Sunday, August 29, 2021

The standard American diet: Downstream revenue for the U.S. health care system

I once heard someone say that the standard American diet (high in fat, sugar, salt and processed foods) was a mechanism for providing downstream revenue to the country's health care system. Two recent reports add to the mounting evidence about how this strangely destructive system involving both food and agricultural chemicals works.

One report focuses on the effects of eating soybean oil. That oil is one of the most ubiquitous ingredients in packaged food, and it makes up the lion's share of cooking oils. To test this assertion, next to time you shop for groceries, read the labels of the packaged food and cooking oils you buy (unless you are already careful to avoid soybean oil—in which case you'll have to read labels on things you wouldn't dream of buying).

So, what did the report find? "[S]oybean oil not only leads to obesity and diabetes, but could also affect neurological conditions like autism, Alzheimer's disease, anxiety, and depression." Now, that really does spell lots of revenue for the medical system. The study notes that "soybean oil is by far the most widely produced and consumed edible oil in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture."

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Whatever happened to China's revolutionary molten salt nuclear reactor program?

Several years ago during a radio interview, the host told me that the Chinese were planning on deploying a commercial modular molten salt reactor (MSR) by 2020. For context, these nuclear reactors are based on existing technology demonstrated by previous operating prototypes, can use fuel that is hundreds of times more abundant than the only naturally occurring fissile isotope (uranium-235), are resistant to making bomb-grade material, and cannot suffer meltdowns. Modular design could allow them to be built in factories and shipped ready to install to any suitable location.

The host was confident about his prediction because it had come from one of the many books circulating at the time telling us how great the human future would be and that new technology would solve all the world's major problems including hunger, climate change, environmental pollution and resource scarcity. This would happen in part due to abundant energy produced by MSRs even as human populations continued to grow.

Sticking to the narrow question of MSRs, I opined that development of complex technologies takes far longer than anticipated and that there are unique challenges in the utility industry. I guessed it would be 20 years before a viable commercial Chinese MSR would appear.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Vaccine passports, globalism and the threat to humankind

Globalism is in retreat and world leaders don't understand that they are being forced by circumstances to prune it back. When the Biden administration announced that it is working on a plan that would require all foreign visitors to the United States to prove that they are vaccinated for COVID-19, it was yet another sign that the supposedly inexorable march toward greater and greater integration of global society is being reversed.

Globalism is a word used to mean many things. Let me offer a definition for what I mean from a piece I wrote in 2016:

[I define globalism as] the management of worldwide economic activity and growth by large multi-national corporations which have no particular allegiance to any one country or people. Our belief has been that this arrangement is the most rational and efficient. Therefore, trade deals which bring down barriers both to international trade and to the movement of capital and technology across borders are believed to encourage global economic growth. That growth supposedly will ultimately lift the world's poor into the middle class and enrich everyone else while doing it.

I should add that a chief feature of this world is its extreme connectivity both physically through air travel and shipping and electronically through the internet. That connectivity promotes worldwide understanding, communication and trade. It also creates serious vulnerabilities and possibilities for harm to individuals and organizations.

Sunday, August 08, 2021

All of a sudden: Climate change tipping points appear with a vengeance

Across the world climate change seems to have arrived earlier than expected. There are world-class athletes with bodies trained for endurance and strength breaking down from the extreme heat visited on the Tokyo Olympics by mother nature. There are the continuing wildfires in the American West that take out entire towns. The drought there is so bad that states are thinking about paying farmers NOT to irrigate their crops as a conservation strategy.

One of the other effects of climate change is heavier rains and devastating floods. Recent floods in Germany were caused by rains characterized as once-in-a-millennium, rains which, for example, killed more than 200 people and caused $1.5 billion in damage to the German railway network. But, of course, statements about once-in-a-fill-in-the-blank rains or droughts seem less and less relevant in the age of climate change as what we call extraordinarily destructive weather just morphs into "the weather."

Once-in-a-millennium rains also visited parts of China recently dumping in just three days an entire year's rainfall on one town of 12 million.

Sunday, August 01, 2021