TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: March 12

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Protecting whistleblowers protects national security.

By Mike German at the Brennan Center for Justice

2. Could we treat pain by switching off the region of the brain controlling that feeling?

By the University of Oxford

3. Small businesses are booming in China, and it might save their economy.

By Steven Butler and Ben Halder in Ozy

4. Not so fast: Apps using Apple’s new health technology could require FDA approval. That doesn’t come quick.

By Jonathan M. Gitlin in Ars Technica

5. We might feel better about driving electric cars, but they’re still not good for the environment.

By Bobby Magill in Quartz

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Environment

El Niño Arrival Too Late for California Drought

"Too little, too late and too weak to provide much relief for drought-stricken California"

El Niño has finally arrived, but the precipitation brought by the weather event is unlikely to alleviate California’s severe drought, officials said Thursday.

“After many months of watching, El Niño has formed,” said Mike Halpert, an official at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center. “Unfortunately, this El Niño is likely too little, too late and too weak to provide much relief for drought-stricken California as California’s rainy season is winding down.”

El Niño, a cyclical phenomenon that lasts several years, begins with warming in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and eventually affects weather around the world. In the United States, it can lead to storms along the West Coast and affect hurricanes and other tropical storms. Tropical storm activity could be reduced due to El Niño, but it’s too soon to know for certain, the NOAA said.

Forecasters have been waiting to declare the start of El Niño for nearly a year. The late arrival may make El Niño-related storms “weak in strength” with “fairly low influence on weather inclement,” Halpert said.

TIME climate

Senator Throws Snowball! Climate Change Disproven!

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

Is Sen. James Inhofe really the person we want chairing the Senate's environment committee?

What’s all this talk about global hunger? I don’t know about you, but I just tucked into a burrito and there are plenty more where that one came from. But that doesn’t mean the nation’s soaring obesity rates are anything more than a rumor. Most of the people I work with look pretty darn good, so QED right?

Something similar is true of climate change—at least if you’re Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, and a man tasked with knowing a thing or two about, um, the environment and public works. The Senator, who has made something of a cottage industry out of arguing that climate change is “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people,” at last has drop-dead, case-closed proof that he’s been right all along. The evidence: a snowball. And not just any snowball, one right there in Washington, DC!

Inhofe brought his snowball onto the floor of the U.S. Senate on Thursday and declared that “we keep hearing that 2014 has been the warmest year on record.” Yet in a plastic bag, right on his desk, he had the evidence to demolish that claim. “I ask the chair, you know what this is?” he said. “It’s a snowball, and that’s just from outside here, so it’s very, very cold out, very unseasonable.” Then he tossed the unexpected snowball to the unsuspecting chair and returned to his prepared text with self-satisfied, “Mm-hmm.”

Inhofe is completely correct, of course: It was very, very cold on Thursday—unseasonably so. And it was also very, very hot in Opa Loca Florida, where the temperature was 87º F (30º C)—awfully sweltering even for that part of the country, at least at this time of year. Presumably, Opa Loca’s unseasonable steam bath is equally compelling proof that climate change is real.

Look, it’s easy to take shots at Inhofe, which is why everyone is doing it today—here and here and here and here just for starters. But the implications are real. Either he really doesn’t understand that weather isn’t climate, that long-term trends are different from short-term bumps, that what happens at your house or in your town really, truly isn’t what’s happening everywhere else on the planet, or he does know and he’s pretending he doesn’t. Either way, it’s hard to argue that he’s the man you’d want as the Senate’s leading voice on climate policy.

Here’s hoping, if nothing else, that Inhofe has an easy commute home tonight. It’ll be long-awaited proof that the U.S. highway system has at last solved the problem of traffic.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME climate

These Maps Show How Much Trouble We’d Be in if the Sea Level Rises

New York, Los Angeles, San Diego, Vancouver, Seattle and London are all in trouble

At some point in the future, your favorite city might be a patch of sea floor.

Spatialities, a site devoted to spatial information and visualizations, has unveiled a series of maps that show how several urban cities and coastal regions would be impacted by various rises in sea level. And it’s bad news all around for cities like New York, Los Angeles, San Diego, Vancouver, Seattle, London, among others, which are prone to flooding—and total submersion.

All the depicted sea levels are possible scenarios: They’re all less than the maximum rise in sea level calculated by the U.S. Geological Survey, which estimates that if all the planet’s glaciers melted, then the potential sea rise is about 80 m., or 262 ft.

But the good news is that you won’t see a sea level this high in your lifetime — according to one study, it would take about 1,000 to 10,000 years.

 

TIME weather

See a Bird’s Eye View of the Frozen Tundra That Is New York City

It's very cold in New York this weekend. How cold? Check out these aerial images of a frosty Hudson River and more.

TIME weather

Boston’s Public Transit Won’t See Full Service for 30 Days

Pedestrians walk along snow covered, MBTA subway rails on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston
Brian Snyder—Reuters Pedestrians walk along snow covered, MBTA subway rails on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, Massachusetts following a winter storm on Feb. 15, 2015.

“This last round really crippled our infrastructure and our vehicle fleet"

Record-setting snowfall has so disrupted Boston’s main public transportation system that it may need a month to return to full service, the MBTA said Monday.

“As long as we don’t get hit with another storm like the last one, it will be back in 30 days,” Beverly Scott, general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, said at a news conference, according to the Boston Globe. Scott cautioned it may take even longer if another major storm hits.

“This last round really crippled our infrastructure and our vehicle fleet,” she added. “It created operational challenges and created severe damage which will take time to recover from.”

A series of winter storms have made February the snowiest month in Boston’s recorded history and workers have been struggling to clear snow and ice from the rail system, known as the “T.” Scott said areas that have been hit particularly hard in the storms, and lines that are most used by commuters, are being initially targeted for cleanup.

[Boston Globe]

TIME Environment

‘Megadroughts’ Could Devastate Southwest U.S. Within a Century

New study warns of dry consequences if greenhouse emissions continue to rise

Droughts like the one California is experiencing are only going to get worse over the course of the century and could devastate some central and western parts of the U.S., according to a new NASA study.

Using data from 17 climate models, scientists were able to project that if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, there is a significant risk of severe droughts in the Southwest and Central Plains between 2050 and 2100. Reductions in rainfall and increased temperatures will lead to drier soil, according to their models, causing “megadroughts,” which could last between 30 and 35 years, according to the report published Thursday in the journal Science Advances. Typically, droughts last about 10 years. But if emissions continue to increase throughout the 21st century, there’s an 80% chance of “megadrought” events worse than any in the past 1,000 years, researchers said.

“Natural droughts like the 1930s Dust Bowl and the current drought in the Southwest have historically lasted maybe a decade or a little less,” said Ben Cook, a NASA climate scientist and lead author of the study in a statement. “What these results are saying is we’re going to get a drought similar to those events, but it is probably going to last at least 30 to 35 years.”

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: January 30

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. What if football helmet safety ratings are measuring the wrong hits?

By Bryan Gruley in Bloomberg Business

2. If France wants fewer radicalized Muslims, it must clean up its prisons.

By Michael Birnbaum in the Washington Post

3. They 3D-printed a car.

By Umair Irfan in Scientific American

4. The low price of meat doesn’t reflect its true cost.

By the New Scientist

5. Lesser-known cities and young architects are perfect for each other.

By Amanda Kolson Hurley in CityLab

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME weather

East Coasters Share Amazing Storm Photos on Social Media

People across the northeast took to Instagram to post their #Snowmageddon2015 photos

TIME global health

What the Gates Foundation Has Achieved, 15 Years On

Sunny days: Melinda and Bill Gates in 2014, one year before their self-imposed deadline arrived
Scott Olson; Getty Images Sunny days: Melinda and Bill Gates in 2014, one year before their self-imposed deadline arrived

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

Much has been done over the foundation's first decade and a half — with more still to do

There are a whole lot of things you may or may not get to do in the next 15 years, but a few of them you can take for granted: eating, for one. Having access to a bank, for another. And then there’s the simple business of not dying of a preventable or treatable disease. Good for you—and good for most of us in the developed world. But the developed world isn’t the whole story.

The bad—and familiar—news is that developing nations lag far behind in income, public health, food production, education and more. The much, much better news is that all of that is changing—and fast. The just-released Annual Letter from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation makes a good case for hoping there is still more to come.

The 2015 letter represents something of a threshold moment for the Foundation. It was in 2000 that the Gateses began their work and set themselves a very public 15-year deadline: show meaningful progress in narrowing the health, income and resource gap between the world’s privileged and underprivileged people, or be prepared to explain why not. So far, nobody—neither the Gates Foundation nor the numerous other global health groups like the World Health Organization and UNICEF—have much explaining to do.

The number of children under five who die each year worldwide has been nearly cut in half, from a high of nearly 13 million to 6.5 million today. Polio has been chased to the very brink of extinction, and elephantiasis, river blindness and Guinea worm are close behind. Drought-tolerant seeds are dramatically increasing agricultural yields; economies in the once-desperate countries in sub-Saharan Africa are now matching the developed world in rate of annual growth. Up to 70% of people across the developing world now have access to wireless service, making mobile banking possible—a luxury in the West but a necessity in places there is no other banking infrastructure.

The trick of course is that progress isn’t the same as success. The 13 million babies who were dying a year in the years before the Foundation began, for example, factored out to a horrific 35,000 every single day. Slashing that in half leaves you with 17,500—still an intolerable figure. For that reason and others, the Gateses are turning the 15-year chronometer back to zero, setting targets—and framing ways to achieve them—for 2030.

The most pressing concern involves those 17,500 kids. The overwhelming share of the recent reduction in mortality is due to better delivery of vaccines and treatments for diseases that are vastly less common or even nonexistent in much of the developed world—measles, pneumonia, malaria, cholera and other diarrheal ills. Those are still the cause of 60% of the remaining deaths. But the other 40%—or 2.6 million children—involve neonates, babies who die in the first 30 days of life and often on the very first day. The interventions in these cases can be remarkably simple.

“The baby must be kept warm immediately after birth, which too often doesn’t happen,” Melinda Gates told TIME. “This is basic skin-to-skin contact. Breast-feeding exclusively is the next big thing, as is basic cord care. The umbilical cord must be cut cleanly and kept clean to prevent infections.”

HIV may similarly be brought to heel, if not as easily as neonate mortality. A vaccine or a complete cure—one that would simply eliminate the virus from the body the way an antibiotic can eliminate a bacterium—remain the gold standards. But in much of the world, anti-retrovirals (ARVs) have served as what is known as a functional cure, allowing an infected person to live healthily and indefinitely while always carrying a bit of the pathogen. Gates looks forward to making ARVs more widely available, as well as to the development of other treatment protocols that we may not even be considering now.

“We’re already moving toward an HIV tipping point,” she says, “when the number of HIV-positive people in sub-Saharan Africa who are in treatment will exceed the number of people becoming newly infected.”

Food security is another achievable goal. Even as Africa remains heavily agrarian—70% of people in the sub-Saharan region are farmers compared to 2% in the U.S.—yields remain low. An acre of farmland here in America may produce 150 bushels of corn; in Africa it’s just 30. The problem is largely rooted in our increasingly unstable climate, with severe droughts burning out harvests or heavy rainstorms destroying them.

“Millions of people eat rice in Africa,” says Gates, “and rice has to be kept much wetter than other crops. At the equator it’s staying drier longer, but when the rains do come, they hit harder.”

In the case of rice and corn and all other crops, the answer is seeds engineered for the conditions in which they will have to grow, not for the more forgiving farmlands of the West. In Tanzania, site-specific seed corn has been made available and is already changing lives. “That seed,” one farmer told Gates when she visited in 2012, “made the difference between hunger and prosperity.”

Finally comes banking. Across Africa, only 37% of people are part of the formal banking system, but up to 90%, depending on the area, are part of the M-Pesa network—a mobile banking link accessible via cellphone. The Pesa part of the name is Swahili for money and the M is simply for mobile.

“Today too many people put their money in a cow or in jewelry,” Gates says. “But it’s impossible to take just a little of that money out. If someone gets sick or you have another emergency, you simply sell the cow.” Mobile banking changes all of that, making it much easier to save—and in a part of the world where even $1 set aside a day can mean economic security, that’s a very big deal.

Nothing about the past 15 years guarantees that the next 15 will see as much progress. The doctrine of low-hanging fruit means that in almost all enterprises, the early successes come easier. But 15 years is a smart timeframe. It’s far enough away that it creates room for different strategies to be tried and fail before one succeeds, but it’s close enough that you still can’t afford to waste the time you have. Wasting time, clearly, is not something the folks at the Gates Foundation have been doing so far, and they likely won’t in the 15 years to come either.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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