Where are we?

Well it’s a lot better than a lot of people thought it was gonna be. Let’s start with that. It is rather surprising to me in some ways that it’s done this well this long, because I was taught at the University of Chicago and Northwestern that it was terribly important for countries to have savings, and to invest a lot in the future. And that had a lot to do with how well they’re doing. Well America today has the lowest savings rate it has had in many, many years. At the national level, it’s fallen dramatically from 10, 11% of the GDP as we call it down to one or two. Personal savings rates stunningly have gone from nine percent of our disposable income to a minus one percent. And we’ve become very gifted, ardent, robust consumers and borrowers, and not savers. Now the big question is . . . We’ve become huge borrowers as a country with our very large deficit. We’ve become borrowers at the consumer level with very hard debt levels and a really lousy savings level. And the big question I have about the American economy is not today . . . but it’s how long we think we can continue, because we’ve got some huge challenges that are coming. There are 78 million baby boomers, plus the size of the current generation due to begin retiring next year. We have Social Security and Medicare that are programs that are . . . where we’ve made a lot of promises but we haven’t funded them. And we’ve grossly misled the American people with such euphemisms as the Social Security Trust Fund. I argue that it’s an oxymoron, and it shouldn’t be trusted and it’s not funded because the money has already been spent. We haven’t provided for those programs. We are getting to be fancy language; but if something called a “current account deficit”, which measures our deficits abroad, which is largely a trade deficit . . . It’s now twice as high a percentage of the economy than it’s ever been in American history. And we’re borrowing, borrowing, and borrowing and becoming _______ and I think destructively dependent on the long run on Chinese money, and Japanese money, and Asian money and so forth. And which they lend us this money. But you know it’s a funny thing about borrowing. You have to pay it back some time. And as a country, we can’t continue to borrow seven percent of the economy, which is what we’re borrowing now, for very many years without looking like a very different America than we have now. So I think the economy today is in pretty good shape; but it’s getting pretty turbulent now with housing. And housing is a wonderful example. I did quite a study about 18 months ago, and I was simply astonished at the number of people who bought homes no money down. It’s called “interest only”. And then I was astonished that even though mortgage rates at the lowest level in 30 years have averaged around 9.7% or something like that, and now they’re like six, people are not taking long term fixed mortgages. About half of them are taking what are called “adjustable rate mortgages”. Well one might say, “Gee, that’s fine if we have a lot of savings that we’ve stacked away, and if we aren’t borrowing very much for other purposes.” That isn’t true. We’re borrowing more _______ income than we have in many, many years. So now we’ve had this big blowout of the so-called “subprime mortgage” market. And today I hear in the press that housing prices are falling and so forth. What did we think was going to happen? How are these loans gonna get paid back? We don’t have any savings, and we’re already heavily borrowed. So my concerns about the economy of this country are much more in the future, and much more of our culture. We have become one of the biggest savers in the world. And saving, remember, is a metaphor for the future. We’ve become the biggest consumers and borrowers in the world, which is kind of another way of saying, “I want it all. I want it now, and I don’t want to give up anything.” And a kind of “to hell with the future.” Well I’m far more concerned with America’s economic future 10, 15, 20 years from now than I am with what happens over the next six months. Recorded On: 7/26/07

Debt, Peterson says, is a tricky thing. Eventually, you have to pay it back.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

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No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

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Hold your breath at Marble Arch!

Air pollution up to five times over the EU limit in Central London hotspots

  • Dirty air is an invisible killer, but an effective one.
  • A recent study estimates that more than 9,000 people die prematurely in London each year due to air pollution.
  • This map visualises the worst places to breathe in Central London.

The Great Smog of 1952

London used to be famous for its 'pea-soupers': combinations of smoke and fog caused by burning coal for power and heating.

All that changed after the Great Smog of 1952, when weather conditions created a particularly dense and persistent layer of pollution. For a number of days, visibility was reduced to as little as one foot, making traffic impossible. The fog even crept indoors, leading to cancellations of theatre and film showings. The episode wasn't just disruptive and disturbing, but also deadly: according to one estimate, it directly and indirectly killed up to 12,000 Londoners.

Invisible, but still deadly

Image: MONEY SHARMA/AFP/Getty Images

London Mayor Sadiq Khan

After the shock of the Great Smog, the UK cleaned up its act, legislating to replace open coal fires with less polluting alternatives. London Mayor Sadiq Khan is hoping for a repeat of the movement that eradicated London's smog epidemic, but now for its invisible variety.

The air in London is "filthy, toxic", says Khan. In fact, poor air quality in the British capital is a "public health crisis". The city's poor air quality is linked not just to thousands of premature deaths each year, but also to a range of illnesses including asthma, heart disease and dementia. Children growing up in areas with high levels of air pollution may develop stunted lungs, with up to 10% less capacity than normal.

Image: Transport for London

ULEZ phases 1 and 2, and LEZ

Khan has led a very active campaign for better air quality since his election as London Mayor in 2016. Some of the measures recently decided:

  • Transport for London has introduced 2,600 diesel-electric hybrid buses, which is said to reduce emissions by up to 40%.
  • Mr Khan has pledged to spend £800 million on air quality over a five-year period.
  • Uber fares will rise by 15p (20¢) to help drivers buy electric cars.
  • Since the start of 2018, all new single-decker buses are zero-emission and all new taxis must be hybrid or electric.
  • Mr Khan has added a T-charge on the most toxic vehicles entering the city. On 8 April, the T-charge will be replaced by an Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), contiguous with the Congestion Charge Zone.
  • The ULEZ is designed to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide and particulate matter by charging vehicles who don't meet stringent exhaust emission standards.
  • By October 2020, a Low-Emission Zone (LEZ), applicable to heavy commercial vehicles, will cover most of Greater London.
  • By October 2021, the ULEZ will expand to cover a greater part of Central London.

Central London's worst places for breathing

Image: Steven Bernard / Financial Times

Heathrow (bottom left on the overview map) is another pollution hotspot

What worries experts is that despite considerable efforts already made, levels of air pollution stubbornly refuse to recede – and remain alarmingly high in locations where traffic flows converge.

It's not something you'd think of, given our atmosphere's fluctuating nature, but air pollution hotspots can be extremely local – as this map demonstrates.

One important lesson for all Londoners: don't inhale at Marble Arch! Levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) are five times the EU norm – the highest in the city. Traffic permitting, quickly cross Cumberland Gate to Speakers' Corner and further into Hyde Park, where levels sink back to a 'permissible' 40 milligrams per cubic meter. Now you can inhale!

Almost as bad: Tower Hill (4.6 times the EU norm) and Marylebone Road (4 times; go to nearby Regent's Park for relief).

Also quite bad: the Strand (3.9), Piccadilly Circus (3.8), and Hyde Park Corner (also 3.8), Victoria (3.7) and Knightsbridge (3.5), the dirty trio just south of Hyde Park.

Elephant & Castle is the only pollution hotspot below the Thames and, perhaps because it's relatively isolated from other black spots, also the one with the lowest multiplication factor (2.8 times the maximum level).

On the larger map, the whole of Central London, including its relatively NO2-free parks, still shows up as more polluted than the outlying areas. Two exceptions flare up red: busy traffic arteries; and Heathrow Airport (in the bottom left corner).

Image: Mike Malone, CC BY SA 4.0

Traffic congestion on London's Great Portland Street

So why is Central London's air pollution problem so persistent? In part, this is because the need for individual transport in cars seems to be inelastic. For example, the Congestion Charge has slashed the number of vehicles entering Central London by 30%, but the number of (CC-exempt) private-hire vehicles entering that zone has quadrupled over the same period.

Cycling has really taken off in London. But despite all pro-cycling measures, a wide range of other transport options and car-dissuading measures, central London is still a very congested place. Average traffic speeds on weekdays has declined to 8 miles (13 km) per hour – fittingly medieval speeds, as the road network was largely designed in medieval times.

Narrow streets between high buildings, filled to capacity with slow-moving traffic are a textbook recipe for semi-permanent high levels air pollution.

The large share of diesel vehicles on London's streets only increases the problem. Diesel vehicles emit lower levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) than petrol cars, which is why their introduction was promoted by European governments.

However, diesels emit higher levels of the highly toxic nitrogen dioxide (NO2) than initial lab tests indicated. Which is why they're being phased out now.

As bad as Delhi, worse than New York

Image: Sanchit Khanna/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

By some measures, London's air quality is almost as bad as New Delhi's.

By some measures, especially NO2, London's air pollution is nearly as bad as big Asian cities such as Beijing or New Delhi, and much worse than other developed cities such as New York and Madrid.

The UK is bound to meet pollution limits as set down in the National Air Quality objectives and by EU directives, for example for particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide.

  • Particulate matter (PM2.5) consists of tiny particles less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter emitted by combustion engines. Exposure to PM2.5 raises the mortality risk of cardiovascular diseases. The target for PM2.5 by 2020 is 25 µg/m3. All of London currently scores higher, with most areas at double that level.
  • Mainly emitted by diesel engines, NO2 irritates the respiratory system and aggravates asthma and other pre-existing conditions. NO2 also reacts with other gases to form acid rain. The limit for NO2 is 40 µg/m3, and NO2 levels must not exceed 200 µg/m3 more than 18 times a year. Last year, London hit that figure before January was over.

Google joins fight against air pollution

Image: laszlo-photo, CC BY SA 2.0

Elephant & Castle, London.

Studies predict London's air pollution will remain above legal limits until 2025. Sadiq Khan – himself an asthma sufferer – is working to make London's air cleaner by measures great and small. Earlier this week, he announced that two of Google's Street View cars will be carrying air quality sensors when mapping the streets of London

Over the course of a year, the two cars will take air quality readings every 30 metres in order to identify areas of London with dangerous levels of air pollution that might be missed by the network of fixed sensors. An additional 100 of those fixed sensors will be installed near sensitive locations and known pollution hotspots, doubling the network's density.

It's all part of Breathe London, a scheme to map the British capital's air pollution in real time. Breathe London will be the world's largest air quality monitoring network, said Mr Khan, launching the scheme at Charlotte Sharman Primary School in the London borough of Southwark.

Up to 30% of the school's pupils are said to be asthma sufferers. Charlotte Sharman is close to Elephant & Castle, as the above map shows, one of Central London's air pollution hotspots.

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The most culturally chauvinist people in Europe? Greeks, new research suggests

Meanwhile, Spaniards are the least likely to say their culture is superior to others.

Image: Pew Research Center
Strange Maps
  • Survey by Pew Research Center shows great variation in chauvinism across Europe.
  • Eight most chauvinist countries are in the east, and include Russia.
  • British much more likely than French (and slightly more likely than Germans) to say their culture is "superior" to others.
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A 'vampire' fungus has killed millions of bats since 2006. Here's why it matters.

White-nose syndrome is nearly as lethal to bats as the Black Plague was for humans.

Photo by Igam Ogam on Unsplash
Surprising Science
  • White-nose syndrome has killed at least 6.7 million bats, though this estimate was made in 2012, and the current figure is almost certainly much higher.
  • Bats serve a crucial role in our ecosystem and economy, and white-nose syndrome is already pushing many species to the brink of extinction.
  • Researchers and scientists are working hard to develop novel methods to cure white-nose syndrome; a few methods have shown promise, but none have yet been deployed in the field.
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