Linking Climate Change, Air Pollution and Public Health

We often view climate change and air pollution as two separate entities. But, the two issues are united by one common driving factor: human emissions. Nicholas School of the Environment Earth Sciences Professor Drew Shindell reminds us how interconnected these issues truly are, and how we must begin viewing them as such to create change.

Shindell argues that climate change and air pollution are often misrepresented. Air pollution is a problem that seems elusive to the individual, and yet it is the

Dr. Shindell with Marcelo Mena (far left), Vice Minister of the Environment of Chile, and Governor Jerry Brown (CA) at the COP21 in Paris.

number one cause of premature death. The problem is often polarized from us, and we forget that we are largely at fault for its increasing effect. We place the blame on the emissions of large corporations, when our own car emissions are just as detrimental. Shindell argues that it is the “othering” of these issues that makes it hard for us feel a need to create change.

But, by clearly linking climate change and air pollution together, and linking those two to human health, Shindell believes we will develop a greater sense of responsibility for our environment. He gives the example of Pakistan, where increased ozone levels due to human emissions have severely decreased the air quality. As a result, there has been a 36% decline wheat and rice production. This dent in Pakistan’s agricultural systems poses a great threat on food security for the entire nation, and could potentially create a wave of health issues.

But policy often blurs the line between air pollution, climate change and human health. Shindell says he doesn’t know of a single jurisdiction that explicitly mentions the scope of negative effects air pollution and climate change can have on our health (stroke, lung cancer, new disease vectors, to name a few). He suggests expanding our metrics and developing a broader-based impact analysis so that humans are well-informed of the interconnectedness of these issues.

Is it easier to blame a big factory for pollution than to look at your own travel habits?

If we included public health in our impact estimates for methane emissions, for example, the cost would be much larger than anticipated. But, Shindell highlights that to bring these emissions down requires a change that is not easy to ask of our energy-dependent, consumer-driven world. Decreasing our meat consumption by 48%, for example, would save us billions of dollars, but to trigger such a change would demand a desire from the public to alter their behavior, which time and time again has proven to be challenging.

At the end of the day, this scientific issue is a largely psychological one. We assume our contributions make a negligible difference, when in reality it is our consumer behavior that will drive the change we wish to see in our environment. But, how are we expected to feel the burden of air pollution on our health, when policy isn’t directly linking the two together? How can we see climate change as an issue that threatens the security of global agricultural systems when legislation fails to draw the two together explicitly? It is here where we must see a change.

Post by Lola Sanchez-Carrion

 

Starting Your Own Business in Social Entrepreneurship? Lessons from Four Founders

Interested in starting your own jazz festival? Or creating hydrogen-rich water to boost your circulation and improve muscle recovery?

These are the accomplishments of Cicely Mitchell and Gail Levy, who were among four inspiring leaders at the evening panel discussion in the Fuqua School of Business this past Wednesday. Excited students and faculty gathered in the Kirby Reading room to learn about the leaders’ unique perspectives as founders of non-profit and for-profit solutions to various social impact and sustainability issues.

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Students and faculty gathered for dinner and networking before the panel discussion.

Organized by the Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative and the Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE), the panel served to enlighten the audience about the challenges the women have faced and the lessons they learned in starting and scaling their social ventures. Panel moderator Erin Worsham, the Executive Director of CASE, opened the discussion with a few statistics.

In the non-profit sector, women make up 75% of the workforce, but in leadership positions, this ratio drops to 45%. As of 2013 in the for-profit sector, only 2.7% of venture capital investments went to fund companies with a female CEO. While black women own 1.5 million businesses in the U.S., they receive only 0.2% of venture funding. Undoubtedly, Worsham concluded, there is a lot of work to do in terms of women getting funded and represented as leaders.

Erin Worsham opened up the panel with statistics about women in the workforce. Worsham is the Executive Director of the award-winning CASE based at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business

To commence the discussion, Worsham asked the panelists to speak about the gender discrimination they faced while starting their own companies. Gail Levy, founder of H Factor Water, a health-focused company producing hydrogen-infused water in environmentally friendly packaging, answered with a time she was challenged to a drinking match in order to close a deal. “The lesson I learned is to not go and drink your way into making a deal,” Levy joked. “But more importantly, you need to have grit and tenacity. Let our presence be known, because eventually we will be heard.”

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Gail Levy was the founder of the White House Millennium Green Committee under the Clinton Administration in 1999. She is passionate about advocating for women worldwide and is also the founder of H Factor Water.

Founder of The Art of Cool, a Durham nonprofit promoting music education to Durham-area youth, Cecily Mitchell remarked that she would be charged significantly more money than a male counterpart to work with the same artist.

Cicely Mitchell is co-founder of The Art of Cool, a Durham nonprofit promoting music education to Durham-area youth

Cicely Mitchell is co-founder of The Art of Cool, a Durham nonprofit promoting music education to Durham-area youth

Rebecca Ballard, lawyer and founder of Maven Women, a sustainability-focused fashion company dedicated to making professional wear for women, noted that “we live in a visual world, but we need to start looking at a person’s character rather than solely focusing on how they look.” Based on her experience with her medical real estate development company ACCESS Medical Development, angel investor Stephanie Wilson expanded on the comment, adding that the best thing to do about the prejudice against women is to know that it’s there and fight for it.

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Rebecca Ballard told the audience, “The most challenging thing about being a working woman is that appearance is considered ‘relevant.’” She started her career as a public interest lawyer and was previously the Executive Director of Social Impact 360.

I asked the founders to share their experiences in building a successful customer base. Wilson noted that to institute her company, she “determined who was the top real estate agent in our area and sought them out. I discussed my idea with them and asked for their advice on segueing into the market.” She suggested sending handwritten thank you notes to build relationships with your customers.

Stephanie Wilson founded ACCESS Medical Development and is also the co-founder of MillennialsMovingMillions.org.

Stephanie Wilson founded ACCESS Medical Development and is also the co-founder of MillennialsMovingMillions.org.

Mitchell added that The Art of Cool held the first few concerts for relatives and friends, and later partnered up with other small entrepreneurs. “Make sure what you do connects with people enough that they want to go and tell other people about what you’re doing,” she advised.

Cecily Mitchell talked about her experience with The Art of Cool. She handles the booking, contracts, networking, pitching for sponsorships and assisting in writing grants for the company.

Maven Woman founder Rebecca Ballard commented on the importance getting support from women in other sustainable industries, since “you are all driven by the same mission in the social entrepreneurship space.”

Rebecca

Rebecca Ballard is the founder of Maven Women, a sustainability-focused fashion company dedicated on making professional wear for women.

Worsham’s final question for the panel asked for any last pieces of advice. Ballard concluded the conversation with a reason why she started her company: “Social entrepreneurship exists because the status quo is not okay. There are externalities happening and people being treated badly; the status quo doesn’t have to be the way it is.”

From left to right:

Posing with the panelists! From left to right: Anika Radiya-Dixit (author), Gail Levy, Cecily Mitchell, Rebecca Ballard, and Stephanie Wilson.

By Anika Radiya-Dixit

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Economics and Health: The Biases Behind Our Decisions

Eric Finkelstein of the the Duke Graduate Medical School in Singapore studies how economic principles might be used to improve individual healthcare.

At a talk last Friday, Finkelstein, who was selected by Thomson Reuters as one of the world’s most influential scientific minds of 2015, argued that the same biases that affect our economic decisions could also influence our healthcare choices, and that understanding these biases could help motivate individuals to live healthy active lives.

In theory, people should be able to make healthy choices, Finkelstein said. Under the utility maximization model, individuals have the ability to rationalize and recognize the benefits of taking particular actions for themselves. But often we are not rational beings, he said, and there are several “deviations” that steer us away from maximizing our utility.

One of these deviations is the “present bias” preference, which leads us to make decisions in the present that our future self will regret. He discussed a particular experiment in which people are asked to choose what they will eat in one week’s time: a candy bar or an apple. Most choose the apple, but after a week, when they were given the opportunity to reevaluate their choice and change it, most switch to the candy bar.

This experiment shows not only the dynamic, unpredictable nature of our decisions, but also highlights our tendency to overestimate the will power of our “future selves.”

Another interesting bias that prevents us from being rational is our probabilistic assessment bias, which describes our tendency to overestimate the probability of very unlikely events, while underestimating the probability of those that are likely. This bias directly relates to health and our tendency to ignore the possibility of suffering a detrimental health problem like a heart attack, when in reality it’s quite commonplace.

Eric Finkelstein’s research, which focuses on the intersection between economics and global health, has gained him renowned success nationally and abroad. Source: Duke NUS Medical School.

To understand how these biases might influence individuals suddenly diagnosed with a terminal illness, Finkelstein and his medical team in Singapore conducted their own study on healthcare choices. In the experiment, both healthy and sick individuals were asked to identify what treatments they would prioritize if diagnosed with terminal cancer: level of pain, hours of care required, potential to extend life, cost of treatment and location of death.

Most healthy individuals said they would want whatever treatment was cheapest, but showed very little interest in investing in extending their life or selecting where they died. When sick patients were asked the same questions, on the other hand, they valued place of death (home was preferred) and survival time above everything else. Such information indicates just how difficult it is for us to predict where to invest in healthcare for cancer patients.

From this study and several others, Finkelstein concludes that we are not rational beings, but are instead irrational ones that feed off of biases and change our opinions constantly. But, he suggests that through the use of incentives, we can mediate these irrational biases and ultimately improve health outcomes.

 

Post by Lola Sanchez-Carrion

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Walla Scores Grand Prize at 17th Annual Start-Up Challenge

The finalists of Duke’s 17th Annual Start-Up Challenge have found time between classes, homework, and West Union runs to research and develop pitches aiming to solve real-world problems with entrepreneurship. The event, hosted last week at the Fuqua School of Business, featured a Trinity alum as the keynote speaker. Beating out the other seven start-up pitches for the $50,000 Grand Prize was Walla, an app founded by Judy Zhu, a Pratt senior.

Judy Zhu and the Walla team pose with their $50,000 check, which is giant in more ways than one.

Judy Zhu and the Walla team pose with their $50,000 check, which is giant in more ways than one.

Walla aims to create a social health platform for college students by addressing widespread loneliness and creating a more inclusive campus community. The app’s users post open invitations to activities, from study groups to pick-up sports, allowing students to connect over shared interests.

Walla is closely tied with Duke Medicine by providing data from user activity to medical researchers. User engagement is analyzed to supply valuable information on mental health in young adults to professionals. The app currently features 700 monthly active users, with 3000 anticipated within the next month, and many more as the app opens to other North Carolina colleges.

Tatiana Birgisson returned to Duke to talk about her own experiences creating a business while an undergrad that won the Start-Up Challenge in 2013. Birgisson’s venture, MATI energy drink, was born out of her Central Campus dorm room and, through the support of Duke I&E resources, became the major energy drink contender it is today, as a healthy alternative to Monster or Red Bull.

The $2,500 Audience Choice award went to Ebb, an app designed to empower women on their periods by keeping them informed of physical and emotional symptoms throughout the course of their cycles, and creating a community through which menstruating women can receive support from those they choose to share information with.

Tatiana Birgisson won the 2013 startup challenge with an energy drink brewed in her dorm room, now sold as MATI.

Tatiana Birgisson won the 2013 startup challenge with an energy drink brewed in her dorm room, now sold as MATI.

Other finalists included BioMetrix, a wearable platform for injury prevention; GoGlam, an application to connect working women with beauticians in Latin America; Grow With Nigeria, which provides engaging STEM experiences for students in Nigeria; MedServe; Tiba Health; Teraphic.

This year’s Start-Up Challenge was a major success, with innovative entrepreneurs coming together to share their projects on changing the world. Be sure to come out next year; I’ll post an invite on Walla!

devin_nieusma_100Post by Devin Nieusma

Beauty is in the Ear of the Beholder Too

Just the suggestion that an African-American person is of mixed-race heritage makes that person more attractive to others, research from Duke University concludes.

Reece_imageThis holds true even if the people in question aren’t actually of multiracial heritage, according to the peer-reviewed study, published in the June 2016 issue of Review of Black Political Economy.

The simple perception of exoticism sways people to see multiracial blacks as better-looking, says study author Robert L. Reece, a doctoral candidate in sociology at Duke.

“Being exotic is a compelling idea,” Reece says. “So people are attracted to a certain type of difference. It’s also partially just racism – the notion that black people are less attractive, so being partially not-black makes you more attractive.”

Reece used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. He examined the results of in-person interviews of 3,200 black people conducted by people of varying races. The interviewees were asked a series of questions that included their racial backgrounds. The questioners then ranked each person’s attractiveness on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the least attractive and 5 being the most attractive. The interviewees who identified as mixed race were given an average attractiveness rating of 3.74; those who identified as black were given a 3.47 score – a statistically significant difference that points to the power of perception, Reece says. (The study controlled for a number of factors such as gender, age, skin tone, hair color and eye color)

“Race is more than we think it is,” he says. “It’s more than physical characteristics and ancestry and social class. The idea that you’re a certain race shapes how people view you.”

And attractiveness matters. Previous research has drawn correlations between physical beauty and professional success.

Robert Reece is a doctoral candidate in sociology at Duke.

Robert Reece is a doctoral candidate in sociology at Duke.

Reece’s findings bolster a viewpoint that lighter-skinned blacks are considered more physically striking than their darker-skinned counterparts. But his research also found that blacks with darker skin who identified as mixed-race were considered better looking than those with lighter skin who identified simply as black. This further emphasizes the power of suggestion, Reece says; being told a person is of mixed race – regardless of what that person looks like – makes them appear more attractive.

“It’s a loaded cognitive suggestion when you say ‘I’m not just black, I’m also Native American, for example,” Reece says. “It changes the entire dynamic.”

Reece tackled this topic to examine the connection between multiraciality and “color,” he says.

“People tend to assume that historical multiraciality is at least partially responsible for the broad range of color among black people,” he says. “I’ve even noticed some people in black communities casually using the terms “mixed” and “light skinned” interchangeably. So I wanted to begin an empirical investigation into the contemporary links between the two and how they combine to shape people’s life experiences. Attractiveness is one part of that.”

Ferreri_100Guest post by Eric Ferreri

From Idea to Impact: Salman Azhar Brings Silicon Valley Mentality to Duke

An idea cannot be inherently good or bad, argues Salman Azhar, Entrepreneur in Residence, Associate Professor of Computer Science, and alumnus of Duke University. Instead, the success of an idea hinges on the steps an entrepreneur takes in the conversion from an idea to a plan.

On October 14, Azhar explained to students the evolution of a tech start-up from the idea phase to conception.

facebook-vs-myspaceAzhar emphasized implementation details over the idea itself, citing the example of MySpace and Facebook: neither is conceptually better than the other, yet today, only Facebook stands successful.

Azhar introduced the Duke students to the Silicon Valley mindset, a set of conventions and pieces of advice to make it in the competitive world of start-ups. Azhar himself has expertise in the entrepreneurial round, citing his two successful start-ups. Now he has chosen to dedicate his time to giving back and encouraging the future generation of young people to put their ideas into action.

Azhar began his talk by probing students to consider motivation, to ask themselves at their cores why they should join the start-up world. He urges, “Don’t lie down” and work for established companies like IBM, Microsoft, or even Google– rather, try something on your own. Azhar points out that the challenges involved at a start-up exceed in scope those one might otherwise face, which may be limited to converting functional specifications into code.

“Brand yourself,” he said. Create an image of yourself, just as Apple creates one for its products. A brand, he notes, is a representation of one’s unique view of the world. The creation of a brand, ironically enough, ought to come from a certain degree of introspection. Such introspection should additionally serve to seek out complementary partners with whom to start a company.

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 1.39.32 PMIn a guidebook-like manner, Azhar outlined the major  concerns of a start-up process, including bringing an idea to pitch, obtaining funding and defining an exit strategy.

He emphasized the three rules for start-ups: 1. Don’t use your own money, 2. Don’t use your own money, and 3. Don’t use your own money.

He used Swyp, a start-up for alternative payment, to demonstrate examples of technical risks and business risks. In regard to the latter, he questions, “Why will the people pick your company?” And even, “Why will they make a decision?” challenging one to think about how to create a product  compelling enough to move consumers to act.

After doling out tips on approaching investors for funding and  explaining funding rounds, Azhar again returned to the question of the practicality of ideas. With respect to a decision between selling the startup or going public in an IPO, Azhar asserts that the only reason to go for an acquisition is if you run out of ideas, or if someone else can execute your idea better than you can.

Thus, Azhar presents the creation of start-ups as idea management, if you will. Only with such a practical approach can one hope for the survival of his idea in the rough and tumble of Silicon Valley.

By Olivia Zhu Olivia_Zhu_100