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Study: Full transition to electric cars would improve U.S. air, health



America’s air would become remarkably cleaner if the country accelerated its transition to electric cars that don’t rely on fossil fuels, the American Lung Association said in a new report.

A full transition to electric cars by 2040 would also result in fewer deaths, asthma attacks, heart attacks, strokes and other health problems related to air pollution, said William Barrett, director of clean air advocacy for the American Lung Association and lead author of the “Road to Clean Air” report.

“Our report is grounded in a scenario wherein electric vehicles account for 100% of new passenger vehicle sales by 2040, and of heavy duty truck sales by 2045, with heavy duty vehicle classes advancing along the way,” he said.

“Through a scenario like this, we could virtually eliminate on-road emissions of smog-forming nitrogen oxide, fine particle pollution and greenhouse gas emissions,” Barrett continued. “Based on this scenario, the pollution reduced in 2050 alone could yield up to 6,300 avoided premature deaths, 93,000 avoided asthma attacks, 416,000 avoided lost work days and many additional health impacts avoided.”

Electric cars have become steadily more popular in the United States, with nearly 1.2 million on the road in 2019, according to the Edison Electric Institute, an industry group. However, they still represent fewer than 2% of all cars sold in the United States.

The new report attempts to estimate changes in air pollution “if we accelerate that progress out over the coming decades, really looking at ways we can help advance that and accelerate that progress and that transition to electric transportation,” Barrett said.

Close to half of Americans live in counties affected by ozone and particle pollution, the two most common air pollutants in the United States, the report found. Cars, trucks and other vehicles are a major contributor to that bad air.

According to Dr. Meredith McCormack, medical director of the Johns Hopkins University Pulmonary Function Laboratory in Baltimore, “Transportation is a leading source of harmful air pollution in the United States. It represents half of the total ozone as well as nitrogen oxide emissions.”

Models generated for this report estimate that a full transition to electric cars would reduce, by 2050:

  • Ozone- and particle-forming nitrogen oxides by 1 million tons a year, an 82% reduction.
  • Fine particle pollution from tailpipes by nearly 30,600 tons, a 62% reduction.
  • Greenhouse gas emissions by more than 1.4 billion metric tons, a 90% reduction.

California, Texas, New York, Florida and Illinois would see the biggest benefit from a fully electric U.S. car fleet, in terms of billions in health care cost savings, the report found.

Accordingly, the cities that would benefit most from all-electric highways are Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Dallas, the report said.

Everyone’s health will benefit from reductions in air pollution, but none more than that of U.S. minority groups, McCormack said.

“People of color were 50% more likely to live in a county with at least one failing grade for an air pollutant, and over three times more likely to live in a county with a failing grade for all three metrics, which included ozone, particle pollution on a daily level, and particle pollution looked at annually,” McCormack said.

Barrett said electric vehicles alone won’t ensure clean air for the nation, however. Progress still needs to be made in transitioning power plants away from coal and fossil fuels.

“We know that as we transition to electric vehicles, at the same time we need to be on a parallel track to reduce our dependence on fossil fuel-generated power,” Barrett said. “As more coal and more fossil fuels come offline, the benefits of electric vehicles will only grow. There’s no doubt that we need to address both the tailpipe and the power sources.”

The American Lung Association urged government at all levels to enact policies to promote electric vehicles, including tighter vehicle standards, tax credits for car purchases, fully electric public fleets, and an expansion of charging stations along major highways and roads nationwide.

“With the widespread transition to electric vehicles, we have an opportunity to save lives, prevent asthma attacks, and to also avoid tens of billions of dollars in health costs and costs associated with climate change,” said Harold Wimmer, president and CEO of the American Lung Association.

More information

The Edison Electric Institute has more about electric vehicle sales.

Copyright 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

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SpaceX launches 60 more Starlink broadband satellites



Oct. 18 (UPI) — SpaceX launched its 14th group of 60 satellites from Florida under blue skies Sunday for the company’s Starlink broadband network, which is approaching a full-scale public trial period.

Liftoff occurred on time at 8:25 a.m. EDT aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center.

The launch boosted the number of satellites in orbit to nearly 800.

After the previous Starlink launch Oct. 6, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk tweeted that the launch would soon allow it to “roll out a fairly wide public” test in the northern United States and “hopefully” in southern Canada.

“Other countries to follow as soon as we receive regulatory approval,” Musk wrote.

The company said emergency responders in northern Washington State had used the Starlink service in wildfire-stricken areas.

“The way emergency responders deployed Starlink in this context is representative of how Starlink works best-in remote or rural areas where internet connectivity is unavailable,” the company reported on its website. “Our Starlink network is still in its early stages, but as our network grows our coverage will grow as well.”

Another initial user of Starlink is the Hoh tribe of Washington, where the service recently allowed it to offer more online education and telehealth services, according to a video produced by the state officials and posted on YouTube on Oct 7.

“It’s like out of nowhere, SpaceX came up and just catapulted us into the 21st century,” Melvinjohn Ashue, vice chairman of the tribe, said in the video.

SpaceX also won the right from the Federal Communication Commission last week to bid for $16 billion in federal funding to provide broadband service to rural areas of the United States.

The company was listed among 186 qualified bidders for the auction, which also includes such big names as Hughes, CenturyLink, Verizon and ViaSat. The money be released annually over a period of 10 years to internet providers so they can offer lower rates in rural areas.

Musk also confirmed on Twitter that Starlink is intended to be usable on fast-moving cars and trains, as long as the dish receivers are mounted and have a clear view of the sky.

Starlink’s ground receivers are designed to have the ability to move and track Starlink signals automatically.

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Unusual Aussie spider builds one-of-a-kind nest with super strong silk



Oct. 19 (UPI) — As far scientists know, no other spider builds a nest quite like the Australian basket-web spider.

Thanks to a new study, published Monday in the journal Scientific Reports, scientists now know how the spider’s lobster pot-like web keeps its structure without the help of vegetation.

“This silk retains its rigidity, allowing a rather exquisite silken basket or deadly ant trap,” study co-author Mark Elgar, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Melbourne, said in a news release.

For the study, researchers closely examined the chemical and structural composition of the spider’s silk. Their analysis showed the silk is similar to the kind of silks used by other spiders to construct egg sacs.

“Our discovery may provide insights into the evolution of foraging webs,” said Elgar. “It is widely thought that silk foraging webs, including the magnificent orb-webs, evolved from the habit of producing silk to protect egg cases. Perhaps the basket-web is an extension of the protective egg case and represents a rare contemporary example of an evolutionary ancestral process.”

The lobster pot trap of the basket-web spider, found only in Australia, measures just less than a half-inch in diameter and a bit more than a half-inch in length. It features a series of cross-linked threads of varying diameters.

Researchers were able to analyze the web and its robust fibers using high-resolution imaging technologies at ANSTO’s Australian Synchrotron facilities.

“Nature has created a complex structure that, at first glance, resembles industrially produced composites,” said study co-author Thomas Scheibel, professor of biomaterials at the University of Bayreuth in Germany.

“Further investigations have, however, shown that they are chemically different components and their respective properties together result in the thread’s extreme elasticity and toughness, thus creating a high degree of robustness,” Scheibel said. “With today’s composite materials, on the other hand, it is mainly the fibers embedded in the matrix that establish the particular properties required, such as high stability.”

The research suggests a new genetic material is key to the robustness of the novel silk — a material that could be synthesized at scale for industrial applications.

Scientists estimate, however, that additional research is needed to isolate the material and realize its potential.

“There is increasing recognition that solutions to many of the complex challenges and puzzles we face today can be found from biological systems,” Elgar said.

“This so-called ‘Bioinspiration’ draws on some 3.8 billion years of natural selection honing biological forms, processes and systems. The potential insights from that diversity of life, about which we still know rather little, is staggering,” Elgar said.

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‘Happy ending effect’ impairs future decision-making, study says



Oct. 19 (UPI) — Humans rely on their experiences to inform their decision making process, but new research suggests the “happy ending effect” prevents humans from accurately gauging the true value of an experience.

Previous studies have shown that humans overemphasize the ending of an experience when assessing its value. For example, a spell of bad weather on the last couple days of a vacation can leave travelers with a feeling of disappointment, spoiling their impression of the otherwise enjoyable trip.

New research, published Monday in the Journal of Neuroscience, suggests the phenomenon can interfere with a person’s ability to make good decisions.

“When you’re deciding where to go for dinner, for example, you think about where you’ve had a good meal in the past,” lead study author Martin Vestergaard said in a news release.

“But your memory of whether that meal was good isn’t always reliable — our brain values the final few moments of the experience more highly than the rest of it. If we can’t control our in-built attraction to happy endings, then we can’t trust our choices to serve our best interests,” said Vestergaard, a neuroscientist at the University of Cambridge in Britain.

For the study, researchers had participants select between two streams of coins falling into a bucket in quick succession. Larger coins were higher in value.

One stream was greater in value but ended with a succession of smaller coins, while the other less-valuable stream ended with a run of bigger coins. Participants consistently — and incorrectly — selected the stream that ended with larger coins.

Researchers used brain activity recordings and computational models to better understand the phenomenon. The analysis confirmed that the experience valuation process was encoded in the amygdala.

The study’s authors suggest it’s important for the human brain to observe the upward or downward trajectory of an experience — but the process can also impair a person’s ability to accurately evaluate an overall experience.

“Our attraction to the quality of the final moment of an experience is exploited by politicians seeking re-election; they will always try to appear strong and successful toward the end of their time in office,” said Vestergaard. “If you fall for this trick, and disregard historical incompetence and failure, then you might end up re-electing an unfit politician.

“Sometimes it’s worth taking the time to stop and think,” he said. “Taking a more analytical approach to complement your intuitive judgement can help ensure you’re making a rational decision.”

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