“The Positive Side of Global Warming”


The New York Times devoted more than two full pages to the advantages of the melting of the Arctic ice cap. Here is a short excerpt:

(p. A1) By Mr. Broe’s calculations, Churchill could bring in as much as $100 million a year as a port on Arctic shipping lanes shorter by thousands of miles than routes to the south, and traffic would only increase as the retreat of ice in the region clears the way for a longer shipping season.
With major companies and nations large and small adopting similar logic, the Arctic is undergoing nothing less than a great rush for virgin territory and natural resources worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Even before the polar ice began shrinking more each summer, countries were pushing into the frigid Barents Sea, lured by undersea oil and gas fields and emboldened by advances in technology. But now, as thinning ice stands to simplify construction of drilling rigs, exploration is likely to move even farther north.
Last year, scientists found tantalizing hints of oil in seabed samples just 200 miles from the North Pole. All told, one quarter of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas resources lies in the Arctic, according to the United States Geological Survey.
The polar thaw is also starting to unlock other treasures: lucrative shipping routes, perhaps even the storied Northwest Passage; new cruise ship destinations; and important commercial fisheries.
“It’s the positive side of global warming, if there is a positive side,” said Ron Lemieux, the transportation minister of Manitoba, whose provincial government is investing millions in Churchill.



For the full story, see:
CLIFFORD KRAUSS, STEVEN LEE MYERS, ANDREW C. REVKIN and SIMON ROMERO. “As Polar Ice Turns to Water, Dreams of Treasure Abound.” The New York Times (Mon., October 10, 2005): A1, A10-A11.

Early Detection Does Not Always Lengthen Life

Unfortunately some cancer tests do a lot more good for doctors’ revenues than they do for patients’ longevity:

“The improvement in long-term mortality may be due to the higher proportion of small or slow-growing tumors being detected, which means you start counting earlier,” says Dr. Jaffe. That’s why longer survival, measured from the time of diagnosis, is a misleading measure of progress against cancer, and no substitute for reductions in mortality.
The more scientists study cancers, the more indolent ones they discover. Researchers in Japan, for instance, find that CT scans detect almost as many lung lesions in nonsmokers as in smokers. But since nonsmokers have a mortality rate from lung cancer less than 10% that of smokers, the vast majority of what CT scans picked up would never have progressed to anything life-threatening. And a Mayo Clinic study found that although X-rays detect lung cancers at earlier stages, and lead to more five-year survivors, early detection does not lower death rates.
For colon cancer, the fecal occult blood test “does decrease your risk of dying of this cancer,” says Dr. Kramer. “But for colonoscopy and sigmoidoscopy, which appeal to our intuition [about early detection], the evidence is not great.” They pick up polyps earlier, but not all polyps become cancers, “and we don’t know what proportion would lead to death.”
The Pap test for cervical cancer has saved lives, but many of the abnormal cells it finds wouldn’t go on to become cancer. Most women with low-grade or even high-grade lesions would have been fine anyway. Similarly, the PSA test for prostate cancer picks up tumors that are biologically nonaggressive.
The discovery that many tumors are innocuous casts doubt on the value of new screening tests. “You may fool yourself into thinking a test is twice as sensitive,” says Dr. Kramer, “but the only extra cancers it picks up are those that wouldn’t have harmed the patient.

SHARON BEGLEY. “Early Cancer Detection Doesn’t Always Give Patient an Advantage.” The Wall Street Journal (August 26, 2005): B1.

A “Bridge” Technology Between Gas and Hydrogen?

MazdaPremacyConceptCar.jpg
Premacy gasoline-electric-hydrogen concept car. Photo source: WSJ, see below.

One of the difficulties in major changes in technology is how to handle the transition. Technologies that reduce the cost of the transition (I call them “bridge technologies”) can be important. Here is a potential example.

(p. D5) . . . with the Premacy concept, Mazda is attempting to combine this electric-motor engine with a combustion engine that is itself a kind of hybrid engine — one that can burn either gasoline or hydrogen, whichever the driver chooses. The company already has spent years developing such dual-fuel combustion engines and says they are now ready for the mass market. Mazda is expected to announce at the Tokyo Motor Show, which opens Oct. 22, that it will begin leasing a version of the RX-8 sports car in Japan with a combustion engine that burns hydrogen as well as gasoline.

Hydrogen is normally seen as an alternative energy source for use in cars powered by fuel cells, in which the chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen is used to generate electricity. Fuel-cell technology is attractive because it releases no harmful emissions, and Japan has roughly 15 government-run hydrogen stations to encourage the use of alternative fuels. More are expected.
But fuel-cell technology is also extremely expensive. Because of this, most industry experts think commercial use of fuel-cell cars is years, if not decades, away. That is why Mazda has been developing engines that burn hydrogen much like gasoline. Burning hydrogen, according to Mazda, is much more practical.

For the full story, see:

JATHON SAPSFORD. “Mazda Concept Car Will Run on Three Fuels.” THE WALL STREET JOURNAL (Weds., October 5, 2005): D5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

If Only Caroline Had Read Schumpeter

Innovation is sometimes slowed because innovators do not know that creative destruction will replace old jobs with equally good, or better, new jobs:

In 1834 Walter Hunt of New York City made such a leap in lateral thinking. In his little machine shop down a narrow alley in Abingdon Square, he devised a machine for stitching cloth with two threads from two separate sources, one a needle on a vibrating arm and the other a transverse shuttle fed by an unwinding bobbin.
. . .
Hunt, an altruistic Quaker, never pursued his invention because his 15-year-old daughter, Caroline, recoiled from the thought that it would put seamstresses out of work. (p. 87)

Source:
Evans, Harold. They Made America: Two Centuries of Innovators from the Steam Engine to the Search Engine. New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2004.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

Sewing Machine Benefitted Laborers

Speaking of the invention of a practical, affordable sewing machine:

It was a democratizing influence. James Parton was exaggerating only a little when he wrote in the Atlantic Monthly in 1867 that it was “one of the means by which the industrious laborer is as well clad as any millionaire.” (p. 84)

Evans, Harold. They Made America: Two Centuries of Innovators from the Steam Engine to the Search Engine. New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2004.