#66: So We Can't Just Blow Up An Asteroid, Then?

In Episode 66, Quinn & Brian discuss: Why, apparently, we shouldn’t just blow up asteroids.

Our guest is Professor K.T. Ramesh, who is a professor of mechanical engineering at John Hopkins, founding director of the Hopkins Extreme Materials Institute (HEMI), and our new hero. You can think of HEMI as a real-life Avengers (no, we’re not just stuck on Endgame), except every member is like Bruce Banner without all the Hulk-iness or Tony Stark if he was never kidnapped by terrorists. Every day, they’re working to protect people, structures, and the planet, exploring a number of topics that are both critically important and impenetrably complicated.

One of their newest studies reveals that Hollywood and Atari may, in fact, have been incorrect when they repeatedly suggested that one viable way to defend the planet from an incoming asteroid would be blowing it up. We don’t know about you, but we certainly feel lied to – so it’s refreshing to have this conversation with Professor Ramesh to set the record straight.

To listen to this episode, click here. To read the transcript, click here.

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#65: Chernobyl: A Preventable and Rare Accident from the Past or a Vivid Picture of Our Hellish Nuclear Future?

In Episode 65, Quinn asks: Is Chernobyl a preventable and rare accident from the past or a vivid picture of our hellish nuclear future?

Our guest is Craig Mazin, screenwriter, podcaster, and the creator and executive producer of a new HBO mini-series called Chernobyl – which is debuting TODAY, May 6th. So, if you currently have an account just to watch Game of Thrones, you’re in luck!

We’ve had some nuclear accidents, but we’ve learned from them... right? We answer that question, talk about the how and why of nuclear power (and disaster), and take a gander into the future of energy.

Listen to the episode here, or read the transcript here.

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#64: Sunrise Movement Tour - Live (ish) in LA!

In a very special Episode 64, Quinn & Brian discuss (live! Kind of): everything that’s good at the Sunrise Movement Tour (and everything that’s not-so-good in the local communities)!

Our guests are politician and native Hawaiian Kaniela Ing, environmental activist Michelle Cerecerez, native activist Miguel Quimichipilli Bravo, and LA City Councilmember Nury Martinez.

We make some new friends and have a lot of fun while we chat about the Green New Deal, supporting indigenous people, the scars of hyper gentrification, being surprised when you meet people with basic consideration for other human beings, environmental racism, and all of the important work that Sunrise Movement is doing here in California.

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#63: How Do We Build A New Pipeline of Sustainable Farmers?

In Episode 63, Quinn & Brian ask: How do we build a new pipeline of sustainable food growers?

Our guest is Dena Leibman, the Executive Director of the Future Harvest Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture (or Future Harvest for short), a non-profit that works to build a sustainable Chesapeake Foodshed from farm and fishery to table. But Dena is one to practice what she preaches – or a workaholic – so the Leibman family also started ZigBone Farm Retreat, a 100-acre sheep and goat farm in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains that they are slowly converting into a naturally built retreat center and event space.

And you know what’s really cool? Food without a bunch of shit in it, literally and figuratively; food that keeps us healthy instead of making us sick; food that makes us stronger, faster, and generally more like The Six Million Dollar Man. Today, we learn where our current food pipeline fails us – and what we can do to start supporting more sustainable farming and distribution practices today.

Listen to the episode here, or read the transcript here.

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#62: Where Does Ebola Go From Here?

In Episode 62, Quinn & Brian ask: Where does Ebola go from here?

Our guest is Karin Huster, a Field Coordinator at Doctors Without Borders, where she is currently bouncing between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique. She spent a decade in the trauma ICU before flinging herself head first into humanitarian efforts across the globe. She’s sorta the Forest Gump of humanitarian field nurses; if there’s a health-related outbreak, or a storm-related outbreak that turns into a health-related outbreak, she’s there – and she’s inspiring as hell!

The latest Ebola outbreak started in the Democratic Republic of Congo in August 2018, which is the worst on record for the DRC and the second largest Ebola outbreak in recorded history. Ebola is a beast of a disease, the kind of thing Hollywood uses as a go-to when they need a horrible disease outbreak. However, we do actually have some experimental drugs for treatment and a promising vaccine, thanks to recent medical advancements, but they don’t seem to be doing a lot to slow the spread of this disease. But why? We get into it in this episode, and Karin explains in further detail in a beautifully written New York Times opinion piece, “Why Couldn’t My Ebola Treatment Center Save This Baby?”

Listen to the episode here, or read the transcript here.

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#61: How Do We Atone for Poisoning Generations of American Minorities?

In Episode 61, Quinn & Brian ask: How do we atone for poisoning generations of American minorities?

Our guest is Dr. Michael Dorsey, a recognized expert on global energy, finance and sustainability matters. Dr. Dorsey holds Rotary International’s highest honor, The Paul Harris Medal for Distinguished Service to Humanity, and is a “full member” of the Club of Rome. A graduate of the University of Michigan, Yale, and Johns Hopkins University, he is currently Senior Program Officer for Sustainability at the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

Dr. Dorsey is out there making change wherever he goes – which is just about everywhere, really – and today, he’s going to hold our hands and walk us through the history of environmental injustice in the United States (and beyond) – and how, ultimately, we can work together to make things better for future generations.

We also have some BIG news to announce: we have been nominated as Best Podcast Host in the 2019 Webbys! We are so incredibly honored to be nominated with the likes of Serial, Conversations With People Who Hate Me, Ear Biscuits, and Pod Save The People. We’re the only independent podcast on the list, and with your help, maybe we won’t come in last! (Just kidding... kinda.) You can show us your support by going to importantnotimportant.com/vote!

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#60: Why You Should Run for Something in 2020

In Episode 60, Quinn & Brian discuss: Why YOU should run for something in 2020!

Our guest is Amanda Litman, the co-founder and Executive Director of Run For Something, a PAC that helps recruit and support young diverse progressives to run for down-ballot races in order to build a bench for the future. They aim to lower the barriers to entry for these candidates – which could and should be you, unless you’re a white guy (because we have plenty of those) – by helping them with seed money, organization building, and access to training.

According to Run For Something’s strategic plan, their mission is to change the face of progressive politics, quite literally, by encouraging and supporting local candidates who can improve lives today, and who may be able to run for office on a national level in the future. They will never merge with the Democratic Party, and they never plan to support candidates in federal races – they are just here to create a much-needed, long-lasting infrastructure for regular people who just want to solve problems in their communities, but who have trouble finding resources because they’re not already part of the existing political system.

Listen to the episode here, or read the transcript here.

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#59: Is Florida the Harbinger of Doom? (Probably)

In Episode 59, Quinn & Brian ask: Is Florida the harbinger of doom? (Probably)

Our guest is Dr. Salvador Almagro-Moreno, an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Central Florida. His lab, The Moreno Lab, lies at the interface between ecology and pathogenesis, studying the emergence and evolution of bacterial pathogens. From what we can tell, this means they’re focusing on how and why bacteria want to eat and/or kill us.

This episode contains what has to be some of the most scientifically-laden potty talk you’ve ever heard as we learn more about the good, the bad, and the ugly awaiting us in our poop and the water. But don’t get us wrong, this is some serious shit.

We’ll also spoil one big takeaway from this episode now, and we hope you take it to heart: do NOT retire to Florida.

Listen to the episode here, or read the transcript here.

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#58: Is Faith Sustainable?

In Episode 58, Quinn & Brian ask: Is faith sustainable?

Our guest is Dekila Chungyalpa, a trained scientist and Buddhist operating at the intersection of science, faith, and the environment. She is the director of The Loka Initiative, a new and innovative education and outreach program at the University of Wisconsin–Madison for faith leaders and religious institutions. Its mission is to support faith-led environmental efforts locally and around the world through collaborations with faith leaders and religious institutions on environmental protection, sustainable development, and global health issues.

Dekila believes that science and religion can be sympathetic, rather than adversarial, in their commitment to solving environmental and social problems compassionately and effectively. We are all different, in oh so very many ways, but there’s one thing that that every single human being has in common: if we destroy the planet through our own negligence, there will be nowhere left for us to argue about (and kill each other over) religion and politics.

Listen to the episode here, or read the transcript here.

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#57: Make Food Great (Nutritious) Again

In Episode 57, Quinn & Brian discuss: Why more food ≠ more nutrition.

Our guests are Professors Kristie Ebi and Irakli Loladze. Dr. Ebi is the Rohm & Haas Endowed Professorship in Public Health Sciences at the University of Washington, where she has been conducting research and practice on the health risks of climate variability and change for over twenty years. She focuses on understanding sources of vulnerability, estimating current and future health risks of climate change, and designing adaptation policies and measures to reduce the risks of climate change in multi-stressor environments. Dr. Loladze is a professor of health sciences at the Bryan Medical Center at Bryan College, where he applies mathematical, computational, and statistical methods to life sciences – which is to say, he’s a math biologist.

Dr. Ebi recently testified in front of Congress – specifically, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology – in the first of a series of hearings on climate science and why it matters (a series of conversations we’re pretty surprised and excited are actually happening at all, if you need any more evidence that your vote matters). She was speaking about the health implications, which Dr. Loladze has also spent much of his life studying. In fact, he linked rising CO2 levels to the quality of human nutrition and obesity, revealing that some of the advancements that allow us to grow more food also reduce the nutritional quality of those foods.
But you want to know what’s really screwed up about the whole situation? These two don’t have any funding for this potentially world-saving research.

Listen to the episode here, or read the transcript here.

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#56: What's It Like To Be Asked To Save The World?

In Episode 56, Quinn & Brian ask: What’s it feel like to be asked to save the world?

Our guest is Rhiana Gunn-Wright, who is writing policy and leading the Green New Deal project at New Consensus, which is one of the main think tanks working on the Green New Deal.

The Green New Deal is one of the most important pieces of policy being worked on right now (editors note: or, you know, ever), and it could have wide sweeping effects that impact not just our generation but the future for everyone. Conversations around environmental topics tend to get real political real fast, but Rhiana reminds us that this isn’t a political issue – this is not a political game and millions of people will die. Sorry, no joke there, just a stark reality that too many people are happily ignoring.

Listen to the episode here, or read the transcript here.

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#55: What Are The Energy Requirements of Well Being?

In Episode 55, Quinn & Brian ask: What are the energy requirements of well-being?

Our guest is Julia Steinberger, a Professor of Social Ecology & Ecological Economics at the University of Leeds School of Earth and Environment. Her research examines the connections between resource use (energy and materials, greenhouse gas emissions) and societal performance (economic activity and human wellbeing) – or, what happens when you drive your car every damn day. She is interested in quantifying the current and historical linkages between resource use and socioeconomic parameters, and identifying alternative development pathways to guide the necessary transition to a low carbon society.

Basically, all her research can be boiled down to one important question: are we going to make it and maintain our standard of living, given the resources available to us and the technology we have now? And, well... it’s possible, but it’s not going to be easy and some things are going to have to change. Fast.

Listen to the episode here, or read the transcript here.

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#54: The state that's not a state is greener than your state

In Episode 54, Quinn & Brian discuss: the state that’s not a state is a hell of a lot greener than your state.

Our guest is Jamie DeMarco, a State-Level Carbon Pricing Coordinator with our friends the Citizens' Climate Lobby (who are working to save our collective asses every single day, NBD). Jamie is dedicated to passing state-level legislation that will serve as a model and inspiration for future national lawmakers – so he definitely has his work cut out for him.

Dealing with society’s environmental self-harm, it turns out, is a lot like acknowledging a toxic relationship with your significant other: you acknowledge the problem (maybe publicly), stop participating in the toxic behavior, and then move to being proactive about the problem. What can we do on both a micro and macro scale to begin influencing environmental policy for the better, and encourage others to do the same?

We already have all of the technology we need to power our society from 100% renewable sources – we just lack the political will to get there. Luckily, we have people like Jamie out there creating will where there’s already a way.

Listen to the episode here, or read the transcript here.

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#53: How the Hell Do We Pull Clean Drinking Water Out of Thin Air?

In Episode 53, Quinn & Brian ask: How the hell do we pull clean drinking water out of thin air?

Our guest is Dr. Shing-Chung “Josh” Wong, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Akron In addition to pursuing bio-inspired materials research, he has worked on mechanical behavior and functional properties of polymers, electrospinning, processing-structure-property relationships, coatings, bio- and nano-materials, and composites. Dr. Wong has authored and co-authored over 70 archived articles in book, journal, and patent literatures, and in 2007, he was selected as a recipient for the prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER Award.

There are a lot of words you may not understand in that bio – don’t worry, you’re not alone – but the reason Josh is awesome and we wanted him on the show comes down to one simple fact: he has invented some very cool shit that benefits anyone who enjoys being alive on Earth. He comes from a place of such moral integrity, constantly striving to use his capacity for innovation and discovery to help other people... a trait that is almost staggeringly uncommon these days, to our detriment.

Listen to the episode here, or read the transcript here.

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#52: What's the Deal with the Green New Deal?

In Episode 52, Quinn & Brian ask (using their best Seinfeld impression): What’s the deal with the Green New Deal?

Our guest is Varshini Prakash, a founder of the Sunrise Movement, a veritable army of young folks fighting to stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process. We think Varshini will be, no exaggeration, one of the most instrumental people in American politics (and for the future health of our planet) over the next couple years.

The Sunrise Movement’s army is comprised of ordinary people who are scared about what the climate crisis means for the people and places they love. They aren’t looking to the Left or the Right to solve the problem – they’re looking forward to unite millions of people and reclaim our democracy from the corrupting influence of fossil fuel executive and those who empower them. The cornerstone of this movement is the Green New Deal, a plan that will transform our economy and society at the scale needed to stop the climate crisis. So this summer, thousands of people from Sunrise will descend on one of the first Democratic Presidential debates to #ChangeTheDebate and make sure the #GreenNewDeal is a top issue in the 2020 election.

Like our friends Elsa Mengistu and Emelly Villa from episode 33, Varshini recognizes that #thisisZeroHour – and the Green New Deal is our chance to turn back the clock.

Listen to the episode here, or read the transcript here.

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#51: Are We Talking About CRISPR All Wrong? Also, What The Hell Is CRISPR?

In Episode 51, Quinn & Brian ask: Are we thinking about CRISPR all wrong (and what the hell is CRISPR)?

Our guest is C. Brandon Ogbunu, an evolutionary systems biologist working as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Brown University. Although the title is different, his role is almost identical to Brian’s here at INI: He uses experimental evolution, mathematical modeling, and computational biology to better understand the underlying causes and consequences of disease, across scales: from the biophysics of proteins involved in drug resistance to the social determinants underlying disease. In doing so, he aims to develop theory that enriches our understanding of the evolutionary and ecological underpinnings of disease, while contributing to practical solutions for clinical medicine and public health.

So, like Brian, it’s pretty apparent why C. Brandon is vital to the survival of our species. (The similarities are just uncanny, aren’t they?)

We’ve talked about CRISPR before on the show, but if you’re not familiar, here’s a brief and overly simplistic overview of this potentially world-changing technology: it’s scissors for DNA. It’s still a very young technology – it was only patented in 2012 – but it has the potential to do everything from eliminating genetic diseases from our lineage, to making our food supply more efficient and productive, to creating a real-life Jurassic Park. But what can’t we do with it – and perhaps more importantly, what shouldn’t we be doing with it? That’s what we’re going to find out today.

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#50: It’s Getting Hot in Herre & America’s Poor are (Not Surprisingly) Dying Fastest

In Episode 50, Quinn & Brian discuss: How D.C. and LA are dealing with urban heat issues.  

Our guests are Yesim Sayin Taylor and Molly Peterson. Yesim is the founding Executive Director of the D.C. Policy Center and Molly is a renowned reporter focusing on the environment and climate change (and our first returning guest!).

We all remember when Nelly said, “It’s getting hot in herre,” but not a lot of people remember the whole verse: “It’s getting hot in herre, so take off all your clothes / all of the poor minorities in America are suffering and dying before everybody else / Uh, uh, uh, let it hang all out.” But it’s a shame, really, because if we’d just paid more attention to Nelly’s important message back in 2002, maybe we wouldn’t be facing this problem today.

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#49: Can The Huge Food Companies Pivot to Sustainability?

In Episode 49, Quinn & Brian ask: What can the HUGE food and beverage companies do, right now, to improve U.S. food systems and drive trends towards a more sustainable future?

It’s a big and complicated question, but our guest Jennifer Mleczko is going to share the one simple thing you can do to address all of it at once. Jennifer is a consultant at the World Bank focused on sustainable development, specifically agriculture and, even more specifically, livestock.

There are environmental, social, economic, and political implications to the food systems we’ve created here in the United States; globalization, international trade, market consolidation, and the ways we produce food affects communities all around the globe. We aren’t always aware of how buying a package of dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets from Walmart affects a small farm halfway across the country or the world, but every choice we make has consequences – and the more we work to bring awareness to these choices, the more we can do to transition to a more sustainable food system.

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#48: Why Does Childhood Cancer Exist & What Can We Do to Make It Go Away Forever?

In Episode 48, Quinn & Brian ask: Why the hell does childhood cancer exist, isn't the world effed up enough as it is, and what can we do to make it go away forever?

Our guest is one of our favorite humans, Jay Scott, Co-Executive Director of the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation. Jay runs the organization with his wife, Liz, in honor of their daughter Alex, who was diagnosed with cancer just two days before her first birthday. She set up a lemonade stand in their yard to help support her doctors and, before she died, she managed to raise more than $1 million.

Since then, Alex’s Lemonade Stand has raised over $150 million and funded nearly 1,000 medical research grants for more than 135 institutions across the U.S. and Canada, and they’re not slowing down for a second. This is an awesome, inspiring, and necessary conversation, but be warned: our keyboards are covered in salty man tears and your phone may get wet as well.

Listen to the episode here, or read the show notes here.

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#47: The Future of Digital Health, Part II

In Episode 47, Quinn goes solo for a minute to discuss: America’s data and the future of digital health.

Quinn sits down for a one-on-one chat with Dave Gershgorn, the lead artificial intelligence reporter at Quartz (AKA qz.com), to figure out why our data is different, how the future we were promised is both here and pretty damn far away, and whether/why data is too white.

The worlds of healthcare and artificial intelligence are looking – big surprise – really biased right now, but with some effort, we can get to the colorful and diverse future of digital health we talked about with Dr. Indra Joshi and Maxine Mackintosh back in episode 43. Today, Dave provides some journalist-approved action steps that will help us get a little more informed on the subject so that we can all help make that future our reality.

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