Curious Bends – killer palm oil, bunking homeopathy, India’s sex ed. and more

1. How Indonesia’s palm oil industry is killing people in China and India

“In both China and India, air pollution is one consequence of a massive exodus from farm to city that has occurred in recent decades. The change has contributed to rising emissions from both vehicles and factories, especially coal-fired power plants, and an emerging middle class that increasingly desires a range of consumer goods that are common in Europe and the United States. South-east Asia has encountered similar problems in recent decades as its economies and populations have boomed. In fact, according to the WHO, nearly one million of the 3.7 million people who died from ambient air pollution in 2012 lived in South-east Asia. But on top of smokestacks and tailpipes, the region faces an added burden: smoke haze produced in Indonesia that is a by-product of the world’s US$50 billion palm-oil industry.” (19 min read)

2. Casual paternity testing is a way of encouraging people to be suspicious all the time

“Easy DNA, a laboratory based in the town of Nagarcoil in Tamil Nadu, deals with 30 cases of paternity tests a month, said Rama Anandi, who works in its marketing division. Most requests for paternity tests at Easy DNA are spurred by “husbands having doubts on wives”. The DNA samples and results are generally sent across via mail and the payments made online. All a client has to do is buy a home test kit, take a saliva swab of the child’s mouth, and mail the samples to the nearest collection centre. The results are sent back in no more than two weeks. The lab also gets requests from hospitals for ‘maternity tests’ to resolve the tricky cases of infants mixed up by hospital staff or caught up in a suspected ‘child swap’.” (13 min read)

3. Homeopathy is pure bunkum (even if Indian PM Narendra Modi says it isn’t)

“On top of this, those who report apparent improvements are not unbiased observers, but presumably believers in homeopathy who want their loved ones to get better. Homeopaths will often state that some conventional doctors prescribe homeopathy. Some do, but many do not. In fact, the overwhelming majority of real doctors think homeopathy is pseudoscience. After all, homeopaths typically dilute their remedies until they contain no actual ingredients. Even though zero was invented in India, I suspect that most Indians would spurn the ridiculous notion of pills containing zero.” (4 min read)

4. The silence around sex in India has prompted new ways to educate kids

“Sex education is being outsourced to non-profit or private organizations because the Indian government is “abdicating its responsibility,” said Ketaki Chowkhani, who is working on a doctorate in women’s studies about sex education in urban India at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. “It should be the responsibility of the school, and consequently the state, to provide comprehensive sexuality education,” said Ms. Chowkhani in an email. Private schools that have sex education as part of the curriculum tend to call in someone else rather than leaving it to their teachers.” (5 min read)

5. There’s a little selfishness in the US wanting India to go big on solar

“It is clear that sustainable and renewable energy resources have a strong role to play in India, and the source of choice is the sun. India hopes to become into a solar-power-equipment-manufacturing hub and a global solar power. The US hopes its manufacturers will benefit from India’s ambitions and simultaneously encourage India to reduce carbon emissions. Solar power generation in the country increased 14.2% during 2012-13 to 2013-14. It costs Rs 6.91 crore per MW of grid-connected solar PV power, according to the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission. In comparison, nuclear power costs Rs 17.27 crore per MW and electricity from coal Rs 5.75 crore per MW, according to our calculations.” (5 min read)

Chart of the week

“Every now and then, though, you stumble across a map that enlightens. That’s how we felt when we saw the awesome map made by Reddit user TeaDranks. The map resizes countries based on their population. It’s simple: Each square represents 500,000 people. TeaDranks posted the graphic on Reddit’s “map porn” discussion on Jan. 16. He calls it his “magnum opus”.” NPR’s goats and soda has more.