Showing posts with label health. Show all posts
Showing posts with label health. Show all posts

12 October 2010

ENVIRONMENT - The cost of damage

This article from the BBC News website spells it out pretty clearly. Environmental damage comes with a heavy price ticket, but the underlying and far bigger issue isn't mentioned. Because our population is way more than the planet can support (and still growing rapidly) it may not be possible to chart a way out of the mess we have created. We have left it far too late.

BBC article on the cost of environmental damageBut it's encouraging that a major news provider is publishing an article like this one. At last, after many decades of warnings from the scientists there is growing evidence that the media, governments, and businesses are beginning to accept that we really do have a problem.

Of course there are useful things we can do. We have already started to do some of them (renewable energy, fishing quotas, emission controls, banning persistent pesticides, and much more). But we are in a phase of the human story where improvements are becoming harder and more costly to achieve while the costs of not making those improvements is also rising rapidly. And I don't mean financial costs alone, but costs in terms of living standards, health, and human safety.

The first step towards any hope of recovery is to recognise that we have a problem. It's becoming clear that at last we're taking that step. Now we're in the phase of broadening and deepening our understanding of the issues we face. That, at least, is good news.

See also: Biology and the economy, Climate change - an update, Nitrogen trifluoride - should we be concerned?

10 May 2010

Biology and the economy

Humanity has become nothing less than a plague on the earth. The Bible calls us to be stewards of this planet, A crowd scene in Hong Kongbut instead we are well on the way to wrecking it.

A BBC News item today reports that loss of habitat and species will soon begin to have a major impact on the world economy. There is so far little evidence that governments have grasped the size of the problems or their urgency, perhaps we are paralysed like a child who has thrown a ball and broken a window. Denial is easier than taking responsibility, owning up, and attempting to make amends. This is in addition to anthropogenic climate change and other issues (pollution, overuse of water resources, dwindling mineral stocks etc).

What we face is little short of catastrophe, but we are doing so little about it. We talk about more efficient agriculture, power generation from wind, sunshine, tides, and waves, recycling of waste, but we don't yet realise that we are merely tinkering. The greatest problem is rarely discussed because it is so difficult - there are simply far too many of us sharing the surface of our small planet.

One good sign is that greater affluence is resulting in falling birthrates in the developed world. In Europe, North America, Australasia, and the developed parts of Asia, birth rates are close to or even below replacement levels. But the less developed areas of Asia and Africa and to a lesser degreee South America still have burgeoning populations.

We must do what we can to reduce the world's population. If we do not - and quickly - the world will do the job for us through steadily increasing starvation and disease. This is likely to be widespread through the developed world as well as less privileged regions.

03 March 2010

The Human Genome Project - Ten years on

The first human genome was sequenced ten years ago. Replication of the DNA helixIt was a huge and expensive project that could be repeated today 500 times as fast at 100 000th of the cost. That's an indication of the rate of change of sequencing technology.

But what benefits has the project brought?

A very great deal! In the studies of diabetes and obesity alone, the existence of the sequence has enabled much more rapid progress in research and this will feed into improvements in medical treatments more and more in the future.

But there are still considerable areas where we lack understanding and larger scale studies sequencing the genomes of thousands of people are now underway. These will hopefully fill in further gaps in our knowledge and set the scene for even more novel and useful treatments in future.

For more detail, read Jonathan Wood's post on Oxford University's website.

03 September 2009

Pita chips in bulk

Ho hum, I'm in the USA. Food comes in larger quantities than I'm used to!

Last night I felt peckish, not hungry enough for a full meal, I just wanted a light snack. Morning over Dallas AirportThe hotel offers these in an area with comfortable seating and low tables around the TV between the dining room and the lobby. I ordered pita chips with houmous and olive paste - just a light snack.

I was served a very nicely presented dish containing enough pita chips for four people (I kid you not!) and as much houmous as you'd expect to put on the table back home for six. It was delicious but it was not a snack, not in my terms at least! Nor was it healthy eating, too much salt in the chip coating and too much deep-fry oil - but very tasty. I didn't finish my 'snack' although I made a pretty good attempt.

I'm still not hungry this morning.

Grand to be in Dallas, though. I'll take a stroll in the morning semi-cool and spend the day relaxing and getting organised for this evening's pre-conference session. I didn't take a photo of the pita chips, so I've included one of the Dallas sunrise instead.

06 January 2009

Helping the helpless

Imagine this - you are a tailor in a village in rural Ghana, you have little income, just enough to scrape a living. Precious spectaclesAs you reach the ripe old age of 35 your eyes deteriorate and you can no longer see to thread the needle on your sewing machine. You are forced to retire.

The problem - a pair of glasses would solve the poor sight but there's no optician anywhere nearby and even if there was, you couldn't afford to pay him.

This is a true story. The man in the photo is African, a Zulu, his life has perhaps been transformed by the glasses he's wearing. The Ghanaian tailor's life was transformed in the same way. Perhaps it's not quite true to claim that 'they were blind, but now they see' but it's no exaggeration to say they were short sighted but now they see clearly, clearly enough to be able to read, and work, and earn an income.

The availabilty of cheap but effective glasses can transform individual lives and even entire communities. But there's a serious snag. Glasses are expensive for two reasons, first you must obtain a prescription to suit your eyes, and then you have to pay for bespoke lenses made to match the prescription. Opticians and optical labs are expensive, far too expensive for an African or Indian villager.

The solution - enter Josh Silver, an Oxford physicist. Thinking about this problem he hit on the idea of creating special glasses that each person can adjust to suit their own eyes. Now he's getting help to roll them out on a larger and larger scale.

An article in last month's Guardian (Inventor's 2020 vision) explains how the invention was made, how it works, and how it's being scaled up to help millions, hopefully even billions. It needs powerful sponsors in industry and government but that support is beginning to appear. The future looks promising; not least for the world's short-sighted poor.

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