#61: Only The Penitent Man Will Pass

It's been a particularly insane week, yes? Let's get into it.

On to the news!


We don't usually cover civil rights, racism, sexism, etc, nor align ourselves with a specific political allegiance. Plenty of other fantastic publications blow us right out of the water on the former, and with regards to the latter, we're hyper-focused on highlighting distinctly good and bad actors with respect to the survival of the species, regardless of party.

However, this particular story seems to unite the horrific cultural news this week (i.e. the current US president is, by all accounts, a Confederate sympathizer) and one of our more typical topics, in this case, the future of the species.

Today's article concerns the ongoing and flagrant environmental poisoning of a small town of African-Americans, who, if you're not aware, have already -- for centuries -- been specifically punished in myriad ways by this country and others simply for the color of their skin. Kidnapping, slavery, prisons, education, drugs, housing, food and, now, inhalation.


Instead of instituting immediate, much-deserved, and overdue reparations for their systemic and grievous suffering, we're (on top of fucking everything else we're still doing) literally poisoning the air they breathe. 

Get angry.

Exxon Mobil Is Still Pumping Toxins Into Black Community in Texas *17 Years* After Civil Rights Complaint - The Intercept

"Joseph Gaines was sitting on his porch in the Charlton-Pollard section of Beaumont, Texas, on a recent evening in June, sipping beer and chatting with some of his neighbors about the NBA playoffs, when a loud boom cut through the night and a stream of fire lit up the sky. A few minutes later, a strong, unpleasant odor settled over the street. As soon as they smelled it, the men stopped arguing about LeBron James and left the porch, covering their mouths and noses as they hurried into their homes.

As unsettling as it was, none of the neighbors reported what happened that night — not the fire that rose above their heads, nor the sound they heard, the sickening smell or the symptoms that followed. For Gaines, the symptoms included an intense sudden headache, tearing eyes, a runny nose, and congestion that made it difficult to sleep and lasted into the next day.

Gaines, who works in lawn care, had the day off when I met him at his home, and as he went about fixing himself something to eat and heading out to sit on his small porch, he occasionally sniffed and dabbed at his eyes.

“No point in complaining,” he said, looking out at the row of modest houses across the street. A block and a half from Gaines’s house, the street ends in an Exxon Mobil refinery that processes “sour crude,” oil that contains high amounts of sulfur. The process of removing the impurities and refining the oil into gasoline produces sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, and other gases that can cause respiratory, neurological, cardiac, and other serious health problems. Those gasses also give the neighborhood a rotten egg odor that occasionally wafted in with the warm breeze as Gaines and I sat on his porch.

In Charlton-Pollard, flare events like the one Gaines and his neighbors encountered that night — in which the flames that usually burn on top of the smokestacks erupt into smelly belches of fire — are regular occurrences. The flames burst so reliably from the refinery some local kids treat them as fireworks, gathering at the fence down the street from Gaines’s house at night to catch the show.

The plant releases at least 135 toxic chemicals, many of which — including 1,3-butadiene, benzo[a]pyrene, and styrene — are carcinogens. And the plant is regularly in noncompliance with the Clean Air Act."

+ #blacklivesmatter



I remember once, in the throes of infertility, mentioning some desperate "natural-medicine" course of action to the doctor who would later, against all odds, help make our family. He smiled and said, regarding my half-baked and yet-extremely-popular-on-Yahoo-Answers idea:  "Well, if that worked, it would be called science. And it's not."

Cancer is way more likely to kill you if you rely on 'natural' therapies - Popular Science

"There's a decent chance you'll get some kind of cancer at some point. If you’re a man, your odds are one in two. If you’re a woman, one in three. Your risk of dyingfrom cancer is only slightly lower: one in four and one in five, respectively.

This is a scary thought. A cancer diagnosis often means intense, brutal therapies are on the horizon. That’s a tough forecast for even the least hospital-averse people, so it's not surprising that many look for other options. Could a juice cleanse purge the body of harmful toxins and starve cancer cells? Perhaps you've heard anecdotes about a friend-of-a-friend outliving her prognosis using only acupuncture. Faced with the reality of chemotherapy—spending hours pumping actual poison into your veins—that special anti-cancer diet you've read about online might start to look downright logical.

But while mainstream cancer treatment has a long way to go, the fact remains that it's far more effective than any "natural" solution. You are more than twice as likely to die from your cancer if you choose alternative medicine. If you have breast or colorectal cancer, you’re more than five times as likely to die.

Those numbers come out of a study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, in which Yale radiologists examined the mortality rates of people who chose conventional treatment or alternative therapy. The main caveat here is that these dire outcomes are only for people who refused modern medicine entirely, not patients who supplemented their chemotherapy with complementary alternative treatments.

The message is clear: alternative cancer therapies can’t take chemo's place."

REAL NEWS 👍🏼📰🏥🆎👷🏼

On the other hand:

A Cancer Conundrum: Too Many Drug Trials, Too Few Patients - NYTimes

"With the arrival of two revolutionary treatment strategies, immunotherapy and personalized medicine, cancer researchers have found new hope — and a problem that is perhaps unprecedented in medical research.

There are too many experimental cancer drugs in too many clinical trials, and not enough patients to test them on.

The logjam is caused partly by companies hoping to rush profitable new cancer drugs to market, and partly by the nature of these therapies, which can be spectacularly effective but only in select patients.
In July, an expert panel of the Food and Drug Administration recommended approval of a groundbreaking new leukemia treatment, a type of immunotherapy. Companies are scrambling to develop other drugs based on using the immune system itself to attack cancers.

Many of these experimental candidates in trials are quite similar. Yet each drug company wants to have its own proprietary version, seeing a potential windfall if it receives F.D.A. approval.

As a result, there are more than 1,000 immunotherapy trials underway, and the number keeps growing. “It’s hard to imagine we can support more than 1,000 studies,” said Dr. Daniel Chen, a vice president at Genentech, a biotechnology company.

In a commentary in the journal Nature, he and Ira Mellman, also a vice president at the company, wrote that the proliferating trials “have outstripped our progress in understanding the basic underlying science.”

+ For more on the importance of clinical trials, check out the Discovery Channel's excellent new series, First in Human.

Banking a baby’s cord blood may save their life. Is it worth it? - New Scientist

Nanoengineers Made Antibiotic-Carrying Micromotors to Treat Infections - Motherboard

Atomic Legoland: How to build wonder stuff from the atom up - New Scientist

"Richard Feynman dared to imagine that we might one day build with the building blocks from which all the known matter in the universe is made. “I am not afraid to consider the final question as to whether, ultimately – in the great future – we can arrange the atoms the way we want; the very atoms, all the way down!”

In this vision of atomic Legoland, we could build all manner of wonder stuff. We could make silicon’s successor, a material that would allow us to keep stuffing ever more computing power into tiny devices. We could come up with a substance that would beef up our puny solar cells or supercharge the ultimate battery, so we could store all that clean energy. We might even trigger chemical reactions that are impossible today.

The trouble with that vision is that atoms are ridiculously minuscule, so much so that more than a million iron atoms would fit on to the head of a steel pin. And yet, in the bowels of giant brushed-steel contraptions that bring to mind steampunk machines, we have begun to nudge individual atoms around by the thousand, and with astonishing precision. Now we just have to figure out where to put them.

For most of human history, we made do with the stuff nature gives us. Then we found ways to enhance it, taking metals and adding a dash of other elements to create alloys like steel – materials that have given us everything from cutlery and the kitchen sink to the jet engine. We have even managed to engineer materials that can control the flow of electrons, creating the microchips that power your smartphone and laptop.

But for the most part, we are still limited by what we can dig out of the ground – and that’s holding us back. No matter how craftily we combine the available ingredients, we can’t seem to crack the recipe for inexpensive thermoelectric materials to scavenge waste heat, for example. Commercial solar panels still max out at 20 per cent efficiency. Magnets for electric car motors rely on elements whose supply is anything but reliable. And batteries, as anyone who has watched their phone die at a crucial moment will know, have plenty of room for improvement.

To create stuff with whatever properties we happen to desire, we need to build novel materials from scratch – and that means building with atoms, as Feynman dreamed of almost 60 years ago."

+ This is a good time to mention that as exciting as this all seems, the aforementioned moment miiiiiight just be our very own Great Filter.


It's "Apocalypse Week" at the BBC and obviously we appreciate the effort (and the timing! Hey-yo!) and they've got some real #important gems here.

The greatest threats to humanity (as far as we know!) Don't sleep on the honeybees! - BBC Future (including a handy printable poster!)

The monster atomic bomb that was too big to use - BBC Future

"Tsar Bomba unleashed almost unbelievable energy – now widely agreed to be in the order of 57 megatons, or 57 million tons of TNT. That is more than 1,500 times that of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs combined, and 10 times more powerful than all the munitions expended during World War Two. Sensors registered the bomb’s blast wave orbiting the Earth not once, not twice, but three times."

NASA's ambitious plan to save Earth from a supervolcano - BBC Future

"There are around 20 known supervolcanoes on Earth, with major eruptions occurring on average once every 100,000 years. One of the greatest threats an eruption may pose is thought to be starvation, with a prolonged volcanic winter potentially prohibiting civilisation from having enough food for the current population. In 2012, the United Nations estimated that food reserves worldwide would last 74 days.

When Nasa scientists came to consider the problem, they found that the most logical solution could simply be to cool a supervolcano down. A volcano the size of Yellowstone is essentially a gigantic heat generator, equivalent to six industrial power plants. Yellowstone currently leaks about 60-70% of the heat coming up from below into the atmosphere, via water which seeps into the magma chamber through cracks. The remainder builds up inside the magma, enabling it to dissolve more and more volatile gases and surrounding rocks. Once this heat reaches a certain threshold, then an explosive eruption is inevitable."

Annnnd...segue time!

There are almost 100 new volcanoes hiding under the Antarctic ice - New Scientist


How Christiana Figueres Saved the Planet - Scientific American

"One could argue that Christiana Figueres, a 61-year-old Costa Rican diplomat, warded off global catastrophe. As former chief of the United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change, she orchestrated the 2015 Paris climate agreement, which, for the first time, got virtually all nations to take action on greenhouse gas emissions.

Figueres achieved unprecedented cooperation not by flexing her authority (the position carries very little) or fixating on the most powerful players but by inviting a massive number of diverse voices into a weblike conversation on solutions. Trained as an anthropologist, she bet that humans are motivated to work toward a common goal if given a structure of trust and hopefulness. So in the face of high stakes and daunting complexity, she created an even bigger mess, imbued it with optimism, then navigated through it. Now she is focused on carrying out the goals of the agreement as the head of Mission 2020, a plan to “bend the curve of emissions” over the next three years."

China Is Preparing to Launch the World’s Biggest Carbon Market - Scientific American

"As the United States reverses its climate policies, the world's top greenhouse gas emitter is in the midst of setting up a national carbon-trading system.

Chinese officials are preparing to launch an emissions market later this year that will cover roughly a quarter of the country's industrial CO2. Officials and nonprofit groups from the European Union, Australia and California have been advising the Chinese on their program design.

Expectations are tempered: Details of China's national system are still murky, but enough information has emerged that observers are skeptical it will be immediately comparable to existing programs, due to design features as well as the haste with which China is rolling it out.

"Initially, it's not going to be more robust than, say, California or RGGI or even some of the pilots," said Jeremy Schreifels, a visiting fellow at Resources for the Future who has been observing the market's evolution. He was referring to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative covering nine Northeastern states.
The National Development and Reform Commission, China's macroeconomic planning agency, has said it intends to start a nationwide market in November. But it's not clear what that exactly means—whether businesses will have to immediately start buying carbon allowances to cover their emissions, or some lesser form of regulation, like requiring companies to report their emissions. So far, observers say the market falls short of standards set by Western jurisdictions."

After electric cars, what more will it take for batteries to change the face of energy? - The Economist

"The fundamental operating principles of the lithium-ion battery are easily understood. When the battery is charging an electric potential pulls lithium ions into the recesses of a graphite-based electrode; when it is in use these ions migrate back through a liquid electrolyte to a much more complex electrode made of compounds containing lithium and other metals — the cathode. The fundamental operating principles of the battery business, on the other hand, are considerably more opaque, thanks to an almost paranoid taste for secrecy among suppliers and the baffling economics of the Asian conglomerates that lead the market."