FUTURIST UPDATE: Air Pollution Is Deadlier Than We Thought

Jay Owen Trendspotting


April 2014 • Volume 15, No. 4

In this issue:

Air Pollution Is Deadlier Than We Thought

Air pollution exposure was responsible for about one in eight deaths in 2012 and is now the greatest environmental health risk known to humanity, according to a new World Health Organization (WHO) report. Although the problem is global, death from air pollution is most prevalent in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific, where air pollution deaths totaled 5.6 million in 2012. Surprisingly, indoor air pollution claims more lives than outdoor air pollution in these regions.

“Poor women and children pay a heavy price from indoor air pollution since they spend more time at home breathing in smoke and soot from leaky coal and wood cook stoves,” explains Flavia Bustreo, WHO’s Assistant Director of General Family, Women, and Children’s Health.

The report links both indoor and outdoor air pollution to significantly higher rates of stroke and heart disease, as well as higher rates of respiratory disease and lung cancer.

And the risks don’t end there—new data presented at the Society of Toxicology’s annual meeting suggests a link between air pollution exposure and obesity rates in developed countries.

While the connection has not yet been confirmed, “the experimental evidence that does exist provides a potential causal relationship between air pollution and a number of metabolic processes, including glucose intolerance, insulin resistance, and body fat inflammation,” explains Urmila Kodavanti, an EPA researcher who co-presented the findings at the conference. —Keturah Hetrick

Sources: “7 million premature deaths annually linked to air pollution,” World Health Organization. “Scientists Reveal New Data That Explores the Connection Between Air Pollution Exposure With Increases in Risk Factors for Diabetes and Obesity,” Society of Toxicology.

Planet-Hunting Astronomers Get Help from a Robot


The Automated Planet Finder (APF) is the newest telescope at UC’s Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton. Credit: Laurie Hatch, courtesy of UCSC.

Our prospects for finding Earthlike planets close to Earth may have become just a little brighter.

An automated telescope built to find planets among nearby stars has already discovered two new planetary systems. The Automated Planet Finder (APF) at the University of California–Santa Cruz’s Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton consists of a 2.4-meter telescope and spectrometer designed specifically to gather starlight and analyze it for evidence of exoplanets.

“The planetary systems we’re finding are our nearest neighbors. Those are the ones that will matter to future generations,” according to project leader Steve Vogt, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz.

The APF is, technically, a robot—a first for planet-hunting astronomy. It works around the clock and makes its own decisions, such as where to point the telescope when the weather changes. It is also highly effective in measuring the tiny wobbles in starlight that indicate gravitational tugs from an unseen body—the method of planet finding pioneered by APF co-investigator Geoffrey Marcy. —Cynthia G. Wagner

Source: University of California, Santa Cruz.

Watch the UC video on How to Discover Habitable Planets.

A “Green” Solution to High Drug Prices

Growing up in India, molecular biologist Henry Daniell understood firsthand how costly and inaccessible medicines can be for patients in developing-world communities. Now a University of Pennsylvania professor of biochemistry and pathology, he has devised a way to use plant cells as drug-delivery systems. The solution cuts drugs’ costs and boosts their accessibility.

His method starts with modifying a single plant cell so that it will store the needed medicine. The cell multiplies and grows into a whole plant, such as lettuce, in which every cell stores the medicine. The human patient eats the plant and ingests the medicine with it—no needle needed.

Daniell’s plant-based delivery method eliminates many costly processes that medicine production typically requires, such as lengthy purification procedures and constant refrigeration. Furthermore, the output is huge: Daniell estimates that one acre of genetically modified tobacco plants could produce enough anthrax vaccine to immunize every person in the United States.

Daniell hopes to have treatments ready for distribution in three to five years. He’s got the backing of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and has signed contracts with two pharmaceutical companies. In addition, the University of Pennsylvania’s Innovation and Research Park on the South Bank includes a new greenhouse for growing his experimental plants.

He’s taking on a large problem: Drugs’ high costs deprive many people of care. Around one-third of the world population lives on $2 or less a day, whereas a diabetes medication may cost $300 a month, and a four-month cancer-drug therapy regimen could total $40,000. —Rick Docksai

Source: University of Pennsylvania. See also: “Green Vaccines” Katherine Unger Baillie, Penn Dental Medicine Journal.

WorldFuture 2014 ConferenceThe Annual Conference of the World Future Society
July 11-13, 2014 * Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek
Orlando, Florida, U.S.A.

News from the World Future Society’s Annual Meeting

New Keynote Presenter: We’re pleased to announce that Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, will be the luncheon speaker on Saturday, July 12. His presentation, titled “All In: The Internet’s Turbulent Next Decade,” will explore how our behavior may change when the Internet is on everywhere, all the time, on all devices. Look for multiple disruptions in education, business, and culture. Learn more.

Posters, Posters, Posters! “Future Faire,” the marketplace of ideas, will be buzzingon Saturday night as presenters discuss their ideas during a cash-bar reception. More than 15 posters have now been scheduled on topics ranging from the future of infant feeding to using the stock market to predict epidemics. Learn more.

Feeling inventive? There is still time to submit a proposal to exhibit a prototype or demo of your future-changing invention at this year’s Futurists: BetaLaunch. As part of the opening night welcoming reception, F:BL will attract the buzz you’ll want for an exciting launch. Learn more.

Download a PDF of the preliminary program now! Register before April 30 and save $150 off the onsite registration fee.

Highlights from the WorldFuture 2014 Speakers Bookshelf

Many of the speakers participating at WorldFuture 2014: What If (July 11-13 in Orlando) are also authors. We’ll be featuring selected titles in the next few issues of FUTURIST UPDATE. To view the list, visit our conference bookstore.

  • The Gardens that Mended a Marriage (Muswell, 2014) by Karen Moloney, psychologist, speaker, and founder of consulting firm Moloney Minds. An elderly married couple revive their marriage while working through the challenges of cultivating two new gardens—one at their home in London, the other on a semiarid plot of land in Andalucia. Moloney tells an introspective story of the lessons on life, love, and relationships that a couple can glean from the trials and tribulations of gardening. And you can hear Moloney share her thoughts on the future of romance and relationships for people of all ages at her upcoming WorldFuture conference session, “The Future of Sex”.
  • Crux (Angry Robot, 2013) by Ramez Naam. In this sequel to Nexus, an experimental drug that telepathically links human minds together has fallen into the hands of terrorist networks that exploit it to devastating effect. A global war between humans and posthumans erupts. At WorldFuture 2014, you can hear Naam recap the history of dystopian futures in science fiction with Brenda Cooper, author; and Tim Mack, former World Future Society president; in a session titled “Science Fictional Dystopias: We’ve Been Warned!” He will also co-host a talk with Gray Scott, author and techno-philosopher; Lindsea Wilbur, Institute for the Future research affiliate; and Kevin Russell, Lifeboat Foundation researcher on brighter visions of the future, titled “Hacking Into Utopia: The Future of Optimistic Innovation.” Both sessions are part of the Science Fiction Symposium.
  • Pardon the Disruption: The Future You Never Saw Coming (Wasteland, 2013) by economic analyst Rob Bencini and attorneys Clay Rwalings and Ben Smith. Bencini, Rawlings, and attorney James Randall Smith explore sweeping changes that technological innovation could bring to the world’s legal systems and economies. Numerous positives are in the cards, such as robot lawyers and judges who decide cases more fairly and effectively than any human; but we must prepare for significant possible negatives, too, such as further invasions of privacy and more humans losing their jobs to machines. Bencini and Rawlings will share their insights on technology and its game-changing potential in further detail in a joint WorldFuture session, “Societal Impact of Moore’s Law.”

What’s Hot in THE FUTURIST Magazine

If you’re only receiving Futurist Update, you’re missing out on the wealth of information you’d be receiving each year as a FUTURIST magazine reader. Subscription is free with World Future Society membership. Join Now!

Here is what’s in the March-April 2014 issue:

Robotic Technology to Preserve Wildlife: A Scenario

By Princess Aliyah Pandolfi

A new flying robotics challenge takes aim at the armed groups that are hunting the black rhino and other animals out of existence. Read more.


A World without Waste?

By Rick Docksai

If current trends continue, we’ll be dealing with three times as much waste by the end of this century as we are now, warns the World Bank. One solution is to treat waste as a resource—a solution that could also cut global pollution, stave off looming resource crises, and lower manufacturing costs, among other benefits.Read more.

The Information Revolution’s Broken Promises

By Karl Albrecht

When revolutionary euphoria sets in, we may be tempted to set aside our critical judgments and enroll ourselves in the dream. Only later, after experience, might we get a more sober perspective on what we were promised and what we got. Here are eight of the “grand promises” of the digital information technology revolution, with reality checks and revised visions of what lies ahead. Read more.

Blundering to Success? Learning from Failure

By Irving H. Buchen

Organizational missteps may be signs of coming catastrophes that we have time to avert. Read more.

When Do I Get My RoboCop? Power before Superpowers

By Patrick Tucker

A new remake of the sci-fi classic RoboCop imagines a future where humanity and machinery merge, to awesome result. Is it a realistic vision? Somewhat, neuroscientist Charles Higgins tells us. Read more.


More Talk, Fewer Languages: Communicating in a Connected World

By John F. Copper

Will the “language of the future” be Chinese or English or both? An international studies researcher looks at how modernization and globalization challenge linguistic diversity. Read more.

Learning without Schools: A Contrarian Future

By Patrick Tucker

Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of the MIT Media Lab and One Laptop per Child, shared his views on the future of learning at the World Future Society’s annual conference.Read more.

World Trends & Forecasts

Plus: Tomorrow in Brief, Future Scope, Reviews, and more!

Join Now!

The Futurist Magazine

Login for Online Member Access!

As a WFS Member, you get free online access to THE FUTURIST and more. This email address[email protected] is associated with your membership and can be used in the “Request new password” box if you didn’t receive or can’t find your login credentials.

Recent Blog Standouts from THE FUTURIST Magazine

Join today!

Ensuring More Food for All: An Interview with Danielle Nierenberg of Food Tank

As the world population grows, and as its resource bases shrink, producing enough food to feed the world becomes a steeper and steeper challenge. But the world’s small farms are up to the task, argues Danielle Nierenberg, president of the “food think tank” Food Tank. Interview by FUTURIST senior editor Rick Docksai. Read more.

162 Future Jobs: Preparing for Jobs that Don’t Yet Exist

By Thomas Frey

Long lines in airport customs are not unusual. But as I waded through this 45-minute process I couldn’t help but do some mental calculations surrounding the massive waste of human capital throughout this whole process.Read more.

ZOOMING SOON: On Bitcoin’s Heels, a Whole New Internet of Money?

By Richard Samson

A whole new Internet seems to be forming. It’s the Internet of Money, which promises to transform everything economic, just as the existing Internet has transformed communications. Read more.

Fusion Energy: Step by Step, Closer to Becoming Reality

By John Renesch

Living in San Francisco puts me in relatively close proximity to the world’s largest and most powerful laser facility – the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore Laboratories, about 50 miles east of me. Read more.

Former Soviet Republics Raising the Bar for Renewable Energy Development

By Rick Docksai

The former Soviet Union isn’t the first thing most people think of when they hear “renewable energy,” much less “technical innovation.” But Estonia and Latvia are on their way to putting some of these Cold War-era stereotypes on the ash heap of history. Read more.

Carbon Prices Drive Clean Energy Innovation

By Ramez Naam

I want to point out something I see commonly missed. Carbon prices accelerate innovation that brings down the price of green energy. So do renewable energy portfolio standards, green energy subsidies, and a whole swath of other climate policies. Read more.

A Window on the Universe’s Distant Past and Future

By Richard Yonck

Today’s announcement of the detection of primordial gravitational waves is huge. The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics gave a news conference in which it described the first ever detection of these waves which provides a window onto the very earliest stages of our universe. Read more.

China to Use Drones to Combat Urban Pollution

By Len Rosen

I have written several blog postings about China’s enormous problem with urban smog. It is so bad at times that the government has been forced to declare war on polluters and pollution. Read more.

The Future of Espionage

By Randall Mayes

Classified data does not stay classified forever. Accordingly, two books written by former CIA employees provide a glimpse into the CIA’s inner workings and its future role in national security. Read more.

Rising Economic Inequality: Does It Matter?

By David Brin

A new report from the Economic Policy Institute shows rising levels of income inequality in all fifty states. From 1979 to 2011, the top 1% saw their income rise 128.9%, while the bottom 99% saw their income increase by a mere 2.3%. Read more.

History Isn’t Boring

By Tom Warner

The Second Machine Age, by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, is a popular and well-regarded book right now. It explains many complex technological developments in easy terms, generally without oversimplifying things. Read more.

FUTURIST UPDATE: News & Previews from the World Future Society is an e-mail newsletter published monthly as a supplement to THE FUTURIST magazine.
©2014 World Future Society • 7910 Woodmont Ave., Suite 450, Bethesda, MD 20814 • Voice: 301-656-8274 • Fax: 301-951-0394 • Email: [email protected] • Web site: www.wfs.org • Contributing Editors: Cynthia G. WagnerRick Docksai, andKeturah Hetrick • Publisher: Jeff Cornish