🌎 #294: Look for the helpers (that's us)

Quinn Emmett
September 30, 2022
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Welcome back, Shit Givers.

Huge thanks to all of you for stepping up after last week's technical disaster. Thousands and thousands of you replied. I appreciate the hell out of you.

Your favorite Action Step last week was figuring out where to get your booster and flu shots. YES.

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NASA earth map

"The rain begins with a single drop"

The news: Hurricane Ian, a storm that probably would have occurred anyway, but one we undoubtedly made worse, made landfall in the United States just a couple days after blacking out Cuba.

Ian straight crushed the west coast of Florida, a landscape particularly but not uniquely vulnerable to both sea level rise and storm surges.

A quick aside: it's important to understand that amid all the bullshit about whether or not to fund and scale carbon removal from the atmosphere (we should, if we can, while we simultaneously use every stick and carrot we have to shut down fossil fuels for good), the vast majority of our historical excess heat has gone into the oceans, not the air.

In practice, that means we end up with oceans that look like this:

Hurricane Ian Atlantic Ocean temps

That last bit of hottest water in the Gulf is why Ian rapidly intensified overnight.

But let's not ignore the hotter air, because hotter air holds more water, and now hurricanes like Ian and Fiona and Harvey drop just obscene amounts of rain on their destinations.

Fast forward to today: Fast-growing cities like Cape Coral were effectively submerged, power's out to millions of retirees and folks in mobile homes, and the insurance industry is in no way prepared to handle what's coming.

The devastation, once measured, will be massive, maybe historic. And then there's Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico -- having built a solar grid in the five years since Hurricane Maria, but still vulnerable -- waited almost a week for diesel fuel thanks to a self-defeating 100 year old law that the Biden administration finally dug up a waiver for on Wednesday.

Look. Hurricanes are a prime example of our need to address mitigation and adaptation at the same time), as fast as humanly possible, and with the guidance of frontline humans.

Let Ian and Fiona be reminders about how fast we have to go.

⚡️What We Can Do: Lots!


Water pipe
Vaccine equity update 9-30
Our World in Data

There's something in the water (let's track it)

The news: It's fall, which means there's an excellent Hocus Pocus sequel to watch, and face masks to put back on.

In Boston and elsewhere, viral levels in wastewater are spiking once again, and new research modeling COVID mortality across 44 countries over four months in 2020 (so, pre-vaccines) showed "average COVID-19 mortality per million was 288.54 in countries without face mask policies and 48.40 in countries with face mask policies."

48/million is better than 288/million and related: here's a link to my favorite mask.

Back to poop. Wastewater is a fantastic new early warning data point that requires no effort from citizens except to lobby for local governments to support it, and then eat a daily recommended value of fiber.

It's also the only data we're getting right.

From The New York Times:

"Decades of underinvestment in public health information systems has crippled efforts to understand the pandemic, stranding crucial data in incompatible data systems so outmoded that information often must be repeatedly typed in by hand."

Nations are fond of memorializing preventable disasters with slogans like "Never again", and sometimes they do things like buying back every gun they can find, and voila, mass shootings all but disappear.

After nearly two million lives lost to COVID in the US, and with millions scheduled to lose their Medicaid insurance when the public health emergency ends (so, probably soon), you'd think "Warp Speed for health care data architecture" would be a whole-of-country, "never again" approach, but we're not doing it.

The problems run deeper than political bullshit or funding — we're a federal republic hyped up on individual ruggedness, with a crumbling, extortionate hospital system and historically underfunded state and local agencies, among others.

Sure, EHR's have improved, but "the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society estimates (state and local) agencies need nearly $37 billion over the next decade" to modernize and become interoperable.

Let's do that, shall we?

⚡️What We Can Do: Tell your city council about BioBot wastewater monitoring and get ahead of the next wave.


Pakistan farm

Teach a (person) to fish (use no-till)

Things that will look different in 2050: power plants, cars, aviation, cancer treatments, pornography, probably, genetic disease, antibiotics, farming.

But how different?

  • More countries like Pakistan will face regular flooding and/or like East Africa, north India, Mexico or the US corn belt, drought
  • AI might 1) kill us OR 2) help identify and develop drought tolerant plants
  • Billions invested in regenerative ag may reduce emissions, sequester some others, and improve local water and soil
  • At some point we've gotta figure out how to rein in China's overfishing
  • Energy-intensive but land-use friendly hydroponic crops may be certified organic
  • "Healthy" food labels will become more prominent and standardized (reminder: 6 in 10 US adults have chronic lifestyle diseases in part from poor diet)
  • Tribal stewardship of lands will return

So many self-made problems, so many opportunities to multisolve and improve lives and ecosystems, everywhere. What's your focus?

⚡️What We Can Do: We've talked a lot about the West's desertification. Check out Vox's excellent explainer video on how the remaining water is actually distributed.


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Use your brain (better)

The news: I'm the grandson of four beloved grandparents who each suffered from dementia, and dementia and Alzheimer's cases are growing across the world. 

So when research uncovers a decades-long falsification of data, I'm covering it

And when a potential new therapy heralds good news, I'm in. This week, millions held their breath for the results of the biggest-ever Alzheimer's study, CLARITY-AD.

Would Biogen & Eisai's lovechild wonder drug lecanemab make any difference at all in the real-world? Because "any difference at all" is (arguably) better than anything we've ever produced.

On the other hand, failure would throw more fuel on the aforementioned fire that we were misled into twenty-five years and tens of billions of dollars of research into amyloid. 

From STAT News:

"(Lecanemab) slowed the rate of cognitive decline by 27% in a clinical trial, the companies said Tuesday...strengthening the drug’s case for approval as early as January.

Lecanemab was administered as an intravenous infusion given twice per month. Approximately 25% of the 1,800 (early-stage Alzheimer's) participants in the CLARITY-AD study were Hispanic and African Americans, making it one of the more diverse populations ever enrolled in an Alzheimer’s clinical trial."

27% isn't nothing, and it isn't a paradigm shift, either. But it's something — especially if it moves the needle in the clinic at all.

That's debatable, and will probably vary among patients and doctors, but there's more results to come -- and that's going to be essential, because the trials, FDA approval, and eventual Medicare banishment of Biogen's last drug, Aduhelm were a shitshow.

Science is a process and often a messy one, so I'll take hope wherever I can get it.

⚡️What We Can Do: Drugs aside, it's fairly clear the most important things people can do for their brains and hearts to age better are maintain "high physical and mental activity" throughout, reduce exposure to air pollution and alcohol, and keep good friends. I'm a huge fan of the Blue Zones lifestyle and cookbook


Kid with camera

Ask better questions

The news: Sure, your toddler looks adorable molding freakish animals out of that kinetic sand, but 1) Don't bring that shit home and 2) The picture the daycare posted in the app (assuming you can get into/afford daycare) is probably less secure than you'd prefer.

This week, the Electronic Frontier Foundation sent an urgent letter to the FTC, detailing myriad security concerns — many previously raised — including how "more than half of the 42 daycare and early education apps they looked at did not disclose the use of third-party trackers despite sharing sensitive information such as the number of diaper changes."

Friends: There's so, so much data being produced and collected, much of it is unnecessary, and nearly all of it is available to data brokers and hackers. 

Those text-based codes you get sent now that you finally turned on two-factor authentication (2FA)? Super hackable.

Blanket internet usage, to the tune of 100 billion new records a day? Purchased by multiple branches of the military. 

School grades, course schedules, disability status, your kids' texts? Up for ransom.

Your mouse clicks, working from home, in your Vuori sweats? Tracked by your boss.

And it's all hackable. So major companies have begun pushing for a "zero-trust" ethos (not unlike original sin): "It means that no part of a company’s IT systems should assume that any other part—human or software—is who or what it claims to be. All systems are assumed to be compromised by hackers already."

Yes, we need electronics, we need data, we need to be able to connect with one another, to build smarter grids and health records.

But building these with purpose means first laying a more ethical, inclusive, and intentional foundation, with FIDO as the bricks and "least access" skepticism as the mortar:

  1. Should we collect this/any information? Do we need to?
  2. How will we use it? Will we profit from it?
  3. Who will be/could be adversely affected from collecting, using, and storing this data?
  4. How do we build end-to-end encryption, so users' data is safe from hackers, flagrant civil rights violations, and us?

As a consumer of these apps, we have to ask many of the same questions. Do better better with people's data — we're in this together.

⚡️What We Can Do: WIRED has two good pieces for you to read. How to buy ethical and eco-friendly electronics, and how to advocate for tech privacy. 

🗣 Got feedback or thoughts on this issue? Members can comment here. Not a Member yet? You're just $5 away from joining up.


  1. Women said the COVID vaccine made their periods weird. Nobody listened. Women were (this will surprise you) correct
  2. The Biden-Harris administration doubled money for EV school buses to $1 billion and Congress passed a historic climate treaty that no one's talking about
  3. The Fed will climate test 6 of the US's largest banks (shortly after Moody's $1.9t warning over biodiversity loss)
  4. DoorDash is delivering for food banks
  5. Can "brown noise" turn off your brain? (please god)
  6. The fastest growing cities face some of the biggest climate risks, at least we only have to memorize one list
  7. Apparently we can use CRISPR inside bodies after all, grabs scissors
  8. When's the right time to get a flu shot and why is it so controversial?
  9. Megan Thee Stallion launched a mental health support portal, "Bad Bitches Have Bad Days Too"
  10. You should probably watch this Chevron commercial

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

-- Quinn

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