Monday, September 3, 2012

Discover Magazine, October 2012

Discover cover with gray-haired Mona Lisa illustration
The October issue of Discover couldn't help but appeal to me and my 50ish demographic.

It includes a speculative almanac describing the state of the earth in 2062. Though based on a somewhat rosy scenario, it gave plausible descriptions of:
  • The effects of aging populations in Japan, Italy, Germany, and the United States. One stat that surprised me is that Japan in 2012 already has a larger percentage of people over the age of 65 than the U.S. is projected to have in 2062 (23% vs. 21.9%). Japan is projected to have 35% of its population over 65 in 2062. China's baby bust will also lead to its relative decline.
  • How countries with Arctic geographies (Canada, Norway, Greenland, Russia) will be economic boom areas because the loss of summer ice. This will open up more oil and gas drilling as well as shipping lanes.
  • Energy use. When I say it's based on rosy scenario, one of the major reasons is the bar graph provided to break down energy sources used to create electricity. The numbers are 24% nuclear, 14% hydropower, 12% coal with carbon capture and storage, 12% solar, 12% wind, 11% natural gas, 5% biomass, 5% natural gas with carbon capture and storage, 3% geothermal, and only 1% each oil and coal.
  • Other boom economies. Due to their young populations, the top economies are projected to be India, Turkey, and Indonesia.
  • The growth of cities. Six billion of the world's nine billion people will be living in cities.
Another piece that had my eyes glued to the page is called "Brutal Truths About the Aging Brain," by Robert Epstein. It includes comparative MRI scans of 27- and 87-year-old brains, pairing the subarachnoid space, the ventricles, and the white-matter tracts. And as you may suspect, there's a lot of loss in all three areas. "Recent studies suggest that the total loss in brain volume due to atrophy...between our teen years and old age is 15 percent or more, which means that by the time we're in our seventies, our brains have shrunk to the size they were when we were between 2 and 3 years old." And most of the loss is in gray matter. We also lose 40 percent of our dopamine by age 80.

The article "Sex and the Society," also by Epstein, is likely to be controversial. It presents a summarized analysis of societal sex ratios (the number of men relative to the number of women), which are said to correlate to social effects. For instance, when the ratio of men to women goes much below 1.00:0.95, as it did in the 1960s, things like the second-wave women's movement happen and greater numbers of women join the workforce. When the opposite happens, women are repressed and made to stay home. Sounds like having more women is a good thing, right? Maybe, but the article also points out that in "multiple studies that examine this issue both across countries and over time,... a shortage of men is associated with higher rates of rape, violent crime, and assault." Conversely, when there are more men than women, "men compete for resources like good jobs and fancy cars that make them more attractive to potential mates." The author projects that the U.S., at least, is likely to have a balanced sex ratio for the foreseeable future.

The final article, "20 Things You Didn't Know About Cars," is a nice closer. My favorite fact among the 20: The number of U.S. deaths from car accidents per passenger mile has fallen 80% in the past 50 years. Even though 32,310 people died in 2012, that number needs to be put into perspective: if the 1962 fatalities were projected to our current population and number of miles driven, another 150,000 people would have died.

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