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Why Bill and Melinda Gates think time and energy are global superpowers.

Bill and Melinda Gates released their annual letter. Get excited.

Why Bill and Melinda Gates think time and energy are global superpowers.

Bill and Melinda Gates were chatting with high schoolers when they were asked, "If you could have one superpower, what would it be?"

Their answers to that question may seem pretty simple (and even a little bit boring). But don't be fooled ... they were more clever than they seem.



Melinda said she would want to have more time, and Bill said he would want more energy.

Of course, those super powers could apply to having, say, an additional hour to unwind at the end of a stressful day in Melinda's case or getting an extra energy boost at 3 p.m. (without relying on a third cup of coffee) in Bill's. But, as the duo explained in their foundation's annual letter, which was released this week, it would be great if their superpowers were also applicable to the whole world.

Being time poor (as one might call it) can change the trajectory of a person's whole life.

Yes, food, water, and shelter are all very important (obviously). But it's easy to forget that having access to energy — to charge your phone, wash your clothes, cook your food, get online — has an enormous impact on the time you spend every day simply trying to survive.

When people have more access to energy, that means people have more time, which Bill and Melinda explain will dramatically increase the quality of life for those in developing countries. It is these two interwoven factors — time and energy — that the Gateses focused on in their foundation's annual letter, and these three eye-opening infographics they chose to highlight show we definitely have room for improvement throughout the world:

1. Girls and women spend far more time doing unpaid work — especially in developing nations.

And "it's not just about fairness," according to the Gateses; as the letter reads, "assigning most unpaid work to women harms everyone: men, women, boys, and girls."

On average, women globally spend four and a half hours doing unpaid work — stuff that needs to get done by somebody in order for a society to function (caring for their children, preparing meals, etc.). For men, it's less than half that amount of time.

Graph via the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, used with permission.

Time poverty is a problem in two ways: It's sexist, and it especially hurts people in poor countries.

Take water, for instance. In most places in America, getting clean water is as easy as turning on a faucet. In poor countries, people — often young girls — spend hours every day walking miles to fetch it from a well. For a young person in a poor country — again, more times than not we're talking about girls — fetching water is more important than going to school, getting a job, and (eventually) living financially independent.

"Unless things change, girls today will spend hundreds of thousands more hours than boys doing unpaid work simply because society assumes it’s their responsibility," the Gateses wrote in their letter.

This not only hinders women on an individual level, it hinders a country's overall economic potential. When a woman is stuck fetching water instead of, say, opening a business, it's a bad thing for everyone.

And that brings us to energy.

2. In order to power the world, we need more clean, cheap energy.

Remember that woman who's fetching water? She'd have more time to go to school or start a business if she had access to tap water in her own home. Or an electric stove to prepare meals. Or a car to drive into town.

Having access to an energy source "means you can run hospitals, light up schools, and use tractors to grow more food," the Gateses wrote. And that makes a huge difference when it comes to quality of life.

It's not just enough to have access to energy; energy needs to be clean and cheap. The cheaper the energy, the more people who can afford it, and the cleaner the energy, the better off we'll all be tomorrow.

The good news? The world is slowly losing its dependence on carbon-emitting energy sources.

The bad news? We've got a long way to go.

Graph via the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, used with permission.

Some sources like the U.S. Energy Information Administration and the International Energy Administration put the percent of world renewable-resource energy as high as 13% as of 2012, but still — not that great, right?

It may not seem that important that our new energy sources are clean, seeing as poorer countries are in dire need of it. But it is vital we stay away from oil and coal looking forward because poor countries are actually hit worst when the world spews carbon into our atmosphere.

Which brings us to the point raised in the next chart:

3. The world became increasingly addicted to fossil fuels throughout the 20th century, and poor countries paid the most.

The more fossil fuels we burn, the more carbon is in our air, thus making the planet warmer. And in case you haven't heard, it's been pretty hot out there recently (and it has been for awhile).

See how much the line below spikes upward between about 1950 and 2010? Yeah, not good.

Graph via the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, used with permission.

Probably the most unjust thing about climate change, however, is that the people who contribute to it the least — those in underserved countries, who've used relatively little energy — have been affected the most.

Many people in poor countries rely on agriculture to survive. And when temperatures fluctuate or farmers get too much or too little rain, crops don't grow. When people live directly off the land in their own backyards, they're far more vulnerable to a changing climate.

What's more, a warming planet means more devastating (and frequent) storms. Poor countries don't have the infrastructures in place to be able to recover quickly from, say, a destructive hurricane, so their economies and livelihoods can be drastically affected by just one natural disaster.

But there's a light at the end of the tunnel. We're finally reducing our collective carbon footprint in substantial ways because world leaders have prioritized clean energy in recent years. In fact, 2015 may just be the first year that the global economy has grown while carbon output plateaued (or even declined). Things (not temperatures) are looking up.

Now Bill and Melinda want to know — what would be your superpower?

Something that helps eradicate disease? Provides more access to clean water?

Join the conversation and answer the question "What can you do to improve the world?" by tweeting and posting with the hashtag #SuperpowerForGood.

Everyone can all use a little lift at the end of the week, and we've collected some of this week's best stories to provide just such a pick-me-up. Here are 10 things we want to share, just because they made us so darn happy.

1. Introducing Lila, the U.S. Capitol Police's first emotional support dog.

After the traumatic experiences of January 6th, Capitol Police officers could definitely use some extra support. Lila, a two-year-old black lab, will now serve as the department's first full-time emotional support dog. Look at that sweet face!

2. Speaking of the Capitol, take a look at this week's gorgeous solar eclipse behind the dome.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson shared the stunning "ring of fire" image on Twitter. Always a treat when nature gives us a great show.


3. Colorado sees its first wild wolf pups in six decades.

In the 1940s, the gray wolf was eradicated in Colorado by trappers and hunters, with the support of the federal government. Whoops. This week, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has announced the first evidence of wild wolf breeding in the state, a sign of hope for the endangered species. Read more about the discovery here.

Photo by M L on Unsplash


4. 30-year-old singer with terminal cancer amazed and inspired with her performance on America's Got Talent.

Keep Reading Show less

Everyone can all use a little lift at the end of the week, and we've collected some of this week's best stories to provide just such a pick-me-up. Here are 10 things we want to share, just because they made us so darn happy.

1. Introducing Lila, the U.S. Capitol Police's first emotional support dog.

After the traumatic experiences of January 6th, Capitol Police officers could definitely use some extra support. Lila, a two-year-old black lab, will now serve as the department's first full-time emotional support dog. Look at that sweet face!

2. Speaking of the Capitol, take a look at this week's gorgeous solar eclipse behind the dome.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson shared the stunning "ring of fire" image on Twitter. Always a treat when nature gives us a great show.


3. Colorado sees its first wild wolf pups in six decades.

In the 1940s, the gray wolf was eradicated in Colorado by trappers and hunters, with the support of the federal government. Whoops. This week, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has announced the first evidence of wild wolf breeding in the state, a sign of hope for the endangered species. Read more about the discovery here.

Photo by M L on Unsplash


4. 30-year-old singer with terminal cancer amazed and inspired with her performance on America's Got Talent.

Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."