Are there still rooms left for us?

This year the planet Earth reaches its landmark human population, 7 billion! And projected to be 8 billon in year 2030 and 9 billion in year 2050. Homo sapiens perhaps consist of the largest mammal population in the earth. The topic was highlighted by the January 2011 issue of National Geographic, which showed a tremendous acceleration of human population growth in the past millenium of the 20th century. The number of mega cities with population exceeding one million has increased from a mere 3 in 1800 (Beijing had 1.3 million then together with Tokyo and London) to a staggering 442 in year 2010 with Asia having most crowded cities. Population growth was in no doubt one of the central focuses of the media this year. Many media sources discussed the consequence and solutions to accomodate increasing number of humans. Building vertical cities become a future trend given that it’s after all a reality.

(Figure adopted from prb.org)

With the advent of industrialization and advance of medicine, human life style morphed from nomadic and periodic migration to modern city dwelling. The former life style was at the mercy of mother nature and gradually phases out in most human society. The latter provides a long-term residence but in the meantime features more frequent and more damaging pattern of short-term human travelling for business and pleasure as well as trading transportations in air, land and ocean.

Aggravating the situation, consumption culture imposes much more stress on the environment. Mass consumption as a vehicle drives the global economy, labor market and international trading, and large-scale consumption is also a determinant for policy making, a pressure for foreign relations and a motivation for scientific and engineering research.

How much pressure the Earth can uptake for our consumption desires? Is there a tipping point that leads to a catastrophe?

Fighting lung cancer — attacking the habit of smoking

Last year, my classmate from high school (actually we went through elementary, middle and high school together) was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. Stage IV is a clinical classification of cancer patients, which denotes a cancer progression that is in its most advanced stage, meaning that tumors can be found in distal organs. For my classmate, derived tumors were found in her brain and liver. She is now a vigorous cancer fighter and a cancer survivor. Our prayers go to her as well.

As many of us know, the rate of cancer occurrences (of many types, in particular, lung cancer and breast cancer) in China was skyrocketing during the past years when the country is undergoing face-lifting industrialization. As a consequence, industrial pollutions (in air, water, land and sea) are rampant. We have been paying huge environmental and human price for the unchecked development and life-style adaptation. For example, death caused by lung cancer has seen a stunning rise of 465 percent in the past 30 years (from this piece of news by Xinhua news agency). Lung cancer is the leading malignant cancer in China, which causes about 1 million annual death across the country.

A tobacco nation

Besides industrial pollutions, smoking is blamed as the NO.1 cause for lung cancer. More than 85% of all lung cancer cases were caused by active or passive (second-hand) smoking. Smoking also induces many clinical complications including cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases. According to the US Center of Disease Control and Prevention, smoking is the most important preventable risk to human health. Other causes include genetic factors (if you have a close family member who were diagnosed with cancer, you have higher risk to develop cancer) and radon exposure (a radioactive material found in earth). Both my classmate and her husband are nonsmokers, but her father died with bladder cancer a few years ago. It’s likely that she is having a genetically related case.

Unfortunately, China has the largest smoking population in the world with more than 70%, or 350 million, adult males being smokers (see the figure below for the percentage of male smokers world wide, data based on a 2008 World Health Organization survey) and a rising female smoking population (Chinese females are in fact doing pretty well in resisting to cigarettes. China is among countries that have a lowest rate of female smokers, less than 5% of the adult female population). In the basic, China is a staunch "tobacco nation". People smoke in bars, restaurants, airports, elevators, gyms and everywhere. Even doctors need education to quit smoking. According to this story by Associated Press citing Chinese source, about 56% doctors smoke in China. To my personal experience, nearly all my male high-school classmates have had history of cigarette smoking and some are still smokers.

However, the government has yet to develop a significant campaign to educate public to be aware of the danger of smoking, encourage smokers to cease smoking and reduce the exposure of non-smokers to second-hand smoking. Currently, there is no major legislation that puts hurdles on tobacco makers and bans smoking in public spaces. Given that the tobacco industry generates huge revenue for Chinese government, the attitude is largely reluctant to address smoking-related public health issues. In fact, nearly all tobacco companies in China are state-owned. One can read this 2007 article from New York Times to gain some insights.

As an encouraging sign, the government has raised tobacco tax by 6 points to 11%, in an effort to prevent people from smoking according to this China Post article. However, this policy actually increases tax revenue for the government. Nothing has been said how the government uses the tax to help educate young people to move away from smoking, neither anything about funding programs that help smokers to quit.