On “The Race of Our Lives” and Why Probiotics?

From: aditya rana
Date: Sat, May 4, 2013 at 2:29 PM
Subject: On "The Race of Our Lives" and Why Probiotics?

Hi!,

As a follow-up to last week’s summary of a wide-ranging interview with Jeremy Grantham (the famed value investor who runs the money management firm GMO), I present below a summary of his latest quarterly note which delves further into the causes behind the declines of past civilizations, and the two key factors (currently at play) which are likely to provide a sustainable future for our planet. This will be the last of the six special reports written by Grantham (since 2011 and all available on the GMO website – https://www.gmo.com ) on the critical issue of declining natural resources, climate change and their impact on our future.

-With the reckless use of our natural resources and systems, the world currently reflects many of the signs of potential failure which have brought down previous civilizations – however, declining fertility rates and progress in alternative energy are likely to stave off the potential disaster provided we are able to overcome vested interests, optimistic propaganda and inertia.

-Numerous scholars over the years have identified a variety of causes behind the decline of civilizations. To name a few: geographical limitations in the supply of animal and vegetable life, soil, water and a source of energy; mismanagement and overuse of resources; the lack of ample storage to protect against the inevitable droughts and famines; overexpansion and costly wars; increasing complexity and costs of a growing empire putting undue burden on the population.

-The common theme which finds agreement with most scholars is that failing civilizations are characterized by hubris and overconfidence, with a focus on the growing signs of weakness being dismissed as being too pessimistic.

-A recent book by William Ophuls (“Immoderate Greatness-Why Civilizations Fail” – 70 pages and a 2 hour read!) provides a helpful summary and synthesis and lists six main factors behind a failed civilization– which all (in varying degrees) apply to us today.

Ophuls’s conclusion is that we are in the late stages of a historical pattern of self-destruction, as civilisations are wired to self-destruct by being overconfident and pushing for growth beyond limits, causing accumulated risks to eventually blow-up. However, what typically emerges is a renewed civilization with a smaller population and more balanced and sustainable growth.

-However, this seems to be too pessimistic a view as it does not account for two extraordinarily lucky gifts we have been blessed with – declining fertility rates and alternative energy.

Declining Fertility:

Malthus correctly analysed the main problem with our history until that time (1800) – that populations always kept up with food supply , without leaving much room to account for a few bad growing seasons spelling disaster.

-However, he was wrong as he was unable to account for two future factors– the ability to extract stored energy in the form of coal and oil (a relatively short-term effect until we run out of cheap hydrocarbon energy or irreparably damage the environment from its use), and, the long-term factor of declining fertility, with humans choosing to have fewer children as they became richer.

-Rapidly declining fertility is a worldwide-trend (outside of Africa) – with fertility rates in the East Asian countries (including China) declining over the last 50 years from levels over 5 to significantly below the replacement rate (to keep a stable population) of 2.1, rates in the western developed world declining to just below the replacement rate, rates in the emerging world (including India) declining from over 6 to just above the replacement rate, and rates in Africa remaining over 5. See charts below.

-The remarkable decline in fertility rates is our last best hope, with the U.N. projecting (optimistic end) a peaking of the population at about 8 billion in 2050 and then declining to 6 billion by 2100 (see chart below). Their more pessimistic projection is a peak of 11 billion which would likely to be disastrous.

Renewable energy:

-After several centuries of rapid technological progress, all dependent on the increased use of cheap energy in the form of irreplaceable oil and coal, we finally have an example of a technological advance which uses less energy – the technologies of solar, wind power, electric grid efficiencies and improved energy storage.

-The remarkable decline in the cost of electricity from photovoltaic cells (see chart below), and assuming this continues due to increasing efficiency on physical limits (akin to what happened with semiconductors), has the potential to deliver cheap and plentiful energy forever. Wind power, after seeing rapid early declines in costs, saw a sharp increase in recent years due to an increase in raw material costs , and is only expected to see gradual cost declines going ahead.

-However, coal is expected to see rising costs going forward (1% to 4% per annum), and by 2025 to 2030 both solar and wind power are expected to be cheaper than coal. In addition, coal has a very damaging “externalities” – acid rain, pollution and increased carbon-dioxide emission causing rising global temperatures, unstable and extreme weather patterns.

-We have the time, technology and capital to completely replace non-renewable energy in 30 o 50 years in an economical manner. It is important to note that once the initial capital costs for a solar or wind farm are accounted for, they produce far cheaper energy than a coal-fired utility at about one-third the running cost. The last coal plants anywhere may be built in the next twenty years.

-While progress in energy storage has been slow, here is a tremendous research effort in this area, and it is very likely that we will relatively soon see a dramatic drop in storage costs (halving) , especially at the retail level. Additionally, the modernizing of electricity grids into smart grids, over the next several decades, to allow for a wider and more efficient transfer would dramatically reduce storage needs.

-The Chinese have the potential to invest part of their vast amount of capital (at 50% of GDP versus 16% for the U.S.) over the next 25 years in a giant program of alternative energy which would give them dominance in the most important industries of the future and remove their greatest single worry – energy security. With pollution levels recently in some Chinese cities dramatically exceeding safe limits , they increased their target for solar generation capability by 65% over the next three years – equivalent to seven giant coal-fired plants.

-The above two factors, combined with some luck, effort and improved leadership, should buy us enough time to move towards a more sustainable agricultural system. This would then allow us to grapple with an intractable long-term problem – addressing the falling supply of metals.

-Lastly, dealing with the wild card issues of rising temperatures, ocean acidification, and destabilised weather for farming would be critical in managing the progress to a more sustainable and balanced world. “Whether we can move fast enough on all these fronts to avoid going over the cliff is uncertain, but every minute saved and improvement made, betters our odds”.

An extremely important note on a critical issue to dwell (and act) on in our own ways!

Why Probiotics:

Further to my note of last week which summarised findings from a new study by the world renowned Cleveland Clinic , which implicated the role of a bacteria produced in the stomach by eating animal protein (particularly red meat) which promotes the clogging of arteries, below is a brief note on why probiotics may potentially be helpful for the heart by a noted heart surgeon and head of the renowned Palm Beach Cardiovascular Clinic. While yoghurt does supply a natural source of probiotics, as my previous newsletters on the “China Study” and research by Nathan Pritkin and others clearly illustrate, the potentially harmful effects of the animal protein (casein) in dairy far outweigh the benefits – so perhaps a daily supplement may be a better alternative!

Newsmaxhealth.com . 01 May 2013

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Many people take probiotic pills every day to relieve digestive problems, but new research shows that taking these “good bacteria” pills also may ward off life-threatening heart problems. In the wake of the study, a top cardiologist tells Newsmax Health that he now considers probiotics a primary weapon in the fight against heart disease.

“I do already take probiotics, and I will now be recommending them even more strongly to my patients,” said Chauncey Crandall, M.D.

Probiotics are “good” bacteria taken to restore the body’s natural balance of microbes in the gut. They are routinely recommended after taking antibiotics, which can kill beneficial bacteria. Many people also take them routinely to promote healthy intestinal functioning.

But a new Cleveland Clinic study links a certain type of detrimental stomach bacteria with heart disease. By keeping high levels of beneficial bacteria thriving in the intestines, researchers theorize that heart-disease-causing microbes can be kept at bay. “This is a very exciting study,” said Dr. Crandall. “It gives us a brand-new way of looking at heart disease. It also opens an avenue for new tests and treatments.”

The discovery of the heart disease-causing bacteria might explain why about half of those who die of sudden heart attacks have no known risk factors for heart disease, like high blood pressure, cholesterol, or diabetes, he noted.

“We always knew that there was more than one factor generating or driving the development of heart disease, and now we know about this one,” added Dr. Crandall, who is head of preventive medicine and cardiology services at the world-renowned Palm Beach Cardiovascular Clinic.

The Cleveland Clinic research found certain stomach bacteria turn lecithin – a nutrient in egg yolks, liver, beef, pork, and wheat germ – into an artery-clogging compound called trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO.) They also found that the higher the levels of TMAO a person has, the greater the risk for cardiovascular problems.

While TMAO doesn’t directly cause heart disease, it does inhibit the body from getting rid of cholesterol, according to the study, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The researchers found that those who ate diets with the most red meat had the highest level of TMAO, while people who ate vegetarian diets had the lowest.

“Maybe this is the reason that we shouldn’t be eating red meat,” said Dr. Crandall. “It may be leading to an overgrowth of this heart disease-causing bacteria.”

Here’s to winning the race against adverse climate changes and depleting natural resources!

Regards

Aditya

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