Sunday, April 24, 2016

Indecision and a Virus Public Square

“Indecision and a Virus”
A seemingly unstoppable and catastrophic virus has infiltrated our borders and instead of putting all available resources into finding solutions to the problem, our government seems to prefer to argue about funding. The Zika virus, a terrifying problem in Latin American countries, has emerged in 20 U.S. states prompting a response from the White House. President Obama recently proposed a $1.8 billion dollar emergency-funding package to assist in managing the virus, but he has only been met with arguments over where the funding will come from.  Since the disease is predominantly located in Latin America, it appears that some of our congress members are hesitant to allocate the necessary funds to stopping this virus while we’re ahead.
After spending several years working in the healthcare field and studying disease prevention I have learned that prevention of disease is always smarter and more cost effective than treatment. For example, a 100$ vaccination for Mumps can prevent thousands of dollars spent in treatment. It seems obvious that preventing this disease from reaching crises proportions would be the better approach; yet, it appears our policy makers may be waiting until the shit hits the fan.
            A disease needs an efficient method of transmission to cause real problems in an area. Like many deadly diseases (West Nile Virus, Dengue Fever etc.) the Zika virus’ primary method of transmission to humans is a mosquito. This mosquito, called Aedes aegypti, is currently thriving in at least a dozen U.S. states, which is a major cause for concern because if the disease spreads to the mosquitos in the U.S., it could be quickly transmitted to our population.  
As if this information wasn’t troubling enough, researchers studying the virus have confirmed that the virus can also be spread via sexual transmission. A disease that is initially transmitted to humans via a living organism and then able to spread via human sexual contact. Sound familiar? You don’t have to think long to realize that this type of disease sounds very similar to HIV, which tore through the U.S. and has yet to be cured. While the Zika virus doesn’t seem to be killing people like HIV, it has been found to have other devastating effects.
            Research shows that the Zika virus targets human brain cells and has been found to cause major birth defects in newborns with infected parents. The virus causes microcephaly, which means that brain and head formation are halted during gestation and babies either die before birth or are born with extremely small heads. 
Aside from the apparent catastrophic effects of the virus, one of the more disturbing aspects about the virus is the fact that individuals infected with it, often display no symptoms. In addition, there is no information about how long it stays in the system or what long term effects the virus could have. As of right now, there is no cure, no treatment, and no prevention methods aside from avoiding countries with the disease and sexual contact with anyone who has been to those countries.
            It doesn’t take a scientist to realize that this situation can spin out of control very quickly. Rather than approving funds to be allocated solely for managing this virus, some members of congress seem to be pushing for money to be taken from funds set aside for other diseases like Ebola. This seems a bit counterproductive to say the least.
Perhaps living in a nation with ample access to vaccinations and medicine has caused some of the leaders of our country to forget just how devastating some of these diseases can be. It was not too long ago when diseases like typhoid fever and cholera decimated our society. We were only able to overcome these diseases because of the vital research that was done to eradicate them. Neglecting Ebola to fund research for the Zika virus is downright irresponsible and could potentially lead to these diseases spreading illness and death throughout our country.
The costs of waiting to deal with this disease until it runs rampant across our nation would be catastrophic. Countless parents will lose children, and astronomical amounts of money will be spent in treatment. Now is not the time for indecisiveness and debate over funding because the virus will not wait for our leaders to be ready.  We must make it our priority to invest resources into studying the Zika virus and develop methods of prevention and treatment before it is too late.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Public Square Childhood Obesity

In today’s society, one cannot help but see vast amounts of publicity focused on the growing epidemic of child obesity. However, it seems that the epidemic continues to be growing and parents continue to ignore their children’s plight. A study on childhood obesity shows that “more than three-quarters of parents of pre-school-age obese sons and nearly 70 percent of parents of obese daughters described their children as “about the right weight.”
When comparing this study to one from 1994, it appears that the children in the study from 2012 were substantially heavier and their parents’ ability to recognize their child’s weight accurately decreased by 30 percent. Dr. David L. Katz discusses the problem in his article and calls the problem oblivobesity.
It appears that due to rising obesity rates in various countries, a new sense of normal weight may be one of the reasons for parents believing that their children are not overweight.     
 A point that Dr. Katz makes is that many of these parents may be in denial about their children’s weight. It may be easier for them because admitting their children have a weight problem may mean they as parents would have to begin eating healthier and setting an example.
 So in many cases it appears that these parents choose denial because it’s easier to pretend no problem exists.  On the other hand, this denial may be some type of wishful thinking. Dr. Thomas N. Robinson states, “It is natural for a parent to want to think optimistically about their child.” So these parents may believe that their child will simply grow out of their obesity, as they grow older. In addition, many of these parents base their thoughts about their child’s weight on their child’s activity level. Studies have shown that parents will often believe that their child’s weight is not a concern if they are physically active.
The inherent problem with this is that children’s parents often overestimate how active their children actually are. Studies have also shown that parents begin paying more attention to their children’s weight as they approach adolescence because of the body image issues associated with that age. However, this much attention is usually only given to children from upper and middle class parents, because buying healthier food costs more. So many of the parents of lower economic status are forced to purchase less healthy foods because that is all they can provide. The sad truth is that many of these parents can simply not afford to buy healthier foods.
Another problem seems to arise from misunderstandings between doctors and their patients. Many doctors are forced to use words like “weight problem” in order to avoid hurting patient feelings. But the problem with using these words is that patients may not understand completely what the doctors are telling them. They may believe that the problem is not bad and their child is not obese. It is not until later, when the child develops health problems, like diabetes, that the parents understand the severity of the situation. It is apparent that obesity on the rise and childhood obesity is more a problem now than ever.

When tackling this problem we need to think about the possible causes contributing to the epidemic. We need to make sure that being overweight does not become “the new normal” and that parents know what the ramifications are for their children to be obese as well as themselves. Its necessary for us as a society to educate parents and their children about how important it is to eat healthy and maintain a healthy weight.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Ramifications of self driving cars Public Square

The future has arrived, and self driving cars, once a fantasy of the past, are quickly becoming a reality. Although fully autonomous vehicles are not yet available, tests are being done in various parts of the world to bring these cars to our homes. Who will be the first to get these self driving cars? Public transit and the wealthy will most likely get the first taste of fully autonomous cars. By 2020, these vehicles should start becoming available to the general public to purchase. So what are some issues with the development of self driving cars? The development of these vehicles, will greatly affect multiple areas of our society. (Insurance, jobs, lack of purchasing vehicles 

The first way our society will be affected would probably be in the public transit sector, and the availability of jobs in public transit. As it is now, many individuals 
are employed as bus drivers, taxi cab drivers, metrolink operators, however, it appears that the appearance of driverless vehicles may put these people's jobs at risk. Businesses continuously attempt to find ways to cut costs. For companies that employ drivers to shuttle the public around, the two major costs are fuel, and the driver. With the rise of hybrid vehicles, which save copious amounts of money on gas, it appears the next thing to go will be the driver. If employed drivers are replaced with driverless cars, then the prices for consumers to obtain a ride, will drop and the cost of providing these services will drop for the provider. So it appears both the customers and businesses benefit, while the employees suffer. They will be forced to find a new line of work, despite the fact that many of them have been drivers in public transit for most of their lives. 

Insurance policies on vehicles will also change due to the emergence of driverless vehicles. As it stands, human drivers are careless, and have the propensity to make mistakes, leading to a higher insurance cost, to cover the possible loss money in the event of an accident. However, the use of automated vehicles, will lower these costs because machines, are programmed to avoid the mistakes of humans, and if perfected, would be much safer to use when compared to driving a vehicle manually. Lower insurance costs for driverless cars, would inevitably lead to an increase cost for individuals who refuse to buy an automated vehicle, which would inevitably force many people to purchase these new vehicles. 

It appears that we will be ushered into a new era, which may promote the use of self driving automated cars, to be called when desired, and to shuttle individuals around, much like Uber, but without drivers. It appears, that one day in the near future, individuals would be discouraged from purchasing their own vehicle, and instead be more inclined to use one of the driverless vehicle fleet services. Whatever the case may be in the future, it is undeniable that these new automated vehicles are in our societies near future, and they will shape our world in a completely different way.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Human Petri Dish Public Square

                                    The Human Petri Dish
I received my first lesson in overpopulation, by accident, in a high school biology class when I performed a science experiment with bacteria. I was tasked with growing bacteria on a Petri dish using agar and providing the bacteria with a stable environment to grow. A few days later, I noticed some colored dots, proving that the bacteria were growing and multiplying in number, consuming the nutrients in the plate as necessary. Because my only task consisted of watching how the bacteria used nutrients and grew with certain environmental conditions I forgot about my plate for a while. But after viewing the plate again, I saw that it was covered with grey scum, showing that the bacteria had consumed all of the nutrients and died. Despite human beings having a higher intellect and the ability to think and reason, humans as a species are controlled by individual drives to survive and reproduce much like the bacteria in the Petri dish. It appears that human beings use their higher intellect in an attempt to outsmart nature, and try to fit more of our kind into our Petri dish. The most pressing problem facing the Earth is human overpopulation. It creates a plethora of consequences that disturb natural processes that produce life, leading to the massive extinction of non-human life, and if unchecked, inevitably to the extinction of human life. The human overpopulation problem will unavoidably resolve itself like it did in the Petri dish. In addition, as resources become scarce and the population grows uninhibited the quality of human life will severely diminish forcing many to live in a state of survival diminishing their capacity to enjoy life. Therefore, it is imperative that we as a species cease attempting to find ways to fit more people into our world, and focus instead on keeping our population in check.
If one studies the way ecosystems function, basic food webs he or she would see that every organism seems to have a relationship with another. Organisms’ populations are kept in check through predator and prey relationships, and these relationships are continuously changing due to evolution. Evolution has granted human beings a superior intellect and the ability to dominate all other species on the planet Earth. But what is the consequence of our domination? The ability to live and grow uninhibited aside from the occasional war, famine, plague, etc. Since the dawn of the agricultural revolution, the human population has grown exponentially. However, one can see through a brief study of human history, that our population was kept in check through disease. Many diseases ravaged the human species in the past, because of a lack of understanding of medicine, microscopic organisms, and personal hygiene. For example, the bubonic plague wiped out a majority of the European continent and acted as a major check in the balance of the human population. However,
Since the time of the Bubonic Plague in the 1400’s, the growth of
population has been on a constant increase. Between the time of the
plague and the 21st century, there was been hundreds and thousands of
wars, natural calamities and man-made hazards. However, none of these
have made a dent on the population.
 Medicine changed the course of history, and has led to the unprecedented growth of the human species. Since the early 1900’s diseases like Typhoid Fever, smallpox, Cholera, and a plethora of other devastating and deadly diseases have been eradicated. While the eradication of these diseases has been wonderful for the millions of individuals who either suffered from the diseases or lost family to them, the ramifications of wiping these diseases out has led to problems for us as a species. There are hardly any diseases left in the world, which could act as a consistent check to our population. Instead, humans are able to live longer than ever before. The average age for humans in most countries has increased from low to mid 40’s in 1900 to the 70’s and 80s in 2016. A stable population growth would occur when birth rates equal death rates, while overpopulation occurs when birth rates are greater than death rates. The increased lifespan of humans in recent years has been a major cause of the exponential growth in human population.
It is clear that medicine played a major role in lengthening the life of humans and has become one of the reasons for overpopulation as a result. However, there are more reasons for the overpopulation problem than just medicine. One is the way some areas of our society have failed to adapt to the increase in life expectancy. In the past a very small part of the population had enough money to live in comfort and a majority of the population was forced to give birth to large families in order to make up for the high infant mortality rate, as more children were needed to work and support the family. The problem lies in the fact that infant mortality rate is not nearly as high anymore, most of the children that are born in these families survive and “consume resources that are not sufficient in nature.” Thus, the children that were once a necessity to support a poorer family become a burden from an economic and resource perspective. Families would need to sacrifice more of their quality of life in order to provide for more children and would undoubtedly require more resources to support them.  To put things into perspective, one should understand how much medicine as well as a few other major factors have affected the population growth thus far.
The human population grew at the slow rate of less than 0.002 percent a year for the first several million years of our existence. Since then the average annual rate of human population has increased to an all-time high of 2.06 percent in 1970. As the base number of people undergoing growth has increased, it has taken less and less time to add each new billion people. It took 2 million years to add the first billion people; 130 years to add the second billion; 30 years to add the third billion; 15 years to add the fourth billion; and only 12 years to add the fifth billion. We are now approaching the seventh billion!
One can see that the human population is growing at an alarming rate; but the real question is, how badly does overpopulation actually affect us? There seems to be an overwhelming consensus among our species that, humans will simply figure out new ways to continue adding more humans to this planet, and just find ways to grow more food and provide for all. For example, In the New York Times piece, for instance:
Ellis Erle asserts that after studying the ecology of agriculture in China and talking to archaeologists, he reached the conclusion that technologies have always been able to overcome any anticipated exceedance of carrying capacity. A key corroboration marshaled for this view refers to a retrospective assessment of Chinese farming by archaeologists. It purportedly claims that new and more efficient technologies invariably enabled local farmers to overcome any anticipated exceedance of carrying capacity.
Unfortunately, this type of thinking is delusional and outright wrong. One needs to look no further than the overwhelming amount of famines that have ravaged the Chinese lands because of the attempt to provide for more than the carrying capacity of the lands. The requirement of more resources results in the overuse of lands and improper farming techniques, which can be recognized as the causes for famine. We can see the horrible effects of our attempts to provide for more than the Earth’s carrying capacity when we look at what is happening to the environment. Entire rainforests are being decimated, wildlife is hunted in reckless ways, and greenhouse gasses are released into our environment causing global warming. Some may argue that overpopulation cannot be the cause of all of these events. However, these things are being done because the human species and its growing population requires more wood, food, oil, and a number of other resources. The human overpopulation of the earth results in a constant need for more land and resources, which also leads to the destruction of biodiversity on our planet. For proof, one needs to look no further than Israel.
Israel offers a microcosm of the global situation: A meeting point of three continents, at the middle of the twentieth century, this tiny country was still home to an astonishing assemblage of mammals, birds and reptiles. That’s because in 1949 there were one million people living in Israel. Today there are eight million. The equation is simple: more people means less wildlife. Accordingly, about a third of the country’s 115 indigenous mammal species today are either endangered or critically endangered. The amphibian population is almost entirely extirpated.
Some may argue that the destruction of biodiversity and animal wildlife is inconsequatial or that it is necessary to support human life. This type of thinking is absurd for a few reasons. From a scientific viewpoint, the Earth contains a complex web of relationsihps between organisms living on the planet. When these organisms begin to be taken out of the equation, whether they be plants or animals, dramatic effects will occur for the entire world as every living thing depends on another in some way or another to survive. From a moral viewpoint, human beings share this planet with countless other organisms, so it is morally wrong for humans to deem all other life as less important.  The destruction of biodiversity and the overconsumption of resources affects human life in more ways than one.
            Now that a more thorough understanding of the tragic effects human overpopulation has on the environment, let us explore the ramifications of overpopulation on humans. As the population continues to grow, the availability of freshwater will become a major issue.  As it stands, water is being consumed faster than it is being replaced, which has resulted in the drying up of many freshwater sources. This will not only cause a fight for water as a natural resource in the future, but it has also caused an increased amount of dust particles coming from the dried water sources, which pollute the air and contribute to a plethora of health problems. Overpopulation causes major strain on resources, leading to a larger divide between the haves and the have not’s. A larger demand for a decreasing amount of resources, will undoubtedly lead to future conflicts and an increase in poverty. When resources become dangerously low, it goes without saying that wars will be waged over said resources, and many will live suffering in a poverty stricken land. The push to provide for a larger population would affect the comfort of everyone. The continued growth of our species would result in a lower quality of life for most of the world, as many would be forced to fight for resources that are be naturally abundant for a smaller population. Do we continue allowing our population to grow despite its clear, detrimental ramifications? Now is the time to keep our numbers in check, because once the numbers are too large, it will be impossible. In addition to education and accessibility of contraceptives, it is a critical time to implement social change through family planning laws.
There are a few things that may help humanity alter its current course. One of the first things to be done should be implementing social change. Overpopulation is caused by the whole of humanity, so the whole of humanity must work together to remedy the situation. Education must be given to all about the seriousness of the situation at hand, and the necessity to have one or two children at the most. Lessons in family planning and the availability of birth control will greatly help the situation. Women must be educated and empowered to make their own reproductive choices. This is especially necessary in many areas of the world where using any form of birth control is frowned upon. While achieving these goals would be difficult, it is certainly not impossible. A few countries like Iran have already been successful and improving their overpopulation problem, by implementing a strong family planning policy. For example some of these policies include:
Encouraging women to wait three to four years between pregnancies, discourage childbearing for women younger than 18 or older than 35 — and limit family size to three children. In May 1993, the Iranian government passed a national family planning law that effectively encouraged couples to have fewer children — by restricting maternity leave benefits after three children. It also called for the Ministries of Education, of Culture and Higher Education, and of Health and Medical Education to incorporate information on population, family planning, and mother and child health care in curriculum materials.
In order to improve the overpopulation problem, it seems that governments need to provide incentives for their citizens to limit their family size. Having fewer children is economically favorable for a family in which income level does not depend on child labor. While some may argue that implementing fines to control family size is a feasible method, providing incentives to families seems much more rewarding. This is because in many situations families may not have the means to pay a fine, but would surely benefit from some form of financial reward. In addition to family planning incentives, sex education should be made an initiative by governments of developing countries. Using resources to implement these changes would ultimately also benefit the government itself because a controlled population would result in less conflict, manageable competition for resources, and general higher quality of life.
 One must understand that family planning will inevitably affect a countries age demographic later on, and will inevitably have some consequences. It is a real concern, because once these family planning laws are implemented, there will be a time where the aging population will be too large for the young population to support economically. This is a large hurdle that must be passed; but, eventually the population demographic would normalize out because the same policies would still be in place and following generations would follow the same pattern of development. The demographic change could be controlled by having transient stages of family planning. This would ease the stress of demographic change. Ultimately, the efforts of family planning will control population growth at least to some extent, which is significantly better than no control at all. The difficulties of implementing and maintaining such policies are completely worth avoiding the consequences that are at stake.
An inevitable consequence of uncontrolled population growth is what will happen to the value of a human life. When there are so many people in the world, all competing to survive in an environment of limited means, the value of life would undoubtedly be compromised. Along with that, the quality of human life would be in question. The reason humanity has been able to thrive is that for many, survival has become less of a source of stress than it was early in human history. Though it is still a reality for some, for others survival is not a pressing stressor. This has allowed humanity’s time and effort to go into bettering itself and making advancements as a species. If humanity’s growth exceeds the feasibility of support by Earth, humanity will regress into a primal instinct world where survival is the only priority. In a world where the stress of survival again becomes very primitive, progress would slow and the general quality of life would plummet dramatically.  At this imagined point in time that could easily become reality, life’s value would be forgotten and we would face the possibility of extinction. Now is the time to risk making some people uncomfortable or angry if it means taking steps toward managing the exponential, uncontrolled population growth of humans.