Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Recent Reasons for Optimism VII

1. Doctors in Toronto are using ultrasound to perform brain surgery without the surgery. During the five-hour procedure, Tony Lightfoot regained his ability to use his hands without tremors as high-intensity ultrasound destroyed the tissue causing the problem. The technique can also be used to eliminate other problem tissues, including certain kinds of cancer.

2. An organization called Diagnostics for All, backed by the Gates Foundation, is producing paper-based blood tests that can diagnose liver damage within minutes at a cost of less than a penny per test. Tests for other diseases, including malaria, dengue, hepatitis and diabetes, are being developed. While they're currently working on getting these diagnostic tests to poor countries, the benefit of cheap, easy diagnostic tests for the developed world is obvious. The main hurdle now seems to be getting regulatory approval, which is easier in poor countries than in the West.

3. New estimates from the IPCC of the climate's sensitivity to CO2 suggest warming over the rest of this century will be far less than previously estimated (more here). Moreover, a new study finds, at least with wheat yields, that the benefit from higher CO2 concentrations outweighs the cost of higher temperature. What little warming actually happens may end up being a good thing after all.

4. And even if it isn't, we'll be able to adapt. Thanks to cheap air conditioning, deaths from extreme temperatures declined by 80% over the 20th century in the US. Economic growth will bring similar gains to developing countries in the 21st century.

5. Mark Perry has more examples of the increase in prosperity since the 50s, including toasters, TVs, music players, washing machines and dryers. All of these have increased in quality (quite dramatically for TVs and music players), and yet are far cheaper. Don Boudreaux is also continuing his Cataloging Our Progress series with two entries on men's wear and one based on the homepage.

6. Also from Mark Perry, the US is now producing more oil than at any other point since 1993, and Texas oil production is higher than it's been since 1987. Also from that second link, regarding natural gas, "The United States has gone from being the highest cost major gas producer four to five years ago to the current lowest cost producer."

7. The fiscal cliff has been averted. While the deal we ended up with isn't my first best choice by any means, I think it's an improvement over the cliff. For most of us, taxes are going up a little instead of a lot, as the Bush cuts were made permanent for most people while the payroll tax is going back up.

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