Tag Archives: resources

Deaths That Don’t Have to Happen: The Relationship Between Knowledge and Health

Editor’s note: As part of  a writing class I took this summer, I had to do a group project addressing a social issue within our society.

Part of that assignment was writing an essay that promotes activism to address the issue.The research inspired me, so I decided to share that essay with you. Hope you enjoy! 


Knowledge, and the desire to use it to better our own lives, as well as the lives of everyone else. This is what has made our species so great.

Fire, the wheel, internal plumbing, electricity, refrigeration. All of these creations were the result of intelligent people with an insatiable drive to solve major problems that affected everyone within their communities.

As the world progressed into the modern era, more and more of these advancements came from the realm of medicine. For thousands of years, smallpox was a scourge that regularly plagued populations all over the world.

A close-up of the smallpox virus. Click to enlarge. Magnification: x28,500

In the 19th century, the disease was killing 400,000 Europeans every year. In the 20th century, it accounted for an estimated 300 million deaths worldwide.

Now, consider this: the vaccine for smallpox was discovered, by a man named William Jenner, in 1796. However, it took more than 160 years for the World Health Assembly to pass a worldwide resolution to eradicate the disease in 1959, and another 20 years for the disease to be completely eradicated.

There hasn’t been a single documented death from smallpox since 1980, but it took nearly 200 years to make that happen.

Click to enlarge

Our modern world is no different. Every year, 3 million people die from vaccine-preventable diseases, half of that being children 5 years old or younger.

Other preventable diseases, like diarrhea and pneumonia, claim the lives of another 2 million children who are simply too poor to afford things like clean water and basic treatment.

If you’re keeping track, that’s 3.5 million children dying every year from basic problems that we solved ages ago. Another way to think of it: imagine every kid enrolled in public school in New York City, Los Angeles and Houston dying this year. Imagine, just for a second, all the human potential that we are losing along with these children.

I know you may be thinking that it’s somewhat inevitable that developing countries lag behind the rest of the world when it comes to new vaccines, treatments or procedures, so chew on this for a second: out of a list of 18 developed countries, the United States was at the very bottom when it came to deaths from preventable causes.

For people under the age of 75, these preventable causes account for 23% of total deaths for men and 32% of total deaths for women.

Preventable disease per 100,000 citizens. Click to enlarge

How many more people are we going to let die simply because they lack access to resources that are so plentiful that they are taken for granted by the rest of us?

We have to always remember that the position of privilege we find ourselves in only exists because someone at some point in history fought for our right to good healthcare.

So now, it is our responsibility, our duty, to use this position of privilege to extend this same basic human right to health to the countless people still living without it, not only in our country but across the globe.

France Is Proposing A Law Forcing Supermarkets to Donate Their Unsold Food to Charity

I often hear people saying that there are not enough resources for everyone on the planet, arguing that poverty and inequality are a natural result of scarcity (the idea there’s not enough resources to go around).

But these people fail to consider one extremely important yet rarely-discussed issue:

Food wastage is a HUGE problem in the developed world.

Click to enlarge

The World Food Organization (WFO) is the international food assistance branch of the United Nations. It is the world’s largest humanitarian organization and works to address hunger around the world.

According to the WFO, around one third of all the food produced worldwide is “lost or wasted” while it’s still fit for human consumption.

A group of 63 French Members of Parliament saw this problem as an opportunity. In late July, they proposed a new law forcing large supermarkets (those with 1,000 square metres/10,800 sq ft or moreof floor space) to donate their, “unsold but still consumable food products” to charity.

Carrefour, France’s largest supermarket chain, will be among those affected if the proposal is approved

The proposal follows a number of moves in Europe to cut back on food waste. Earlier this year, the European Union proposed a scrapping of the “best if used by” labels on foods that have long shelf-lives, such as coffee, rice, dry pasta, hard cheeses, jams and pickles.

Then in May, Belgium passed a law similar to the one that France is now proposing.

Many French supermarkets are already donating their unsold food to charities, but the Parliament members felt that more could be done to combat food waste.

The average French supermarket wastes 200 tons of food every year. The EU estimates that across Europe, around 100 million tons of food are wasted yearly.

Click to enlarge

In the United States, the issue is even more pronounced. Though cross-country comparisons can be difficult, it’s pretty safe to say that on average, the United States wastes more food per person than does any other country in the world.

According to a new study released by the USDA in February, the U.S. wasted an estimated 133 billion pounds (66.5 million tons) of consumable food in 2010.

That food is worth around $161 billion (using retail prices), so food waste is definitely an economic problem. But when you look at the actual loss of calories, you really begin to get a picture of just how much we’re wasting.

Click to enlarge. (Source: BCFN, "Defeating the paradox of food waste", 2013)
Click to enlarge. (Source: BCFN, “Defeating the paradox of food waste”, 2013)

According to the USDA’s report, those 133 billion pounds of food contained around 141 trillion calories. That’s equal to 1,249 wasted calories per person every day.

An earlier study from the USDA found 14.5% of Americans live in households that struggle to put food on the table. More than one in five American children are at risk of living in hunger.

Think of how quickly we could end hunger in America if we could use some of those 1,249 calories we waste every day to help feed these people.

Another quick graphic on the impact of food waste. Click to enlarge

In France, most people are welcoming the proposal, with the only issue being how to pay for the extra refrigerated storage containers that the charities will need to store all the extra food.

To me however, this seems like a very small hang-up. The overall value to society will be hundreds of times greater than the costs of a few giant freezers.

Globally, it is estimated that a staggering 1.3 billion tons of consumable food are wasted every year. So please stop saying that there isn’t enough to go around.

Read the original story from The Telegraph here.

Water Scarcity- The Invisible Threat to Humanity’s Future (Infographic)

Water is the most important necessity for life. However, it’s something that we take for granted in much of the developed world. Although 70% of the world is covered with water, only 3% is freshwater, and 2/3 of that is frozen and inaccessible.

Also, most people don’t realize just how much water we use for food- it takes an estimated 441 gallons of water to produce just one pound of boneless beef, and a large portion of our freshwater is used for agriculture.

Check out this great infographic from Seametrics about just how much water we’re using now and what the future looks like for our most important resource (click to see full size):

Our Resources Are Running Out. How Much Is Left For the New Generation? (Infographic)

Our modern society here on Earth depends heavily on just a handful of resources. These resources include fossil fuels like oil and coal, as well as raw minerals like copper, lead and zinc. With the rapid advancement of technology and industry worldwide in the last half century or so, our demand for these raw goods has skyrocketed.

This cool infographic lists some of our most widely-used resources, showing how much of each was left in 2010 and where the remaining resources are located.

For the top graph, the longer portion in the middle of each bar predicts the number of years until the resource runs out if it keeps being used at current rates.

However, most resources are being used more each year than the year before, so the shorter outer portion of each bar predicts the number of years left if our demand and production continues to increase. Click the image to see the full size version.

Does NASA Have the Right to Sell Moon-Mining Permits? (Poll)

The Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown program or CATALYST as it is often called, is taking the first steps towards exploring the moon for valuable resources.

A number of private companies have submitted applications to NASA, who will pick one or more of the applicants to build “prospecting robots” that will search the moon for valuable resources that are rare on Earth.

With their budget uncertain (the portion of the federal budget appropriated to NASA has declined pretty steadily since the early 90s), NASA has been trying creative ways to obtain funding for their continued research and space exploration- the CATALYST program being the latest example.

Image: NASA
Image: NASA

However, the United Nations’ 1967 Outer Space Treaty explicitly prohibits any one country from laying claim to the moon. Naturally, CATALYST has sparked a fierce debate about lunar property rights, discussed in more depth in this National Geographic article.

The way I see it, there’s two major questions we must ask ourselves here:

Read the full story from The Verge here.

Feature image courtesy of NOVA.org

The Most Typical Person in the World (Video)

Ever wonder what the average human is like? This great National Geographic video breaks down the most common traits of humans in our world as a whole, as well comparing the different “typicals” of different countries.