The final Democratic presidential debate of 2020 was a dispiriting affair for reasons that went far beyond the politics of it. The specter of COVID-19 lent a stark gloominess to the occasion, as did the seeming emptiness of the room itself: three CNN moderators, two men and the cameras. I never thought I’d miss a debate audience, but the energy was gone from that room, and the brightly lit set could not make up for it.
And then there’s this: “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that events of 50 people or more not be held for about two months,” Bloomberg Newsreported on Sunday. “For the next eight weeks, organizers should cancel or postpone in-person events of that size throughout the U.S.”
Primaries are scheduled to be held on Tuesday in Arizona, Ohio, Illinois and Florida. These contests were set to be decisive before the CDC’s recommendation — if Joe Biden wins them all, his delegate lead over Bernie Sanders would become all but insurmountable — and may be all the more so now. These four primaries could be the last of the season. Georgia has postponed its primary, which was slated for next Tuesday, and Louisiana’s April 4 primary has likewise been delayed.
It’s quite simple: If we are listening to the CDC’s recommendations, the remaining primaries will probably be put on hold at some point, either until this thing burns itself out, or altogether depending on the circumstances. The primaries this Tuesday may happen, or they may not, but no one should be surprised if they are the last ones for a long while.
“Election dates are very, very important. We don’t want to be getting into the habit of messing around with them,” Sanders toldCNN’s Anderson Cooper in a post-debate interview. “I would hope that governors listen to the public health experts, and what they are saying is … ‘We don’t want gatherings of more than 50 people.’ I’m thinking about some of the elderly people sitting behind the desks registering people to enroll, that stuff. Does that make a lot of sense? I’m not sure that it does.”
A cancelled primary election season would be the worst of all possible outcomes, and not just because Joe Biden would basically become the Democratic nominee by default. We do elections in this country, because if we don’t, we have lost all semblance of democracy. That all-important sentiment falls to ashes in the face of the coronavirus, which has the potential to lay waste to the nation’s older and immunocompromised population if not contained.
Authorities not named Donald Trump have been warning us this situation would bring sweeping changes to our lives, and they haven’t been wrong. A shortened 2020 Democratic nomination process may soon become part of that change, so the ability of either candidate to increase their nomination chances felt blunted by the same circumstances that led them to debate each other in that bright, empty room.
Joe Biden is fortunate that Bernie Sanders was feeling conciliatory under the circumstances, because Biden lied, lied and lied throughout the evening.
Sanders was strong throughout, opening the evening with a broadside against Wall Street and the wealthy, who were taken care of by the Federal Reserve in fine style on Friday. The Fed conjured $1.5 trillion in magic money and dumped it into the banking system so businesses can still borrow without breaking themselves financially. By the end of the weekend, the interest rate had been cut to basically zero.
“Bottom line from an economic point of view,” said Sanders, “what we have got to say to the American people, if you lose your job, you will be made whole. You’re not going to lose income. If Trump can put, or the fed can put a trillion and a half into the banking system, we can protect the wages of every worker in America.”
Biden, for his part, came into the evening looking to survive without damaging himself too badly. In this, he had help from an unlikely source: his opponent. While Sanders repeatedly sought to hold Biden’s feet to the fire on various aspects of the former vice president’s voting record, it became clear early on that Sanders was not out for blood.
“I know your heart is in the right place,” Sanders said to Biden on more than one occasion, a rhetorical fig leaf intended to convey the sense that Trump is the main enemy, and these two presidential candidates share many areas of common ground. “We talk about the Green New Deal and all of these things in general terms,” said Sanders toward the end of the first hour, “but details make a difference.”
Joe Biden is fortunate that Bernie Sanders was feeling conciliatory under the circumstances, and more fortunate the CNN moderators appeared unwilling to do their jobs, because Biden lied, lied and lied again throughout the evening. When tasked to defend his serially gruesome legislative record, Biden sailed off into the land of self-serving fantasy so often that #LyinBiden and #LyingJoe were top trends on Twitter all night long.
Biden has been lying about his stance on Social Security for months now, but found a whole new gear last night. He lied straight into the camera about statements he has made and votes he has cast, as if he’d forgotten that the internet exists and such brazen bullshit artistry doesn’t fly so well anymore.
Biden was similarly slippery on his support of the bankruptcy bill, on the Hyde Amendment and reproductive rights, on his vote for the Iraq War, on the Defense of Marriage Act, and on any and all areas where his record fails to meet the standard Sanders set simply by being in the room. One of the two candidates last night spent the last 30 years being right on the signal issues of the day, and it showed.
“A time to rethink America,” indeed.
“The fact is that the idea that I in fact supported the things that you suggested is not accurate,” was a typical Biden response to Sanders throughout the evening. The CNN moderators didn’t bother trying to call Biden on his loose relationship with the truth, but Sanders persistently did so.
Biden’s most newsworthy moment of the evening came when he flatly declared that he would select a woman to serve as his vice president. “I commit that I’ll pick a woman to be vice president,” said Biden. “There are a number of women who are qualified to be president tomorrow, I would pick a woman to be my vice president.”
This was, among other things, Joe Biden paying a debt to Rep. Jim Clyburn, whose endorsement before the South Carolina primary resurrected Biden’s moribund campaign. Clyburn has made it clear that he wants Biden to select a woman for a running mate, and preferably a Black woman. Biden’s announcement last night was a “Yes, sir” telegraphed to the House majority whip via live television broadcast.
For Sanders, this debate was perhaps his last, best opportunity to make the case for his vision for the presidency as clearly as possible. As usual, he did not disappoint:
In this moment of economic uncertainty, in addition to the coronavirus, it is time to ask how we get to where we are, not only our lack of preparation for the virus, but how we end up with an economy, with so many about people are hurting at a time of massive income and wealth inequality. It is time to ask the question of where the power is in America. Who owns the media? Who owns the economy? Who owns the legislative process? Why do we give tax breaks to billionaires and not raise the minimum wage?
Why do we pump up the oil industry while a half a million people are homeless in America? This is the time to move aggressively, dealing with the coronavirus crisis, to deal with the economic fallout, but it’s also a time to rethink America, and create a country where we care about each other, rather than a nation of greed and corruption, which is what is taking place among the corporate elite.
“A time to rethink America,” indeed. A great many sacred cows — most especially capitalism and its deleterious effect on health care — are on their way to the coronavirus slaughterhouse. Whether or not we proceed with the remaining primaries, we will be other than what we are as a nation when we come out the far side of this. Bernie Sanders told us as much last night, just as he has for the full term of his public life. If and how we heed him, finally, will be up to us in the end.
The 1918 pandemic ravaged the remote city of Östersund. But its legacy is a city – and country – well-equipped to deal with 21st century challenges
Wed 29 Aug 2018 07.15 BST Last modified on Mon 3 Feb 2020 12.47 GMT
On 15 September 1918, a 12-year-old boy named Karl Karlsson who lived just outside Östersund, Sweden, wrote a short diary entry: “Two who died of Spanish flu buried today. A few snowflakes in the air.”
For all its brevity and matter-of-fact tone, Karlsson’s journal makes grim reading. It is 100 years since a particularly virulent strain of avian flu, known as the Spanish flu despite probably originating in America, ravaged the globe, killing somewhere between 50 million and 100 million people. While its effects were felt everywhere, it struck particularly hard in Östersund, earning the city the nickname “capital of the Spanish flu”.
“Looking back through contemporaneous accounts was quite creepy,” says Jim Hedlund at the city’s state archive. “As many people died in two months as generally died in a whole year. I even found out that three of my forbears were buried on the same day.”
There were three main reasons why the flu hit this remote city so hard: Östersund had speedy railway connections, several army regiments stationed in close quarters and a malnourished population living in cramped accommodation. As neutral Sweden kept its armed forces on high alert between 1914 and 1918, the garrison town’s population swelled from 9,000 to 13,000.
By 1917, when navvies poured in and construction started on an inland railway to the north, widespread food shortages had led to violent workers’ demonstrations and a near mutiny among the army units.
The city became a hotbed of political activism. Its small size put the unequal distribution of wealth in early industrial society under the microscope. While working-class families crowded into insalubrious accommodation, wealthy tourists from other parts of Sweden and further afield came for the fresh mountain air and restorative waters – as well as the excellent fishing and elk hunting (passionate angler Winston Churchill was a regular visitor).
“The catastrophic spread of the flu was in no small part down to the authorities’ bewilderment and often clumsy reactions” – Hans Jacobsson, historian
“Many of the demonstrators’ concerns seem strikingly modern,” says Hedlund, pointing to a copy of a political poster that reads: “Tourists out of our buildings in times of crisis. Butter, milk and potatoes for workers!”
It wasn’t just the urban proletariat demanding better accommodation. At Sweden’s first ever national convention of the indigenous Sami peoples held in Östersund in early 1918, delegates demanded an end to discriminatory policies that forced them to live in tents.
Social inequality in the city meant the Spanish flu hit all the harder.
As the epidemic raged in late August, when around 20 people were dying daily, the city’s bank director Carl Lignell withdrew funds from Stockholm without authorisation and requisitioned a school for use as a hospital (the city didn’t have one).
“If it hadn’t been for him, Östersund might quite literally have disappeared,” says Hedlund. For a brief period, Lignell worked like a benevolent dictator, quarantining suspected cases in their homes – and revealing the squalor in which they lived.
As his hastily convened medical team moved through Östersund, they found whole families crowded into wooden shacks, just a few streets away from the proud, stone-built civic structures. In some homes, sick children lay on the floor for want of beds.
The local newspaper Östersunds-Posten asked rhetorically: “Who would have thought that in our fine city there could be such awful destitution?”
People of all political convictions and stations in life started cooperating in a city otherwise riven by the class divisions of early industrial society. Östersunds-Posten itself moved from simply reporting on the epidemic to helping to organise relief, publishing calls for money, food and clothing, and opening its offices for use as storerooms. The state had proven itself inadequate, as historian Hans Jacobsson wrote: “The catastrophic spread of the Spanish flu in 1918 was in no small part down to the authorities’ bewilderment and often clumsy reactions.”
“After the epidemic, the state made tentative steps towards a cooperative approach to social reform” – Jim Hedlund, archivist
He cites the fact that Stockholm High Command refused to halt planned military exercises for weeks, despite the fact that regimental sickbays were overflowing. “What is interesting is that, after the epidemic, the state dropped investigations against Lignell and made tentative steps towards a cooperative approach to social reform. Issues such as poor nutrition and housing were on the political agenda,” says Hedlund. Anyone trying to date the inception of Sweden’s welfare state cannot overlook the events of autumn 1918.
One hundred years on, there are few better places than Östersund to see the effects of Sweden’s much-vaunted social model. The city is once again growing rapidly, but nothing could seem further away than epidemics and political radicalism. The left of centre Social Democrats have been in power in city hall since 1994, and council leader AnnSofie Andersson has made housing a priority – new developments are spacious, well-ordered and equipped with schools and playgrounds.
“There’s nothing that shows confidence like building stuff,” she says. “In fact, our local authority building partnership should, in my view, keep a small excess of flats in hand, because without a reserve people won’t move here.”
Östersund attracts a net inflow of people from southern Sweden. “It’s partly a quality of life issue,” says Andersson. “You can drop your kids off at kindergarten in the morning on the way to work and be out hiking or skiing by late afternoon.”
The city has recovered from the relocation of the Swedish armed forces fighter jet squadron in the 1990s by playing to its strengths: sports and tourism. A university now occupies the old barracks with a special focus on sports materials and technology. The airbase has become a thriving airport, handling half a million passengers a year.
Despite the net inflow of working-age people however, Östersund is facing a demographic challenge as baby boomers begin to retire. The shortages are being felt most acutely at the regional health authority, which occupies the Epidemisjukhus – the building hastily converted into wards during the Spanish flu by Carl Lignell. Clinical staff are proving hard to find and retain, and the region’s health service is underfunded. Some residents still suggest solving that lack of funding from central government “the Jämtland way”, like Lignell once did.
History doesn’t repeat itself identically, though. Sweden’s consensus-orientated political model now tends to defuse conflict even in proud cities with a liking for mavericks. One of Andersson’s strategies for dealing with the approaching lack of labour, for instance, is cooperating with local and national institutions to train up the young refugees the city has welcomed since 2015.
“School starts tomorrow – for the last time,” confides Karl Karlsson to his journal on 4 September 1918. “I leave in spring and it feels melancholy. I like farming, but I would still prefer to continue at school and study. But it’s impossible.” Ten days later, he notes that his family’s food stores are running low. “We’re almost out of flour and bread, the barley hasn’t dried yet, and we shan’t get any more rations, everything is being requisitioned.”
One hundred years later, a city – and a society – once unable to educate or even feed its youth is now one of the world’s wealthiest and fairest.
Brazilian rainforest expert warns that increased deforestation under President Bolsonaro’s regime is having a catastrophic effect on climate.
LONDON, 16 March, 2020 – Antonio Donato Nobre is passionate about the Amazon region and despairs about the level of deforestation taking place in what is the world’s biggest rainforest.
“Just when I thought the destruction couldn’t get any worse, it has,” says Nobre, one of Brazil’s leading scientists who has studied the Amazon – its unique flora and fauna, and its influence on both the local and global climate – for more than 40 years.
“In terms of the Earth’s climate, we have gone beyond the point of no return. There’s no doubt about this.”
For decades, he has fought against deforestation. There have been considerable ups and downs in that time, but he points out that Brazil was once a world-leader in controlling deforestation.
“We developed the system that’s now being used by other countries,” he told Climate News Network in an interview during his lecture tour of the UK.
“Using satellite data, we monitored and we controlled. From 2005 to 2012, Brazil managed to reduce up to 83% of deforestation.”
Then the law on land use was relaxed, and deforestation increased dramatically – by as much as 200% between 2017 and 2018.
It’s all become much worse since Jair Bolsonaro became Brazilian president at the beginning of last year, Nobre says.
Nobre argues that Bolsonaro doesn’t care about the Amazon and has contempt for environmentalists.
His administration is encouraging the land grabbers who illegally take over protected or indigenous tribal land, which they then sell on to cattle ranchers and soybean conglomerates.
For indigenous tribes, life has become more dangerous. “They are being murdered, their land is being invaded,” Nobre says.
In August last year, the world watched as large areas of the Amazon region – a vital carbon sink sucking up and recycling global greenhouse gases – went up in flames.
Nobre says the land grabbers had organised what they called a “day of fires” in August last year to honour Bolsonaro.
“Half of the Amazon rainforest to the east is gone . It’s losing the battle, going in the direction of a savanna.”
“Thousands of people organized, through WhatsApp, to make something visible from space,” he says. “They hired people on motorbikes with gasoline jugs to set fire to any land they could.”
The impact on the Amazon is catastrophic, Nobre says. “Half of the Amazon rainforest to the east is gone – it’s losing the battle, going in the direction of a savanna.
“When you clear land in a healthy system, it bounces back. But once you cross a certain threshold, a tipping point, it turns into a different kind of equilibrium. It becomes drier, there’s less rain. It’s no longer a forest.”
As well as storing and recycling vast amounts of greenhouse gas, the trees in the Amazon play a vital role in harvesting heat from the Earth’s surface and transforming water vapour into condensation above the forest. This acts like a giant sprinkler system in the sky, Nobre explains..
When the trees go and this system breaks down, the climate alters not only in the Amazon region but over a much wider area.
Time running out
“We used to say the Amazon had two seasons: the wet season and the wetter season,” Nobre says. “Now, you have many months without a drop of water.”
The vast majority of Brazilians, he says, are against deforestation and are concerned about climate change – but while he believes that there is still hope for the rainforest, he says that time is fast running out.
Many leading figures in Brazil, including a group of powerful generals, have been shocked by the international reaction to the recent spate of fires in the Amazon and fear that the country is becoming a pariah on the global stage.
Nobre is angry with his own government, but also with what he describes as the massive conspiracy on climate change perpetrated over the years by the oil, gas and coal lobbies.
Ever since the late 1970s, the fossil fuel companies’ scientists have known about the consequences of the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
“They brought us to this situation knowingly,” Nobre says. “It’s not something they did out of irresponsible ignorance. They paid to bash the science.” – Climate News Network
Jessica Rawnsley is a UK-based environmental journalist. She has written stories on the Extinction Rebellion movement and police tactics connected with demonstrations. She has a particular interest in campaigning groups and their influence on government climate policies.
Precisamos falar sobre o novo coronavírus, mas sem pânico.
Nesta quinta-feira (12/03), o Brasil acordou com 52 pessoas infectadas pelo coronavírus e foi dormir com 69 casos confirmados. Em todo o mundo, são 122 mil casos confirmados e mais de 4.500 mortes registradas. A Organização Mundial da Saúde (OMS) declarou pandemia, isto é, o vírus deixou de ser restrito determinadas regiões e passa a ser uma questão de saúde pública global.
A taxa de mortalidade do novo vírus, ainda sem vacina, é considerada baixa – em torno de 3% dos casos – e atinge principalmente pessoas com maior vulnerabilidade, como idosos ou com doenças pré-existentes (como diabetes, câncer, etc.).
Com mais de 50 casos no País, o Ministério da Saúde do governo de Jair Bolsonaro alerta que a transmissão deve se dar de forma geométrica – isto é, deixa de ser restrita a pessoas que se infectaram em outras regiões do mundo e passa a acontecer no próprio território.
Segundo o Instituto Pensi do Hospital Infantil Sabará, após atingir 50 casos confirmados o total de infectados no Brasil pode aumentar para 4.000 casos em 15 dias e cerca de 30.000 depois de 21 dias.
Com isso, o vírus deve se expandir rapidamente nas próximas semanas e o Sistema Único de Saúde (SUS) precisaria de 3.200 novos leitos em UTI (Unidade de Terapia Intensiva) para dar conta da demanda – 95% dos 16.000 leitos de hoje já estão ocupados.
Dito isso, nós moradoras e moradores de periferias urbanas, povos da floresta e marginalizados em geral, precisamos nos atentar com as medidas de prevenção (confira no gráfico abaixo) mas também com efeitos colaterais dessa pandemia no nosso dia a dia.
Muito se fala no impacto da pandemia sobre a economia global. Mas em um País marcado por desigualdade social, machismo, racismo e LGBTfobia, com cortes em políticas públicas e desemprego recorde, o coronavírus tem potencial de impactar não apenas nossa saúde como também nossa frágil convivência em sociedade. Precisamos de solidariedade e vigilância nesse momento.
Por isso, a Periferia em Movimento faz 16 perguntas ainda sem resposta (a lista continua em atualização) sobre esse novo cenário:
1. As periferias vão receber recursos da saúde de forma proporcional às nossas necessidades?
2. O governo vai adotar medidas de confinamento ou restrição de circulação de pessoas?
3. Como fazer quarentena em área de aglomeração, como periferias e favelas?
4. Os governantes vão acionar a Polícia Militar pra controlar a população nas periferias?
5. Se rolar quarentena, quem vai dirigir os ônibus, fazer o pão de cada dia e entregar a comida do ifood no apartamento da classe média?
6. Com o desemprego recorde e o mercado informal em alta, pessoas que vivem de bico vão conseguir fazer dinheiro como?
7. Se as aulas forem suspensas, com quem ficarão as crianças que frequentam creches em período integral?
8. Sem aulas, sem merenda: estudantes em situação de insegurança alimentar vão passar fome se não forem pra escola?
9. Ainda sobre a suspensão das aulas, qual é o risco da explosão de casos de violência sexual contra crianças e adolescentes – que passarão mais tempo em casa?
10. O maior tempo em casa também aumenta o risco de mulheres sofrerem violência de seus companheiros?
11. E com mais pessoas com circulação restrita, o risco de conflitos em comunidades também aumenta?
12. Como os governantes avaliam as possibilidades de aumento em todos os tipos de violência com essa pandemia?
13. Como idosos em situação de vulnerabilidade serão assistidos pelo governo?
14. De que forma, a pandemia deve impactar a população em situação de rua?
15. Como ficam os presidiários, que já vivem em situações de aglomeração, tortura e com doenças que estão controladas no mundo externo?
16. E como serão atendidos os indígenas, que necessitam de estratégias específicas de saúde devido à menor imunidade a doenças transmitidas desde a invasão europeia ao continente americano?
Em artigo publicado na imprensa internacional, a alta-comissária da ONU para direitos humanos, Michelle Bachelet, e o alto-comissário da ONU para refugiados, Filippo Grandi, afirmam que a doença provocada pelo novo coronavírus, a Covid-19, é um teste não apenas de nossos sistemas e mecanismos de assistência médica para responder a doenças infecciosas, mas também de nossa capacidade de trabalharmos juntos como uma comunidade de nações diante de um desafio comum.
“É um teste da cobertura dos benefícios de décadas de progresso social e econômico em relação aqueles que vivem à margem de nossas sociedades, mais distantes das alavancas do poder.”
Um jovem refugiado lava as mãos em Mafraq, na Jordânia, onde um sistema de aquecimento movido a energia solar, instalado com o apoio da IKEA Foundation e da Practical Action, ajuda a fornecer água quente. Foto: ACNUR/Hannah Maule-ffinch
Por Michelle Bachelet e Filippo Grandi*
Se nós precisávamos lembrar que vivemos em um mundo interconectado, o novo coronavírus tornou isso mais claro do que nunca.
Nenhum país pode resolver esse problema sozinho, e nenhuma parcela de nossa sociedade pode ser desconsiderada se quisermos efetivamente enfrentar este desafio global.
O Covid-19 é um teste não apenas de nossos sistemas e mecanismos de assistência médica para responder a doenças infecciosas, mas também de nossa capacidade de trabalharmos juntos como uma comunidade de nações diante de um desafio comum.
É um teste da cobertura dos benefícios de décadas de progresso social e econômico em relação aqueles que vivem à margem de nossas sociedades, mais distantes das alavancas do poder.
As próximas semanas e meses desafiarão o planejamento nacional de crises e os sistemas de proteção civil — e certamente irão expor deficiências em saneamento, habitação e outros fatores que moldam os resultados de saúde.
Nossa resposta a essa epidemia deve abranger e focar, de fato, naqueles a quem a sociedade negligencia ou rebaixa a um status menor. Caso contrário, ela falhará.
A saúde de todas as pessoas está ligada à saúde dos membros mais marginalizados da comunidade. Prevenir a disseminação desse vírus requer alcance a todos e garantia de acesso equitativo ao tratamento.
Isso significa superar as barreiras existentes para cuidados de saúde acessíveis e combater o tratamento diferenciado há muito tempo baseado em renda, gênero, geografia, raça e etnia, religião ou status social.
Superar paradigmas sistêmicos que ignoram os direitos e as necessidades de mulheres e meninas ou, por exemplo, limitar o acesso e a participação de grupos minoritários será crucial para a prevenção e tratamento eficazes do COVID-19.
As pessoas que vivem em instituições — idosos ou detidos — provavelmente são mais vulneráveis à infecção e devem ser especificamente incluídas no planejamento e resposta à crise.
Migrantes e refugiados — independentemente de seu status formal — devem ser plenamente incluídos nos sistemas e planos nacionais de combate ao vírus. Muitas dessas mulheres, homens e crianças se encontram em locais onde os serviços de saúde estão sobrecarregados ou inacessíveis.
Eles podem estar confinados em abrigos, assentamentos, ou vivendo em favelas urbanas onde a superlotação e o saneamento com poucos recursos aumentam o risco de exposição.
O apoio internacional é urgentemente necessário para ajudar os países anfitriões a intensificar os serviços — tanto para refugiados e migrantes quanto para as comunidades locais — e incluí-los nos acordos nacionais de vigilância, prevenção e resposta. Não fazer isso colocará em risco a saúde de todos — e o risco de aumentar a hostilidade e o estigma.
Também é vital que qualquer restrição nos controles das fronteiras, restrições de viagem ou limitações à liberdade de movimento não impeça as pessoas que possam estar fugindo da guerra ou perseguição de acessar a segurança e proteção.
Além desses desafios muito imediatos, o coronavírus também testará, sem dúvida, nossos princípios, valores e humanidade compartilhada.
Espalhando-se rapidamente pelo mundo, com a incerteza em torno do número de infecções e com uma vacina ainda a muitos meses de distância, o vírus está provocando ansiedade e medos profundos em indivíduos e sociedades.
Sem dúvida, algumas pessoas sem escrúpulos procurarão tirar vantagem disso, manipulando medos genuínos e aumentando as preocupações.
Quando o medo e a incerteza surgem, os bodes expiatórios nunca estão longe. Já vimos raiva e hostilidade dirigidas a algumas pessoas de origem do leste asiático.
Se continuar assim, o desejo de culpar e excluir poderá em breve se estender a outros grupos — minorias, marginalizados ou qualquer pessoa rotulada como “estrangeira”.
As pessoas em deslocamento, incluindo refugiados, podem ser particularmente alvo. No entanto, o próprio coronavírus não discrimina; os infectados até o momento incluem turistas, empresários internacionais e até ministros nacionais, que estão localizados em dezenas de países, abrangendo todos os continentes.
O pânico e a discriminação nunca resolveram uma crise. Os líderes políticos devem assumir a liderança, conquistando confiança através de informações transparentes e oportunas, trabalhando juntos para o bem comum e capacitando as pessoas a participar na proteção da saúde.
Ceder espaço a boatos, medos e histeria não apenas prejudicará a resposta, mas poderá ter implicações mais amplas para os direitos humanos e para o funcionamento de instituições democráticas responsáveis.
Atualmente, nenhum país pode se isolar do impacto do coronavírus, tanto no sentido literal quanto econômico e social, como demonstram as bolsas de valores e as escolas fechadas.
Uma resposta internacional que garanta que os países em desenvolvimento estejam equipados para diagnosticar, tratar e prevenir esta doença será crucial para proteger a saúde de bilhões de pessoas.
A Organização Mundial da Saúde (OMS) está fornecendo experiência, vigilância, sistemas, investigação de casos, rastreamento de contatos, pesquisa e desenvolvimento de vacinas. É a prova de que a solidariedade internacional e os sistemas multilaterais são mais vitais do que nunca.
A longo prazo, devemos acelerar o trabalho de construção de serviços de saúde pública equitativos e acessíveis. E a maneira como reagimos a essa crise agora, sem dúvida, moldará esses esforços nas próximas décadas.
Se nossa resposta ao coronavírus estiver fundamentada nos princípios de confiança pública, transparência, respeito e empatia pelos mais vulneráveis, não apenas defenderemos os direitos intrínsecos de todo ser humano; usaremos e criaremos as ferramentas mais eficazes para garantir que possamos superar essa crise e aprender lições para o futuro.
*Michelle Bachelet é a alta-comissária da ONU para direitos humanos. Filippo Grandi é o alto-comissário da ONU para refugiados. Este artigo foi originalmente publicado no site The Telegraph.
Somente quando o vírus nos encerra em nossas casas e limita nossos movimentos percebemos como é triste a solidão forçada. Quando nos privam da cotidianidade nos sentimos escravos, porque o homem nasceu para ser livre
Mas é às vezes nos tempos das catástrofes e do desalento, das perdas que nos angustiam, que descobrimos que, como dizia o Nobel de literatura José Saramago, “somos cegos que, vendo, não veem”. Descobrimos, como uma luz que acende em nossa vida, que éramos cegos, incapazes de apreciar a beleza do natural, os gestos cotidianos que tecem nossa existência e dão sentido à vida.
A pandemia do novo vírus, por mais paradoxal que pareça, poderia servir para abrir nossos olhos e percebermos que o que hoje vemos como uma perda, como passear livres pela rua, dar um beijo ou um abraço, ir ao cinema ou ao bar para tomar uma cerveja com os amigos, ou ao futebol, eram gestos de nosso cotidiano que fazíamos muitas vezes sem descobrir a força de poder agir em liberdade, sem imposições do poder.
Descobri essa sensação quando, dias atrás, fui dar a mão a um amigo e ele retirou a sua. Tinha me esquecido do vírus e pensei que meu amigo poderia estar ofendido comigo. Foi como um calafrio de tristeza.
Às vezes abraçamos, beijamos e nos movemos em liberdade sem saber o valor desses gestos que realizamos quase de forma mecânica. Quando os pais sentem às vezes, no dia a dia, o peso de terem que levar as crianças ao colégio e as deixam lá com um beijo apressado e correndo, mecânico, apreciam, depois do coronavírus, a emoção de que seu filho te peça um beijo ou segure a sua mão. E apreciamos a força de um abraço, do tato, de estarmos juntos apenas quando nos negam essa possibilidade.
Somente quando o vírus nos encerra em nossas casas e limita nossos movimentos percebemos como é triste a solidão forçada, e entendemos melhor o abandono dos presos e dos excluídos. Somente quando nos impedem de nos aproximarmos dos nossos animais de estimação é que descobrimos a maravilha que é poder acariciá-los e abraçá-los.
Se, como dizia Saramago, no cotidiano somos cegos quando não apreciamos a força da liberdade, também, muitas vezes, amando não amamos e livres nos sentimos escravos. O que nos parece cansaço e castigo da rotina revela-se como o maior valor. Quando nos privam dessa cotidianidade nos sentimos escravos, porque o homem nasceu para ser livre.
Na obra Ensaio Sobre a Cegueira (Companhia das Letras), de Saramago, tão recordada nestes momentos de trevas mundiais, na qual uma cidade inteira fica cega e as pessoas enclausuradas, descobre-se melhor nossa insolidariedade e nosso egoísmo. O escritor é duro em seu romance ao fazer daqueles cegos a metáfora de uma sociedade onde cada um, nos momentos de perigo e angústia, pensa apenas em si mesmo.
A única que redime aquela situação perversa dos cegos é uma mulher, a esposa do médico, a única que não perdeu a visão e que se faz passar por cega para ajudar os que de fato são. Aquela mulher é representada hoje pelos italianos que usam suas vozes para, com suas notas doloridas, aliviar a solidão dos vizinhos.
Nestes momentos vividos por boa parte das pessoas do mundo, enclausuradas e presas pelo rigor do poder que as condena negando-lhes a liberdade de movimento, que a dor coletiva nos ajude a vencer nosso atávico egoísmo cotidiano, ao contrário dos cegos egoístas do romance de Saramago.
Que a tragédia do coronavírus consiga nos transformar no futuro em guias e ajuda amorosa dos novos cegos de uma sociedade que muitas vezes parece não saber onde caminhar e que, quando goza de liberdade, anseia pela escravidão.
Que a dor de hoje se transforme em tomada de consciência de que vale mais a liberdade das aves do céu que a escravidão que nos impomos quando somos livres. Que o mundo não caia na tentação dos escravos que Moisés havia tirado da escravidão do Egito, que, enquanto eram conduzidos pelo deserto rumo à liberdade, continuavam preferindo as cebolas e os alhos do tempo da escravidão ao maná que Deus lhes enviava do céu. Não existe maior bem neste planeta do que a liberdade que nos permite amar e sofrer sem sucumbir.
E ante a catástrofe do coronavírus, que poderia nos alcançar a todos, que se rompam neste país as trincheiras entre bolsonaristas e lulistas para nos sentirmos solidários numa mesma preocupação.
Na dor e na calamidade coletiva, sentimos que somos menos desiguais do que pensamos. E que, no fim das contas, as lágrimas não têm ideologia.
In 1930, the English economist John Maynard Keynes took a break from writing about the problems of the interwar economy and indulged in a bit of futurology. In an essay entitled “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren,” he speculated that by the year 2030 capital investment and technological progress would have raised living standards as much as eightfold, creating a society so rich that people would work as little as fifteen hours a week, devoting the rest of their time to leisure and other “non-economic purposes.” As striving for greater affluence faded, he predicted, “the love of money as a possession . . . will be recognized for what it is, a somewhat disgusting morbidity.”
This transformation hasn’t taken place yet, and most economic policymakers remain committed to maximizing the rate of economic growth. But Keynes’s predictions weren’t entirely off base. After a century in which G.D.P. per person has gone up more than sixfold in the United States, a vigorous debate has arisen about the feasibility and wisdom of creating and consuming ever more stuff, year after year. On the left, increasing alarm about climate change and other environmental threats has given birth to the “degrowth” movement, which calls on advanced countries to embrace zero or even negative G.D.P. growth. “The faster we produce and consume goods, the more we damage the environment,” Giorgos Kallis, an ecological economist at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, writes in his manifesto, “Degrowth.” “There is no way to both have your cake and eat it, here. If humanity is not to destroy the planet’s life support systems, the global economy should slow down.” In “Growth: From Microorganisms to Megacities,” Vaclav Smil, a Czech-Canadian environmental scientist, complains that economists haven’t grasped “the synergistic functioning of civilization and the biosphere,” yet they “maintain a monopoly on supplying their physically impossible narratives of continuing growth that guide decisions made by national governments and companies.”
Once confined to the margins, the ecological critique of economic growth has gained widespread attention. At a United Nations climate-change summit in September, the teen-age Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg declared, “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!” The degrowth movement has its own academic journals and conferences. Some of its adherents favor dismantling the entirety of global capitalism, not just the fossil-fuel industry. Others envisage “post-growth capitalism,” in which production for profit would continue, but the economy would be reorganized along very different lines. In the influential book “Prosperity Without Growth: Foundations for the Economy of Tomorrow,” Tim Jackson, a professor of sustainable development at the University of Surrey, in England, calls on Western countries to shift their economies from mass-market production to local services—such as nursing, teaching, and handicrafts—that could be less resource-intensive. Jackson doesn’t underestimate the scale of the changes, in social values as well as in production patterns, that such a transformation would entail, but he sounds an optimistic note: “People can flourish without endlessly accumulating more stuff. Another world is possible.”
Even within mainstream economics, the growth orthodoxy is being challenged, and not merely because of a heightened awareness of environmental perils. In “Good Economics for Hard Times,” two winners of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Economics, Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, point out that a larger G.D.P. doesn’t necessarily mean a rise in human well-being—especially if it isn’t distributed equitably—and the pursuit of it can sometimes be counterproductive. “Nothing in either our theory or the data proves the highest G.D.P. per capita is generally desirable,” Banerjee and Duflo, a husband-and-wife team who teach at M.I.T., write.
The two made their reputations by applying rigorous experimental methods to investigate what types of policy interventions work in poor communities; they conducted randomized controlled trials, in which one group of people was subjected to a given policy intervention—paying parents to keep their children in school, say—and a control group wasn’t. Drawing on their findings, Banerjee and Duflo argue that, rather than chase “the growth mirage,” governments should concentrate on specific measures with proven benefits, such as helping the poorest members of society get access to health care, education, and social advancement.
Banerjee and Duflo also maintain that in advanced countries like the United States the misguided pursuit of economic growth since the Reagan-Thatcher revolution has contributed to a rise in inequality, mortality rates, and political polarization. When the benefits of growth are mainly captured by an élite, they warn, social disaster can result.
That’s not to say that Banerjee and Duflo are opposed to economic growth. In a recent essay for Foreign Affairs, they noted that, since 1990, the number of people living on less than $1.90 a day—the World Bank’s definition of extreme poverty—fell from nearly two billion to around seven hundred million. “In addition to increasing people’s income, steadily expanding G.D.P.s have allowed governments (and others) to spend more on schools, hospitals, medicines, and income transfers to the poor,” they wrote. Yet for advanced countries, in particular, they think policies that slow G.D.P. growth may prove to be beneficial, especially if the result is that the fruits of growth are shared more widely. In this sense, Banerjee and Duflo might be termed “slowthers”—a label that certainly applies to Dietrich Vollrath, an economist at the University of Houston and the author of “Fully Grown: Why a Stagnant Economy Is a Sign of Success.”
As his subtitle suggests, he thinks that slower rates of economic growth in advanced countries are nothing to worry about. Between 1950 and 2000, G.D.P. per person in the U.S. rose at an annual rate of more than three per cent. Since 2000, the growth rate has slowed to about two per cent. (Donald Trump has not, as he promised, boosted over-all G.D.P. growth to four or five per cent.) The phenomenon of slow growth is often bemoaned as “secular stagnation,” a term popularized by Lawrence Summers, the Harvard economist and former Treasury Secretary. Yet Vollrath argues that slower growth is appropriate for a society as rich and industrially developed as ours. Unlike other growth skeptics, he doesn’t base his case on environmental concerns or rising inequality or the shortcomings of G.D.P. as a measurement. Rather, he explains this phenomenon as the result of personal choices—the core of economic orthodoxy.
Vollrath offers a detailed decomposition of the sources of economic growth, which uses a mathematical technique that the eminent M.I.T. economist Robert Solow pioneered in the nineteen-fifties. The movement of women into the workplace provided a onetime boost to the labor supply; in its aftermath, other trends dragged down the growth curve. As countries like the United States have become richer and richer, Vollrath points out, their inhabitants have chosen to spend less time at work and to have smaller families—the result of higher wages and the advent of contraceptive pills. G.D.P. growth slows when the growth of the labor force declines. But this isn’t any sort of failure, in Vollrath’s view: it reflects “the advance of women’s rights and economic success.”
Vollrath estimates that about two-thirds of the recent slowdown in G.D.P. growth can be accounted for by the decline in the growth of labor inputs. He also cites a switch in spending patterns from tangible goods—such as clothes, cars, and furniture—to services, such as child care, health care, and spa treatments. In 1950, spending on services accounted for forty per cent of G.D.P.; today, the proportion is more than seventy per cent. And service industries, which tend to be labor-intensive, exhibit lower rates of productivity growth than goods-producing industries, which are often factory-based. (The person who cuts your hair isn’t getting more efficient; the plant that makes his or her scissors probably is.) Since rising productivity is a key component of G.D.P. growth, that growth will be further constrained by the expansion of the service sector. But, again, this isn’t necessarily a failure. “In the end, that reallocation of economic activity away from goods and into services comes down to our success,” Vollrath writes. “We’ve gotten so productive at making goods that this has freed up our money to spend on services.”
Taken together, slower growth in the labor force and the shift to services can explain almost all the recent slowdown, according to Vollrath. He’s unimpressed by many other explanations that have been offered, such as sluggish rates of capital investment, rising trade pressures, soaring inequality, shrinking technological possibilities, or an increase in monopoly power. In his account, it all flows from the choices we’ve made: “Slow growth, it turns out, is the optimal response to massive economic success.”
Vollrath’s analysis implies that all the major economies are likely to see slower growth rates as their populations age—a pattern first established in Japan during the nineteen-nineties. But two-per-cent growth isn’t negligible. If the U.S. economy continues to expand at this rate, it will have doubled in size by 2055, and a century from now it will be almost eight times its current size. If you think about growth-compounding in other rich countries, and developing economies growing at somewhat faster rates, you can readily summon up scenarios in which, by the end of the next century, global G.D.P. has risen fiftyfold, or even a hundredfold.
Is such a scenario environmentally sustainable? Proponents of “green growth,” who now include many European governments, the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, and all the remaining U.S. Democratic Presidential candidates, insist that it is. They say that, given the right policy measures and continued technological progress, we can enjoy perpetual growth and prosperity while also reducing carbon emissions and our consumption of natural resources. A 2018 report by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, an international group of economists, government officials, and business leaders, declared, “We are on the cusp of a new economic era: one where growth is driven by the interaction between rapid technological innovation, sustainable infrastructure investment, and increased resource productivity. We can have growth that is strong, sustainable, balanced, and inclusive.”
This judgment reflected a belief in what’s sometimes termed “absolute decoupling”—a prospect in which G.D.P. can grow while carbon emissions decline. The environmental economists Alex Bowen and Cameron Hepburn have conjectured that, by 2050, absolute decoupling may appear “to have been a relatively easy challenge,” as renewables become significantly cheaper than fossil fuels. They endorse scientific research into green technology, and hefty taxes on fossil fuels, but oppose the idea of stopping economic growth. From an environmental perspective, they write, “it would be counterproductive; recessions have slowed and in some cases derailed efforts to adopt cleaner modes of production.”
For a time, official carbon-emissions figures seemed to support this argument. Between 2000 and 2013, Britain’s G.D.P. grew by twenty-seven per cent while emissions fell by nine per cent, Kate Raworth, an English economist and author, noted in her thought-provoking book, “Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist,” published in 2017. The pattern was similar in the United States: G.D.P. up, emissions down. Globally, carbon emissions were flat between 2014 and 2016, according to figures from the International Energy Agency. Unfortunately, this trend didn’t last. According to a recent report from the Global Carbon Project, carbon emissions worldwide have been edging up in each of the past three years.
The pause in the rise of emissions may well have been the temporary product of a depressed economy—the Great Recession and its aftermath—and the shift from coal to natural gas, which can’t be repeated. According to a recent report by the United Nations and a number of climate-research institutes, “Governments are planning to produce about 50% more fossil fuels by 2030 than would be consistent with a 2°C pathway and 120% more than would be consistent with a 1.5°C pathway.” (Those were the targets established in the 2016 Paris Agreement.) In a recent review of the literature about green growth, Giorgos Kallis and Jason Hickel, an anthropologist at Goldsmiths, University of London, concluded that “green growth is likely to be a misguided objective, and that policymakers need to look toward alternative strategies.”
Can such “alternative strategies” be implemented without huge ruptures? For decades, economists have cautioned that they can’t. “If growth were to be abandoned as an objective of policy, democracy too would have to be abandoned,” Wilfred Beckerman, an Oxford economist, wrote in “In Defense of Economic Growth,” which appeared in 1974. “The costs of deliberate non-growth, in terms of the political and social transformation that would be required in society, are astronomical.” Beckerman was responding to the publication of “The Limits to Growth,” a widely read report by an international team of environmental scientists and other experts who warned that unrestrained G.D.P. growth would lead to disaster, as natural resources such as fossil fuels and industrial metals ran out. Beckerman said that the authors of “The Limits to Growth” had greatly underestimated the capacity of technology and the market system to produce a cleaner and less resource-intensive type of economic growth—the same argument that proponents of green growth make today.
Whether or not you share this optimism about technology, it’s clear that any comprehensive degrowth strategy would have to deal with distributional conflicts in the developed world and poverty in the developing world. As long as G.D.P. is steadily rising, all groups in society can, in theory, see their living standards rise at the same time. Beckerman argued that this was the key to avoiding such conflict. But, if growth were abandoned, helping the worst off would pit winners against losers. The fact that, in many Western countries over the past couple of decades, slower growth has been accompanied by rising political polarization suggests that Beckerman may have been on to something.
Some degrowth proponents say that distributional conflicts could be resolved through work-sharing and income transfers. A decade ago, Peter A. Victor, an emeritus professor of environmental economics at York University, in Toronto, built a computer model, since updated, to see what would happen to the Canadian economy under various scenarios. In a degrowth scenario, G.D.P. per person was gradually reduced by roughly fifty per cent over thirty years, but offsetting policies—such as work-sharing, redistributive-income transfers, and adult-education programs—were also introduced. Reporting his results in a 2011 paper, Victor wrote, “There are very substantial reductions in unemployment, the human poverty index and the debt to GDP ratio. Greenhouse gas emissions are reduced by nearly 80%. This reduction results from the decline in GDP and a very substantial carbon tax.”
More recently, Kallis and other degrowthers have called for the introduction of a universal basic income, which would guarantee people some level of subsistence. Last year, when progressive Democrats unveiled their plan for a Green New Deal, aiming to create a zero-emission economy by 2050, it included a federal job guarantee; some backers also advocate a universal basic income. Yet Green New Deal proponents appear to be in favor of green growth rather than degrowth. Some sponsors of the plan have even argued that it would eventually pay for itself through economic growth.
There’s another challenge for growth skeptics: how would they reduce global poverty? China and India lifted millions out of extreme deprivation by integrating their countries into the global capitalist economy, supplying low-cost goods and services to more advanced countries. The process involved mass rural-to-urban migration, the proliferation of sweatshops, and environmental degradation. But the eventual result was higher incomes and, in some places, the emergence of a new middle class that is loath to give up its gains. If major industrialized economies were to cut back their consumption and reorganize along more communal lines, who would buy all the components and gadgets and clothes that developing countries like Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Vietnam produce? What would happen to the economies of African countries such as Ethiopia, Ghana, and Rwanda, which have seen rapid G.D.P. growth in recent years, as they, too, have started to join the world economy? Degrowthers have yet to provide a convincing answer to these questions.
Given the scale of the environmental threat and the need to lift up poor countries, some sort of green-growth policy would seem to be the only option, but it may involve emphasizing “green” over “growth.” Kate Raworth has proposed that we adopt environmentally sound policies even when we’re uncertain how they will affect the long-term rate of growth. There are plenty of such policies available. To begin with, all major countries could take more definitive steps to meet their Paris Agreement commitments by investing heavily in renewable sources of energy, shutting down any remaining coal-fired power plants, and introducing a carbon tax to discourage the use of fossil fuels. According to Ian Parry, an economist at the World Bank, a carbon tax of thirty-five dollars per ton, which would raise the price of gasoline by about ten per cent and the cost of electricity by roughly twenty-five per cent, would be sufficient for many countries, including China, India, and the United Kingdom, to meet their emissions pledges. A carbon tax of this kind would raise a lot of money, which could be used to finance green investments or reduce other taxes, or even be handed out to the public as a carbon dividend.
Taking energy efficiency seriously is also vital. In a 2018 piece for the New Left Review, Robert Pollin, an economist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who has helped design Green New Deal plans for a number of states, listed several measures that can be taken, including insulating old buildings to reduce heat loss, requiring cars to be more fuel efficient, expanding public transportation, and reducing energy use in the industrial sector. “Expanding energy-efficiency investment,” he pointed out, “supports rising living standards because, by definition, it saves money for energy consumers.”
To ameliorate the effects of slower G.D.P. growth, policies such as work-sharing and universal basic income could also be considered—especially if the warnings about artificial intelligence eliminating huge numbers of jobs turn out to be true. In the United Kingdom, the New Economics Foundation has called for the standard workweek to be shortened from thirty-five to twenty-one hours, a proposal that harks back to Victor’s modelling and Keynes’s 1930 essay. Proposals like these would have to be financed by higher taxes, particularly on the wealthy, but that redistributive aspect is a feature, not a bug. In a low-growth world, it is essential to share what growth there is more equitably. Otherwise, as Beckerman argued many years ago, the consequences could be catastrophic.
Finally, rethinking economic growth may well require loosening the grip on modern life exercised by competitive consumption, which undergirds the incessant demand for expansion. Keynes, a Cambridge aesthete, believed that people whose basic economic needs had been satisfied would naturally gravitate to other, non-economic pursuits, perhaps embracing the arts and nature. A century of experience suggests that this was wishful thinking. As Raworth writes, “Reversing consumerism’s financial and cultural dominance in public and private life is set to be one of the twenty-first century’s most gripping psychological dramas.” ♦Published in the print edition of the February 10, 2020, issue, with the headline “Steady State.”
Most of us face multiple hardships in life—financial stress, job loss, divorce, the premature death of a spouse or parent. Painful and unsettling life events divert our lives into unimaginable paths filled with stress and pain. Like most people, I have experienced a number of painful events: religious discrimination, the suicide of a loved one, divorce, and the death of parents. I have also been diagnosed with and treated for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL), a series of blood cancers most of which are classified as incurable. These life-altering experiences have shaped the course of my personal and professional life—in unexpected ways.
My life as an anthropologist has afforded me a particular perspective on existentially troubling life events. During early fieldwork in the Republic of Niger, one of the poorest nations in the world, I had to confront the psychological and existential ramifications of yearly meningitis outbreaks. These always occurred during the hot dry season—from March until the first rains of June. In hot and dry conditions that were perfect for transmission, a few of my students, some of my friends and many children got sick.
Many of the children died.
One year during a particularly bad outbreak I witnessed daily processions of men and women carrying the newly dead to their final resting place. Men walked silently their gazes downcast. Women wailed as they accompanied their loved ones to the cemetery. During that outbreak, a pall settled over the rural village where I lived. Conversations lapsed into stressful silences. We all wondered if we would be next. Was the tightness in my neck muscular, or was it the onset of meningitis? Invisible and silent, the scourge of meningitis put my life at risk, a visceral threat that forced me to consider what was important in my life.
During another year of fieldwork in Niger, I lived through a cholera epidemic. While the transmission of meningitis bacteria and/or virus comes from close contact with infected others—cholera makes its way to human beings through contaminated water or food.
That year, many people in the region of Tillaberi became cholera victims. In response to a flood of new cholera patients, the local government, which had no funds to meet the challenges of the outbreak, set up a makeshift lean-to village—a horrible place to put the sick and dying. The lean-to village had been built close to the dunetop compound where I was living. From our compound we observed the arrival of hundreds of emaciated victims, wrapped in soiled rags, being transported on donkey-pulled carts to the cholera village. The stench of that lean-to village saturated my senses and haunts me to this day. During that time of contagion, conversations focused on the onset of cholera, treatment regimens, and death rates, which soared in an exceedingly poor region of rural Niger. The long shadow of cholera cast its shade on us all. Despite my relative privilege among the poor and destitute, I nonetheless wondered about the safety of my water and food. Would I succumb to cholera? Again, the threat of an epidemic compelled me to think about what mattered in my life: love, family and my contributions, however small they might be, to my community and my profession.
We are now living through the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. The deadly virus is spreading exponentially, and there is no apparent end is in sight. An unsettling eeriness extends itself over our lives and our communities. Are we unwitting carriers of the virus who have exposed our loved ones and our friends to the COVID-19 coronavirus? It is a hard reality to bear. Even so, we don’t know if we’ll be infected or not. And if we are infected, we don’t know if our illness will be serious—or even deadly. We are, in fact, living in a moment of a devastating uncertainty in which we have been told to practice social distancing—a good way to slow the rate of contagion. Concerts have been cancelled. Sporting events have been postponed. Theaters have gone dark. In grocery stores, it is difficult to find bread, water, eggs, milk and TP.
Travel has been curtailed. Gyms and restaurants are closed. Universities have emptied their dormitories and have transitioned to remote education. K-12 public and private schools have shut their doors. The entire populations of Italy, Spain, France have been placed on lockdown. Where I live, people have been told to stay at home—all to contain the silent and invisible virus. If this surreal scenario is not the end of the world, it may well be the end of social life as we have known it.
The great French surrealist thinker Antonin Artaud thought that most of us make our way through life in a half-conscious state. “You look but you don’t see,” as a wise elder among the Songhay people of Niger and Mali once told me. “You listen but you don’t hear. You touch but you don’t feel.” Indeed, the routine of everyday life can numb our sensibilities. Each day, most of us wake up, go to school, or to work. At midday we eat lunch. At day’s end we return home, enjoy some sort of dinner, enjoy a night watching television, or steaming a film. Sometimes we break the routine. We hang out with our friends. We go out for dinner, have a drink at our favorite bar, or attend a sporting event or a concert.
This routine is, for all intents and purposes, social life as we expect it to unfold. When those expectations are subverted—by an outbreak of meningitis, a cholera epidemic or the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic—we are forced to change our routines and reconfigure our personal and social expectations. Facing potential illness or possible death, many of us are provoked to think about what is important, about what we might do for our family, our neighbors, our communities.
We are about to experience the full turbulence of a pandemic. There will be isolation, confusion, pain, suffering and loss, but such a state can also provoke penetratingly honest self-reflection, deep listening, existential change, and social transformation. Pandemic hardship can bring on pandemic change. Trapped in this unsettled moment between our past and future, perhaps we can take time to reconnect and, to paraphrase T.S. Elliot, know ourselves for the first time.
Climate protection and public health have striking similarities. The benefits of both can be enjoyed by everyone, even by individuals who do not contribute to the collective efforts to address these problems. If climate change slows down, both drivers of gas-guzzlers and electric cars will benefit – although the former did not help in climate efforts. Similarly, if the spread of Coronavirus is halted (the so-called flattening the curve), individuals who refused to wash their hands, as well as the ones who washed them assiduously, will enjoy the restored normal life.
Most countries have gotten their acts together, although belatedly, on Coronavirus. Citizens also seem to be following the advice of public health officials. Could then the Coronavirus policy model be applied to climate change? We urge caution because these crises are different, which means that policies that worked well for Coronavirus might not be effective for climate change.
Different Penalties for Policy and Behavioral Procrastination
Climate change is the defining crisis of our times. Floods, hurricanes, forest fires, and extreme weather events have become more frequent and severe over the years. Although climate change generates passionate discussions in big cities and university campuses, there is inadequate public clamor for immediate action. Some types of decarbonization policies are certainly in place. However, carbon-intensive lifestyles continue (with “flying shame” in Scandinavia being an exception). Today In: Green Tech
This policy lethargy and behavioral inertia are due to many reasons, including concerted opposition by the fossil fuel industry to deep decarbonization. But there are other reasons as well. Climate change is cumulative and does not have a quick onset. Its effects are not always immediate and visible. Many individuals probably do not see a clear link between their actions and the eventual outcome. This reduces the willingness to alter lifestyles and tolerate personal sacrifices for the collective good.
In contrast, Coronavirus is forcing an immediate policy response and behavioral changes. Its causality is clear and its onset quick. Lives are at stake, especially in western countries. The stock markets are tanking, and the economy is heading towards a recession. Politicians recognize that waffling can lead to massive consequences, even in the short-term. Corona-skeptic President Trump has reversed course and declared a national emergency.
In the US, there is federal inaction on climate change. But Coronavirus seems different. 2020 is a Presidential election year, and perhaps this motivates the federal government to (finally) act decisively so that Coronavirus does not become Hurricane Katrina type of political liability.
Climate policies are hobbled by “spatial optimism,” whereby individuals believe that their risk of getting affected by climate change is less than for others. This reduces the willingness to tolerate personal sacrifices for deep decarbonization.
Coronavirus episode began with some level of spatial optimism in the Western world. After all, it was happening in China. But this confidence has quickly disappeared. Globalization means a lot of international travel and trade. China is the main global supplier of many products. Prominent companies such as Apple (AAPL) and Tesla (TSLA) depend on China for manufacturing and sales of their products. Spatial optimism has been overwhelmed by international travel as well as globalized supply chains and financial markets.
Belief in the Efficacy of Adaptation
Some might believe that climate change can be “managed.” Innovators will probably develop commercial-scale negative carbon technologies and societies will adapt to sea-level rise by building seawalls, or maybe relocating some communities to safer areas.
Coronavirus offers no such comfort. Unlike the seasonal flu, there is no vaccine (yet). It is difficult to adapt to the Coronavirus threat when you don’t know what to touch, where to go, and if your family members and neighbors are infected. Not to mention, how many rolls of tissue paper you need to stock before the supplies run out at the local grocery store.
Different Incentives to Attack Scientific Knowledge
On Coronavirus, citizens seem to be willing to follow the advice of public health professionals (at least when it comes to social distancing as reflected in empty roads and shopping centers). Every word of Dr. Anthony Fauci counts.
Why has this advice not drawn scorn from politicians who are suspicious of the “deep state”? After all, the same politicians attack scientific consensus on climate change.
Climate skeptics probably see substantial political and economic payoffs by delaying climate action. Stock markets have not penalized climate skepticism in the US: markets hit record high levels in the first three years of the Trump presidency. And, climate opposition is not leading to electoral losses. On the contrary, the climate agendas in liberal states, such as Oregon and Washington, have stalled.
Nobody seems to gain by attacking scientific consensus to delay policy action on Coronavirus. Airlines, hospitality, and tourism industries, who have taken a direct hit from social-distancing policies, probably want the problem to be quickly addressed so that people can get back to their “normal” lives.
US politicians who talk about the “deep state,” may want Coronavirus issue resolved before the November 2020 election. Attacking science does not further their political objectives. After all, the looming recession and the stock market decline could influence the election outcomes.
Depth, Scale, and Duration of Changes
Climate policy will cause economic and social dislocation. Decarbonization means that some industries will shut down. Jobs will be lost, and communities will suffer unless “just transition” policies are in place.
Coronavirus policies will probably not cause long-term structural changes in the economy. People will resume flying, tourists will flock to Venice, Rome, and Paris, and the basketball arenas will again overflow with spectators.
However, some short-term measures could lead to long-term changes. For example, individuals may realize that telecommuting is easy and efficient. As a result, they may permanently reduce their work-related travel. Coronavirus may provide the sort of a “nudge” that shifts long-term behavioral preferences.
In sum, the contrast between the rapid response to Coronavirus and policy waffling on climate change reveals how citizens think of risk and how this shapes their willingness to incur costs for the collective good. Further, it suggests that politicians respect science when its recommendations serve their political ends.
Nives Dolsak is Stan and Alta Barer Professor in Sustainability Science and Director of the School of Marine & Environmental Affairs. Aseem Prakash is the Walker Family Professor and the Director of the Center for Environmental Politics. Both are at the University of Washington, Seattle.
A new virus sweeps the world, closing borders, shutting down arts and sports, and killing thousands of people. Is this coronavirus pandemic, with the disease named Covid-19, simply a natural disaster, a culling of overpopulation as suggested by callous commentators who seem to revel in human misery? Is it nature’s rebuttal to human-caused climate change, forcing us to reduce fossil fuel-based transportation and overconsumption (apart from toilet paper)? The answer is neither. As with almost all disasters, the Covid-19 disaster is the outcome of human choices.
The Earth, with its microorganisms, tectonic activity, powerful weather, and other phenomena, has long posed dangers to humans. We know this, so it is up to us to deal with it. Sometimes we manage and sometimes we do not. Sometimes we are forced into situations with few choices, such as impoverished people living on the slopes of Mexico City’s volcano or in the subsiding floodplains of Jakarta. Not everyone can or should be a planner or engineer, to avoid houses built on soils prone to liquefying in an earthquake or offices lacking basic seismic reinforcement. Sometimes, we need to trust the zoning regulations and building codes—and their monitoring and enforcement—to keep us safe. Too often, gaps are revealed only after people have died, from the collapse of the CTV Building in Christchurch, New Zealand, during the 2011 earthquake, to New Orleans flooding during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Those who suffer most, from Australia’s 2020 bushfires to Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, tend to have the fewest options for countering their vulnerabilities which were created by others.
We know that, by disturbing ecosystems, we make pandemics beyond Covid-19 more likely to occur.
When we are vulnerable to nature, it is because societal actions set people up to be harmed by nature. As we cannot blame nature for disasters, we should avoid the phrase “natural disaster.” They are just “disasters.” It could be shoddily built infrastructure, breaking or not having planning regulations, not being able to afford or not having insurance, poor communication of warnings, or fearing assault in an evacuation shelter. It is the same with disease.
The World Health Organization of the United Nations was lambasted for being far too slow to observe and respond to what became the largest Ebola epidemic yet known, in West Africa between 2014 and 2016. In the years before, donor countries to the WHO had slashed the funds available, particularly hitting the division responsible for surveilling, monitoring, preparing for, and responding to possible epidemics. Experienced staff departed, communication lines to health systems around the world slackened, and institutional memory faded. Not that the UN’s organizations are perfect otherwise, displaying their own operational failings alongside geographic and cultural biases. Plus, many of the Ebola-struck countries—for instance, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone—have long lacked adequate health systems, with the governments mired in corruption, conflict, external exploitation, and incompetence. Deficient local, national, and international governance for epidemics meant that Ebola spread far faster and farther afield than it would have if health systems had been supported. A further illustration comes from infected people ending up in the United Kingdom and the United States, yet neither country experienced an Ebola outbreak nor was there ever a pandemic. When it was decided that the spread of Ebola should be stopped, knowledge, resources, and actions were harnessed to stop the spread of Ebola. Earlier choices in West Africa, especially long-term backing for health systems, would have curtailed the disease far sooner.
And so we come to Covid-19. When a strange form of pneumonia appeared in patients in Wuhan, China in December 2019, medical staff reported it and soon identified the origin in one market. They isolated the new virus and publicly announced its genetic sequence. Authorities gave assurances that transmission between humans was not possible and that the virus was under control, despite evidence that neither was the case. Medical staff in Wuhan noticing the sickness explained that they were not permitted to broadcast their knowledge about it. Ai Fen, an emergency department doctor, was reprimanded and told to keep quiet. An ophthalmologist, Li Wenliang, was intimidated and silenced. He eventually died of coronavirus, with the media adorning him with the poignant label of “whistle blower.”
It is a choice to institute what is now referred to as a “cover up” when a potential public health threat emerges. It is a choice not to listen to health professionals hired in key positions when they are trying to save lives through public health measures. It is a choice to have opaque dissemination procedures and to try to shut down information flow. Now that the pandemic has been created by choices early on, it is a choice that many others are making to panic-buy soap while others are not bothering to wash their hands properly or to stop touching their food or face with unwashed hands. So much of disease is about human behavior. This in no way diminishes the importance of the essential medical responses. Without vaccines, smallpox, polio, rinderpest, measles, mumps, and a whole host of other lethal diseases would continue to run rampant. Along with antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals, vaccines not only save lives daily, but also reduce the costs of running health systems by stopping illness.
Health systems must have technologies and tools—dialysis machines, isolation wards, defibrillators, and stents within the dizzying array—but must not stop at technical means and buildings. Any health system must be underpinned by people, training, and experience—exactly what many of the authorities disdained when people in Wuhan suddenly fell ill. Earlier choices in China might have curtailed the spread of Covid-19 before it morphed into a pandemic. Even basic hygiene when dealing with animals might have prevented the virus from jumping species to humans.
Today, diseases targeted for eradication include rubella, measles, dracunculiasis (Guinea worm disease), and polio. The latter two remain endemic in conflict zones, often reappearing due to war, like polio did in 2013, in Syria, where it had disappeared a decade previously. Similarly, dracunculiasis is close to being eradicated, stubbornly remaining in areas wracked by violence including Chad and South Sudan. Choices to target these diseases are nonetheless preventing epidemics of them, with eradication in sight. London and Paris famously eliminated cholera in the 19th century by building sewage systems, among other actions. Malaria used to be prevalent in southern England and across the US. Dedicated efforts eradicated it and continue to prevent its re-introduction, despite cases from travelers and near international airports. We can continue these efforts by choice or we can let malaria return.
We know that, by disturbing ecosystems, we make pandemics beyond Covid-19 more likely to occur. “In Africa, we see a lot of incursion driven by oil or mineral extraction in areas that typically had few human populations,” Dennis Carroll, an infectious disease researcher, toldNautilus editor Kevin Berger. “The problem is not only moving workers and establishing camps in these domains, but building roads that allow for even more movement of populations. Roads also allow for the movement of wildlife animals, which may be part of a food trade, to make their way into urban settlements. All these dramatic changes increase the potential spread of infection.” It is no mystery why pandemics happen. Those with the knowledge, wisdom, and resources must choose to decide to avoid these disasters that afflict everyone.
The Pentagon funded research into the social sciences as part of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now as those wars wind down, it’s bringing one program to an end. Kevin Sieff/The Washington Post via Getty Images
The fragile peace deal taking shape in Afghanistan could spell the end of an era of for the U.S. military, one marked by efforts at nation-building and winning hearts and minds.
It appears that the Pentagon is also intent on ending a research program from that era — to fund social science for the military.
The program, known as the Minerva Research Initiative, was controversial and never quite delivered, according to its critics. But it was also one of the few Pentagon initiatives that engaged outside researchers to tackle big questions. Some worry that by eschewing outside academics in order to invest in weaponry, the Defense Department risks stumbling into a new arms race.
“The idea that you would need to eliminate a small program because you need to buy some small fraction of a new missile is short-sighted,” says Joshua Pollack, a scholar at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Washington, D.C. “It’s penny wise and pound foolish.”
Minerva began in 2008 at a time when the U.S. was trying to bring the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan under control. The idea was to call on anthropologists and other social scientists to help make those missions more successful.
“Counterinsurgency theory requires that you have some knowledge of the culture that you’re trying to occupy or control in some way,” says David Price, a professor of anthropology at St. Martin’s University in Washington State. Price, who studies the history of social science’s involvement with the defense establishment, describes that relationship as “mixed” over the years. During World War II, anthropologists did everything from translation to espionage. Anthropologists also participated in counterinsurgency operations in Vietnam, generating a great deal of controversy within the field.
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More recent social science programs in the war on terrorism have proven deeply divisive. One Pentagon program known as the Human Terrain System ended in disaster after several researchers were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Psychologists working with the CIA contributed to interrogation practices that are now widely viewed as torture.
Minerva was far more academic. It gave grants to researchers in universities. Price says its military roots made it controversial among anthropologists, and he thinks it never really did deliver on the promise of using social science to win hearts and minds.
“The notion that you can get an occupied population to somehow accept this occupation or see it in their best interest … that’s a lot of weight to put on culture, when people very logically know that they’re being occupied,” he says.
Over the years, Minerva shifted its focus. More recent grants studied Russian disinformation campaigns and how to strengthen Western alliances. A 2019 review by the National Academies found that the research funded by Minerva was of high quality and that the program “has made important contributions.”
The military announced it was ending the program in February. In a written statement, the Pentagon says Minerva was eliminated “to align more directly with the Department’s modernization priorities.”
Price says he reads that statement as part of general shift by the Pentagon’s research arm, away from broad areas of inquiry and towards technology development programs. “Less money for humans, more money for robots,” he says.
Under the Trump administration, the Pentagon has put more money towards things like hypersonic missiles–advanced weapons it believes can help to counter Russia and China.
The end of the Minerva program is about more than just shifting money into advanced technology, Pollack says. The Pentagon appears less interested than ever in ever in hearing from outside academics.
“It’s not just a case of social sciences, it’s scientific advice, generally,” he says.
Last year, the Pentagon tried to disband a group of researchers known as the JASONs. They had given the Defense Department independent, sometimes critical evaluations of tough technical problems for years. The group later moved to the Department of Energy.
In the case of Minerva, the program is only around $15 million each year, sofa change for the Pentagon. Pollack worries that by favoring new hardware over academic advice, the Pentagon risks getting caught in an unproductive technological competition with Russia and China.
“The less we think about why we do things, and the more we’re just determined to go ahead and do them, the more we get into trouble in national security,” he warns.
A year’s diary of reckoning with climate anxiety, conversation by conversation.
By Emily Raboteau Photo: Clockwise from top left: Courtesy Emily Raboteau, Anadolu Agency/Getty, Courtesy Emily Raboteau (4), Alex Coppel/Newspix/Getty, courtesy Emily Raboteau, Daniel Volpe/The New York Times/Redux, Courtesy Emily Raboteau (2), Kevin Hagen/The New York Times/Redux
Some scientists say the best way to combat climate change is to talk about it among friends and family — to make private anxieties public concerns. For 2019, my New Year’s resolution was to do just that, as often as possible, at the risk of spoiling dinner. I would ask about the crisis at parent-association meetings, in classrooms, at conferences, on the subway, in bodegas, at dinner parties, while overseas, and when online; I would break climate silence as a woman of color, as a mother raising black children in a global city, as a professor at a public university, and as a travel writer — in all of those places, as all of those people. I would force those conversations if I needed to. But, it turned out, people wanted to talk about it. Nobody was silent. I listened to their answers. I noticed the echoes. I wrote them all down.
Tuesday, January 1
At last night’s New Year’s Eve party, we served hoppin’ John. Nim said that when he used to visit relatives in Israel, he could see the Dead Sea from the side of the road, but on his most recent trip, he could not. It was a lengthy walk to reach the water, which is evaporating.
Chris responded that the beaches are eroding in her native Jamaica, most egregiously where the resorts have raked away the seaweed to beautify the shore for tourists.
Wednesday, January 2
After losing her home in Staten Island to Hurricane Sandy, Lissette bought an RV with solar panels and has been living off the grid, conscious of how much water it takes to flush her toilet and to take a shower, I learned at Angie’s house party. Get unlimited access to The Cut and everything else New YorkLEARN MORE »
Monday, January 14
At tonight’s dinner party, Marguerite said that in Trinidad, where they find a way to joke about everything, including coups, people aren’t laughing about the flooding.
Wednesday, January 16
On this evening’s trip on the boat Walter built, he claimed with enthusiasm that we might extract enough renewable energy from the Gulf Stream via underwater turbines to power the entire East Coast.
Moreover, Walter predicted with the confidence of a Swiss watch, no intelligent businessman will invest another dime in coal when there is more profit to be made in wind, solar, and hydrokinetic energy. Economic forces will dictate a turnaround in the next ten years, he said.
Monday, January 21
After Hurricane Irma wrecked her homein Key West, Kristina, a triathlete librarian, moved onto a boat and published a dystopian novel titled Knowing When to Leave, I learned over lobster tail.
Tuesday, February 12
We ate vegetable quiche at Ayana and Christina’s housewarming party, where Christina described the Vancouver sun through the haze of forest-fire smoke and smog as looking more like the moon.
Monday, February 18
In the basement of Our Saviour’s Atonement this afternoon, Pastor John said he’s been preaching once a month about climate change, despite his wife’s discomfort, and recently traveled to Albany to lobby for the Community and Climate Protection Act.
Saturday, February 23
When I see those brown recycling bins coming to the neighborhood, said a student in Amir’s class at City College in Harlem, it tells me gentrification is here and our time is running out.
Thursday, February 28
Just between us, Mik said over drinks at Shade Bar in Greenwich Village, it scares me that white people are becoming afraid of what they might lose. History tells us they gonna get violent.
Sunday, March 17
On St. Patrick’s Day, Kathy, who’d prepared the traditional corned beef and cabbage, conversed about the guest from the botanical garden in her master gardening class, who lectured on shifting growing zones, altering what could be planted in central New Jersey, and when.
Tuesday, March 19
Sheila, who brought weed coquito to the tipsy tea party, said that when people ask her, “What are you Hondurans, and why are you at the border?,” she says, “Americans are just future Hondurans.”
Monday, March 25
Mat recalled vultures in the trees of Sugar Land, Texas, hunting dead animals that had drowned in Hurricane Harvey, during which he’d had difficulty fording flooded streets to reach his mother’s nursing home.
Tuesday, April 16
After a bite of roasted-beet salad in the Trask mansion’s dining room, Hilary spoke of the historic spring flooding in her home state of Iowa, where the economic impact was projected to reach $2 billion.
Thursday, April 18
Carolyn warned me at the breakfast table, where I picked up my grapefruit spoon, that I may have to get used to an inhaler to be able to breathe in spring going forward, as the pollen count continues to rise with the warming world. My wheezing concerned her, and when she brought me to urgent care, a sign at the check-in desk advised, DON’T ASK US FOR ANTIBIOTICS. Valerie, the doctor who nebulized me with albuterol, explained that patients were overusing antibiotics in the longer tick season for fear of Lyme.
Tuesday, April 23
On his second helping of vegetable risotto, Antonius reflected that in Vietnam, where his parents are from, the rate of migration from the Mekong Delta, with its sea-spoiled crops, is staggering.
Sunday, April 28
Due to Cyclone Fani, Ranjit said he was canceling plans to visit Kerala and heading straight back to Goa, where he would be available for gigs, lessons, jam sessions, meals.
Michael said that beef prices were up after the loss of so much livestock in this spring’s midwestern flooding, and so he’d prepared pork tacos instead.
Friday, May 3
At the head of the table where we sat eating bagels, Aurash said we won’t solve this problem until we obsess over it, as he had obsessed over Michael Jordan and the Lamborghini Countach as a kid.
He added that, just as his parents weren’t responsible for the specific reasons they had to leave Afghanistan, in general the communities most impacted by climate change are least responsible for it.
Balancing an empty plate in his lap, Karthik said that New York City (an archipelago of 30-odd islands), with all its hubris, should be looking to Sri Lanka, another vulnerable island community, for lessons in resilience.
We have more in common, he went on, with the effective stresses of low-lying small-island coastal regions such as the Maldives, the Seychelles, Cape Verde, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and the Caribbean than with a place like Champaign, Illinois —
“I’m from Champaign!,” Pamela interrupted, her mouth full. “It’s in a flood plain too!,” she cried. We’re all sitting at this table now.
Tuesday, May 7
“Personally, I’m not that into the future,” said Centime, who had a different sense of mortality having survived two bouts of breast cancer. She uncorked the fourth bottle of wine. We’d gathered over Indian takeout for an editorial meeting to comb through submissions to a transnational feminist journal centering on women of color. “But I can respect your impulse to document our extinction.”
Sunday, May 19
Eating a slice of pizza at a kid’s birthday party in a noisy arcade, Adam reminisced about the chirping of frogs at dusk in northern Long Island — the soundtrack to his childhood, now silent for a decade.
“Sad to say,” he mused, “among the 9 million meaningless things I’ve Googled, this wasn’t one. It’s like a postapocalypse version of my life: ‘Well, once the frogs all died, we shoulda known.’ Then I strap on a breather and head into a sandstorm to harvest sand fleas for soup.”
Friday, June 7
Hiral, scoffing at what passes for authentic Punjabi food here in New York, was worried about her family in Gandhinagar and the trees of that green city, where the temperature is hovering around 110 degrees Fahrenheit weeks before monsoons will bring relief.
Sunday, June 9
After T-ball practice at Dyckman Fields, while the Golden Tigers ate a snack of clementines and Goldfish crackers, Adeline’s dad, an engineer for the Department of Environmental Protection, spoke uneasily of the added strain upon the sewage system from storms.
Saturday, June 15
Jeff, who’d changed his unhealthy eating habits after a heart attack, said, “We are running out of language to describe our devastation of the world.”
Lacy agreed, adding, “We need new metaphors and new containers with which to imagine time.”
Sunday, June 16
Keith confessed that he was seriously losing hope of any way out of this death spiral.
Tuesday, June 18
We sipped rosé, listening to Javier read a poem about bright-orange crabs in the roots of the mangrove trees of Estero de Jaltepeque in his native El Salvador, where the legislative assembly had just recognized natural forests as living entities.
The historic move protects the rights of trees, without which our planet cannot support us. Meanwhile, Javier discussed the lack of rights of migrants at the border, recalling the journey he made at age 9, unaccompanied, in a caravan surveilled by helicopters.
In Sudan, where Dalia (who read after Javier) is from, youth in Khartoum wish to restore the ecosystem through reforestation using drones to cast seedpods in the western Darfur region, hoping to stymie disasters such as huge sandstorms called haboob.
Owing to this month’s massacre, one of Dalia’s poems proved too difficult for her to share. “I’d be reading a memorial,” she said.
I strained to hear the unspoken rhyme between the rising sandstorms and the dying mangroves, hemispheres apart.
Wednesday, June 19
Salar wrote to me about the call of the watermelon man this morning in Tehran where groundwater loss, overirrigation, and drought have led to land subsidence. Parts of the capitol are sinking, causing fissures, sinkholes, ditches, cracks.
The damage was most evident to him in the southern neighborhood of Yaftabad, by the wells and farmland at the city’s edge. There, ruptures in water pipes, walls, and roads have folks fearing the collapse of shoddier buildings. The ground beneath the airport, too, is giving way.
Thursday, June 20
“Our airport’s sinking too!,” mused Catherine, who’d flown in from San Francisco for this evening of scene readings at the National Arts Club, followed by a wine-and-cheese reception.
Friday, June 21
“It’s not true that we’re all seated at the same table,” argued David, a translator from Guatemala, where erratic weather patterns have made it nearly impossible to grow maize and potatoes.
Retha, David’s associate, quoted the poem “Luck,” by Langston Hughes:
Sometimes a crumb falls
From the tables of joy,
Sometimes a bone
To some people
Love is given,
Then we went out looking for the Korean barbecue truck.
Saturday, June 22
“Say what you will about the Mormons,” said Paisley, who lives in Utah, “but they’ve been stockpiling for the end of days for so long that they’re better prepared.”
Sunday, June 23
At the Stone Barns farm, where tiara cabbages, garlic scapes, snow peas, red ace beets, zucchini flowers, and baby lambs were being harvested for the Blue Hill restaurant’s summer menu, Laura spoke hopefully of carbon sequestration in the soil.
Edgily, Lisa argued, “There’s not a single American living a sustainable lifestyle. Those who come close are either homeless or are spending most of their time growing food and chopping wood.”
Tuesday, June 25
S.J. said their car as well as eight of their neighbors’ cars, including a freaking Escalade, got totaled by a flash flood in the middle of the night in Charleston without warning. Living in a sea-level coastal city is becoming more terrifying by the day, said S.J. They now check the radar before parking.
Thursday, June 27
Magda turned philosophical before returning to Tepoztlán, Mexico. What is the future of memory and the memory of the future? she pondered. We were eating raw sugar-snap peas, remarkable for their sweetness, out of a clear plastic bag.
Her eyes, too, were startlingly clear. “My daughter’s 27 now,” she said. “By mid-century, I’ll be dead. I can’t imagine her future or recall a historical precedent for guidance …” Magda lost her thread.
Meanwhile, Roy had been pointing out the slowness of the disaster; not some future apocalypse, but rather our present reality — a world’s end we may look to culturally endure with lessons from Gilgamesh, the Aeneid, the Torah, and the Crow.
Friday, June 28
The other Adam sent word from Pearl River at breakfast: “Today’s temps at camp are going to reach 100. It will feel hotter than that. We’ll be taking it slower and spending more time in the shade. Don’t forget sunscreen, water bottles, and hats; they’re critical to keeping your kids safe.”
There was no shade at the bus stop in front of the Starbucks on 181st Street. “Why wasn’t climate change the center of last night’s Democratic presidential debate?,” asked Ezra, a rabbi.
“They didn’t talk about it at all in 2016,” pointed out Rhea’s mom, who preferred to see the glass as half-full. “This is progress!,” she cheerfully exclaimed.
Sunday, June 30
Ryan, Albert’s head nurse on the cardiac unit, feared the hospital was understaffed to deal with the upswing of heat-induced diseases. Delicately moving the untouched food tray to rearrange the IV tube, he said, “It’s hard on the heart.”
Tuesday, July 2
“My homeland may not exist in its current state, a bewildering, terrifying thought I suffer daily,” Tanaïs said of Bangladesh. “Every time I go to the coast, there’s less and less land and now a sprawling refugee camp. Every visit feels closer to our end.”
Wednesday, July 3
“Let’s lay off the subject tonight,” suggested Victor, as he prepared the asparagus salad for dinner with Carrie and Andy, who were back in town for the music festival.
Thursday, July 4
Holding court over waffles this morning in the stately dining room of the black-owned Akwaaba Bed and Breakfast in Philadelphia, Ulysses, who works to diversify the U.S. Geological Survey, said, “We need representation. Earthquakes affect us, too. Volcanoes affect us, too. Climate change affects us, too.”
Charlie stirred the gumbo pot. He speculated that his girls’ public school had closed early this year because its sweltering classrooms lacked air-conditioning to manage the heat wave. “Our seasons are changing,” he said, regarding the prolonged summer break.
While Lucy distributed glow necklaces to her little cousins on the Fourth of July, her aunt learned the fireworks display had been canceled by the Anchorage Fire Department owing to extreme dry weather conditions. Alaska was burning.
Cyrus yanked off his headphones with bewilderment and looked up from his iPad toward his mom. “It says there’s a tornado warning,” he cried. All through the airport, our cell phones were sounding emergency alarms, warning us to take shelter. A siren sounded.
“Take shelter where?” begged his mother in confusion. She clutched a paper Smashburger bag with a grease spot at the bottom corner. The aircraft was barely visible through the gray wash of rain at the wall of windows rattling with wind.
Sunday, July 7
Nadia, a flight attendant in a smart yellow neck scarf, served us Würfel vom Hahnchenkeulen in Pilzsauce on the delayed seven-hour red-eye from Philly to Frankfurt, on which each passenger’s carbon footprint measured 3.4 metric tons.
Monday, July 8
Owing to a huge toxic algae bloom, all 21 of the beaches were closed in Mississippi, where Jan was getting ready to start her fellowship, I learned before tonight’s dinner at the Abuja Hilton.
Jan ordered a steak, well done, and swallowed a malaria pill with a sip of South African wine. She referred to Joy Harjo’s poem “Perhaps the World Ends Here,” which starts:
The world begins at a kitchen table.
No matter what, we must eat to live.
Wednesday, July 10
Eating chicken suya in the mansion of the chargé d’affaires, Chinelo spoke quietly of the flooding in Kogi state at the confluence of the Niger and Benue rivers.
Few Nigerians realize, Buchi said, that the longevity of Boko Haram in the Northeast, the banditry in the Northwest, and the herder-farmer crises in the North Central are a result of rapid desertification and loss of arable land even as the country’s population keeps exploding.
Thursday, July 11
Jide, a confident and fashionable hustler, slipped me a business card claiming his sneaker line was the first innovative, socially conscious, sustainable footwear brand in all of Africa. His enviable red-laced kicks said, “We’re going to Mars with a space girl, two cats, and a missionary.”
Stacey, a science officer for the CDC, was geeking out about the data samples that would help control the spread of vector-borne diseases like yellow fever and dengue when the waiter interrupted her epidemiological account with a red-velvet cake for my 43rd birthday.
“Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita / Mi ritrovai per una selva oscura / Ché la diritta via era smarrita!,” shouted Nicole, my college roommate from half a lifetime ago, before we had kids, before she went blind. We had memorized the opening lines of The Inferno, had crushes on the Dante professor, and knew nothing yet of pain.
Tuesday, July 16
Naheed said, “The southwest monsoon is failing in Nagpur. For the first time in history, the municipal corporation will only provide water on alternate days. There will be no water on Wednesday, Friday, nor Sunday in the entire city for two weeks.”
Chido told us that in Harare, she was one of the lucky ones on municipal rotation getting running water five days out of the week, until fecal sludge appeared, typhoid cases cropped up, and the taps were shut off entirely. “They are killing us,” she said.
Friday, July 19
Kate said the back roads of Salisbury, Vermont, were slippery with the squashed guts and body fluids of the hundreds of thousands of northern leopard frogs — metamorphosing from tadpoles in explosive numbers — run over by cars.
Centime sent a picture of a memorial for Okjökull, the first Icelandic glacier to lose its status as a glacier. “For your time capsule,” she offered. The plaque read, THIS MONUMENT IS TO ACKNOWLEDGE THAT WE KNOW WHAT IS HAPPENING AND WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE.
Posed as a letter to the future, the message ended, ONLY YOU KNOW IF WE DID IT.
“What would you do if the power went out and you were stuck underground in a subway tunnel?” Lissette drilled, showing me the prepper items in her crowded backpack, heavy as a mother’s diaper bag: water, protein bars, flashlight, battery, filter, knife …
Saturday, July 20
“Bobby was stuck underground on the 1 train during last night’s commute for 45 minutes,” said his wife, Angela, describing the clusterfuck of six suspended subway lines. “And in this heatwave, too,” she griped. “Folks were bugging out! — ten more minutes and there woulda been a riot.”
Monday, July 22
Morgan wasn’t the only one to observe it was the poorer neighborhoods in Brooklyn that had power cut off in yesterday’s rolling blackout. The powerless scrambled to eat whatever food was in their fridges before it spoiled. Wealthier hoods were just fine.
Tuesday, July 23
“Can you rummage in my mind and take out the fire thoughts and eat them?,” asked 8-year-old Geronimo at bedtime. This was the ritual. He felt safer with his anxieties in my stomach than in his brain.
Just back in L.A. from an empowering trek to Sicily where she’d visited the Shrine to the Black Madonna despite sizzling temperatures, Nichelle shared her two rules for dealing with the global heat wave: “(1) Drink lots of water. (2) Watch how you talk to me.”
Wednesday, July 24
Marking the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, the Reverend John sermonized, “You’d think after seeing the Earth from afar, we would do anything to protect this planet, this home. You’d think wrong.”
“We’ve become drunk on the oil and gas poisoning the waters that give us life,” he preached. “And we have vomited that drunkenness into the atmosphere. Truly, the prophet is right,” he said, quoting Isaiah 24:4. “The Earth dries up and withers. The world languishes and withers. The heavens languish with the Earth.”
“We have broken the everlasting covenant,” reasoned the Reverend John. “Nevertheless, the Bible tells us that God loves this world.”
Thursday, July 25
At last night’s “Intimate Dilemmas in the Climate Crisis” gathering at a software company on Madison Avenue, we were told to write our hopes and fears for the future on name tags as a silent icebreaker, then to stick these messages to our chests and walk about the room. Sebastian’s was only one word: war.
Mary, who left the event early, said she worried about her aging mother down South. “I’m the first person in my family born after Jim Crow. They fought battles so I could live the dreams my mother couldn’t. How can I talk to her about this existential grief of mine when she’s already been through so much?”
“Having one less child reduces one’s carbon footprint 64.6 U.S. tons per year,” Josephine from Conceivable Future informed us.
“Why is it so easy to police reproductive rights of poor women and so hard to tell the fossil-fuel industry to stop killing us?,” asked Jade, a Diné and Tesuque Pueblo activist in New Mexico, whose shade of red lipstick I coveted.
Friday, July 26
Ciarán set down our shepherd’s pie and Guinness on a nicked table at Le Chéile. On one of the many drunken crayon drawings taped to the walls of that pub were scrawled these lines from Yeats:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
Protesters from Extinction Rebellion Ireland staged a die-in at the Natural History Museum in Dublin, where Ciarán’s family is from, arranging their inert bodies on the floor among silent stuffed “Mammals of the World.”
Tuesday, July 30
Ari cooked lamb shoulder chops with eggplant and cilantro purée, a family recipe from Yemen, where swarms of desert locusts, whose summer breeding was ramped up by extraordinary rainfall, are invading crops, attacking farms, and eating trees.
Meanwhile, Yemeni villagers are eating the locusts, shared Wajeeh, catching them in scarves at nightfall, eating them with rice in place of vegetables, carting sacks of them to Sanaa and selling them, grilled, near the Great Mosque.
Wednesday, July 31
When Nelly and I chewed khat with Centime in Addis Ababa a decade ago, discussing creation myths at the New Flower Lounge while high as three kites, we never imagined that Ethiopia would plant 350 million trees in one day, as they did today.
Eric distributed Wednesday’s fruit share under a canopy in Sugar Hill, Harlem. I took note of the Baldwin quote on the back of his sweat-soaked T-shirt when he bent to lift a cantaloupe crate:
The moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.
Thursday, August 1
Off the rugged coast of Devon, where Jane grew up picking wild blackberries, the Cloud Appreciation Society gathered to slow down and gaze up at the sky in gratitude and wonder. Nobody spoke of the modeled scenario released by scientists of a cloudless atmosphere.
“In the beginning,” said Elizabeth, who lives in Pass Christian, a block from the Mississippi shore, “before they closed the beaches, I saw the death with my own eyes. Dead gulf redfish, dead freshwater catfish dumped from the river. Thousands. I saw a dead dolphin in the sand.”
Friday, August 2
“I’m always so pissed at plastic bags and idling cars, but I feel like there’s no point in caring anymore,” said Shasta upon learning that between yesterday and today, more than 12 billion tons of water will have melted from the Greenland ice sheet.
Saturday, August 3
Meera grew disoriented when she returned to the Houston area to finish packing up the house that her family had left behind and could not sell; it was languishing on the market for a year as if cursed.
Sunday, August 4
Because he dearly loved taking his boys camping in the Mojave Desert, Leonard felt depressed about the likely eventual extinction of the otherworldly trees in Joshua Tree National Park.
Monday, August 5
The El Paso shooter’s manifesto said, “My whole life I have been preparing for a future that currently doesn’t exist … If we can get rid of enough people, then our way of life can become more sustainable.”
In her kitchen, Angie nearly burned the platanos frying in oil on her stovetop. “That ecofascist targeted Mexicans,” she said, swatting at the smoke with a dish towel. “He called us invaders.”
Wednesday, August 7
“In the Black Forest,” said Daniel, “there are mainly firs and spruces. Many of them die because it is too dry. We used to have something called land-rain. That was light rain for days. It’s gone. When it rains (like now) it feels like an Indian monsoon. What I really want to say to you about Waldersterben (dying forest): Come now, as long as the Black Forest exists.”
Friday, August 9
Claire, a former Colorado farmer, spoke of intensifying forest fires. “The mountains are full of burn scars like this,” she said, sharing a shot from a blaze near Breckenridge.
None of us will be able to say later that we didn’t know we were doing this to the Earth.
Thursday, August 15
Isobel stopped planning our 25th high-school reunion to study the weakening of global ocean circulation and the tanking of the stock market when the Dow dropped 800 points today. Back to back, she traced with a painted fingernail the lines of the inverted yield curve and the slowing Gulf Stream.
Friday, August 16
Zulema wasn’t surprised when Pacific Gas & Electric went bankrupt from the billions of dollars in liability it faced from two years of raging California wildfires, though it wasn’t a downed power line that ignited the Detwiler fire she fled. It was a discharged gun.
On being evacuated from Mariposa for six days by that fire, whose smoke reached Idaho as it burned 80,000 acres of trees dried into tinder by bark beetles and drought, she said over soup dumplings: “I almost lost my house. It’s surrounded by charred forest now. We’re like those frogs in the boiling pot.”
Sunday, August 18
“The developers don’t live here, so they don’t care,” said Jimmy, the tuxedoed waiter who served me linguini with clam sauce for lunch at Gargiulio’s on Coney Isalnd, where the new Ocean Dreams luxury apartment towers are topping out despite sea-level rise. “All they care about is making a buck.”
Monday, August 19
Manreet said she felt anxious. Yesterday in Delhi, where her sister in-law lives, the government sounded a flood alert as the Yamuna River swelled to breach its danger mark.
“Punjab, where I come from, means ‘The Land of Five Rivers,’” she explained. “It’s India’s granary. After a severe summer left the fields parched, the brimming rivers are now flooding them. It’s worse and worse each year. I feel weirdly resigned.”
Tuesday, September 3
Although the sky directly above her wasn’t blackened by smoke from the burning Amazon rain forest, Graduada Franjinha saw protests along the road to a capoeira competition in Rio. “It’s so sad to see how humankind destroys the lungs of the earth that gives us breath,” she said.
Saddened by the loss of 28 wild horses in Pamlico Sound to a mini-tsunami, Chastity remembered seeing them as a kid and swearing to commit them to her forever memory. “You don’t see beautiful things like that and question whether there’s a higher being,” she said. “You just don’t.”
Wednesday, September 4
Chaitali said she can’t stop thinking about Grand Bahama after learning that 70 percent of it is now underwater. “Where are all those people going to go?,” she asked, mystified and horror-struck.
It is an unprecedented disaster, said Christian, struggling to control his voice. He had cut his hair since last I saw him. Dorian was still hovering over his birthplace of Grand Bahama. “Natural and unnatural storms reveal how those most vulnerable are disproportionately affected,” he said.
Friday, September 6
At last night’s party, Jamilah, a Trini-Nigerian Toronto-based sound artist and former member of the band Abstract Random, took a bite of pastelito and said she’d like to get to the Seychelles before they drop into the Indian Ocean.
Saturday, September 7
“Eat the fucking rich,” said Jessica, in reply to a quarterly investment report on how to stay financially stable when the world may be falling apart.
Thursday, September 9
Arwa feared that the plight of 119 Bahamian evacuees thrown off a ferryboat to Florida for being without visas they did not legally need was a sign of climate apartheid.
Wednesday, September 11
“Ma’am, I am the heat,” Maurice replied to the woman in New Orleans’s Jackson Square who warned him against jogging outdoors because of the heat advisory in effect.
Thursday, September 12
Maya, proud owner of a Chihuahua–pit bull–mini-pin mix in Montclair, was saddened to learn that nearly 300 animals had drowned at a Humane Society shelter in Freeport during the hurricane.
Melissa, incensed, asked why they didn’t let the animals out of their damn crates.
“Well, if it’s any consolation, a shit ton of people died too,” argued Sanaa.
Tons of babies, tons of elderly and infirm people, even perfectly healthy people died, too. Over 2,500 people are still missing, and 70,000 now homeless.
“Did you not see the videos of people trapped in their attics with the waves crashing over their houses? Y’all sound fucking stupid,” Sanaa fumed.
Friday, September 13
“Did you hear the NYC Department of Education approved absences from school for the youth climate strike next Friday?,” Elyssa asked during the Shabbat Schmooze while the children swarmed around a folding table tearing off hunks of challah and dunking them in Dixie cups of grape juice.
“I’d rather go to school,” said Jacob. His dislike of large crowds outweighed his dislike of third grade.
Wednesday, September 18
Amanda, whom I last saw at Raoul’s, where we ate steak au poivre and pommes frites, said she had to sell off half the herd on her family’s Texas cattle ranch after a drought left the tanks dry, the lake depleted, and the hayfield shriveled.
She mentioned, almost as an aside, that they’d lost half the honeybees in their hives to colony-collapse disorder in the past five years too.
“Everyone here is linked to someone who works in oil,” she said. “It’s the center of the damage, and all that industry makes my efforts feel small. Sailing in Galveston Bay after a tanker spill, I wondered if my soaking-wet clothes were flammable.”
Thursday, September 19
TaRessa, from Atlanta, said, “I have always loved awakening to birdsong. This year, for the first time, I hear none.” A third of North American birds had vanished from the sky in the span of her lifetime.
Friday, September 20
“I’m here to sign out my child for the climate strike,” said a dad to Consuelo, the parent coordinator in the main office at Dos Puentes Elementary.
“By the time they’re our age, they won’t have air to breathe,” worried Consuelo. “They’ll be wearing those things on their faces — mascarillas respiratorias.”
Ben’s sign said, I’M MISSING SCIENCE CLASS FOR THIS. He was 6, in the first grade and studying varieties of apples, of which he knew there were thousands. He’d also heard that as many as 200 species were going extinct every day.
Shawna told her daughter on the packed A train down to Chambers Street that a teenage girl had done this, had started protesting alone until kids all over the world joined her to tell the grown-ups to do better, had sailed across the ocean to demand it.
Along Worth Street toward Foley Square, the signs said:
SHIT’S ON FIRE, YO
COMPOST THE RICH
THIS IS ALL WE HAVE
I WANT MY KID TO SEE A POLAR BEAR
SEAS ARE RISING AND SO ARE WE
MAKE EARTH GREAT AGAIN
SAVE OUR HOME
In yellow pinafores, Grannies for Peace sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” while a nearby police officer forced a protester to the ground for refusing to move off the crowded street to the sidewalk. “Shame!,” chanted the massive crowd in lower Manhattan.
“When our leaders act like kids, then we, the kids, will lead!,” shouted a gaggle of outraged preteen girls in Catholic-school uniforms. Their voices grew hoarse, though the march had not yet begun.
Saturday, September 21
Humera’s Sufi spiritual guide, Fatima, said, “Alhamdulillah! Let’s offer a Fatiha for the young generations who are inheriting a heavy, sad burden left by their predecessors but who are in process of finding their own voice of goodness. This is a movement of consciousness. “
Thursday, September 26
“You need to use an AeroChamber that goes over his nose with the pump so he gets all the asthma medicine,” La Tonya, the school nurse, instructed me. Her office was full of brown boys like our son, lined up for the first puff of the day.
Friday, September 27
“The point of the shofar is to wake us up,” Reb Ezra said, lifting the ram’s horn to his mouth. He blasted it three times with all he had. “Shana tova!,” he shouted. The table was dressed for the New Year with apples and honey.
“Who shall perish by water and who by fire?,” went a line in the Rosh Hashanah service as we were asked to think about atonement. So began the Days of Awe.
Sunday, September 29
Namutebi said at Andrew’s memorial service that in the 25 years since that picture of him holding his son in Kampala was taken, Uganda has lost 63 percent of its trees.
Monday, September 30
“The Rollerblades are $5,” said Abby, who sold books, clothes, toys, puzzles, and games she’d outgrown, spread over a blanket on the sidewalk leading to the Medieval Festival, to make money to fight climate change.
Tuesday, October 8
Danielle made risotto in the pressure cooker for dinner tonight in Marin County to feed her 91-year-old grandparents, who are staying over because they lost power in Sonoma as part of the huge, wildfire-driven blackout.
“I’m almost scared they aren’t turning off our power and we’re going to end up engulfed in flames,” said Danielle. “My grandfather keeps asking when the storm is coming, and I keep trying to explain to him that this isn’t like a hurricane.”
She was curious about how the rest of America sees this — 800,000 people without power as risk mitigation by the gas-and-electric company against wildfires during high winds. She asked, “Do they know this is how we live now?”
Wednesday, October 9
“We are okay, but it is starting to get smoky, and we are sorry about our friends closer to the fire,” Zulema alerted us. The Briceburg fire was 4,000 acres and 10 percent contained. “PG&E will cut power to the northern part of the county,” she said.
Friday, October 11
“You’re going to feel some discomfort,” Dr. Marianne warned me at yesterday’s annual gynecological checkup. She inserted the speculum. I stared at the wall with a picture of her taken five years prior on the white peak of Kilimanjaro.
“Are you in pain?,” the doctor asked, discomfited by my tears. The glaciers that ring the mountain’s higher slopes were evaporating from solid to gas, the wondrous white ice cap towering above the plains of Tanzania for as long as anyone can remember disappearing before our eyes.
Saturday, October 12
In the highlands of Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Uganda — where Damali is from — the climate is no longer hospitable for growing coffee. Damali will likely serve hot milky spiced tea at the family gathering she invited us to with a proper note card through the mail.
Baby Kazuki’s mother feared her breastmilk had sickened him after she reintroduced eggs into her diet. And she feared for the 8 million people ordered to evacuate their homes, as Typhoon Hagibis flayed Tokyo, including the house where her father was born.
Sunday, October 13
In the park this morning, Ana said her Realtor had advised against the offer she wished to make on purchasing her first home through the subsidized Teacher Next Door program. The house she’d fallen in love with was in a flood zone.
Tuesday, October 15
Romy sent us video of the churches in Damour ringing bells before sunrise to warn people of the raging wildfires. “Lebanon is burning,” Romy said. “Probably the biggest fire this country has seen. Please send help.”
Amaris said, “Mount Lebanon, the refuge of persecuted native minorities and their history in the Middle East, is on fire. For a place that represents holy land for us, I’m not joking when I say I feel my soul has been set aflame.”
And then, as if by listing the scorched villages, she could turn them verdant again, she mourned their names: “Mechref, Dibbeyye, Damour, Daqqoun, Kfar Matta, Yahchouh, Mazraat Yachoua, Qournet El Hamra, Baawarta, Al Naameh …”
Wednesday, October 16
Yahdon, bred in Bed-Stuy, bought his gold Maison Martin Margiela designer sneakers secondhand to stay sustainably fly, he said.
Tuesday, October 22
Amelia posted a picture of the view from her kitchen window in Quito last week. “Gracias a Dios, we escaped the fire and the house is still standing!,” she said amid nationwide civil unrest, wherein protesters clashed with riot police and a state of emergency was declared.
“Fossil-fuel subsidies were reinstated to stop the protests in Ecuador, a petrostate where the price of an unstable, fossil-fuel-dependent economy is paid by the poor. It’s been a tough week,” said Amelia, following up with a picture of a chocolate cupcake. “We all need a treat sometimes.”
“What’s your position on public nudity?,” slurred Elliott, my seatmate on this morning’s flight to San Francisco. In Melbourne, where he’s from, Extinction Rebellion activists had stripped for a nudie parade down Exhibition Street.
Thursday, October 24
“Are we under the ocean or in the clouds?,” asked Geronimo, looking up at the illusion of undulating blue waves made by a trick of laser light and fog machines at tonight’s Waterlicht show, both dream landscape and flood.
“Anyone else have their fire go-bag ready just in case?,” asked Lizz, who paints wrought iron in San Diego and writes about brujas. Six hundred fires had burned in California in the past three days.
“For me as a parent, knowing that my ancestors have overcome the brutality of colonialism gives me hope for the future,” said Waubgeshig, originally from the Wasauksing First Nation near Parry Sound, Ontario. “My people have seen the end before.”
Tuesday, October 29
Salar, just back from Beirut, described a contrast between streets of festering trash and citizens forming a human chain, across sect, at the start of revolution. “It’s like we forgot the planet was our house until it grew so dirty we had to wake up,” he said.
Wednesday, October 30
Felicia, Mark, Dean, Robin, Dara, Kellen, Alexandra, Roxane, Alethea, Susan, David, and Roy all marked themselves safe in Los Angeles during the Getty fire, which started near I-405 and Getty Center Drive, destroying 12 homes and threatening 7,000 more.
No word as yet on the safety of Samara, Marisa, Nkechi, Josh, Kelela, Anika, or Laila.
Thursday, October 31
“It’s because of global warming,” said Geronimo, dressed as a wizard, when his father recalled having to wear a winter coat over Halloween costumes during his own New York City childhood. The jack-o’-lanterns were decaying. It was 71 degrees when we walked to the parade.
Friday, November 1
Naheed brought us back a painting of Lord Shiva, the Destroyer, and his wife Parvati, from the Dilli Haat handicraft bazaar in New Delhi, where schools have closed because of the dirty, toxic air.
Tuesday, November 5
“I feel guilty,” said Alejandra, a City College student, at the first Extinction Rebellion meeting held on campus, the same day 11,000 scientists declared a global climate emergency.
“Is there going to be food at this meeting?,” Hector asked, poking his head in the door of the nearly empty classroom with mismatched, broken chairs. Down the hall was a food pantry. “You’d get more students to act if you offered food,” Hector said, then left.
“Our aim is to save humanity from extinction,” said Tom, an Iowa native. He’d volunteered to give the presentation, having joined the protest back in August. The slideshow included a picture of him drenched in fake blood at the feet of the Wall Street bull.
“This is a decentralized movement. Our nonviolent civil-disobedience actions are theatrical. We disrupt the status quo by occupying space. This was my first time getting arrested,” Tom said. “You can do this too.”
“Not me,” said Cedric, referencing the obstacles to his participation, as a black man. “If I get arrested, will it go on my record? Who pays my bail?”
Valentin, a full-time rebel since graduating with a degree in architecture, said we could address the criticism of the rebellion as a white movement that fetishizes arrests at our next house meeting. Demanding divestment, he added, should be on the agenda.
Wednesday, November 6
“Back home in Ontario, the backyard rinks are gone,” lamented Michael, the man we met playing solo street hockey in the schoolyard of PS 187. He showed my boy, wobbling on new inline skates, how to balance himself with a hockey stick, how to gracefully sweep the puck across concrete.
Sunday, November 10
At Václav’s baby shower, Yana, who’d ordered the usual Mediterranean platter, told him to just rip the wrapping paper off the gift. That’s how Americans do it, she said. Vaclav held up the bibs, booties, and dresses she’d bought for his baby, due in five weeks.
“Is it just me or does it feel like this is the last baby we will produce?,” whispered Renata, depressed by our aging and shrinking department in an age of endless austerity with several retirements on the horizon but no new hires. “It feels like Children of Men.”
Monday, November 11
Geronimo climbed into our bed with The Children’s Book of Mythical Beasts and Magical Monsters open to a page of flood stories, floods delivered by vengeful gods: Utnapishtim, Viracocha, Zeus, Vishnu, Noah, and Chalchiuhtlicue.
“ ‘The Mexican goddess of rivers and lakes once flooded the whole world to get rid of all those who are evil, but those who were good were turned into fish and were saved,’ ” he read. “Will I be saved?”
“You will be safe because we are privileged, not because we are good,” I said, torn between wishing to comfort him and wanting to tell him the truth. “Those who are less safe aren’t drowning because they are bad but because they are poor.”
Thursday, November 14
“Samantha’s got serious respiratory issues now too,” said her mother, as we waited for the school bus to drop off our kids outside our building around the corner from a busy bus terminal in a neighborhood at the nexus of three major highways and the most heavily trafficked bridge in the world.
Friday, November 22
“Are we rebels or are we not?,” asked Lena, a French international student studying environmental biotechnology. “The best way to make people know the movement is to plan an action and make demands,” she said.
Saturday, November 23
“Wow, and here I thought it was going to be just another game,” said Aaron, class of ’98, after student activists from both schools disrupted today’s Harvard-Yale football game, rushing the field to demand fossil-fuel divestment. “I guess I should have gone in to bear witness instead of hanging out at the tailgates.”
Friday, November 29
Next to me at Kathy’s Thanksgiving table sat her eldest son, who’d driven up for the holiday from Virginia, where he said his neighbors in the coalfields knew their industry was dead and were understandably fearful of the transition into new lines of work.
Sunday, December 8
The Ghost of Christmas Present encouraged Ebenezeer Scrooge to do the most he could with the time he had left, in the Harlem Repertory Theater’s opening-night production of A Christmas Carol. The last ghost waited in the wings.
Monday, December 9
Sujatha said it was getting harder to see outside in Sydney, but the failure of state and federal government action was clear: No mitigation policy. No adaptation policy. No energy-transition policy. No response equal to the task of this state of climate emergency.
“I am worried,” she said, as ferries, school days, and sports were canceled because of air quality 11 times the hazardous levels. Mike bought air filters for the house, face masks for their two kids. Shaad had asked her, “Will this be the future?”
Friday, December 13
The other Ben had been at the U.N. climate conference in Madrid all week and felt depressed about our chances of getting through this century “if it wasn’t for these kids,” he said, sharing a picture of teens with eyes drawn on the palms of their upheld hands. “They are watching and awake.”
“We’re not here for your entertainment. The youth activists are not animals at a zoo to look at and go, Awww, now we have hope for the future. If you want hope for the future, you have to act,” said Vega, a Swedish Fridays for Future leader.
Wednesday, December 18
“You know it’s bad when the sun looks red and there’s ash on every windshield,” said Sarah from Sacramento, who could feel it constricting her lungs.
“What’s the right balance of hope and despair?,” asked the other Laura.
Friday, December 20
In the Netherlands, where Nina just submitted her doctoral-dissertation proposal to the University of Amsterdam, the Dutch Supreme Court ruled that the government must protect the human rights of its citizens against climate change by cutting carbon emissions.
“Everyone not from Australia, I’m begging you,” said Styli in Sydney. She feared international ignorance due to the lack of celebrity and location. “The truth is, our country is burning alive,” she said, on the nation’s hottest day on record, one day after its prior record.
Sunday, December 22
“It looks like an alligator’s head,” said Ben from the backseat on the drive to Nana’s for Christmas. “No, a hydra,” said Geronimo. Billowing smoke from the towers of the oil refinery and petrochemical plant to the side of the New Jersey Turnpike at Linden took shifting monstrous shapes.
Monday, December 23
“It’s always the women who pick up the mess at the end of the meal,” sighed Angie, doing the dishes at the kitchen sink in a pink T-shirt that said, SIN MUJERES NO HAY REVOLUCIÓN.
Tuesday, December 24
Though it was the third night of Hanukkah, Rebecca was still preoccupied by the Parshas Noach she’d heard weeks before, admonishing her to be like Noah, who organized his life around saving his family despite the part of him that couldn’t fathom the flood.
The hardest pill for her to swallow was this: Knowing that a single transatlantic flight for one person, one way, is equivalent to commuting by car for an entire year, she now feels flying to Uruguay to see friends and family for the holidays is a kind of violence.
Friday, December 27
Home in Bulawayo for the holidays during Zimbabwe’s worst drought of the century, NoViolet described hydropower failure at Kariba Dam. Downstream from Victoria Falls, shrunken to a trickle, the Zambezi River water flow was too anemic to power the dam’s plants, and so, NoViolet said, there was no running water three to four days a week, and power only at night, “A terrible living experience.”
“The time of the month can be a nightmare for women and girls. Showers are a luxury. Those who can afford to turn to generators and solar power, but for the poor, it means adapting to a maddening and restricted life,” she said.
Saturday, December 28
“Mom!,” called Geronimo from the bath. “I can’t breathe.”
Sunday, December 29
Ben was disturbed by the dioramas on our visit to the American Museum of Natural History. “Who killed all these animals?,” he demanded. “Don’t they know this is their world, too?”
“I learned to fish at my grandparent’s house on the beach, and now my kids enjoy its calm waters,” said Trever from Honolulu. “Every year, the ocean inches higher. We will sell the house next year.”
Monday, December 30
From Gomeroi Country, Alison wrote, “Even away from the fires, we saw a mass cockatoo heatkill on the Kamilaroi Highway near Gunnedah. Willy-willy after willy-willy followed us home down that road. I can’t find it in me to be reflective about the decade right now. Love to everyone as you survive this, our night.”
“The worst part is feeling helpless, held hostage at the whim of an abusive, inconsistent parent who wreaks havoc, then metes out arbitrary punishment in the name of protecting us,” said Namwali from Zambia, about the failing of the hydroelectric company and the failures of those in power. “In a word, capitalism.”
Tuesday, December 31
Another New Year’s Eve. In distant parts of the planet, it was already tomorrow. The future was there and almost here. We drank prosecco at Angie’s party, awaiting the countdown while thousands of people in the land Down Under fled from the raging bushfires and headed for the beach, prepared to enter the water to save their lives on New Year’s Day.
The screen of my phone scrolled orange, red, gray, black — fire, blaze, smoke, ash. A window into hell on earth. I shut it away to be present for the party and the people I loved. Before he kissed me, Victor said, “Here’s to a better 2020 for our country and the whole world.”
140 blocks to the south of us in Times Square, the ball is about to drop.
*A version of this article appears in the January 6, 2020, issue of New York Magazine.
Os dados, coletados pela Folha no Inmet (Instituto Nacional de Meteorologia), e pesquisadores indicam que a cidade enfrentará cada vez mais desafios na saúde pública, com mais mortes relacionadas a doenças cardíacas, por exemplo, que são mais comuns nas ondas de calor. E sofrerá cada vez mais problemas de infraestrutura, com mais alagamentos em alguns períodos e falta d’água em outros.
A chuva é um dos grandes exemplos da mudança no clima em São Paulo no período. Até 1980, a cidade havia enfrentado apenas um evento com mais de 100 mm em um dia. Na década de 2010, foram seis.
Patamar próximo a esse foi o que a capital paulista enfrentou no começo de fevereiro, quando os 114 mm foram suficientes para alagar trechos das marginais, ilhar moradores e suspender aulas e o serviço público.
Por outro lado, os períodos sem chuva estão cada vez maiores. A década de 1960 começou com período de até 15 dias sem precipitação em alguns anos. Nesta década mais recente, já se chegou a 51 dias secos, em 2012.
Após sequência de estiagens, a cidade sofreu com a crise hídrica de 2014, quando reservatórios chegaram a operar com 10% da capacidade, levando a racionamentos.
Os dados do Inmet, que vão de 1961 a 2019 e são coletadas na zona norte, mostram também mudança no padrão de temperatura.
Há diferentes formas de se avaliar essa variação. Considerando a diferença ano a ano, o acumulado desses 58 anos aponta para uma temperatura média 2ºC superior agora em relação ao período inicial (subindo da casa dos 20ºC para 22ºC).
Se analisada a variação das temperaturas mínimas, o aquecimento é ainda maior (quase 3ºC a mais, saindo da casa dos 8ºC para 11ºC).
Visto de outra forma, as temperaturas mínimas da década de 2010 estão 2,3ºC maiores do que de 1960, considerando as medianas (medida que identifica qual a temperatura é a que divide em dois o grupo analisado).
Como as mudanças no regime de chuvas e nas temperaturas têm sido constantes ao longo das décadas, climatologistas dizem que a situação atual deverá ser o novo padrão da cidade para os próximos anos. E as projeções apontam para presença ainda maior de eventos extremos nas próximas décadas.
“A situação exige melhoria significativa em ações para redução de desastres na região metropolitana”, escreveram o climatologista José Marengo e outros pesquisadores brasileiros em trabalho acadêmico publicado na revista da Academia de Ciências de Nova York, no começo deste ano.
A pesquisa enfocou o padrão de chuvas na região —a reportagem se inspirou nessa metodologia para a análise, acrescentando dados mais recentes.
Os cientistas destacam que as mudanças podem estar relacionadas à variação natural do clima, mas também podem ser fruto do aquecimento global e da urbanização da região.
“O aumento das temperaturas é um processo natural, que pode ser acelerado pela ação humana, com urbanização, queima de combustível fóssil e desmatamento”, disse à reportagem o cientista Marengo, do Cemaden (centro nacional de monitoramento de desastres naturais). “O que não foi estabelecido é saber qual porcentagem é natural e qual é humana.”
Mesmo que a causa das mudanças no clima da cidade ainda não esteja totalmente definida, já há pesquisas sobre o impacto na saúde da população decorrente das temperaturas mais altas e pelo novo padrão de chuvas.
A população idosa parece ser mais sensível ao aumento do calor. Uma das razões é que o corpo nessa idade tem mais dificuldade para se adaptar à mudança de temperatura. E também tarda mais para perceber o aumento do calor, demorando também para se hidratar.
As pesquisas mostram que aumento da temperatura está relacionado a mais casos de mortes decorrentes de doenças cardiovasculares e respiratórias.
Em pesquisa feita no IAG-USP (instituto de ciências atmosféricas), o meteorologista Rafael Batista avaliou o impacto de altas temperaturas nos óbitos de idosos.
O trabalho verificou que houve mais mortes do que o esperado em fevereiro de 2014 na região metropolitana de São Paulo, quando ocorreu forte onda de calor (26 dias consecutivos com máximas acima dos 30ºC).
Outro impacto do aumento do calor é a elevação do consumo de água, aponta o professor da Faculdade de Saúde Pública da USP Leandro Giatti.
E a situação pode se agravar porque o novo padrão de chuvas, com pancadas cada vez mais fortes, alternadas com períodos secos mais longos, não é o ideal para se acumular águas nos reservatórios.
Nas chuvas intensas, a água passa muito rapidamente pelo solo, não sendo absorvida para os aquíferos, além de levar sujeira e sedimentos para os reservatórios.
Ela verificou que houve aumento de internações devido a essas doenças nos períodos mais chuvosos em Rio Branco (AC), entre os anos de 2008 e 2013.
Todos esses problemas devem se intensificar, de acordo com os cientistas.
A pesquisa do meteorologista Rafael Batista, do IAG-USP, estimou como deverá ser a temperatura na região metropolitana até 2099, considerando a evolução nas últimas décadas.
Segundo esse cálculo, o número de dias de risco por altas temperaturas (médias acima de 25ºC) passará a ocupar 40% do ano, dentro das próximas seis décadas; hoje, são apenas 8% do ano.
“O inverno pode passar a ficar parecido com o que conhecemos do verão”, disse o climatologista Fábio Gonçalves, do IAG (instituto de ciências atmosféricas), da USP. A unidade também faz monitoramento do clima, a partir de ponto na zona sul na cidade, e possui observações semelhantes ao verificado pela Folha.
Governos ainda tropeçam para frear problema
As temperaturas mais altas e a frequência maior de eventos extremos ganham contornos mais graves quando se pensa que a cidade não para —nem em população (cresceu uma média de 100,8 mil habitantes por ano na última década) nem em mancha urbana (que hoje ocupa 878,6 km², o equivalente a 57% do território da cidade).
A Prefeitura de São Paulo lista intervenções como a construção de piscinões, a melhoria da drenagem e a implantação de parques como respostas. Por outro lado, reportagem da Folha no começo do mês mostrou que a cidade tem ao menos 17 grandes obras de drenagem atrasadas.
A cidade instituiu em 2009, na gestão Gilberto Kassab, sua Política Municipal de Mudança do Clima, que estabelece ações para mitigar os efeitos das mudanças ambientais.
São Paulo também tem como meta reduzir em 45% as emissões de gás carbônico nos próximos dez anos em relação ao nível de 2010, e promete neutralizar as emissões de gases que provocam efeito estufa até 2050.
“Os preâmbulos de todos os planos diretores, desde o Plano Urbanístico Básico, de 1968, até o Plano Diretor Estratégico de 2014, têm capítulos dedicados a chuvas, ao meio ambiente”, diz o professor Valter Caldana, da Arquitetura e Urbanismo da Universidade Mackenzie, que afirma que o respeito a variáveis ambientais é um dos fundamentos da boa arquitetura, mesmo antes de se falar em mudanças climáticas.
É preciso mudar o modo como se produzem cidades, diz o urbanista. E cita coisas práticas: cuidar do mobiliário urbano, aumentar a capacidade de drenagem, acabar com a exigência de recuos de edifícios (o que faz com que se desperdice espaços), fazer com que empresas abram espaços verdes para uso público.
“Antigamente São Paulo tinha bolsões de calor. Hoje a cidade inteira virou um bolsão de calor. Tem que parar de agir só na emergência e agir cotidianamente”, diz.
Secretário de Infraestrutura e Obras da cidade, o engenheiro Vitor Aly afirma que a atual administração tem olhado os problemas derivados das mudanças climáticas de forma propositiva, e não mais reativa como no passado, quando, segundo ele, apenas atacavam os efeitos das enchentes.
“Os alagamentos acontecem no mundo todo agora. Veja Austrália, Inglaterra, Japão. É um problema da sociedade moderna. Fomos ocupando o território e agora precisamos nos ocupar do problema”, diz Aly.
Ele lista soluções estruturais que têm sido elaboradas pela prefeitura: a construção de piscinões (já foram entregues oito e planejam mais cinco para 2020); um estudo para alteamento de pontes e pontilhões, que funcionam como represas quando enchem os rios; um mapeamento das 104 bacias hidrográficas e das manchas de inundação da cidade, com o propósito de alertar moradores e construtoras com precisão dos riscos de cada região.
Um dos compromissos previstos no plano de metas da atual gestão é o de reduzir em 12,6% (2,77 km²) as áreas inundáveis da cidade.
Ele avalia que a limpeza de ramais e de bocas de lobo e a retirada de resíduos de córregos fizeram com que a água da chuva tivesse fluidez no último episódio de chuvas, por exemplo. Segundo ele, a drenagem da cidade levou toda a água para os rios Pinheiros e Tietê —”foram essas artérias que não suportaram todo o volume”, afirma Modonezi. A manutenção dos dois rios é incumbência do governo do estado.
“Nas outras regiões da cidade tivemos alagamentos pontuais, pequenos, lâminas de água que acabaram sendo drenadas depois de passada a chuva”, completa.
O plano de metas dedica diversas rubricas à problemática: recuperar 240 mil metros lineares de guias e sarjetas; limpar 2,8 milhões de metros quadrados de margens de córregos; retirar 176.406 toneladas de detritos de piscinões, entre outros.
Em 2019, o prefeito Bruno Covas (PSDB) anunciou compromisso de elaborar um plano de ação climática para zerar a emissão de gases que provocam efeito estufa nos próximos 30 anos. A proposta do tucano está alinhada às metas do Acordo de Paris, repetidamente atacado pelo presidente Jair Bolsonaro (sem partido) nos últimos anos.
Ricardo Viegas, secretário adjunto de Verde e Meio Ambiente, diz que o plano será apresentado em junho, mas diversas ações para controle do aumento de temperatura e do efeito estufa já têm sido feitas. Ele diz que um grande esforço tem sido feito em relação ao transporte na cidade.
A chamada “lei do clima”, sancionada pelo então prefeito João Doria (PSDB) em 2018, estabeleceu que as emissões de dióxido de carbono e de material particulado terão que ser zeradas até 2038 pela frota de ônibus municipal, por exemplo.
A resposta às ilhas de calor e ao aumento de temperatura vem por meio da ampliação das áreas verdes. Nesse sentido, Viegas afirma que a prefeitura implantará dez parques até o final do ano e revitalizará outros 58. A cidade hoje conta com 107 parques.
Outras propostas da gestão Covas que apontam para o longo prazo são a proibição do fornecimento de utensílios plásticos por estabelecimentos comerciais, a implantação de reuso de água em 100% dos novos equipamentos entregues e ampliação do atendimento da coleta seletiva para todos os endereços da capital.
Na África, está ocorrendo a pior invasão de gafanhotos dos últimos 25 anos, ou dos últimos 75, se considerarmos apenas o caso do Quênia.
Um enxame de insetos com quase o dobro do tamanho de toda a superfície de Roma está se movendo do nordeste do Quênia em direção ao sul do Sudão do Sul e a Uganda.
Estamos falando de quase 200 milhões de gafanhotos que há mais de um mês devastam colheitas e vegetações, devorando em um único dia uma quantidade de comida equivalente ao que 90 milhões de pessoas consumiriam.
É a enésima consequência da crise climática: os gafanhotos precisam de solo úmido e arenoso para depositar seus ovos e proliferar, condições que são verificadas devido a uma estação chuvosa anômala, que durou mais do que o normal.
A situação é dramática, mas, apesar da extensão da emergência, muito poucos estão falando sobre essa invasão devastadora, porque nos últimos meses as atenções se concentraram no Coronavírus.
A Etiópia, o Quênia e a Somália já estão tentando lidar com a escassez de recursos alimentares: as previsões indicam que mais de 1,3 milhão de crianças com menos de 5 anos de idade sofrerão fome em 2020, mesmo sem a invasão dramática dos gafanhotos.
Também devido à crise climática, no ano passado, os três países enfrentaram um longo período de seca seguido de uma longa estação chuvosa: as consequentes inundações atingiram e destruíram grandes áreas cultivadas e pastagens, reduzindo os recursos alimentares.
Os insetos vorazes colocarão em dificuldade mais de 10 milhões de pessoas, entre crianças e adultos, que vivem em áreas rurais.
Se a situação piorar ainda mais, muitas pessoas serão forçadas a abandonar suas terras para sobreviver, dando origem a uma importante migração em massa para países onde – pelo menos por enquanto – os efeitos da crise climática ainda são suportáveis.