What I'm Reading (Feb. 22)

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The guilt trip of buying local – are farmers' markets the carbon saviors they claim to be?
Diversity is key, even in cheese.
Air Canada blames its chatbot, now deemed a 'separate legal entity,' for misinformation in court.
Forget the quaint image of London's smog; Melbourne’s 'thunderstorm asthma' brings unexpected respiratory dramas.

For those of us who have access to a local farmer’s market, there is a certain satisfaction from supporting the community and maintaining a bit of an agricultural vibe. But are they the better option if you obsess over your carbon footprint?

“Surely nothing could be better for the climate than buying food grown literally just around the corner? But conventional agriculture is now immensely efficient, and operates at a scale that makes pea-patch spuds look like very small potatoes. So we’re faced with a dilemma: Are farmers markets as good for the climate as they undoubtedly are for the community?”

A data drive look by The Anthropocene, Are farmers markets or supermarkets the low carbon food choice?


Diversity makes for resilience, which is an essential and early lesson at MBA school, although it is often only mentioned in the context of your investment portfolio. But diversity and resilience cuts across many lines. For example,

“Roughly a century ago, however, cheesemakers identified a particular strain of P. biforme that was fast-growing and albino; it produced a fluffy white mold that was, apparently, quite appetizing. This strain, known as Penicillium camemberti, was henceforth considered the gold standard for brie and Camembert (which differ from one another mainly in size). It quickly dominated the cheese industry, and the diverse group of other mold strains used to make Camembert and brie, and the colors they produced, vanished from disuse.”

In a quest to standardize, we may have backed ourselves into a corner regarding cheese. For those looking further into the future, most of our vital crops are monocrops. From Vox, Beware: A cheese crisis looms


I have claimed for a long time that the algorithms will never be held accountable for their actions. Here is a real-world case in point.

 “According to Air Canada, Moffatt never should have trusted the chatbot and the airline should not be liable for the chatbot's misleading information because, Air Canada essentially argued, "the chatbot is a separate legal entity that is responsible for its own actions," a court order said.”

From Wired, Air Canada Has to Honor a Refund Policy Its Chatbot Made Up  This is just the beginning. There will be far more consequential attempts to blame the bot in our future.


We should all be familiar with the Great London Smog, a temperature inversion in a sooty climate that resulted in significant respiratory distress. Of course, that was decades ago, and our air has gotten much better. But consider this,

“On November 21, 2016, the city of Melbourne in Victoria, Australia, experienced an unprecedented and extreme weather event. The event was “thunderstorm asthma,” defined as the sudden onset of asthma symptoms in a large number of people due to a rare interaction between specific types of thunderstorm and high airborne allergen levels. Within 30 hours of the event onset on November 21, 2016, the following impacts were seen in local hospitals: 3365 people presented to an emergency department with acute respiratory symptoms, representing a 672% increase over the typical number of respiratory-related emergency department presentations; 476 asthma-related hospital admissions occurred, representing a 992% increase over the typical number of asthma-related hospital admissions; 35 people were admitted to an intensive care unit, exceeding the typical rate of 5 or less per day; and the event was responsible for 10 deaths.”

From JAMA Network Open, Thunderstorm Asthma and Climate Change