Sunday, July 24, 2016

254.5 - The world in numbers

The world in numbers

Finally for this week, we'll take a quick tour around the world using numbers.

The first number is 50,000. That is the number of people who have been fired or suspended from their jobs in Turkey in wake of last week's failed coup in what now has every sign of being a combination purge and witch-hunt intended to suppress any dissent to the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. More than 9400 people have been arrested. Amnesty International has called it "a crackdown of exceptional proportions."

Turkey had stood as the proof that a nation could be both Muslim and democratic, but in recent times there had been concern that Erdogan and his allies in the national legislature had been pushing the nation in an Islamist - by which I mean here a theocratic - direction. In the wake of the failed coup, Erdogan has taken steps to further centralize his power, intensifying that concern.

The next number is 30. That is the number of years for which the British parliament voted to renew the country's Trident program, Trident being a submarine-launched nuclear missile. Trident program is, that is, Britain's nuclear weapons program.

According to new prime minister Theresa May, apparently out to prove she is as Margaret Thatcher as can be, abandoning weapons of mass destruction would be "an act of gross irresponsibility" while she accused critics of the program of being "the first to defend the country's enemies."

The approval for extending the program came despite the fact that the government's own "National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review" found, quoting, "no direct threat to the UK or its vital interests from states developing weapons of mass destruction" - which means, put another way, there is no basis for the claim that Trident is needed to "defend" Great Britain.

The renewal passed handily, 472-117, but beyond absolutely dreaming of a time when 20% of the US Congress would vote to shut down our nuclear weapons programs, I do wonder how many of the "ayes" were based on the attitude expressed by UK Defense Secretary Michael Fallon, who said he hoped the vote would somehow prove in the wake of the Brexit vote that the UK is still a player.

Because, it still seems, being able to commit mass murder is how you show you count as a nation.

Next up is the number "less than 9." According to Oxfam, that is the percentage of the world's refugees being hosted by the world's six richest nations combined - and of those six, one hosts a third of their combined total. Those six - the US, China, Japan, Germany, the UK, and France - together account for nearly 57% of the world's GDP.

By contrast, the six nations - Jordan, Turkey, the Palestinian Territory, Pakistan, Lebanon, and South Africa - that host more than half of the world's 24.5 million refugees and asylum seekers account for less than 2% of the world's GDP.

Those with the most are doing the least; those with the least are struggling to do what they can. Sadly, not an unusual situation.

As a quick footnote, these figures do not include people who have been driven from their homes by violence, war, and human rights violations but who have not left their country and so are not counted as refugees but as "internally displaced persons." Include those people and the number of displaced persons rises from 24.5 million to over 65 million, the highest total that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has ever recorded.

The next number is 8. That is how many of the nine primary uses for which medical marijuana is recommended for which prescriptions for corporate-produced drugs have declined in states with medical marijuana laws.

This is based on a detailed study of drug prescriptions over the period 2010-2013 which examined the difference between the annual number of prescriptions per doctor in each category of use in states with and without medical marijuana laws. Thus, for example, they found that a typical doctor in a state with medical marijuana issued nearly 1900 fewer prescriptions for pain killers each year than did doctors in states without medical marijuana.

And so on down the line: Fewer prescriptions per year for anxiety, nausea, psychosis, seizures, sleep disorders, depression, and spasticity, which is uncontrolled muscle stiffness or spasms and is often associated with conditions such as cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis. The only exception was glaucoma, for which prescriptions per doctor rose in states with medical marijuana.

To check their results, the researchers looked at prescriptions for other conditions, ones for which medical marijuana is not recommended, specifically, blood thinners, anti-viral drugs, and antibiotics. They found no difference between medical marijuana states and others, confirming that it was the medical marijuana laws, not something else, that made the difference.

Want to know why Big Pharma is fighting against medical marijuana? The answer is in the numbers: Medical marijuana is cutting into their profits.

Next comes 63. According to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, that is the percentage of Americans who hold that race relations in the US are generally bad, with a majority of respondents saying they are getting worse.

The good news, if you can call it that, hidden in the bad is that the increase from 48 percent found in a Pew Research survey this spring was largely driven by white Republicans and white independents who had resisted seeing racial discrimination as a problem but now have been forced to acknowledge it.

Finally, 0.0067, or if you prefer 1/150, or 2/3 of 1 percent. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a company that invests in renewable energy, that is how much solar power per unit of output cost in 2015 as compared to what it cost in 1975. Meanwhile, the number of solar installations is now 115,000 times what it was then.

The company predicts that even as coal and natural gas prices stay low, within 15 years wind and solar will be cheaper in many countries and cheaper in most of the world not long after. In some places where solar energy is most easily available, it is already clearly cheaper: Dubai has received a bid to supply 800 megawatts of solar power at a rate equivalent to "US 2.99 cents per kilowatt hour." By comparison, the average residential price for electricity in the United States is 12 cents per kilowatt-hour.

It's not just the Middle East, either: Austin, Texas, and Palo Alto, California, have signed contracts for solar-generated power at under 4 cents/kwh. Even if you take out the federal investment tax credit, it still comes out at 7 cents/kwh, still well below that national average of 12 cents/kwh.

Unfortunately, this still means that we are truly up against it when it comes to global warming because the timelines involved reach out to 2040, by which time we may already be irrevocably committed to blasting through the 2 degrees Celsius target if in fact we have not already done so - but at least it offers some hope and a promise that the very worst can be headed off.

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