Throughout this week, we’ll be thinking about some of the ways the coronavirus is shaping both the immediate future and what a more livable, long-term future might look like if we handle this crisis effectively. So, it’s a week to dream big.
First up: the future of public transportation...
Across the country, public transit systems are entering what some have called a “death spiral,” as ridership has rapidly dropped. In New York City, the epicenter of the virus, ridership has dropped by a staggering 92 percent. While the federal stimulus package will deliver $25 billion to help keep transportation systems afloat — and provide critical transportation to essential workers — some still fear that it won’t be enough.
Meanwhile, public transportation systems across the United States face another longer-term crisis that’s already here: climate change. New York City has already begun preparing the subway to make sure it can withstand the effects of extreme flooding while also electrifying its bus fleet to reduce carbon emissions. Other cities have also made strides in electrifying public transit systems. We’ll also likely need simply more public transit to survive the climate crisis. An article in the The New Republic points out that expanding public transit would disincentivize the most carbon-intensive forms of travel, like planes: “More affordable and widespread public rail networks would encourage people to explore a nearby city on their long weekends rather than take planes to some far-flung locale.” More public transportation will also make it so people rely less on personal vehicles, which as the 2018 IPPC report notes, are a major source of global emissions.
In the future, depending on the policy choices we make, we could have a world of robust weather-resistant, carbon-free transportation systems. Already, some experts and advocates have pointed to measures that could address both crises — the climate crisis and coronavirus — facing public transportation. Even though everything feels bleak right now as the subways open doors to empty stations, it’s important to remember that this future is possible. Tomorrow: The future of voting...
I’m Greta Moran, your interstellar guide to all of Inverse’s latest science and technology stories at Inverse Daily.
THE LATEST ON COVID-19 — Coronavirus resources from Inverse staffers
- Is it ever ok…to hide special treats from your roommates in isolation? (Bon Appétit)
- How to wear a mask with glasses and not get all fogged up (Mel)
- Your poop might be key for predicting the end of the - pandemic (Vice)
- People are baiting Instacart workers with fake tips (The Cut)
FUTURE X-RAYS — This flexible material could revolutionize X-ray detectors. X-rays detectors are an incredibly powerful medical tool that allows us to peer into the human body and see anything from broken bones to slowed tumor growth. But these powerful X-rays can also expose patients and clinicians to dangerous radiation if used in excess.
To solve that problem, physicists from Los Alamos National Laboratory and Argonne National Laboratory have designed an X-ray detector that is safer to use and 100 times more sensitive than previous silicon-based models. The secret ingredient in this detector is a heavy, metal-laden mineral called perovskite, which is thinner than a human hair and extremely flexible. The researchers behind this study say this new detector will offer improved resolution at a fraction of the cost of silicon models.
More news on future X-rays:
ALIENS…THEY’RE OUT THERE — The discovery of microbial life offers new hope for life on Mars. A recent discovery of a tiny, microbial colony on volcanic rock offered scientists new hope of finding life on Mars and narrows down their search on the Red Planet.
The volcanic rock was extracted from deep in the Pacific Ocean 10 years ago, and scientists had been trying to take a crack at it since. Now, using a new method, they discovered microbial life feeding off of the mineral-filled cracks in the rocks. The scientists believe these types of volcanic rock share similarities to Martian rocks and are therefore hopeful of finding the same type of life on rock samples from Mars.
More news on the potential of life on the Red Planet:
THE SCIENCE OF RELAPSE — Unseen brain changes could lead to relapse. Scientists may be able to detect the signs of a drug relapse before they happen. In a mouse study on cocaine-addicted mice persevering through withdrawal, they found that there are tiny molecular markers in the brain that may be related to drug-seeking behavior. These markers focus on histones, spools of proteins that DNA is wrapped around. Dopamine can attach to those histones, and as a result, change the way that proteins are expressed.
The scientists found that these changes were related to drug-seeking behavior in mice. However, when the scientists stopped dopamine from altering the histones, they found that mice didn’t show drug-seeking behavior when they were going through withdrawal.
The idea is that one day scientists may be able to help reverse these changes, or at least target them, which, down the road, could stop a relapse before it even starts.
More on the science of addiction:
HELL YES, CLIMATE PROJECTIONS — Climate projections may have ignored the world’s secret weapon against climate change. In Panama, a rich blend of lush, tropical trees play a vital, hidden role in preserving Earth’s environment. They breathe in carbon dioxide, storing it in the ground and helping to slow the effects of global warming. But when it comes to how effectively they carry out this environmental role, not all trees are created equal.
In a new study of Panama’s tropical forests, researchers modeled forest demographics using a dataset spanning 40 years and nearly 300 tree species. They reveal that long-living, slow-growing, and massive trees make up most of the forest’s biomass. These so-called “long-lived pioneers” play a disproportionately large part in stashing carbon.
In other climate news:
- A doctor says masks are vital for 1 “stealth” reason.
- If you give yourself a DIY haircut, it will return the favor with something tight.
- NASA is getting ready to return humans to the Moon. But before it does, a golf-cart sized robot will help set the stage for our grand arrival.
- BMJ study suggests 78% of Covid-19 patients don’t show symptoms.
- What’s the deal with Caleb? Here’s our 3 best Westworld theories.
That’s all for today!
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