🌍 #280: What's next for Alzheimer's?

Quinn Emmett
June 17, 2022
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Welcome back, Shit Givers.

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TLDR:

  • Where do gas cars go when we buy electric?
  • A bunch of COVID updates
  • The Colorado River's next chapter
  • What's next for Alzheimer's
  • Holy shit Facebook's tracking pixel is more invasive than expected, which is saying something

Reminder: You can read this issue on the website, or you can 🎧 listen to it on the podcast (shortly).

🕛 Reading Time: 11 minutes

Book of the Week
My book recommendation this week is Calling Bullshit: The Art of Skepticism in a Data-Driven World by Carl T. Bergstrom & Jevin D. West (Bookshop, Libro, Libby) 

Misinformation and its disinformation brethren aren't new, the internet just juiced them up like Barry Bonds circa 2004. Learn how to better read data and charts when we need it the most.

CLIMATE CHANGE

Garbage truck

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Where your old car goes

What does your used (and beloved) Toyota RAV4 have to do with energy poverty in Africa?

Let's find out!

In the US, new EV sales are climbing despite relatively few federal rebates and subsidies and a president hobbled by a Congress in serious danger of doing jack shit to fight the climate crisis that's already here. 

Sure, 45 states and DC have their own rebates and a number of them have mandated new sales be electric by anywhere from 2030-2035. That's great, because nearly 30% of US emissions are from transportation, and faster than we thought it would go, but -- where do all of the "clunkers" go?

Right now, a hell of a lot of them are being shipped to Africa.

The atmosphere only gives a shit about total emissions, not which country's still spewing them, so shunting these gas-guzzling old cars to a continent super-marginalized by colonialism and slavery means we get to trumpet progress while they fall further behind.

Africa, whose vast and diverse natural resources are being strip-mined for gas, plastic, and rubber, is struggling to industrialize and grow GDP despite crippling energy poverty. Imported gas cars means more required fossil fuel infrastructure to maintain them, plus increased emissions and increasingly garbage air quality on top of existing pollution from wood stoves. So many African countries are already facing drought and food insecurity despite carbon "footprints" that are a fraction of literally any American's.

And so for years, low-income countries and growing populations have demanded the same access to fossil fuels that the West benefited from, and it's a damn good argument, albeit a hugely complicated one, with land-use, economies, and lives the world over at stake. Will COP 27 address these? Maybe!

Back home, we chip away at rebuilding the crumbling but vast infrastructure once powered by Rockefeller and Getty and now the likes of Harold Hamm. Companies like BlueBird are building electric school buses on the back of Biden Bucks, and EarthJustice is suing the hell out of the USPS for not buying electric.

But all of this momentum leaves one glaring issue: heavy trucks.

Like steel and concrete, heavy trucks will increasingly become a greater share of remaining emissions as we electrify everything else that moves.

Despite the West's relative advantages, our head start is also a liability. 3.7 billion square miles of outdated infrastructure requires an immense investment to upgrade, and thanks to bitter partisan divisions, we confront our greatest challenges with one hand behind our back. It's moronic.

Our nascent EV chargers and batteries simply aren't powerful or voluminous enough yet to support daily garbage routes and long-haul trucking. California's clean truck program is a start, but battery minerals are in short supply worldwide, we don't have a domestic production chain (yet!), and batteries themselves are getting expensive again as a hundred years of geopolitics are rewritten in real-time, which is fun.

Progress continues in fits and starts as the clock ticks and questions remain. When will Congress realize it doesn't have to be this way, that it's finally time to build? How will we export and subsidize these new innovations and infrastructure to Africa, India, and others? And how will we welcome climate refugees as the world races to mitigate and adapt?

⚡️What You Can Do: Work in climate, wherever you can. Our friends at Terra.do announced a $5m seed fundraise and we're so proud to be a (very small) part of it. Download their new app, get educated, and get connected to climate companies across the economy.

COVID

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Vaccine equity update: Just 17.8% of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose, and 33.7% of people worldwide have received zero doses.

Why aren't schools buying better HVAC?

Some COVID updates:

  • The FDA fiiiiiiiiiinally approved COVID shots for kids under 5 and the may be available as early as next week
  • Despite new estimates that 1 in 5 COVID survivors suffer from Long COVID symptoms, the NIH's related research project, RECOVER, has signed up just 3900 or so of the 40,000 person enrollment target, and separately, funded just eight of the 200 Long COVID trials listed in clinicaltrials.gov. Long COVID is complicated as hell and there are more unknown unknowns than known knowns but we have to move faster.
  • A new study shows Paxlovid really might not speed up COVID symptom relief if you don't have risk factors for severe disease, and didn't answer how much it helped vaccinated people avoid the hospital
  • Universal health care might have saved 300,000+ US lives during early part of COVID
  • Congress has collectively approved almost $200 billion to improve US schools ventilation and air cleaning, but a new CDC study said less than 40% had made changes to HVAC, filters, or windows since 2020

What we have here is a failure to communicate. 

This is a country awash with advertising and marketing, the country of "1000 songs in your pocket" to "Where's the beef?", "How many licks?", "Terry Tate", and "Just Do It".  The country where the greatest minds of our time have come together for two decades to harvest your most personal data for ads that follow you everywhere.

So it's striking to me that the federal and state governments haven't spent really any amount of money to hire and challenge the best of the best to sell us on not only Instagram sweatpants, stationary bikes, and gravity blankets, but also vaccines and boosters, and ventilation, literally just opening windows more often, Wirecutter's favorite air purifiers, masks, free clinical trials, walking (?), maybe the scientific process in general, and the wholesale benefits of a society where everyone has a wellness safety net.

⚡️What You Can Do: Order more free tests here, get your booster here, track your wastewater here, sign up for the RECOVER study here.

FOOD & WATER

Colorado River

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Down to the river

The news about the Colorado River -- which supplies water to 40 million people from Denver to Los Angeles and millions of acres of farmland in between -- isn't easy to share.

After years of warnings, after cutting water to thousands of California farms, after hastily and continuously reconfigured water rights among California, Arizona, and Nevada, it's not enough, and the hard questions are turning into threats.

From the LA Times:

"Federal officials now believe protecting “critical levels” at the country’s largest reservoirs — Lake Mead and Lake Powell — will require much larger reductions in water deliveries.

The needed cuts...amount to between 2 million and 4 million acre-feet next year.

For comparison, California is entitled to 4.4 million acre-feet of Colorado River water per year, while Arizona’s allotment is 2.8 million."

Understand it: I need you to really process this information.

I need you to understand that this result was a policy choice. Stagnation is a choice, air pollution is a policy choice. 

Understand too that doing everything we can stop additional warming is essential, so do not ignore this piece -- that additional warming stops when new emissions stop, from cars, from industrialized agriculture, from energy production, homes, all of it.

We can choose to invest in more sustainable communities, to be leaders in water treatment and preservation, in cleaning up rivers to create more drinking water. We have the tools, look at all of these climate wins just from 2022.

Until then, invaluable farmland and 60+ million people are in severe to exceptional drought.

⚡️What You Can Do: (breathes into paper bag) November is around the corner. Send texts and make calls with the wildly effective Environmental Voter Project. Listen to my delightful convo with founder Nathaniel Stinnett here.

TEES FOR SUMMER, YES?

INI merch header 2

HEALTH & BIO

Brain

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Why the brain is so hard to fix

The news: For every futuristic medical win, Alzheimer's continues to elude us.

We can 3D print a functional piece of the heart, use CRISPR to treat blood diseases, shrink kids' brain tumors, use Apple Watches to track Parkinson's, build a genetic roadmap of glaucoma.

But Alzheimer's, man. From STAT:

"Roche reported negative results Thursday from a long-running clinical trial investigating an experimental antibody treatment in people born with an inherited form of early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

The Swiss pharma giant has been running the Phase 3 clinical trial for more than a decade, aiming to show that an antibody called crenezumab that targets toxic brain plaques might slow or even prevent Alzheimer’s disease in people born with a specific genetic mutation that typically causes cognitive impairment to begin around age 44.

But when scientists analyzed the data, crenezumab showed only “small numerical differences” in cognitive and episodic memory function compared to a placebo."

Understand it: Last year, Biogen won a, let's say, controversial approval of their drug Aduhelm, but everyone from Medicare to UnitedHealthcare has shunned it because it doesn't really work.

Why -- why -- can a disease we've been studying for so long, one that is so crushing to patients and families alike, one that will affect so many in the years to come, be so damn difficult to cure or prevent, much less treat in any meaningful way?

Well, in very crude bullets, because:

  1. The brain is a complicated beast
  2. We don't really have a way to diagnose it early
  3. So it usually gets a head start on us
  4. We don't know what causes it
  5. But we have ideas
  6. But every time we test drugs against those ideas, they fail
  7. We don't know if it's even one thing
  8. Trials take forever and thus are hella expensive
  9. And research is crazy underfunded considering what the disease is already costing us

⚡️What You Can Do: The evidence for prevention isn't completely rock-solid but it does go a long, long way to keeping you otherwise healthy. Exercise, sleep, and clean eating are a strong foundation.

BEEP BOOP

Doctor typing

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What.

The news: This isn't all that surprising, but here it is: a third of the websites for Newsweek's top 100 hospitals in America are sending sensitive patient health info to Facebook. From The Markup:

"On the website of University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, for example, clicking the “Schedule Online” button on a doctor’s page prompted the Meta Pixel to send Facebook the text of the button, the doctor’s name, and the search term we used to find her: “pregnancy termination.”"

What the f--oh, I'm sorry, I forgot -- it's happening to the websites of crisis pregnancy centers, too, "which are quasi-health clinics, mostly run by religiously aligned organizations whose mission is to persuade people to choose an option other than abortion."

These revelations -- if you can call them that, I mean, it's Facebook -- are actually from two different investigations by The Markup, in partnership with STAT and The Center for Investigative Reporting, respectively, and flagrantly violate Facebook's own policies.

Understand it: This is all no bueno because data privacy in general would be swell, but also because America is barreling back towards the stone age with respect to female autonomy and "in many cases, the information was extremely sensitive—for example, whether a person was considering abortion or looking to get a pregnancy test or emergency contraceptives."

Are you ready for the wild part?

"The Markup also found the Meta Pixel installed inside the password-protected patient portals of seven health systems...The data sent to hospitals included the names of patients’ medications, descriptions of their allergic reactions, and details about their upcoming doctor’s appointments.

[...] When The Markup clicked the “Finish Booking” button on a Scripps Memorial Hospital doctor’s page, the pixel sent Facebook not just the name of the doctor and her field of medicine but also the first name, last name, email address, phone number, zip code, and city of residence we entered into the booking form.

The Meta Pixel “hashed” those personal details—obscuring them through a form of cryptography—before sending them to Facebook. But that hashing doesn’t prevent Facebook from using the data. In fact, Meta explicitly uses the hashed information to link pixel data to Facebook profiles."

⚡️What You Can Do: You can read and share both of these articles (hospitals, anti-abortion clinics). Sincerely. Read them, and then share them. All of this happens even when you and everyone you know are not even logged into Facebook proper and it's wildly, grossly fucked up and increasingly dangerous. 

10 THINGS FROM MY NOTEBOOK

  • The American Medical Association declared climate change a public health crisis
  • A group of senators is working on the Health and Location Data Protection Act to ban selling of your location and health info (here's a fun iPhone commercial, and no Apple isn't perfect in this regard)
  • Here's that list of 2022 climate wins again, because hey, you need it
  • Running Tide's catching some flak over sinking seaweed for carbon removal
  • South Korea will build more nuclear plants
  • Tastier fake meat might require breeding better beans
  • Our friends at Canary Media have a whole series on recycling renewables this week
  • Will you have a digital twin within the decade?
  • Monkeypox will get a new name
  • Patagonia on why they still use plastic and how they're trying to stop

Thanks for reading, and thanks for giving a shit. Have a great weekend.

-- Quinn


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