Friday, July 7, 2017

The innovation of green roofs

I've been in the Javits Center a ton of times (yes, mostly for Comic-Con) but never knew they had implemented a green roof a few years back. Our NYC apartment actually looks down on a really cool green roof, of the new Stuyvesant Town management office. Check out this NPR video to see how turning roofs green can benefit cities in lots of surprising ways.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Looking at life expectancy in detail

The New York Times published this U.S. life expectancy chart in an article a year ago:

In my book, I had published a similar chart showing the shrinking life expectancy gap between classes in Britain, and we see the same trend here. The gap between white and black life expectancy in the U.S. is now 3.4 years, down from 7 in 1990, and even wider going back farther.

While the article highlights a lot of interesting small trends, and the current patterns, my book prefers to look at larger trends. And it's not hard to see what's going on here, in the 116 years shown. In 1900, whites had a life expectancy of about 50, and blacks about 35. Today, that's 79 and 75.6.

What's incredible to me is how little the world's largest events matter in the long term. Look at the trauma of 1918. It was a terrible time for millions of people, but in terms of life expectancy, it didn't stop the trend from continuing right back up as if the Spanish Flu and WWI had never happened. Same thing for WWII, the Great Depression, and Vietnam. On this chart - obviously removed from the terrible human impact on the millions of people it represents - those were all just blips temporarily slowing down an unstoppable trend./p>

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Tesla finishes its positive feedback loop

I recently finished the Elon Musk biography, and I recommend it to everyone to understand what I think is perhaps the most innovative and positive trend happening in this country today, at a time when many other trends seem to be heading backwards.

This video introduces Tesla's new solar roof panels. These are ingenious. Tesla has solved the main drawback of solar panels on people's roofs: They're ugly. Not these - they blend in as regular roofs while also looking even more beautiful.

The positive energy flywheel that the company has created takes energy from the sun through the roof tiles, stores it in Tesla's home batteries, and then charges its cars from the batteries. That leaves us with perfectly renewable energy powering the cars, with zero emissions. Watch the video below to find out more.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

More and more of the world is protected

I looked at the stats of how much of the world was protected in my 2010 book, The Secret Peace, and that trend has continued. Today, almost 13% of all the world's land is officially protected, according to the World Bank.

That may not sound like a lot, but it's 25 million square miles, and more importantly, it's up from only 6% in 1990.

What's interesting too is to see the breakdown by country. Some have made incredible strides, and nearly EVERY ONE has made gains since 1990. Below is a sample of several countries I found exceptional, with some of the most impressive gains.

These trends are likely to continue, slow but steady. However, I think we're on the cusp of several technological breakthroughs that could accelerate them even more. Consider the following clues:

  1. Online shopping is replacing a lot of retail stores, especially big malls. This requires warehouses, but those take up less room than retail.
  2. 3D printing may lead to more goods being produced on demand as they're ordered, eliminating the need for storing excess goods. This is already true of print-on-demand books.
  3. When self-driving cars take off, they will eventually start replacing car ownership. People will be able to call a car, just like Lyft or Uber, at a lower cost since there are no drivers. These cars will not need to rest and can function 24 hours a day (perhaps shipping goods when passenger demand is low). We start to need fewer and fewer parking spaces. New shopping centers and offices will be built with numbered drop-off points, rather than huge parking lots.
  4. In addition, if Amazon succeeds at using delivery drones at scale, that's even fewer trucks on the road.
  5. Thanks to Tesla, energy-efficient electric cars will soon expand to a massive scale. Since these cars will also have the ability to be self-driving, even if that's not "turned on" yet, it will accelerate the switch to self-driving cars.
  6. As they have for 200 years, crops will continue to get more efficient and produce higher yields, accelerated by more acceptance of GMOs, finally.
  7. Vegetarianism has been another slow-burning trend in the developed world, and as the world eats less meat, less land is needed for livestock, which is much less efficient than crops.
  8. And even though the developing world is eating more meat, lab-grown meat is on the cusp of being released commercially. If it takes a while to catch on with consumers used to "real" meat, that might not be the case with other, newly meat-eating consumers. Lab-grown meat is real meat, indistinguishable from other meat, but using a lot fewer resources to produce and not harming any animals, to boot.

Those are all trends leading to less and less land needed by humans and their voracious needs. This frees up more land that, even if not officially preserved yet, may start to revert to a natural state. It'll be interesting to continue to track these trends in the years to come.

Friday, March 31, 2017

A controversial suggestion: Let's stop hitting children

Good-bye, spanking. Like all types of violence throughout the world, the physical discipline of children is declining.

In the United States, for example, 94 percent of parents endorsed hitting kids in 1968, but only one-half approved by 1999. Similar decreases occurred in countries as diverse as Austria, Sweden, Kuwait, Germany, and New Zealand. (In Sweden, the drop preceded the law against hitting kids.)

Why is this? The author of this Slate article posits that it's due to increased education, specifically education and tactics now more widely disseminated on the most effective ways to parent. This is good, because, lest anyone still think otherwise, we now have reams of evidence that spanking and physical punishment backfires spectacularly.

For example, in The Week from May 13, 2016, it mentions that a new metastudy "has found physical discipline actually makes children more defiant and more likely to have later alcohol, drug, and mental health problems. After examining the findings of 75 studies involving more than 160,000 children, a team of researchers found that children who are routinely disciplined with an open-handed smack on the bottom - a spanking - have behavior problems similar to those of children who are physically abused. In fact, the more kids are spanked, the more likely they are to develop low self-esteem and become aggressive, antisocial, and rebellious, the meta-analysis reveals. "Spanking does the opposite of what parents usually want it to do," the study's co-author says."

The article went on to conclude, "The researchers suggest that parents use non-physical forms of discipline, and rely on positive reinforcement of desirable behavior, which research shows is far more effective than punishment."

Here is a picture of my child, who has never been spanked:

Other sources:

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Kids these days ... have better hearing?

Do you wear headphones or earbuds? Are you concerned at all about their effect on your hearing? Maybe somewhere in the back of your mind you remember that they're bad?

Well, despite recent fears over increased headphone use, not to mention loud concerts and movies, not to mention urban life and honking and who knows what else, hearing loss is actually declining in the U.S.

As the New York Times, reports, "The paper, published in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology — Head & Neck Surgery, used data from the National Health and Nutrition Survey, which periodically administers health tests to a representative sample of the population. The investigators ... compared data collected between 1999 and 2004 with data from 2011 and 2012, the most recent available."

What's impressive is not only did hearing loss decrease from 15.9% of the population to 14.1% in less than a decade - that's 5 million people fewer - but that this is part of a continuing trend since the 1950s.

Read more here.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Hey, remember that whole Ebola thing?

Remember when Ebola was going to kill us all? Well, besides the fact that that didn't happen and the virus stayed largely contained within a few West African nations, a new vaccine promises to even more easily defeat the disease whenever a new outbreak arises. Do you remember headlines like these?

That last one warns about a possible death toll of 1.4 million. Care to guess how many lives the outbreak actually claimed? 11,000. To put that in perspective, here's a pie chart showing 11,000 out of 1.4 million.

None of this means that it wasn't terrible that 11,000 people died. Nor was it bad to treat the outbreak seriously and marshal all forces against it - indeed, that was what was successful. But keep this in mind the next time headlines look scary - whether about Ebola, Anthrax, Killer clowns, or even terrorism.