Risk & Opportunity

A quarterly political and economic newsletter published by Michael Cuddehe

Q2 '15

Green Shoots

“Two things have always been true about human beings. One, the world is always getting better. Two, the people living at that time think it’s getting worse.” Penn Jillette

Political, economic and technological changes are rapidly changing the face of human civilization on planet Earth. At such a time it is easy to become overshadowed by the destruction of the old and miss the “green shoots” of the new, manifesting simultaneously.

I recently had a takeout lunch from Chipotle and to my amazement I discovered a short essay on the bag by one of my favorite public intellectuals, Steven Pinker, who frames the situation perfectly. Kudos to Chipotle management! The piece follows:

“It’s easy to get discouraged by the ceaseless news of violence, poverty, and disease. But the news presents a distorted view of the world. News is about things that happen, not things that don’t happen. You never see a TV crew reporting that a country isn’t at war, or that a city hasn’t had a mass shooting that day, or that millions of 80 year-olds are alive and well.

“The only way to appreciate the state of the world is to count. How many incidents of violence, or starvation, or disease are there as a proportion of the number of people in the world? And the only way to know whether things are getting better or worse is to compare those numbers at different times: over the centuries and decades, do the trend lines go up or down?

“As it happens, the numbers tell a surprisingly happy story. Violent crime has fallen by half since 1992, and fiftyfold since the Middle Ages. Over the past 60 years the number of wars and number of people killed in wars have plummeted. Worldwide, fewer babies die, more children go to school, more people live in democracies, more can afford simple luxuries, fewer get sick, and more live to old age.

““Better” does not mean “perfect.” Too many people still live in misery and die prematurely, and new challenges, such as climate change, confront us. But measuring the progress we’ve made in the past emboldens us to strive for more in the future. Problems that look hopeless may not be; human ingenuity can chip away at them. We will never have a perfect world, but it’s not romantic or naïve to work toward a better one.”

Following are links to inspiring developments toward the creation of a better world.

Environment

The Rodale Institute has been quietly conducting research into what they call “regenerative agriculture.” Not just organic and healthy for the consumer; this is systemically organic and healthy for the entire planet.

Rodale has conducted a 30 year test of regenerative vs chemical farming and demonstrated that regenerative agriculture not only revitalizes the soil and eliminates toxic chemicals from our food, air, water and land; it produces better yields than chemical agriculture, and restores balance to the general ecology in the process.

But according to Rodale, the big surprise is that if adopted widely, regenerative agriculture will solve the problem of carbon pollution, a major contributor to global warming…as a side effect!

“Simply put, we could sequester more than 100% of current annual CO2 emissions with a switch to widely available and inexpensive organic management practices, which we term “regenerative organic agriculture.”

This research has been incorporated into The Carbon Underground to promote the adoption of broad-scale regenerative agriculture.

Meanwhile, alternative energy has been making steady gains in market share, efficiency and cost. 32% of all new electric generating capacity in the U.S. in 2014 came from solar. Lots of interesting data on the growth of solar at SEIA and Clean Technica. It is noteworthy that the U.S. Department of Defense is a leader in alternative energy development and deployment. Keep up to date with the latest developments in alternative energy at Alternative Energy News and E2 Environmental Entrepreneurs.

Technology

Geometrically expanding computing power is generating change much faster than we can grasp. The nature and variety of future applications are difficult — if not impossible — to predict, as leapfrogging technologies and the intersections of various technologies create new realities, from which even newer technologies and applications will spring. Following are a few items providing some insight into the magnitude of changes on the horizon.

  • Researchers in the U.S. and Germany have made major progress on a “brain to text” system that converts speech brainwave patterns to text, opening up direct mind to computer communications.
  • Researchers at Stanford have created an inexpensive water splitter that operates 24/7. Conventional water splitters require precious metals that make the process too costly. The new splitter uses inexpensive base metals, raising the prospect of a cheap and virtually unlimited supply of locally generated hydrogen fuel.
  • Recent advances in 3D printing are bringing real efficiencies and innovation to major industries, offering the promise of distributed economy and bringing manufacturing back home. See recent trade articles here and here, including a video of a 3D printed Shelby Cobra. “Print Thyself,” in the November 24, 2014 issue of The New Yorker, highlights the amazing array of applications already spawned by 3D printing.

Medicine

Driven by technology, the field of medicine is being transformed through research and new tools and tactics. Following are a few amazing stories from the cutting edge of medical research and practice.

  • Heart attack treatment. The 6/21/15 New York Times featured “A Sea Change in Treating Heart Attacks” resulting in a 38% reduction in the death rate from coronary heart attacks.
  • Cancer treatment. 60 Minutes dedicated two segments to an amazing cancer treatment using the polio virus engineered to make it harmless to normal cells but deadly for cancer cells. Immunotherapy has become a hot area of cancer research, utilizing a variety of viruses.
  • “Electrocutical” drugs could induce growth of new brain tissue, addressing birth defects or brain injury. Early clinical trials have also demonstrated positive results for pain management and insulin regulation.
  • Australian researchers have created a non-invasive ultrasound treatment for Alzheimers that restores memory function.
  • General good news to set your mind at ease…cell phones do not cause brain cancer.

Fresh Thinking

The pace and scope of change is creating a need for fresh thinking about how we organize our affairs and interact with each other. Following are some fresh ideas on a number of fronts.

  • Mustafa Akyol has been promoting a brilliant solution for Islamic militarism. Let’s hope he can capture the minds and hearts of the Muslim world.
  • The Pope gets real about the gospel. Laissez faire Capitalism needs some balancing.
  • A plea for principled public service in governance by retiring Congressman Mike Rogers.
  • Michael Lewis, always brilliant, lays out the case in an article in the New Republic that “Extreme Wealth is Bad for Everyone – Especially the Wealthy.”
  • A prison reform group is promoting a model for non-profit prisons that will focus on rehabilitation. The United States, with 5% of the world’s population, has the dubious distinction of incarcerating 25% of the world’s prisoners, many of those in the morally bankrupt for-profit prison industry.
  • Ron Friedman posted a great article on work-life balance, published by CNN.
  • Jerome Jarre, Vine star, exhibiting great values, sweet. After turning down a million dollars to promote an “unhealthy food product,” Jerome had this to say…

“Everyone is looking for a purpose in life…We are always wondering why we’re here. But I’ve learned that we have to create that purpose for ourselves. My purpose, which I finally found thanks to social media, is helping all of these people find their purpose.”

  • And for those obsessing over inevitable annihilation into a black hole, a new theory proposes that black holes create a carbon copy hologram of anything they touch. So rest easy. Your other self will survive. In fact, you may already have numerous other selves from previous contact with black holes.

If the daily news is getting you down, you can always log on to SunnySkyz.com for regular confirmation that the better angels of human nature have not gone away. Or you can go to KurzweilAI.net to check in on the latest amazing developments at the cutting edge of technology.

There is no arguing that we are living in challenging times. The pace of change is beyond the comfort level for most humans. You may find it useful to print the quotes above by Penn Jillette and Steven Pinker and tape them to your refrigerator, and heed the advice of Lao Tzu…

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”

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