BY MIKE MAGEE
A few weeks ago, New York Times journalist Tom Friedman wrote, “We are opening two giant Pandora boxes.” He is referring to 1) Artificial Intelligence (AI) which most people agree has the potential to go horribly wrong unless carefully regulated and 2) the resulting global warming floods, droughts and the vast destruction of people and the planet.
Friedman argues that we must take risks in the pursuit of one (rapid advancement in AI) to potentially discover solutions to the other. But positioning science as the savior completely misses the point that it is human behavior (a combination of greed and willful ignorance), not a lack of scientific acumen, has put our planet and its inhabitants in danger.
The short- and long-term effects of fossil fuels and carbonation on our environment were well understood before Al Gore recognized it. “A harsh truth” on the road in 2006. So are confounding factors including population growth, urbanization and surface water degradation.
When I first published “Fresh water,” Global population is 6.5 billion with 49% urban, mainly located on coastal plains. Now 8 billion with 57% urban and expected to reach 8.5 billion by year 2030 with 63% urban. 552 cities The world’s population now exceeds 1 million citizens.
Under ideal circumstances, this urban migration could provide our people with jobs, clean air and water, transportation, housing and education, health care, safety and security. However, without investment, this can be a deadly trap.
Clean, safe water is fundamental to maintaining the health and productivity of these city dwellers. Investing in water infrastructure, according to OCED, yields a Return on Investment 3 out of 1. So money should be easy to find. But not so. And not because of a lack of science or technology. It’s a matter of preference. For example, US citizens managed to find 16 billion a year to buy bottled water, hardly better, and sometimes even worse, than regular tap water.
Robin Wall Kimmerer, In her novel, Sweet Grass Braid, she writes: “Among our Potawatomis, women are the Guardians of the country. We bring sacred water to ceremonies and act on its behalf. My sister said: “Women have a natural affinity for water, for we are all bearers of life. ‘We held our babies in the inner ponds and they were born on a wave of water. It is our responsibility to protect the water source of all our relationships.’”
When it comes to planetary health, it’s the respect, common sense and imagination we need to deliver results faster and better than AI. Planetary health requires streamlined priorities and changing human behavior like the recent trend away from huge, dangerous and disruptive hydroelectric power projects like the Three Gorges Dam in China. Country. People today rely on hydroelectric projects to 16% of the world’s energy. That’s good in that it’s renewable and reduces carbon emissions. But its impact on the environment, replacing people and animals with dam construction, and playing a role in catastrophic disasters when dams fail, has been criticized.
In response, a simple solution called “storage pump” are rapidly replacing giant dam projects. The system is very simple – two reservoirs, one high and one low. When energy usage is low, water is pumped into the upper reservoir. When demand is high, water is allowed to flow into the lower reservoir through turbines that generate the required energy. Places like China, which is focused on hydroelectricity, have already moved 80% of their future projects to “pumped storage” because it is fast, safe and efficient, and can “provide a flexible backup project for wind and solar”. The key insight is that the reservoir system acts like a battery, storing potential energy ready to go on demand without the additional cost of storage.
The knee is so dependent on scientific creativity that allows us all to get out of trouble. Before giving the green light to the next generation of billionaires, we should intelligently ask two questions: What does it mean? and What’s Best for All Americans’ Health?
To be fair to Tom Friedman, he cautions against putting all our eggs in the science basket without tightening regulations that support “replicated sustainable values”. However, his final words do not encourage confidence based on history and past achievements. As he put it, “God save us if we have the divine power to divide the Red Sea but cannot extend the Ten Commandments.”
Mike Magee MD is a medical historian and author of “GREEN CODE: Inside the Medical-Industrial Complex.”