🌎 #285: How to beat the heat and avoid quacks

Quinn Emmett
July 22, 2022
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Welcome back, Shit Givers.

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TLDR:

  • How to beat the heat in your city
  • COVID quackery
  • Introducing "Explainers"!
  • A blockbuster depression study
  • A new federal privacy bill is comin'

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 Mission Economy by Mariana Mazzucato (Bookshop, Libro, Libby). 

I read this for the first time a couple years ago and again recently. It really reoriented my thinking on how to take on today's wildly complex systemic issues, from stakeholder buy-in to collaborative processes measured against a very specific, measurable goal.

CLIMATE CHANGE

Heat stroke

How to beat the heat in your city

The news: Is it hot enough for you?

But it's not just you. It's hot AF everywhere.

In the US:

  • More than 100 million people in the US face excessive heat conditions more or less as you're reading this, and 60 million of those will melt through triple digits this week

In Europe:

  • Weather forecasts once projected for 2050 came to life in the UK as temps topped 104 in London and over 100 throughout the island, breaking records by almost 3 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Google's UK data centers are melting
  • More than 2000 people in Spain and Portugal died from heat-related causes this week, as massive wildfires burned throughout those countries, parts of France, and London (!)

In Asia:

  • The monsoon has finally arrived on the subcontinent and is providing marginal relief, but central Asia is still cooking

So, US President Joe Biden had a press conference where he called the state of the climate an emergency, but didn't actually declare an emergency. Because while that's necessary at this point, unlocking a host of potential tools that Congress simply won't provide, it's also a complicated maneuver.

First, by nature it will mostly involve executive powers and actions that the next president can cancel with the stroke of a pen (as has happened for eons now), and probably invites more bullshit from the Supreme Court, whom you may have heard is excited to strike down anything resembling progress.

Second, and this is where it's complicated, there's a relatively important federal election in a couple months and the only party that (mostly) wants to do anything about climate change is already at risk of getting blown out of the (rising) water with democracy right behind it.

On the one hand, fuck it, then, do it anyway? I don't know.

On the other, I do know that new federal tailpipe standards finally in action would bend the EV curve even more (and while gas is still expensive), and that the Defense Production Act and procurement dollars, when applied to "shovel ready" climate tech like EV's and clean power, can go a long way, even if it means moving some agency money around to do so.

And finally, that using the Stafford Act to make sure FEMA doesn't just rebuild things that will inevitably be broken in a hurricane exactly as they were before (like, say, petrochemical plants) can help communities (searching for the right words here) build back...better?

But while it seems like the emergency declaration is still probably coming, you're inevitably going to be frustrated, because it simply won't be enough on the global scale.

Where you'll feel the most progress (through actions and results) is on the state and city level.

Right now, your city can:

  • Plant tree cover in low-income (read: redlined) city blocks
  • Procure and build batteries to backup your state and local grid during heatwaves and storms
  • Install cool roofs and roadways to lower daytime and nighttime temps
  • Enable educators to bring climate art into the classroom
  • Streamline local solar permitting with SolarAPP+
  • Offer rebates for home smart panels so the electrified home (and the grid it attaches to) is handled intelligently at peak times
  • Commit to and market the hell out of community solar options
  • Transition your local school district to electric school buses
  • Ban gas hookups in new buildings and subsidize or rebate induction stoves and heat pumps for current ones
  • Show up at public utility commission meetings to insist on electrified power

⚡️What We Can Do: Everything above, but also checkout Rewriting America's excellent guides to electrifying your community.

COVID

Nurse getting ready for work
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Vaccine equity update: Just 19.3% of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose, and 33.2% of people worldwide have received zero doses.

How to beat quackery

The news: Quackery comes on a spectrum, in a huge variety of forms (like candidates for Senate in Pennsylvania), is inevitable, and is as old as time.

And yet -- in a world changing quickly and with fewer trusted sources and poor and often mis-informed messaging from the remaining ones, people be flailing.

And when people don't know where to turn, they will turn anywhere that may be able to help them.

For example, we haven't really figured out 1) what Long COVID is or 2) why it happens to some people, much less 3) how to treat it, so patients are increasingly traveling to receive treatments that have no proven benefit, like hydroxychloroquine (still, I know) and "blood washing."

It goes deeper than that, though. By some estimates, we were short 200,000 nurses pre-COVID. McKinsey (FWIW) projects that may be closer to 450,000 in just a couple years.

What are the stakes?

Well, all that heat's filling up hospitals, we've fallen way behind on other global vaccinations, and it seems as if "endemic" COVID might mean a baseline 300 or so deaths a day, or 100,000-ish new deaths a year, and, depending on how the virus evolves, many more than that infected.

That's many, MANY less than previous waves thanks to shots and infections. And over the years, new subvariants and non-existent mitigation will probably be even more acquired immunity. And yet.

The point is: we have to design approaches that honestly measure the externalities we're exposed to. We don't just need technology to answer that call, we need people.

We don't just need a million new EV charging stations to reduce transportation emissions, we need a half a million new nurses to reduce excess deaths and suffering from air pollution.

We don't just need heat pumps, we need to train tens of thousands of people to build them and install them.

We don't just need ironclad abortion rights and value-based care, we need medical professionals who will listen to women, LGBTQ+, and people of color, and vastly more medical professionals who are women, LGBTQ+, and people of color.

We don't just need EV's, we need funding and people to build more public transportation.

We don't just need gun laws and metal detectors and clear backpacks, we don't just need an alternative to opioids, we don't just need a smaller and less racist and less punitive prison system, we need an actual social safety net, and an overhauled mental health support system.

We don't just need biodegradable, plant-based coatings for fresh fruits and vegetables, we need to grow crops that make you healthy, that are affordable, and a legion of new, young farmers to grow them, and workplace protections so they don't die on the job.

We don't just need millions of 3D printed houses, we need people to build them and maintain them.

We don't just need new COVID boosters, but trusted nurses and informed community health workers to administer them, who can answer questions about weird periods after those shots, about monkeypox symptoms, tests, and vaccines, who can explain that as far as we can tell, Paxlovid doesn't really do anything unless you're high-risk, and who, on the other hand, can educate the immunocompromised on Evusheld, the bulk of which is basically just sitting on the shelf.

Yes, all of this will cost money that Congress refuses to provide. But again, when you measure the costs of inaction, of our externalities, of everything we've made ourselves exposed to -- inaction dwarfs everything else.

All of this, as always, is to say: it doesn't have to be this way. Other countries aren't anywhere near perfect, but they aren't this way. We have remained so steadfastly dedicated to exceptionalism by way of liberty that, collectively we're basically 70th in the world in everything that matters.

These results are the sum of the choices we've made, and I want to be crystal clear here: we can make different ones. We can do so much better, and it's going to require all of us -- but especially those of us who've never been in positions of leadership before, and it starts close to home.

⚡️What We Can Do: Support incredible, young, progressive state and local candidates -- or become one yourself -- with Run for Something.

FOOD & WATER

Laundry machines
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Introducing "Explainers"!

The news: Just two days after Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Paul filed suit against 20 companies who allegedly contaminated, well, everything, with the "forever chemicals" known as PFAS (per- or poly-fluoroalkyl substances), I am excited to introduce the first in our new series of "Explainers" -- resources to get you up to speed on some of the more nuanced topics frequently discussed here and on the pod.

The first is a briefing on PFAS, those pesky chemicals included in everything from your drinking water to laundry detergent and frying pans, most of which degrade (checks notes) never?

Explainers are the brainchild of my incredible new colleague Willow Beck. Got ideas for more? Just reply to this email and let us know. Members can DM Willow with questions and ideas directly in our Community.

From our partners

HEALTH & BIO

Brain cut out
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A paradigm shift in mental health

The news: A massive new umbrella review of 17 existing metastudies of depression's relationship with serotonin has come to the conclusion that "After a vast amount of research conducted over several decades, there is no convincing evidence that depression is caused by serotonin abnormalities, particularly by lower levels or reduced activity of serotonin."

Understand it: Wow. Some background from New Scientist if you've never tangled with depression:

"The serotonin hypothesis, which dates from the 1960s, says that a chemical imbalance in the brain, including low levels of serotonin, also known as 5-hydroxytryptamine or 5-HT, leads to depression. We now think various biological, psychological and environmental factors play a role, but the most popular antidepressants, known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), increase the availability of serotonin in the brain."

So seeing as how many billions of dollars of SSRI's have been sold over the decades, never fully knowing what SSRI's actually do (however much they've helped millions of folks feel better), there's going to be much consternation over this result.

In New Scientist, "Johan Lundberg at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden says a limitation of the analysis is that it didn’t distinguish between people who had ongoing depression and those who have episodes of depression, whose state at the time they were assessed could affect the functioning of their serotonin systems."

And yet, in The Conversation, the study's authors write, "There is no other accepted pharmacological mechanism for how antidepressants might affect depression. If antidepressants exert their effects as placebos, or by numbing emotions, then it is not clear that they do more good than harm."

No one should change anything about their medication until discussing these results and their medical history with a doctor. Science, as we know, doesn't go in a straight line. Shit's complicated. Nearly one hundred years after we started cranking out penicillin, antibiotics have saved a bajillion lives and reduced the suffering of many more, but stuffing our cows full of them has also meant an increasing antimicrobial resistance because bacteria are 1) older and 2) smarter than we are.

So I don't believe this is anywhere near the end for SSRI's, but evaluating where we are today is a requisite step in the "rebuild the mental health support system" revolution, from better understanding environmental triggers to researching psychedelics and more. 

⚡️What We Can Do: If you or someone you love needs help, dial 988 to check out the new mental health hotline.

BEEP BOOP

Phone map location
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So close, yet so far

The news: I've spent months harping about a US federal privacy law, tracking UK developments, and making sense of the new US state-level laws, including California's, which is quite strong and carved into stone like all of California's other ballot initiatives. Simultaneously, the FCC is finally putting mobile companies feet to the fire over location data privacy.

Good news: There's a new federal bill coming down the pipe. It's huge progress, requiring companies to actually suss out whether/how much their algorithms are racist or sexist or discriminatory in six other ways, and then fix them. 

Bad news: It supersedes (almost ) all those state laws, including California's, which is way stronger, and has basically no funding attached to it.

It's still early and banging around committee, so lots can change, but only if we demand it changes. We are once again behind the 8 Ball here with a real chance to shun lobbyists, learn from state and international efforts, and maybe even do one better.

⚡️What We Can Do: Re-upping our latest steps: Turn on end-to-end encryption for your Ring doorbell, or throw it into the fires of Mount Doom; check out Signal for secure messaging and Proton for email. 

Got feedback or thoughts on this issue? Members can comment here. Not a Member yet? Get engaged right here.

10 THINGS FROM MY NOTEBOOK

  • Would carbon food labels change the way you shop?
  • The FCC said it's time for minimum broadband speeds
  • Beyond Meat's got a pepperoni problem
  • Ford's dealing with the battery component shortage by sourcing different and cheaper batteries (while Panasonic reveals their massive new Kansas battery factory)
  • YouTube will start removing abortion misinformation
  • Depleted Y chromosomes might be why men's hearts fail
  • British grocer Marks & Spencer will scrap (get it) "best before" dates on fruits and veggies to cut food waste
  • VC dollars are down everywhere, but mostly holding strong in climate tech, namely transportation, energy and food & land Use
  • How much of recent Alzheimer's research was fabricated?
  • These are the 5 "hottest" birds in the sky. I laughed so hard.

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

-- Quinn

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