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Tag: Environment

Can AI Part The Red Sea?

BY MIKE MAGEE

A few weeks ago New York Times columnist Tom Friedman wrote, “We Are Opening The Lid On Two Giant Pandoras Boxes.” He was referring to 1) artificial Intelligence (AI) which most agree has the potential to go horribly wrong unless carefully regulated, and 2) global warming leading to water mediated flooding, drought, and vast human and planetary destruction.

Friedman argues that we must accept the risk of pursuing one (rapid fire progress in AI) to potentially uncover a solution to the other. But positioning science as savior quite misses the point that it is human behavior (a combination of greed and willful ignorance), rather than lack of scientific acumen, that has placed our planet and her inhabitants at risk.

The short and long term effects of fossil fuels and carbonization of our environment were well understood before Al Gore took “An Inconvenient Truth” on the road in 2006. So were the confounding factors including population growth, urbanization, and surface water degradation. 

When I first published “Healthy Waters,” the global population was 6.5 billion with 49% urban, mostly situated on coastal plains. It is now 8 billion with 57% urban and slated to reach 8.5 billion by 2030 with 63% urban. 552 cities around the globe now contain populations exceeding 1 million citizens.

Under ideal circumstances, this urban migration could serve our human populations with jobs, clean air and water, transportation, housing and education, health care, safety and security. Without investment however, this could be a death trap. 

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Can We Design a Heart-Healthy Home?

There is increasing evidence that the quality of our homes and cities is a critical determinant of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and lung conditions. As urbanization and economic change occur globally, whether we live in a house free of dust in a city with open parks and traffic regulations, or in a dusty tenement building next to a major road, seems critically correlated with our likelihood for having shortened life expectancy, poor nutrition, heart disease and lung problems. In this week’s blog post, we look at some of the mechanisms relating the “built environment”—our human-made surroundings of daily living—to the risk of illness. We ask the question: can we do for our hearts and lungs what the Bauhaus movement did for functional design?

Indoor air quality

If Dwell Magazine had a feature edition on designing a healthy home, they’d have to tackle the major issue of indoor air quality. Much research on the built environment’s impact on health was revealed through a series of studies onasthma among children living in low-income public housing units in the United States. Poor indoor air quality resulting from dust and dirt in public housing units was a major cause of emergency room visits during the 1980’s and 90’s among these children, leading to new programs for housing quality checks and maintenance, which we featured in a previous post.

A parallel concern about indoor air quality has been highlighted in the global health realm because of “dirty cookstoves”—the wood-burning stoves that many people in Asia, Africa and Latin America use to cook food indoors. Most people who use these stoves don’t live in an area where it’s easy to cook outside, or don’t have the funds to convert to a gas-burning stove, so wood smoke (just like from a campfire) accumulates in the home, where (usually) a woman is cooking for several hours a day, sometimes with a child strapped to her back. The studies on this cause of indoor air pollution reveal that the wood smoke significantly impairs the immune system; an Indian study found that those exposed are 2.5 times more likely to experience tuberculosis, and infants are 2.2 times more likely to acquire a respiratory tract infection, one of the leading causes of death among children worldwide. Lung cancer and emphysema have been similarly observed to increase in frequency among users of these wood-burning stoves, and the particulate matter from them acts as an eye irritant, leading to a 1.3-fold increase in the risk of cataracts among those exposed.

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What Health Reform Can Learn from the Environmental Movement

Over past few years, we’ve seen numerous articles about impact of the environment changes on the health of our population.  They range from increased rates and severity of respiratory disease to the resurgence of infectious diseases due to increasing temperatures.   However, it hadn’t really occurred to me until this weekend while attending a film festival in Colorado (name undisclosed because I don’t want it to get more crowded!) that there were interesting parallels between the environmental and health care reform movements.

And while this should probably not be a surprise given that healthcare and the environment are two of the most “wicked problems” facing our country – tough to describe, multiple causes and not easily solved with one answer – I nevertheless was intrigued by the similarities.

1)      Local, local, local– The environmental movement has finally figured out that change will only occur if you make the issues local – it’s not just about the planet but about your backyard.  (My father who could not hear me utter the word climate change without breaking into hives or leaving the room, recently told me he thinks “something may be happening because the fish in the river he spends half his days on are starting to die”)   Those of us in healthcare have known forever that the organization, delivery and financing of healthcare is local.  And while the biggest changes over the past few years have been driven by government policy, the tough part lies ahead and will only be successful because of the actions at the local level.

2)      Show me the money- Whether it’s the environment or healthcare – until it impacts the consumer’s bottom line (property damage, rising gas prices, higher out of pocket expenses), it can be tough to get a majority of people to devote their time and energy to change.   In healthcare we are still in the early days but are starting to see the impact of people having to pay more out of pocket for their medical care.  Time will tell whether the impact is all positive, but at least we are recognizing that financial incentives can play a key role in changing behavior.

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