Smart Ideas: The Case for Drones

Plus: Water for drinking, water for energy.

AP Photo/John Locher
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Jan. 22, 2019, 8 p.m.

Drones could start saving lives

Robert Graboyes and Darcy Nikol Bryan, writing for STAT

Drones already save lives in developing countries, but they are underutilized in the United States, where regulations require that drones not fly beyond their operators’ view. This prevents them from performing all the functions they could, like carrying emergency medical supplies to “people living far from urban medical centers” or across congested roadways—“imagine trying to drive emergency blood supplies across Los Angeles at rush hour.” Concerns about civil liberties and crowded skies make the U.S. hesitant to adopt medical drones, and integrating “them into the national air control systems” presents a technical challenge. Yet while “we may sensibly wish to go slow on filling the skies with swarms of vehicles for myriad banal uses … lives and scarce funds in the United States are likely being lost from the inability to use these technologies to their full capacity.”

Don’t drink the water

Michelle Chen, writing for The Nation

Another of the shutdown's many side effects is a halt to water-safety inspections, just after the Environmental Protection Agency “issued a long-awaited action Federal Action Plan to Reduce Childhood Lead Exposure. … The complex regulatory framework already shows signs of fraying. Currently, 29 program and regional laboratories are not carrying out their normal functions, and have retained only enough staffing ‘as needed to ensure critical operating requirements.’” State agencies are feeling the pinch as well, since their limited funding is bolstered by the EPA acting as “a last line of defense for financial and technical support.”

The politics of "owning" your opponents

Jonathan V. Last, writing for The Bulwark

Comparisons between President Trump and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are imperfect, chiefly because Trump uses his powers for mockery and inciting violence. Yet the two do share one important trait: the “politics of dominance.” Trump “never wavers. Never apologizes. Never acknowledges that he’s reversing course. When criticized, he hits back, no matter how mild the criticism or how small the target.” Ocasio-Cortez, in her eight months in the spotlight, similarly “has no interest in apologizing or co-opting or persuading. She’s here to chew bubblegum and kick ass—and she’s all out of bubblegum.”

Our cleanest untapped energy resource

Ryan Cooper, writing for The Week

Hydropower is by far the largest source of renewable energy in the U.S., which raises the question of why it is not being pursued as heavily as solar and wind. Hydropower is far friendlier for the environment than non-renewable sources; “it may cause local problems in the form of drowned river valleys and so on, but no particulate pollution like coal … no carbon or methane emissions from daily production like natural gas, and has no need for long-term hazardous waste storage like nuclear.” The first step of expansion is staring us in the face in the form of existing water projects, and if “reasonably-sized” ones are equipped with generators, the hydropower fleet could be expanded by 15 percent.

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