🌎 #298: What they're *not* teaching kids today

Quinn Emmett
November 4, 2022
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Welcome back, Shit Givers.

Today's big goal: cause fewer problems for myself than Elon has.

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CLIMATE CHANGE

This will be on the test

The news: More than 40 US states have adopted middle school science standards that include just one reference to climate change.

Texas, the fracking and wind capital of the US, features just three bullet points, and Florida, reeling from Ian, has none.

From The New York Times

"Around half of middle school science teachers either don’t cover the subject or spend less than two hours a year on it, according to a survey by the National Center for Science Education."

The context: Today's middle schoolers were, at earliest, born in 2009 (kill me). They have more access to more information (and mis- and disinformation) than any children that have ever lived in this galaxy or any others (as far as we know).

And further: They have and continue to grown up in a world that is more connected and complicated, measurably hotter, and in some places, drier than any generation before them. 

Climate change touches everything. Middle school is the perfect opportunity to help students understand and ground their lived experiences in a robust, "whole of curriculum" science, social, artistic, and economic education that prepares them to not only live in a rapidly changing world — but to imagine and build a new one.

Our expected future is both narrower and more nuanced than ever before.

Today and tomorrow mean megadroughts, fewer forests, wildly cheap solar energy, offshore wind, and electric cars (and hopefully far fewer cars); cities filled with bike lanes and fruit trees; diets more in tune with how our bodies and planet flourish; workplaces filled with employees that understand sustainability, that track their emissions, plastics, and water use, who use packaging made of seaweed, who make solar inverters in our reddest states, who make solar microgrids for countries that have for so long run on diesel, who make satellites to track methane leaks in real-time.

These students deserve to know. Not only what's coming, but what they can make of it.

⚡️What We Can Do: Teachers can't teach without understand the material. Check out ClimeTime and the CLEAN project for free, vetted resources for educators K-12.

COVID

Antibodies

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Vaccine update 11-4

Must go faster

The news: Despite a deluge of more evasive subvariants, COVID deaths remain "flat" at 300-500 a day.

I wrote about what that means here, but the implications are relatively straight-forward:

Antiviral drugs should hold the line, but continued immune evasiveness from increasingly divergent subvariants paired with a low-booster uptake means more people susceptible to symptomatic infection, and to Long COVID.

Our antibodies could continue to become less effective and our monoclonal antibody treatments even more so, specifically Evusheld, our most vital firewall for immunocompromised people.

But why? From The Atlantic:

"Monoclonal antibodies work their magic by glomming so tightly onto SARS-CoV-2’s surface that the virus can’t dock onto our cells. Their grip is ultra precise—enough so that it can be nullified by just one viral mutation in exactly the right spot."

We will be playing from behind for as long as we choose not to take care of one another, first.

As always, it's up to us (and a diverse, multidisciplinary panel of 386 academic, health, non-governmental organization, government and other experts in COVID-19 response from 112 countries and territories agree).

⚡️What We Can Do: Bring everyone you know to get their bivalent boosters, bring masks back (they can help defend against the flu and RSV, too), and improve your air quality wherever you can.

FOOD & WATER

Lab meat

But does it moo

The news: Cell-cultured (or lab-grown, or cultured, or "cultivated") meat is just around the corner -- still. But will you eat it?

Meat is a systemic problem ripe for multisolving, from microbiome to diet, crops, water, fertilizer, emissions, antibiotics, land-use, deforestation, and more.

All of which are reasons why so much is riding on not only plant-based burgers, nuggets, sausage, and now steak, too -- but also meat cultivated from animal cells.

On the line? Over 100 companies and hundreds of billions of dollars have been thrown at bringing cultivated meat to market, in attempt to most literally replicate the real thing in taste and texture — and drastically reduce the impacts from everything above.

It's a long way off (I think), but I'm all for it: As discussed last week, veggie-forward options and lookalikes like Beyond/Impossible/etc can only convert so many. An 80/20 option that could improve outcomes everywhere requires an alternative that'll convert even the most die-hard meat eaters.

⚡️What We Can Do: Our friends at Climate Tech VC put together a free deep-dive on methane emissions from cows. Read it and get up to speed.

TOGETHER WITH BLINKIST

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HEALTH & BIO

Toddler playing

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When winter comes and it's not so bad!

Not this one: Respiratory syncytial virus ("RSV") cases among small children have swamped hospitals across the country, but a collection of vaccines in clinical trials may make this winter one of the last to be quite so rough.

The reality: Over the past few COVID years, isolation, distancing, a hell of a lot of hand-washing, and masks made it difficult for typical childhood diseases to get at little kids.

Which also means many kids have simply never been exposed to these viruses, and now, with social defenses mostly non-existent, the game has changed for their tiny little lungs. Some ER's are turning kids away, others are — yes — building tents in the parking lot.

Sure, in most years, American childhood RSV deaths "only" number in the hundreds, but 1) death tolls are drastically worse in low-income countries and 2) 50,000+ American kids are hospitalized every year. I don't have to tell you the impacts of a hospital stay are, shall we say, comprehensive, from missed work to outrageous bills.

There's still no safety net: Some 150,000-200,000 kids lost a parent or caregiver to COVID, there's no mandatory paid leave in America, the nursing ranks are thin at best, and childcare -- if you can afford it -- is being taken over by private equity.

But help is coming: Vaccines for everyone from pregnant people, babies, and adults are faring better than ever in clinical trials and could be available as early as next fall. 

⚡️What We Can Do: Join our friends at Pod Save America to call, text, knock on doors, and vote for people who will fight for the 75%+ of Americans who don't have access to paid leave through an employer.

BEEP BOOP

Cat working in coal mine

Weird Dall-E Generations

I mean what

The news: Every week I plan to write something about generative AI, and every week the landscape completely changes before I can get words down on paper.

Here's the deal: First there was GPT-2, for text. Then GPT-3, to write better text. And then DALL-E, for images. GitHub CoPilot, DALL-E 2, Midjourney, Stable Diffusion, Jasper, and...there's just no putting it back in the bottle, now. 

For years, AI has had an questionably useful impact on business, industry, and consumers, from, say, radiology, to Siri and Alexa.

Every day progress plateaued, with most users never moving on from using the power of massive data sets and black-box algorithms to sometimes successfully set kitchen timers.

Meanwhile, businesses and governments brought historical biases and blind spots to new algorithms for mortgage applications and predictive policing.

But now, suddenly, AI can write your marketing copy. It can design bold new images where once there were none. Or build — for free, unfortunately — on the work of legendary artists to make something entirely new, but so familiar. To make self-portraits. To make videos from still images, or just from text. 

All of which raises the question: how will we write in 2030? And do so ethically? Do we even know how this shit works (mostly, no)?

I'm thinking about this a lot, but again, the landscape changes more every day. If touch-screen iPhones made our parents feel old, the next few years of AI may obliterate anything recognizable content-wise.

⚡️What We Can Do: Check out Bleeding Edge AI for a cool timeline for developments as they happen, and/or Ben's Bites, a free, digestible, pithy email update with all things generative AI.

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

10 THINGS FROM MY NOTEBOOK

  1. Why the hell does swearing feel so good?
  2. The FDA finally goes after racist pulse oximeters
  3. The $10 a day TikTok content moderators
  4. How do we scale plant-based plastics?
  5. VW held off on faster EV charging and now they're paying the price
  6. The dream of the unhackable voting machine
  7. Why Alaska's so damn complicated
  8. From our friends at Climate Town: The news media's selling you out
  9. Are we prepared for the next wave of biotech?
  10. Uhh is Mauna Loa going to go boom boom?

👀 Members get access to my entire notebook. Get it here.

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

-- Quinn

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