Briefing No. 8
WHAT WE’RE READING
On the Greenwood Place bedside table
Bill Gates has given every US college student graduating in 2018 a free download of Factfulness by the late, great Hans Rosling. It’s a brilliant book about clear thinking. Please take it on holiday this Summer. And recommend it to your friends.
We’ve also been reading, and re-reading, Drawdown. Paul Hawken, supported by two hundred climate analysts, has pulled together a compendium of climate solutions that —in combination with existing strategies and pushed hard by governments, businesses and individuals—could not only stop the growth in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases but also reduce them.
Unlike most popular books on climate change, it is not a polemic or a collection of anecdotes and exhortations. In fact, it’s basically a reference book: a list of solutions, ranked by potential carbon impact, each with cost estimates and a short description.
It is fascinating, a powerful reminder of how narrow a set of solutions dominates the public’s attention. Alternatives range from farmland irrigation to heat pumps to ride-sharing. The number one solution, in terms of potential impact? A combination of educating girls and family planning.
BENDING THE ARC
Dr. Paul Farmer, Dr. Jim Yong Kim, Ophelia Dahl, Todd McCormack, and investor Thomas White began a movement in the 1980s that has had a profound impact on global health forever. The groundbreaking work they began in a squatter settlement in Haiti—creating a model of how to deliver the highest-quality care in the most unlikely places—would eventually grow to have massive global effects.
Bending the Arc tells their story.
AIR POLLUTION IN AFRICA
Africa has an air pollution problem in its urban and rural areas but the scale of the problem is not easily quantifiable because of the absence of air quality monitoring systems on the ground in many countries.
In industrialised countries, factories, cars and power stations are usually blamed for polluting the air. In Africa, the causes are hiding in plain sight. Kerosene, used in homes all over the continent to light homes and cook foods, is a deadly threat of which many people simply unaware.
According to research from Stanford University and the University of California, San Diego published in the journal Nature this week, 400,000 African children under five died prematurely because of the bad air they breathed. Additionally, pneumonia alone caused the deaths of 500,000 children under five years of age in sub-Saharan Africa and air pollution is known to be a leading contributor to this disease. Air pollution can stunt brain development, trigger asthma and cause strokes and cancers later in life.
Even a modest improvement in air quality could have significant health benefits for infants.
VISUALISING THE WORLD’S MONEY
How much money is there in the world ? Strangely enough, there are multiple answers to this question, and the amount of money that exists changes depending on how we define it. This infographic is fascinating - and disturbing.
SUCKING CARBON DIOXIDE OUT OF THE ATMOSPHERE
A team of scientists from Harvard University and the company Carbon Engineering announced on Thursday that they have found a method to cheaply and directly pull carbon-dioxide pollution out of the atmosphere.
If their technique is successfully implemented at scale, it could transform how humanity thinks about the problem of climate change. The research suggests that people will soon be able to produce gasoline and jet fuel from little more than limestone, hydrogen, and air. It hints at the eventual construction of a vast, industrial-scale network of carbon scrubbers, capable of removing greenhouse gases directly from the atmosphere. Above all, the new technique is noteworthy because it promises to remove carbon dioxide cheaply.
AND...A FINAL WORD
“The 200-year present” is a phrase coined by peace research pioneer Elise Boulding to describe a concept that places us in the middle of history, rather than its beginning or end.
Katy’s grandfather was born in India in 1918 and lived in that country through Gandhi’s leadership of the Indian Independence Movement, the Second World War and the partition of India in 1947. She says that his vivid depictions of childhood and his retelling of the politics and personalities of the era remain with her and so they will become known, through her, to her daughters, one of whom might live to see the year 2118.
Close to you, someone will have been born around 100 years ago and some child will be alive around 100 years from now. If we think in terms of events over that 200-year span (1918-2118), we realise how long change takes and get a better sense of our place in history.