Diabetes and Sustainability and Archiving – Oh My!

26 04 2010

I was thinking long and hard, scrounging around in my brain hoping to find some inspiration on how I can further procrastinate from studying pharmacology, when lo and behold, I remembered I wanted to start a blog!  And if I write about pharmacology, that’s only half procrastinating, right?  I’m learning…through doing…yah…

Ohkay anyway.  So today’s random thought was brought to you initially during a diabetes lecture in pharmacology when our professor did a really good job of pounding into us two facts: 1) Type-2 diabetes is a terrible, life-altering disease that is perfectly preventable even though this is a growing problem, specifically in the developed world. 2) The compliance with diabetes treatment is absolutely horrible.

The main issue is that because high glucose levels in the blood do not lead to readily observable symptoms, individuals at risk have no incentive to prevent the disease by eating less of their delicious foods or exercising more to defend themselves from this invisible enemy.  For the same reason, patients would rather eat chocolate bars than do the work, take the drugs, and even inject themselves multiple times a day with insulin.  It is a constant battle for doctors and pharmaceutical companies to make once-a-day drugs and/or injections that allow for patients to actually be compliant.  My point is that with diabetes, even though we know what we should be doing, we don’t do it.  We have the foresight, but not the motivation to stop ourselves from walking into the disaster we can see coming.

In other news, I was talking with my friend and colleague, Judy Hu, who majors in archival studies at UBC, and she was describing how important it is to create a proper strategy to maintain records and how overlooked this importance is.  Even though archiving is important as a reflection of history (so we don’t reinvent the wheel in terms of documents or ideas) and as a documentation of a community’s culture and expression, we don’t value it because we don’t see the immediate benefit.  When I was working for Merck, it was such a chore to record all of our lab procedures and results in the electronic notebook because it took so long.  It would take one whole day every few weeks to write down all of our experiments, and it’s hard to remember why we should slow down the progress of our work to record our work.  As scientists, we have the added incentive to record our work so if the government or scientists or the public challenge us, we can prove when and how we came up with and carried out our ideas.  And yet, even with this extra motivation, it’s hard for even us as scientists to constantly remind ourselves of the value of doing something now for future benefits that we may not even reap ourselves.

Enter the extended metaphor for sustainability.  The eruption of the Eyjafjallajoekull Volcano (yes, I had to look up how to spell that) in Iceland cost $200 million a day due to lost air traffic, and it is a reminder that we as humans cannot control nature.  As earthquakes and other natural disasters seem to hit a different part of the Earth every week (Haiti, Baja, China), I can’t help but wonder whether we are just doing a better job of reporting world news, whether I am simply noticing more of these natural warnings, or whether they actually are symptoms of a dying Earth.  I am not the poster boy for sustainability – I know very little about what the right things to do are.  I do know, however, that if we just sit here and do nothing, the Earth is going down, and we might see the disastrous effects within our lifetime.  Like a diabetes patient, we may realize too late that we have neuropathy and now require an amputation of a limb.  We may realize too late that we should have recorded our experiments in detail to avoid competing scientists legally claiming all of our discoveries as their own and discounting our years of hard work.

I am far from a tree hugger, but the thought of having my children live in a world worse off than my own is devastating.  The scariest part is that I cannot even imagine what types of consequences this climate change will have for them.  For us.  I know that governments are working on trying to make an international deal towards capping carbon emissions and building a more sustainable planet, but I know we have many road blocks.  I understand that the developing world does not think it fair for them to pay for the mess that we made.  I can see why the developed world hesitates to cut off the luxuries that its people are so used to.  There is no support for change when all it feels like is needless self-control to prevent for a disaster that we don’t yet fully understand.

It turns out that philosophers have been thinking about this issue for years.  Here I thought I was being so profound.  Oh well.  The “Prisoner’s Dilemma” is as follows:

“Two suspects are arrested by the police. The police have insufficient evidence for a conviction, and, having separated both prisoners, visit each of them to offer the same deal. If one testifies (defects from the other) for the prosecution against the other and the other remains silent (cooperates with the other), the betrayer goes free and the silent accomplice receives the full 10-year sentence. If both remain silent, both prisoners are sentenced to only six months in jail for a minor charge. If each betrays the other, each receives a five-year sentence. Each prisoner must choose to betray the other or to remain silent. Each one is assured that the other would not know about the betrayal before the end of the investigation. How should the prisoners act?”

In my philosophy class, we learned to make decisions with matrices:

Clearly, without knowing or trusting what B would do, A would choose to betray, because regardless of what B does, A gets less time in prison.  Unfortunately, the matrix betrays a false sense of security in four potential outcomes.  The truth is B will think the same way as A and there is only one outcome: both A and B get 5 years in prison.  This is the same situation with the environment.  Individuals can turn off lights, stop using water bottles, and use recycled paper, but we don’t trust others to do the same so we feel a sense of hopelessness and pointlessness in trying to make changes to our lives when others won’t.  Nations have the exact same feelings of distrust and despair.  Just as both prisoners would benefit if both stayed silent, everyone benefits if everyone takes steps towards sustainable action.  Unlike the prisoners, individuals and individual nations can communicate with each other to understand this point, to build trust that we will all do our part, and to build hope that it’s not too late to make changes.

Oh my word – this turned out to be an essay.  Congrats and thanks if you have read this far – I guess my point is both that seemingly very different fields (i.e., medical, environmental, and archival studies) can be related to each other in very fundamental ways, and that the threat of climate change is a test of human nature.  It is our nature to focus on the present, to make the current lives of our loved ones as great as possible.  But it is also in our nature to want what’s best for our future generations, so that our genes can be carried on.

What will you do?  What will I do?  Hmm.




3 responses

26 04 2010

Just added you to my Google Reader. Keep it up! 🙂

28 08 2012
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[…] sports, to a range of issues, especially ones in sustainability. To see what I mean, consider this political cartoon. As I wrote with Tom Seager, Susan Spierre, and David Schwartz: The opening panel presents two […]

17 10 2012
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[…] takes us beyond sports, to a range of issues, especially ones in sustainability.  Consider this political cartoon, which we’ve written about elsewhere in a chapter for the book Rethinking Climate Change […]

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