so on. I don’t think that has to be the case at all, I think that we can live very, very comfortable lives without having such a big impact on our environment.

Unless a realistic, responsible national energy policy can keep it current, "green" may prove to be a passing fad.

Does conscious AI deserve rights?

If machines develop consciousness, or if we manage to give it to them, the human-robot dynamic will forever be different.

Videos
  • Does AI—and, more specifically, conscious AI—deserve moral rights? In this thought exploration, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, ethics and tech professor Joanna Bryson, philosopher and cognitive scientist Susan Schneider, physicist Max Tegmark, philosopher Peter Singer, and bioethicist Glenn Cohen all weigh in on the question of AI rights.
  • Given the grave tragedy of slavery throughout human history, philosophers and technologists must answer this question ahead of technological development to avoid humanity creating a slave class of conscious beings.
  • One potential safeguard against that? Regulation. Once we define the context in which AI requires rights, the simplest solution may be to not build that thing.

A new hydrogel might be strong enough for knee replacements

Duke University researchers might have solved a half-century old problem.

Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • Duke University researchers created a hydrogel that appears to be as strong and flexible as human cartilage.
  • The blend of three polymers provides enough flexibility and durability to mimic the knee.
  • The next step is to test this hydrogel in sheep; human use can take at least three years.
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Hints of the 4th dimension have been detected by physicists

What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?

Two different experiments show hints of a 4th spatial dimension. Credit: Zilberberg Group / ETH Zürich
Technology & Innovation

Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.

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Predicting PTSD symptoms becomes possible with a new test

An algorithm may allow doctors to assess PTSD candidates for early intervention after traumatic ER visits.

Image source: camillo jimenez/Unsplash
Technology & Innovation
  • 10-15% of people visiting emergency rooms eventually develop symptoms of long-lasting PTSD.
  • Early treatment is available but there's been no way to tell who needs it.
  • Using clinical data already being collected, machine learning can identify who's at risk.

The psychological scars a traumatic experience can leave behind may have a more profound effect on a person than the original traumatic experience. Long after an acute emergency is resolved, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to suffer its consequences.

In the U.S. some 30 million patients are annually treated in emergency departments (EDs) for a range of traumatic injuries. Add to that urgent admissions to the ED with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Health experts predict that some 10 percent to 15 percent of these people will develop long-lasting PTSD within a year of the initial incident. While there are interventions that can help individuals avoid PTSD, there's been no reliable way to identify those most likely to need it.

That may now have changed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has developed a method for predicting who is most likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic emergency-room experience. Their study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.

70 data points and machine learning

nurse wrapping patient's arm

Image source: Creators Collective/Unsplash

Study lead author Katharina Schultebraucks of Columbia University's Department Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says:

"For many trauma patients, the ED visit is often their sole contact with the health care system. The time immediately after a traumatic injury is a critical window for identifying people at risk for PTSD and arranging appropriate follow-up treatment. The earlier we can treat those at risk, the better the likely outcomes."

The new PTSD test uses machine learning and 70 clinical data points plus a clinical stress-level assessment to develop a PTSD score for an individual that identifies their risk of acquiring the condition.

Among the 70 data points are stress hormone levels, inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an anxiety-level assessment. Says Schultebraucks, "We selected measures that are routinely collected in the ED and logged in the electronic medical record, plus answers to a few short questions about the psychological stress response. The idea was to create a tool that would be universally available and would add little burden to ED personnel."

Researchers used data from adult trauma survivors in Atlanta, Georgia (377 individuals) and New York City (221 individuals) to test their system.

Of this cohort, 90 percent of those predicted to be at high risk developed long-lasting PTSD symptoms within a year of the initial traumatic event — just 5 percent of people who never developed PTSD symptoms had been erroneously identified as being at risk.

On the other side of the coin, 29 percent of individuals were 'false negatives," tagged by the algorithm as not being at risk of PTSD, but then developing symptoms.

Going forward

person leaning their head on another's shoulder

Image source: Külli Kittus/Unsplash

Schultebraucks looks forward to more testing as the researchers continue to refine their algorithm and to instill confidence in the approach among ED clinicians: "Because previous models for predicting PTSD risk have not been validated in independent samples like our model, they haven't been adopted in clinical practice." She expects that, "Testing and validation of our model in larger samples will be necessary for the algorithm to be ready-to-use in the general population."

"Currently only 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD," notes Schultebraucks. "We hope that the algorithm will provide ED clinicians with a rapid, automatic readout that they could use for discharge planning and the prevention of PTSD." She envisions the algorithm being implemented in the future as a feature of electronic medical records.

The researchers also plan to test their algorithm at predicting PTSD in people whose traumatic experiences come in the form of health events such as heart attacks and strokes, as opposed to visits to the emergency department.

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