We’re one step closer to officially moving up hurricane season. The National Hurricane Center announced Tuesday that it would formally start issuing its hurricane season tropical weather outlooks on May 15 this year, bumping it up from the traditional start of hurricane season on June 1. The move comes after a recent spate of early season storms have raked the Atlantic.
Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30. That’s when conditions are most conducive to storm formation owing to warm air and water temperatures. (The Pacific ocean has its own hurricane season, which covers the same timeframe, but since waters are colder fewer hurricanes tend to form there than in the Atlantic.)
Storms have begun forming on the Atlantic earlier as ocean and air temperatures have increased due to climate change. Last year, Hurricane Arthur roared to life off the East Coast on May 16. That storm made 2020 the sixth hurricane season in a row to have a storm that formed earlier than the June 1 official start date. While the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration won’t be moving up the start of the season just yet, the earlier outlooks addresses the recent history.
“In the last decade, there have been 10 storms formed in the weeks before the traditional start of the season, which is a big jump,” said Sean Sublette, a meteorologist at Climate Central, who pointed out that the 1960s through 2010s saw between one and three storms each decade before the June 1 start date on average.
It might be tempting to ascribe this earlier season entirely to climate change warming the Atlantic. But technology also has a role to play, with more observations along the coast as well as satellites that can spot storms far out to sea.
“I would caution that we can’t just go, ‘hah, the planet’s warming, we’ve had to move the entire season!’” Sublette said. “I don’t think there’s solid ground for attribution of how much of one there is over the other. Weather folks can sit around and debate that for awhile.”
Earlier storms don’t necessarily mean more harmful ones, either. In fact, hurricanes earlier in the season tend to be weaker than the monsters that form in August and September when hurricane season is at its peak. But regardless of their strength, these earlier storms have generated discussion inside the NHC on whether to move up the official start date for the season, when the agency usually puts out two reports per day on hurricane activity. Tuesday’s step is not an official announcement of this decision, but an acknowledgement of the increased attention on early hurricanes.
“I would say that [Tuesday’s announcement] is the National Hurricane Center being proactive,” Sublette said. “Like hey, we know that the last few years it’s been a little busier in May than we’ve seen in the past five decades, and we know there is an awareness now, so we’re going to start issuing these reports early.”
While the jury is still out on whether climate change is pushing the season earlier, research has shown that the strongest hurricanes are becoming more common, and that climate change is likely playing a role. A study published last year found the odds of a storm becoming a major hurricanes—those Category 3 or stronger—have increase 49% in the basin since satellite monitoring began in earnest four decades ago. And when storms make landfall, sea level rise allows them to do more damage. So regardless of if climate change is pushing Atlantic hurricane season is getting earlier or not, the risks are increasing. Now, at least, we’ll have better warnings before early storms do hit.
O ano de 2020 será lembrado como o ano em que a pandemia causada pelo vírus SARS-CoV-2 precipitou uma ruptura maior no funcionamento das sociedades contemporâneas. Será provavelmente lembrado também como o momento de uma ruptura da qual nossas sociedades não mais se recuperaram completamente. Isso porque a atual pandemia intervém num momento em que três crises estruturais na relação entre as sociedades hegemônicas contemporâneas e o sistema Terra se reforçam reciprocamente, convergindo em direção a uma regressão econômica global, ainda que com eventuais surtos conjunturais de recuperação. Essas três crises são, como reiterado pela ciência, a emergência climática, a aniquilação em curso da biodiversidade e o adoecimento coletivo dos organismos, intoxicados pela indústria química.i Os impactos cada vez mais avassaladores decorrentes da sinergia entre essas três crises sistêmicas deixarão doravante as sociedades, mesmo as mais ricas, ainda mais desiguais e mais vulneráveis, menos aptas, portanto, a recuperar seu desempenho anterior. São justamente tais perdas parciais, cada vez mais frequentes, de funcionalidade na relação das sociedades com o meio ambiente que caracterizam essencialmente o processo de colapso socioambiental em curso (Homer-Dixon et al. 2015; Steffen et al. 2018; Marques 2015/2018 e 2020).
O ano da pandemia é o do mais crucial ponto de inflexão da história humana
Por sua extensão global e pelo rastro de mortes deixadas em sua passagem, superior a 250 mil vítimas (oficialmente notificadas) em pouco mais de quatro meses, a atual pandemia é um fato cuja gravidade seria difícil exagerar, tanto mais porque novos surtos podem ainda ocorrer nos próximos dois anos, segundo um relatório do Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), da Universidade de Minnesota (Moore, Lipsitch, Barry & Osterholm 2020).
Mas ainda mais grave que o saldo imenso de mortes, é o momento da incidência da pandemia na história humana. Outras pandemias, algumas muito mais letais, ocorreram no século XX, sem afetar profundamente a capacidade de recuperação das sociedades. O que singulariza a atual pandemia é o fato de se somar a diversas crises sistêmicas que ameaçam a humanidade, e isso justamente no momento em que não é mais possível postergar decisões que afetarão crucialmente, e muito em breve, a habitabilidade do planeta. A ciência condiciona a possibilidade de estabilizar o aquecimento médio global dentro, ou não muito além, dos limites almejados pelo Acordo de Paris a um fato incontornável: as emissões de CO2 devem atingir seu pico em 2020 e começar a declinar fortemente em seguida. O IPCC traçou 196 cenários através dos quais podemos limitar o aquecimento médio global a cerca de 0,5oC acima do aquecimento médio atual em relação ao período pré-industrial (1,2oC em 2019). Nenhum deles, lembram Tom Rivett-Carnac e Christiana Figueres, admite que o pico de emissões de gases de efeito estufa (GEE) seja protelado para além de 2020 (Hooper 2020). Ninguém exprime o significado dessa data-limite de modo mais peremptório que Thomas Stocker, co-diretor do IPCC entre 2008 e 2015:ii
“Mitigação retardada ou insuficiente impossibilita limitar o aquecimento global permanentemente. O ano de 2020 é crucial para a definição das ambições globais sobre a redução das emissões. Se as emissões de CO2 continuarem a aumentar além dessa data, as metas mais ambiciosas de mitigação tornar-se-ão inatingíveis”.
Já em 2017, Jean Jouzel, ex-vice-presidente do IPCC, advertia que “para manter alguma chance de permanecer abaixo dos 2oC é necessário que o pico das emissões seja atingido no mais tardar em 2020” (Le Hir 2017). Em outubro do ano seguinte, comentando o lançamento do relatório especial do IPCC, intitulado Global Warming 1.5oC, Debra Roberts, co-diretora do Grupo de Trabalho 2 desse relatório, reforçava essa percepção: “Os próximos poucos anos serão provavelmente os mais importantes de nossa história”. E Amjad Abdulla, representante dos Pequenos Estados Insulares em Desenvolvimento (SIDS) nas negociações climáticas, acrescentava: “Não tenho dúvidas de que os historiadores olharão retrospectivamente para esses resultados [do relatório especial do IPCC de 2018] como um dos momentos definidores no curso da história humana” (Mathiesen & Sauer 2018). Em The Second Warning: A Documentary Film (2018), divulgação do manifesto The Scientist’s Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice, lançado por William Ripple e colegas em 2017 e endossado por cerca de 20 mil cientistas, a filósofa Kathleen Dean Moore faz suas as declarações acima mencionadas: “Estamos vivendo um ponto de inflexão. Os próximos poucos anos serão os mais importantes da história da humanidade”.
Em abril de 2017, um grupo de cientistas, coordenados por Stephan Rahmstorf, lançava The Climate Turning Point, em cujo Prefácio se reafirma a meta mais ambiciosa do Acordo de Paris (“manter o aumento da temperatura média global bem abaixo de 2oC em relação ao período pré-industrial”), esclarecendo que: “essa meta é considerada necessária para evitar riscos incalculáveis à humanidade, e é factível – mas, realisticamente, apenas se as emissões globais atingirem um pico até o ano de 2020, no mais tardar”. Esse documento norteou então a criação, por diversas lideranças científicas e diplomáticas, da Missão 2020 (https://mission2020.global/). Ela definia metas básicas em energia, transporte, uso da terra, indústria, infraestrutura e finanças, de modo a tornar declinante, a partir de 2020, a curva das emissões de gases de efeito estufa e colocar o planeta numa trajetória consistente com o Acordo de Paris. “Com radical colaboração e teimoso otimismo”, escreve Christiana Figueres e colegas da Missão 2020, “dobraremos a curva das emissões de gases de efeito estufa até 2020, possibilitando à humanidade florescer.” De seu lado, António Guterres, cumprindo sua missão de incentivar e coordenar os esforços de governança global, alertava em setembro de 2018: “Se não mudarmos nossa rota até 2020, corremos o risco de deixar passar o momento em que é ainda possível evitar uma mudança climática desenfreada (arunaway climate change), com consequências desastrosas para a humanidade e para os sistemas naturais que nos sustentam”.
Pois bem, 2020, enfim, chegou. Fazendo em 2019 um balanço dos progressos realizados em direção às metas da Missão 2020, o World Resources Institute (Ge et al., 2019) escreve que “na maioria dos casos, a ação foi insuficiente ou o progresso foi nulo” (in most cases action is insufficient or progress is off track). Nenhuma das metas, em suma, foi alcançada e, em dezembro passado, a COP25 em Madri varreu definitivamente, em grande parte por culpa dos governos dos EUA, Japão, Austrália e Brasil (Irfan 2019), as últimas esperanças de uma diminuição iminente das emissões globais de GEE.
A pandemia entra em cena
Mas eis que a Covid-19 irrompe, deslocando, paralisando e adiando tudo, inclusive a COP26. E em pouco mais de três meses resolveu pelo caos e pelo sofrimento o que mais de três décadas de fatos, de ciência, de campanhas e de esforços diplomáticos para diminuir as emissões de GEE mostraram-se incapazes de realizar (já a Conferência de Toronto, de 1988, recomendava “ações específicas” nesse sentido). Ao invés de um decrescimento econômico racional, gradual e democraticamente planejado, o decrescimento econômico abrupto imposto pela pandemia afigura-se já, segundo Kenneth S. Rogoff, como “a mais profunda queda da economia global em 100 anos” (Goodman 2020). Em 15 de abril, o Carbon Brief estimou que a crise econômica deve provocar uma diminuição estimada em cerca de 5,5% nas emissões globais de CO2 em 2020. Em 30 de abril, a Global Energy Review 2020 – The impacts of the Covid-19 crisis on global energy demand and CO2 emissions, da Agência Internacional de Energia (AIE), vai mais longe e estima que “as emissões globais de CO2 devem cair ainda mais rapidamente ao longo dos nove meses restantes do ano, atingindo 30,6 Gt [bilhões de toneladas] em 2020, quase 8% mais baixas que em 2019. Este seria o nível mais baixo desde 2010. Tal redução seria a maior de todos os tempos, seis vezes maior que a redução precedente de 0,4 Gt em 2009, devido à crise financeira e duas vezes maior que todas as reduções anteriores desde o fim da Segunda Guerra Mundial”. (https://www.iea.org/reports/global-energy-review-2020/global-energy-and-co2-emissions-in-2020). A Figura 1 indica como essa redução das emissões globais de CO2 reflete a queda na demanda de consumo global de energia primária, comparada com as quedas anteriores.
Figura 1 – Taxas de mudança (%) na demanda global de energia primária, 1900 – 2020
Fonte: AIE, Global Energy Review 2020 The impacts of the Covid-19 crisis on global energy demand and CO emissions, Abril 2020, p. 11
A redução das emissões globais de CO2 projetada pela AIE para 2020 equivale ou é até pouco maior que os 7,6% de redução anual até 2030 que o IPCC considera imprescindível para conter o aquecimento aquém de níveis catastróficos (Evans 2020). O relatório da AIE apressa-se, contudo, em advertir que, “tal como nas crises precedentes, (…) o repique das emissões pode ser maior que o declínio, a menos que a onda de investimentos para retomar a economia seja dirigido a uma infraestrutura energética mais limpa e resiliente”. Salvo raras exceções, os fatos até agora não autorizam a expectativa de uma ruptura com os paradigmas energéticos e socioeconômicos anteriores. Malgrado o colapso do preço do petróleo, ou justamente por isso, as petroleiras estão se movendo com vertiginosa velocidade para tirar partido desse momento, obtendo, por exemplo, investimentos de USD 1,1 bilhão para financiar a conclusão do famigerado oleoduto Keystone XL, que ligará o petróleo canadense ao Golfo do México (McKibben 2020). Os exemplos desse tipo de oportunismo são inúmeros, inclusive no Brasil, onde os ruralistas se aproveitam da situação para fazer aprovar da Medida Provisória 910, que anistia a grilagem e eleva ainda mais as ameaças aos indígenas. Como bem afirma Laurent Joffrin, em sua Lettre politique de 30 de abril para o jornal Libération (Le monde d’avant, en pire?), o mundo pós-pandemia “corre o risco de parecer furiosamente, a curto prazo ao menos, com o mundo de antes, mas em versão piorada”. E Joffrin emenda: “o ‘mundo de após’ não mudará sozinho. Como para o ‘mundo de antes’, seu futuro dependerá de um combate político, paciente e árduo”. Político e árduo, sem dúvida, mas definitivamente não há mais tempo para paciência.
De qualquer modo, uma redução de quase 8% nas emissões globais de CO2 num ano apenas não abriu sequer um dente na curva cumulativa das concentrações atmosféricas desse gás, medidas em Mauna Loa (Havaí). Elas bateram mais um recorde em abril de 2020, atingindo 416,76 partes por milhão (ppm), 3,13 ppm acima de 2019, um dos maiores saltos desde o início de suas mensurações em 1958. Não se trata apenas de um número a mais na selva de indicadores climáticos convergentes. É o número decisivo. Como lembra Petteri Taalas, Secretário-Geral da Organização Meteorológica Mundial: “A última vez que a Terra apresentou concentrações atmosféricas de CO2 comparáveis às atuais foi há 3 a 5 milhões de anos. Nessa época, a temperatura estava 2oC a 3oC [acima do período pré-industrial] e o nível do mar estava 10 a 20 metros mais alto que hoje” (McGrath 2019). Faltam agora menos de 35 ppm para atingir 450 ppm, um nível de concentração atmosférica de CO2 largamente associado a um aquecimento médio global de 2oC acima do período pré-industrial, nível que pode ser atingido, mantida a trajetória atual, em pouco mais de 10 anos. O que nos aguarda por volta de 2030, mantida a engrenagem do sistema econômico capitalista globalizado e existencialmente dependente de sua própria reprodução ampliada, é nada menos que um desastre para a humanidade como um todo, bem como para inúmeras outras espécies. A palavra desastre não é uma hipérbole. O já mencionado Relatório do IPCC de 2018 (Global Warming 1.5oC) projeta que o mundo a 2oC em média acima do período pré-industrial terá quase 6 bilhões de pessoas expostas a ondas de calor extremo e mais de 3,5 bilhões de pessoas sujeitas à escassez hídrica, entre outras muitas adversidades. Desastre é a palavra que melhor define o mundo para o qual rumamos no horizonte dos próximos 10 anos (ou 20, pouco importa), e é exatamente o vocábulo empregado por Sir Brian Hoskins, diretor do Grantham Institute for Climate Change, do Imperial College em Londres: “Não temos evidência de que um aquecimento de 1,9oC é algo com que se possa lidar facilmente, e 2,1oC é um desastre” (Simms 2017).
Em consequência dessas altíssimas concentrações atmosféricas de CO2, o ano passado já foi o mais quente dos registros históricos na Europa (1,2oC acima do período 1981 – 2010!) e, mesmo sem El Niño, há agora, segundo o NOAA, 74,67% de chances de que 2020 venha a ser o ano mais quente em um século e meio de registros históricos na média global,iii batendo o recorde precedente de 2016 (1,24oC acima do período pré-industrial, segundo a NASA). Não é no espaço deste artigo que se podem elencar os muitos indícios de que 2020 será o primeiro ou segundo (após 2016) ano mais quente entre os sete mais quentes (2014-2020) da história da civilização humana desde a última deglaciação, cerca de 11.700 anos antes do presente. Baste aqui ter em mente que, se março de 2020 for representativo do ano, já perdemos a meta mais ambiciosa do Acordo de Paris, pois a temperatura média desse mês cravou globalmente 1,51oC acima do período 1880-1920, conforme mostra a Figura 2.
O aquecimento global é uma arma apontada contra a saúde global. Como mostra Sara Goudarzi (2020), temperaturas mais elevadas favorecem a adaptação de micro-organismos a um mundo mais quente, diminuindo a eficácia de duas defesas básicas dos mamíferos contra os patógenos: (1) muitos micro-organismos não sobrevivem ainda a temperaturas superiores a 37oC, mas podem vir a se adaptar rapidamente a elas; (2) o sistema imune dos mamíferos, pois este perde eficiência em temperaturas mais elevadas. Além disso, o aquecimento global amplia o raio de ação de vetores de epidemias, como a dengue, zika e chikungunya, e altera a distribuição geográfica das plantas e animais, levando espécies animais terrestres a se deslocarem em direção a latitudes mais altas a uma taxa média de 17 km por década (Pecl et al. 2017). Aaron Bernstein, diretor do Harvard University’s Center of Climate, Health and the Global Environment, sintetiza bem a interação entre aquecimento global e desmatamento em suas múltiplas relações com novos surtos epidêmicos:iv
“À medida que o planeta se aquece (…) os animais deslocam-se para os polos fugindo do calor. Animais estão entrando em contato com animais com os quais eles normalmente não interagiriam, e isso cria uma oportunidade para patógenos encontrar outros hospedeiros. Muitas das causas primárias das mudanças climáticas também aumentam o risco de pandemias. O desmatamento, causado em geral pela agropecuária é a causa maior da perda de habitat no mundo todo. E essa perda força os animais a migrarem e potencialmente a entrar em contato com outros animais ou pessoas e compartilhar seus germes. Grandes fazendas de gado também servem como uma fonte para a passagem de infecções de animais para pessoas”.
Sem perder de vista as relações entre a emergência climática e essas novas ameaças sanitárias, foquemos em duas questões bem circunscritas e diretamente ligadas à pandemia atual.
A pandemia foi prevista e será, doravante, mais frequente
A primeira questão refere-se ao caráter, por assim dizer, antropogênico da pandemia. Bem longe de ser adventícia, ela é uma consequência, reiteradamente prevista, de um sistema socioeconômico crescentemente disfuncional e destrutivo. Josef Settele, Sandra Díaz, Eduardo Brondizio e Peter Daszak escreveram um artigo, a convite do IPBES, de leitura obrigatória e que me permito citar longamente:
“Há uma única espécie responsável pela pandemia Covid-19: nós. Assim como com as crises climáticas e o declínio da biodiversidade, as pandemias recentes são uma consequência direta da atividade humana – particularmente de nosso sistema financeiro e econômico global baseado num paradigma limitado, que preza o crescimento econômico a qualquer custo. (…) Desmatamento crescente, expansão descontrolada da agropecuária, cultivo e criação intensivos, mineração e aumento da infraestrutura, assim como a exploração de espécies silvestres criaram uma ‘tempestade perfeita’ para o salto de doenças da vida selvagem para as pessoas. (…) E, contudo, isso pode ser apenas o começo. Embora se estime que doenças transmitidas de outros animais para humanos já causem 700 mil mortes por ano, é vasto o potencial para pandemias futuras. Acredita-se que 1,7 milhão de vírus não identificados, dentre os que sabidamente infectam pessoas, ainda existem em mamíferos e pássaros aquáticos. Qualquer um deles pode ser a ‘Doença X’ – potencialmente ainda mais perturbadora e letal que a Covid-19. É provável que pandemias futuras ocorram mais frequentemente, propaguem-se mais rapidamente, tenham maior impacto econômico e matem mais pessoas, se não formos extremamente cuidadosos acerca dos impactos das escolhas que fazemos hoje” (https://ipbes.net/covid19stimulus).
Cada frase dessa citação encerra uma lição de ciência e de lucidez política. A maior frequência recente de epidemias e pandemias tem por causas centrais o desmatamento e a agropecuária, algo bem estabelecido também por Christian Drosten, atual coordenador do combate à Covid-19 na Alemanha, além de diretor do Instituto de Virologia do Hospital Charité de Berlim e um dos cientistas que identificou a pandemia SARS em 2003 (Spinney 2020).
“Desde que tenha oportunidade, o coronavírus está pronto para mudar de hospedeiro e nós criamos essa oportunidade através de nosso uso não natural de animais – a pecuária (livestock). Essa expõe os animais de criação à vida silvestre, mantém esses animais em grandes grupos que podem amplificar o vírus, e os humanos têm intenso contato com eles – por exemplo, através do consumo de carne –, de modo que tais animais certamente representam uma possível trajetória de emergência para o coronavírus. Camelos são animais de criação no Oriente Médio e são os hospedeiros do vírus MERS, assim como do coronavírus 229E – que é uma causa da gripe comum em humanos –, já o gado bovino foi o hospedeiro original do coronavírus OC43, outra causa de gripe”.
Nada disso é novidade para a ciência. Sabemos que a maioria das pandemias emergentes são zoonoses, isto é, doenças infecciosas causadas por bactérias, vírus, parasitas ou príons, que saltaram de hospedeiros não humanos, usualmente vertebrados, para os humanos. Como afirma Ana Lúcia Tourinho, pesquisadora da Universidade Federal de Mato Grosso (UFMT), o desmatamento é uma causa central e uma bomba-relógio em termos de zoonoses: “quando um vírus que não fez parte da nossa história evolutiva sai do seu hospedeiro natural e entra no nosso corpo, é o caos” (Pontes 2020). Esse risco, repita-se, é crescente. Basta ter em mente que “mamíferos domesticados hospedam 50% dos vírus zoonóticos, mas representam apenas 12 espécies” (Johnson et al. 2020). Esse grupo inclui porcos, vacas e carneiros. Em resumo, o aquecimento global, o desmatamento, a destruição dos habitats selvagens, a domesticação e a criação de aves e mamíferos em escala industrial destroem o equilíbrio evolutivo entre as espécies, facilitando as condições para saltos desses vírus de uma espécie a outra, inclusive a nossa.
4.As próximas zoonoses serão gestadas no Brasil?
O segundo ponto, com o qual concluo este artigo, são as consequências especificamente sanitárias da destruição em curso da Amazônia e do Cerrado. Entre as mais funestas está a crescente probabilidade de que o país se torne o foco das próximas pandemias zoonóticas. Na última década, as megacidades da Ásia do leste, principalmente na China, têm sido o principal “hotspot” de infecções zoonóticas (Zhang et al. 2019). Não por acaso. Esses países estão entre os que mais perderam cobertura florestal no mundo em benefício do sistema alimentar carnívoro e globalizado. O caso da China é exemplar. De 2001 a 2018, o país perdeu 94,2 mil km2 de cobertura arbórea, equivalente a uma diminuição de 5,8% em sua cobertura arbórea no período. “Extração de madeira e agropecuária consomem até 5 mil km2 de florestas virgens todo ano. Na China setentrional e central a cobertura florestal foi reduzida pela metade nas últimas duas décadas”.v Em paralelo com a destruição dos habitats selvagens, o crescimento econômico chinês desencadeou uma demanda por proteínas animais, incluindo as provenientes de animais exóticos (Cheng et al. 2007). Entre 1980 e 2015, o consumo de carne na China cresceu sete vezes e 4,7 vezes per capita (de 15 kg para 70 kg per capita por ano ao longo deste período). Com cerca de 18% da população mundial, a China era em 2018 responsável por 28% do consumo de carne no planeta (Rossi 2018). Segundo um relatório de 2017 do Rabobank, intitulado China’s Animal Protein Outlook to 2020: Growth in Demand, Supply and Trade, a demanda adicional por carne a cada ano na China será de cerca de um milhão de toneladas. “A produção local de carne bovina não consegue acompanhar o crescimento da demanda. Na realidade, a China tem uma escassez estrutural de oferta de carne bovina, que necessita ser satisfeita por importações crescentes”.
A cobertura vegetal dos trópicos tem sido destruída para sustentar essa dieta crescentemente carnívora, não apenas na China, mas em vários países do mundo e particularmente entre nós. No Brasil, a remoção de mais de 1,8 milhão de km2 da cobertura vegetal da Amazônia e do Cerrado nos últimos cinquenta anos, para converter suas magníficas paisagens naturais em zonas fornecedoras de carne e ração animal, em escala nacional e global, representa o mais fulminante ecocídio jamais perpetrado pela espécie humana. Nunca, de fato, em nenhuma latitude e em nenhum momento da história humana, destruiu-se tanta vida animal e vegetal em tão pouco tempo, para a degradação de tantos e para o benefício econômico de tão poucos. E nunca, mesmo para os pouquíssimos que enriqueceram com a devastação, esse enriquecimento terá sido tão efêmero, pois a destruição da cobertura vegetal já começa a gerar erosão dos solos e secas recorrentes, solapando as bases de qualquer agricultura nessa região (na realidade, no Brasil, como um todo).
Em decorrência dessa guerra de extermínio contra a natureza deflagrada pela insanidade dos ditadores militares e continuada pelos civis, atualmente o rebanho bovino brasileiro é de aproximadamente 215 milhões de cabeças, sendo que 80% de seu consumo é absorvido pelo mercado interno, que cresceu 14% nos últimos dez anos (Macedo 2019). Além disso, o Brasil tornou-se líder das exportações mundiais de carne bovina (20% dessas exportações) e de soja (56%), basicamente destinada à alimentação animal. A maior parte do rebanho bovino brasileiro concentra-se hoje nas regiões Norte e Centro-Oeste, com crescente participação da Amazônia. Em 2010, 14% do rebanho brasileiro já se encontrava na região norte do país. Em 2016, essa participação saltou para 22%. Juntas, a região norte e centro-oeste abrigam 56% do rebanho bovino brasileiro (Zaia 2018). Em 2017, apenas 19,8% da cobertura vegetal remanescente do Cerrado permanecia ainda intocada. A continuar a devastação, a pecuária e a agricultura de soja levarão em breve à extinção quase 500 espécies de plantas endêmicas – três vezes mais que todas as extinções documentadas desde 1500 (Strassburg et al. 2017). A Amazônia, que perdeu cerca de 800 mil km2 de cobertura florestal em 50 anos e perderá outras muitas dezenas de milhares sob a sanha ecocida de Bolsonaro, tornou-se, em sua porção sul e leste, uma paisagem desolada de pastos em vias de degradação. O caos ecológico produzido pelo desmatamento por corte raso de cerca de 20% da área original da floresta, pela degradação do tecido florestal de pelo menos outros 20% e pela grande concentração de bovinos na região cria as condições para tornar o Brasil um “hotspot” das próximas zoonoses. Em primeiro lugar porque os morcegos são um grande reservatório de vírus e, entre os morcegos brasileiros, cujo habitat são sobretudo as florestas (ou o que resta delas), circulam pelo menos 3.204 tipos de coronavírus (Maxman 2017). Em segundo lugar porque, como mostraram Nardus Mollentze e Daniel Streicker (2020), o grupo taxonômico dos Artiodactyla (de casco fendido), ao qual pertencem os bois, hospedam, juntamente com os primatas, mais vírus, potencialmente zoonóticos, do que seria de se esperar entre os grupos de mamíferos, incluindo os morcegos. Na realidade, a Amazônia já é um “hotspot” de epidemias não virais, como a leishmaniose e a malária, doenças tropicais negligenciadas, mas com alto índice de letalidade. Como afirma a OMS, “a leishmaniose está associada a mudanças ambientais, tais como o desmatamento, o represamento de rios, a esquemas de irrigação e à urbanização”,vi todos eles fatores que concorrem para a destruição da Amazônia e para o aumento do risco de pandemias. A relação entre desmatamento amazônico e a malária foi bem estabelecida em 2015 por uma equipe do IPEA: para cada 1% de floresta derrubada por ano, os casos de malária aumentam 23% (Pontes 2020).
A curva novamente ascendente desde 2013 da destruição da Amazônia e do Cerrado resultou da execrável aliança de Dilma Rousseff com o que há de mais retrógrado na economia brasileira. Já para a necropolítica de Bolsonaro, a destruição da vida, do que resta do patrimônio natural brasileiro, tornou-se um programa de governo e uma verdadeira obsessão. Bolsonaro está levando o país a dar um salto sem retorno no caos ecológico, de onde a necessidade inadiável de neutralizá-lo por impeachment ou qualquer outro mecanismo constitucional. Não há mais tempo a perder. Entre agosto de 2018 e julho de 2019, o desmatamento amazônico atingiu 9.762 km2, quase 30% acima dos 12 meses anteriores e o pior resultado dos últimos dez anos, segundo o INPE. No primeiro trimestre de 2020, que apresenta tipicamente os níveis mais baixos de desmatamento em cada ano, o sistema Deter, do INPE, detectou um aumento de 51% em relação ao mesmo período de 2019, o nível mais alto para esse período desde o início da série, em 2016. Segundo Tasso Azevedo, coordenador-geral do Projeto de Mapeamento Anual da Cobertura e Uso do Solo no Brasil (MapBiomas), “o mais preocupante é que no acumulado de agosto de 2019 até março de 2020, o nível do desmatamento mais do que dobrou” (Menegassi 2020). Ao monopolizar todas as atenções, a pandemia oferece a Bolsonaro uma oportunidade inesperada para acelerar sua obra de destruição da floresta e de seus povos (Barifouse 2020).
Recapitulemos. O que importa aqui, sobretudo, é entender que a pandemia intervém no momento em que o aquecimento global e todos os demais processos de degradação ambiental estão em aceleração. A pandemia pode acelerá-los ainda mais, na ausência de uma reação política vigorosa da sociedade. Ela acrescenta, em todo o caso, mais uma dimensão a esse feixe convergente de crises socioambientais que impõe à humanidade uma situação radicalmente nova. Pode-se assim formular essa novidade: não é mais plausível esperar, passada a pandemia, um novo ciclo de crescimento econômico global e ainda menos nacional. Se algum crescimento voltar a ocorrer, ele será conjuntural e logo truncado pelo caos climático, ecológico e sanitário. O próximo decênio evoluirá sob o signo de regressões socioeconômicas, pois mesmo a se admitir que a economia globalizada tenha trazido benefícios sociais, eles foram parcos e vêm sendo de há muito superados por seus malefícios. A pandemia é apenas um entre esses malefícios, mas certamente não o pior. Não são mais atuais, portanto, em 2020, as variadas agendas desenvolvimentistas, típicas dos embates ideológicos do século XX. É claro que a exigência de justiça social, bandeira histórica da esquerda, permanece mais que nunca atual. Além de ser um valor perene e irrenunciável, a luta pela diminuição da desigualdade social significa, antes de mais nada, retirar das corporações o poder decisório sobre os investimentos estratégicos (energia, alimentação, mobilidade etc.), assumir o controle democrático e sustentável desses investimentos e, assim, atenuar os impactos do colapso socioambiental em curso. É do aprofundamento da democracia que depende crucialmente, hoje, a sobrevivência de qualquer sociedade organizada num mundo que está se tornando sempre mais quente, mais empobrecido biologicamente, mais poluído e, por todas essas razões, mais enfermo. Sobreviver, no contexto de um processo de colapso socioambiental, não é um programa mínimo. Sobreviver requer, hoje, lutar por algo muito mais ambicioso que os programas socialdemocratas ou revolucionários do século XX. Supõe redefinir o próprio sentido e finalidade da atividade econômica, vale dizer, em última instância, redefinir nossa posição como sociedade e como espécie no âmbito da biosfera.
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JOHNSON, Christine K. et al., “Global shifts in mammalian population trends reveal key predictors of virus spillover risk”. Proceedings of theRoyal Society B, 8/IV/2020.
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*** Luiz Marques é professor livre-docente do Departamento de História do IFCH /Unicamp. Pela editora da Unicamp, publicou Giorgio Vasari, Vida de Michelangelo (1568), 2011 e Capitalismo e Colapso ambiental, 2015, 3a edição, 2018. Coordena a coleção Palavra da Arte, dedicada às fontes da historiografia artística, e participa com outros colegas do coletivo Crisálida, Crises SocioAmbientais Labor Interdisciplinar Debate & Atualização (crisalida.eco.br).
The critic Raymond Williams once wrote that every historical period has its own “structure of feeling.” How everything seemed in the nineteen-sixties, the way the Victorians understood one another, the chivalry of the Middle Ages, the world view of Tang-dynasty China: each period, Williams thought, had a distinct way of organizing basic human emotions into an overarching cultural system. Each had its own way of experiencing being alive.
In mid-March, in a prior age, I spent a week rafting down the Grand Canyon. When I left for the trip, the United States was still beginning to grapple with the reality of the coronavirus pandemic. Italy was suffering; the N.B.A. had just suspended its season; Tom Hanks had been reported ill. When I hiked back up, on March 19th, it was into a different world. I’ve spent my life writing science-fiction novels that try to convey some of the strangeness of the future. But I was still shocked by how much had changed, and how quickly.
Schools and borders had closed; the governor of California, like governors elsewhere, had asked residents to begin staying at home. But the change that struck me seemed more abstract and internal. It was a change in the way we were looking at things, and it is still ongoing. The virus is rewriting our imaginations. What felt impossible has become thinkable. We’re getting a different sense of our place in history. We know we’re entering a new world, a new era. We seem to be learning our way into a new structure of feeling.
In many ways, we’ve been overdue for such a shift. In our feelings, we’ve been lagging behind the times in which we live. The Anthropocene, the Great Acceleration, the age of climate change—whatever you want to call it, we’ve been out of synch with the biosphere, wasting our children’s hopes for a normal life, burning our ecological capital as if it were disposable income, wrecking our one and only home in ways that soon will be beyond our descendants’ ability to repair. And yet we’ve been acting as though it were 2000, or 1990—as though the neoliberal arrangements built back then still made sense. We’ve been paralyzed, living in the world without feeling it.
Now, all of a sudden, we’re acting fast as a civilization. We’re trying, despite many obstacles, to flatten the curve—to avoid mass death. Doing this, we know that we’re living in a moment of historic importance. We realize that what we do now, well or badly, will be remembered later on. This sense of enacting history matters. For some of us, it partly compensates for the disruption of our lives.
Actually, we’ve already been living in a historic moment. For the past few decades, we’ve been called upon to act, and have been acting in a way that will be scrutinized by our descendants. Now we feel it. The shift has to do with the concentration and intensity of what’s happening. September 11th was a single day, and everyone felt the shock of it, but our daily habits didn’t shift, except at airports; the President even urged us to keep shopping. This crisis is different. It’s a biological threat, and it’s global. Everyone has to change together to deal with it. That’s really history.
It seems as though science has been mobilized to a dramatic new degree, but that impression is just another way in which we’re lagging behind. There are 7.8 billion people alive on this planet—a stupendous social and technological achievement that’s unnatural and unstable. It’s made possible by science, which has already been saving us. Now, though, when disaster strikes, we grasp the complexity of our civilization—we feel the reality, which is that the whole system is a technical improvisation that science keeps from crashing down.
On a personal level, most of us have accepted that we live in a scientific age. If you feel sick, you go to a doctor, who is really a scientist; that scientist tests you, then sometimes tells you to take a poison so that you can heal—and you take the poison. It’s on a societal level that we’ve been lagging. Today, in theory, everyone knows everything. We know that our accidental alteration of the atmosphere is leading us into a mass-extinction event, and that we need to move fast to dodge it. But we don’t act on what we know. We don’t want to change our habits. This knowing-but-not-acting is part of the old structure of feeling.
Now comes this disease that can kill anyone on the planet. It’s invisible; it spreads because of the way we move and congregate. Instantly, we’ve changed. As a society, we’re watching the statistics, following the recommendations, listening to the scientists. Do we believe in science? Go outside and you’ll see the proof that we do everywhere you look. We’re learning to trust our science as a society. That’s another part of the new structure of feeling.
Possibly, in a few months, we’ll return to some version of the old normal. But this spring won’t be forgotten. When later shocks strike global civilization, we’ll remember how we behaved this time, and how it worked. It’s not that the coronavirus is a dress rehearsal—it’s too deadly for that. But it is the first of many calamities that will likely unfold throughout this century. Now, when they come, we’ll be familiar with how they feel.
What shocks might be coming? Everyone knows everything. Remember when Cape Town almost ran out of water? It’s very likely that there will be more water shortages. And food shortages, electricity outages, devastating storms, droughts, floods. These are easy calls. They’re baked into the situation we’ve already created, in part by ignoring warnings that scientists have been issuing since the nineteen-sixties. Some shocks will be local, others regional, but many will be global, because, as this crisis shows, we are interconnected as a biosphere and a civilization.
Imagine what a food scare would do. Imagine a heat wave hot enough to kill anyone not in an air-conditioned space, then imagine power failures happening during such a heat wave. (The novel I’ve just finished begins with this scenario, so it scares me most of all.) Imagine pandemics deadlier than the coronavirus. These events, and others like them, are easier to imagine now than they were back in January, when they were the stuff of dystopian science fiction. But science fiction is the realism of our time. The sense that we are all now stuck in a science-fiction novel that we’re writing together—that’s another sign of the emerging structure of feeling.
Science-fiction writers don’t know anything more about the future than anyone else. Human history is too unpredictable; from this moment, we could descend into a mass-extinction event or rise into an age of general prosperity. Still, if you read science fiction, you may be a little less surprised by whatever does happen. Often, science fiction traces the ramifications of a single postulated change; readers co-create, judging the writers’ plausibility and ingenuity, interrogating their theories of history. Doing this repeatedly is a kind of training. It can help you feel more oriented in the history we’re making now. This radical spread of possibilities, good to bad, which creates such a profound disorientation; this tentative awareness of the emerging next stage—these are also new feelings in our time.
Memento mori: remember that you must die. Older people are sometimes better at keeping this in mind than younger people. Still, we’re all prone to forgetting death. It never seems quite real until the end, and even then it’s hard to believe. The reality of death is another thing we know about but don’t feel.Video From The New Yorker Throwing Shade Through Crosswords
So this epidemic brings with it a sense of panic: we’re all going to die, yes, always true, but now perhaps this month! That’s different. Sometimes, when hiking in the Sierra, my friends and I get caught in a lightning storm, and, completely exposed to it, we hurry over the rocky highlands, watching lightning bolts crack out of nowhere and connect nearby, thunder exploding less than a second later. That gets your attention: death, all too possible! But to have that feeling in your ordinary, daily life, at home, stretched out over weeks—that’s too strange to hold on to. You partly get used to it, but not entirely. This mixture of dread and apprehension and normality is the sensation of plague on the loose. It could be part of our new structure of feeling, too.
Just as there are charismatic megafauna, there are charismatic mega-ideas. “Flatten the curve” could be one of them. Immediately, we get it. There’s an infectious, deadly plague that spreads easily, and, although we can’t avoid it entirely, we can try to avoid a big spike in infections, so that hospitals won’t be overwhelmed and fewer people will die. It makes sense, and it’s something all of us can help to do. When we do it—if we do it—it will be a civilizational achievement: a new thing that our scientific, educated, high-tech species is capable of doing. Knowing that we can act in concert when necessary is another thing that will change us.
People who study climate change talk about “the tragedy of the horizon.” The tragedy is that we don’t care enough about those future people, our descendants, who will have to fix, or just survive on, the planet we’re now wrecking. We like to think that they’ll be richer and smarter than we are and so able to handle their own problems in their own time. But we’re creating problems that they’ll be unable to solve. You can’t fix extinctions, or ocean acidification, or melted permafrost, no matter how rich or smart you are. The fact that these problems will occur in the future lets us take a magical view of them. We go on exacerbating them, thinking—not that we think this, but the notion seems to underlie our thinking—that we will be dead before it gets too serious. The tragedy of the horizon is often something we encounter, without knowing it, when we buy and sell. The market is wrong; the prices are too low. Our way of life has environmental costs that aren’t included in what we pay, and those costs will be borne by our descendents. We are operating a multigenerational Ponzi scheme.
And yet: “Flatten the curve.” We’re now confronting a miniature version of the tragedy of the time horizon. We’ve decided to sacrifice over these months so that, in the future, people won’t suffer as much as they would otherwise. In this case, the time horizon is so short that we are the future people. It’s harder to come to grips with the fact that we’re living in a long-term crisis that will not end in our lifetimes. But it’s meaningful to notice that, all together, we are capable of learning to extend our care further along the time horizon. Amid the tragedy and death, this is one source of pleasure. Even though our economic system ignores reality, we can act when we have to. At the very least, we are all freaking out together. To my mind, this new sense of solidarity is one of the few reassuring things to have happened in this century. If we can find it in this crisis, to save ourselves, then maybe we can find it in the big crisis, to save our children and theirs.
Margaret Thatcher said that “there is no such thing as society,” and Ronald Reagan said that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” These stupid slogans marked the turn away from the postwar period of reconstruction and underpin much of the bullshit of the past forty years.
We are individuals first, yes, just as bees are, but we exist in a larger social body. Society is not only real; it’s fundamental. We can’t live without it. And now we’re beginning to understand that this “we” includes many other creatures and societies in our biosphere and even in ourselves. Even as an individual, you are a biome, an ecosystem, much like a forest or a swamp or a coral reef. Your skin holds inside it all kinds of unlikely coöperations, and to survive you depend on any number of interspecies operations going on within you all at once. We are societies made of societies; there are nothing but societies. This is shocking news—it demands a whole new world view. And now, when those of us who are sheltering in place venture out and see everyone in masks, sharing looks with strangers is a different thing. It’s eye to eye, this knowledge that, although we are practicing social distancing as we need to, we want to be social—we not only want to be social, we’ve got to be social, if we are to survive. It’s a new feeling, this alienation and solidarity at once. It’s the reality of the social; it’s seeing the tangible existence of a society of strangers, all of whom depend on one another to survive. It’s as if the reality of citizenship has smacked us in the face.
As for government: it’s government that listens to science and responds by taking action to save us. Stop to ponder what is now obstructing the performance of that government. Who opposes it? Right now we’re hearing two statements being made. One, from the President and his circle: we have to save money even if it costs lives. The other, from the Centers for Disease Control and similar organizations: we have to save lives even if it costs money. Which is more important, money or lives? Money, of course! says capital and its spokespersons. Really? people reply, uncertainly. Seems like that’s maybe going too far? Even if it’s the common wisdom? Or was.
Some people can’t stay isolated and still do their jobs. If their jobs are important enough, they have to expose themselves to the disease. My younger son works in a grocery store and is now one of the front-line workers who keep civilization running.
My son is now my hero: this is a good feeling. I think the same of all the people still working now for the sake of the rest of us. If we all keep thinking this way, the new structure of feeling will be better than the one that’s dominated for the past forty years.
The neoliberal structure of feeling totters. What might a post-capitalist response to this crisis include? Maybe rent and debt relief; unemployment aid for all those laid off; government hiring for contact tracing and the manufacture of necessary health equipment; the world’s militaries used to support health care; the rapid construction of hospitals.Advertisement
What about afterward, when this crisis recedes and the larger crisis looms? If the project of civilization—including science, economics, politics, and all the rest of it—were to bring all eight billion of us into a long-term balance with Earth’s biosphere, we could do it. By contrast, when the project of civilization is to create profit—which, by definition, goes to only a few—much of what we do is actively harmful to the long-term prospects of our species. Everyone knows everything. Right now pursuing profit as the ultimate goal of all our activities will lead to a mass-extinction event. Humanity might survive, but traumatized, interrupted, angry, ashamed, sad. A science-fiction story too painful to write, too obvious. It would be better to adapt to reality.
Economics is a system for optimizing resources, and, if it were trying to calculate ways to optimize a sustainable civilization in balance with the biosphere, it could be a helpful tool. When it’s used to optimize profit, however, it encourages us to live within a system of destructive falsehoods. We need a new political economy by which to make our calculations. Now, acutely, we feel that need.
It could happen, but it might not. There will be enormous pressure to forget this spring and go back to the old ways of experiencing life. And yet forgetting something this big never works. We’ll remember this even if we pretend not to. History is happening now, and it will have happened. So what will we do with that?
A structure of feeling is not a free-floating thing. It’s tightly coupled with its corresponding political economy. How we feel is shaped by what we value, and vice versa. Food, water, shelter, clothing, education, health care: maybe now we value these things more, along with the people whose work creates them. To survive the next century, we need to start valuing the planet more, too, since it’s our only home.
It will be hard to make these values durable. Valuing the right things and wanting to keep on valuing them—maybe that’s also part of our new structure of feeling. As is knowing how much work there is to be done. But the spring of 2020 is suggestive of how much, and how quickly, we can change. It’s like a bell ringing to start a race. Off we go—into a new time.
A Guide to the Coronavirus
Twenty-four hours at the epicenter of the pandemic: nearly fifty New Yorker writers and photographers fanned out to document life in New York City on April 15th.
Omar Rodriguez organizes bodies in the Gerard J. Neufeld funeral home in Elmhurst on April 22. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Over the last few weeks, the country has managed to stabilize the spread of the coronavirus sufficiently enough to begin debating when and in what ways to “reopen,” and to normalize, against all moral logic, the horrifying and ongoing death toll — thousands of Americans dying each day, in multiples of 9/11 every week now with the virus seemingly “under control.” The death rate is no longer accelerating, but holding steady, which is apparently the point at which an onrushing terror can begin fading into background noise. Meanwhile, the disease itself appears to be shape-shifting before our eyes.
In an acute column published April 13, the New York Times’ Charlie Warzel listed 48 basic questions that remain unanswered about the coronavirus and what must be done to protect ourselves against it, from how deadly it is to how many people caught it and shrugged it off to how long immunity to the disease lasts after infection (if any time at all). “Despite the relentless, heroic work of doctors and scientists around the world,” he wrote, “there’s so much we don’t know.” The 48 questions he listed, he was careful to point out, did not represent a comprehensive list. And those are just the coronavirus’s “known unknowns.”
In the two weeks since, we’ve gotten some clarifying information on at least a handful of Warzel’s queries. In early trials, more patients taking the Trump-hyped hydroxychloroquinine died than those who didn’t, and the FDA has now issued a statement warning coronavirus patients and their doctors from using the drug. The World Health Organization got so worried about the much-touted antiviral remdesivir, which received a jolt of publicity (and stock appreciation) a few weeks ago on rumors of positive results, the organization leaked an unpublished, preliminary survey showing no benefit to COVID-19 patients. Globally, studies have consistently found exposure levels to the virus in most populations in the low single digits — meaning dozens of times more people have gotten the coronavirus than have been diagnosed with it, though still just a tiny fraction of the number needed to achieve herd immunity. In particular hot spots, the exposure has been significantly more widespread — one survey in New York City found that 21 percent of residents may have COVID-19 antibodies already, making the city not just the deadliest community in the deadliest country in a world during the deadliest pandemic since AIDS, but also the most infected (and, by corollary, the farthest along to herd immunity). A study in Chelsea, Massachusetts, found an even higher and therefore more encouraging figure: 32 percent of those tested were found to have antibodies, which would mean, at least in that area, the disease was only a fraction as severe as it might’ve seemed at first glance, and that the community as a whole could be as much as halfway along to herd immunity. In most of the rest of the country, the picture of exposure we now have is much more dire, with much more infection almost inevitably to come.
But there is one big question that didn’t even make it onto Warzel’s list that has only gotten more mysterious in the weeks since: How is COVID-19 actually killing us?
We are now almost six months into this pandemic, which began in November in Wuhan, with 50,000 Americans dead and 200,000 more around the world. If each of those deaths is a data point, together they represent a quite large body of evidence from which to form a clear picture of the pandemic threat. Early in the epidemic, the coronavirus was seen as a variant of a familiar family of disease, not a mysterious ailment, however infectious and concerning. But while uncertainties at the population level confuse and frustrate public-health officials, unsure when and in what form to shift gears out of lockdowns, the disease has proved just as mercurial at the clinical level, with doctors revising their understanding of COVID-19’s basic pattern and weaponry — indeed often revising that understanding in different directions at once. The clinical shape of the disease, long presumed to be a relatively predictable respiratory infection, is getting less clear by the week. Lately, it seems, by the day. As Carl Zimmer, probably the country’s most respected science journalist, asked virologists in a tweet last week, “is there any other virus out there that is this weird in terms of its range of symptoms?”
You probably have a sense of the range of common symptoms, and a sense that the range isn’t that weird: fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath have been, since the beginning of the outbreak, the familiar, oft-repeated group of tell-tale signs. But while the CDC does list fever as the top symptom of COVID-19, so confidently that for weeks patients were turned away from testing sites if they didn’t have an elevated temperature, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, as many as 70 percent of patients sick enough to be admitted to New York State’s largest hospital system did not have a fever.
Over the past few months, Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital has been compiling and revising, in real time, treatment guidelines for COVID-19 which have become a trusted clearinghouse of best-practices information for doctors throughout the country. According to those guidelines, as few as 44 percent of coronavirus patients presented with a fever (though, in their meta-analysis, the uncertainty is quite high, with a range of 44 to 94 percent). Cough is more common, according to Brigham and Women’s, with between 68 percent and 83 percent of patients presenting with some cough — though that means as many as three in ten sick enough to be hospitalized won’t be coughing. As for shortness of breath, the Brigham and Women’s estimate runs as low as 11 percent. The high end is only 40 percent, which would still mean that more patients hospitalized for COVID-19 do not have shortness of breath than do. At the low end of that range, shortness of breath would be roughly as common among COVID-19 patients as confusion (9 percent), headache (8 to 14 percent), and nausea and diarrhea (3 to 17 percent). That the ranges are so wide themselves tells you that the disease is presenting in very different ways in different hospitals and different populations of different patients — leading, for instance, some doctors and scientists to theorize the virus might be attacking the immune system like HIV does, with many others finding the disease is triggering something like the opposite response, an overwhelming overreaction of the immune system called a “cytokine storm.”
The most bedeviling confusion has arisen around the relationship of the disease to breathing, lung function, and oxygenation levels in the blood — typically, for a respiratory illness, a quite predictable relationship. But for weeks now, front-line doctors have been expressing confusion that so many coronavirus patients were registering lethally low blood-oxygenation levels while still appearing, by almost any vernacular measure, pretty okay. It’s one reason they’ve begun rethinking the initial clinical focus on ventilators, which are generally recommended when patients oxygenation falls below a certain level, but seemed, after a few weeks, of unclear benefit to COVID-19 patients, who may have done better, doctors began to suggest, on lesser or different forms of oxygen support. For a while, ventilators were seen so much as the essential tool in treating life-threatening coronavirus that shortages (and the president’s unwillingness to invoke the Defense Production Act to manufacture them quickly) became a scandal. But by one measure 88 percent of New York patients put on ventilators, for whom an outcome as known, had died. In China, the figure was 86 percent.
On April 20 in the New York Times, an ER doctor named Richard Levitan who had been volunteering at Bellevue proposed that the phenomenon of seemingly stable patients registering lethally low oxygen levels might be explained by “silent hypoxia” — the air sacs in the lung collapsing, not getting stiff or heavy with fluid, as is the case with the pneumonias doctors had been using as models in their treatment of COVID-19. But whether this explanation is universal, limited to the patients at Bellevue, or somewhere in between is not yet entirely clear. A couple of days later, in a pre-print paper others questioned, scientists reported finding that the ability of the disease to mutate has been “vastly underestimated” — investigating the disease as it appeared in just 11 patients, they said they found 30 mutations. “The most aggressive strains could generate 270 times as much viral load as the weakest type,” the South China Morning-Postreported. “These strains also killed the cells the fastest.”
That same day, the Washington Postreported on another theory gaining traction among American doctors treating the disease — that one key could be the way COVID-19 affects the blood of patients, producing much more clotting. “Autopsies have shown that some people’s lungs are filled with hundreds of microclots,” the Post reported. “Errant blood clots of a larger size can break off and travel to the brain or heart, causing a stroke or a heart attack.”
But the bigger-picture perspective the newspaper offered is perhaps more eye-opening and to the point:
One month ago, as the country went into lockdown to prepare for the first wave of coronavirus cases, many doctors felt confident that they knew what they were dealing with. Based on early reports, covid-19 appeared to be a standard variety respiratory virus, albeit a very contagious and lethal one with no vaccine and no treatment. But they’ve since become increasingly convinced that covid-19 attacks not only the lungs, but also the kidneys, heart, intestines, liver and brain.
That is a dizzying list. But it is not even comprehensive. In a fantastic survey published April 17 (“How does coronavirus kill? Clinicians trace a ferocious rampage through the body, from brain to toes,” by Meredith Wadman, Jennifer Couzin-Frankel, Jocelyn Kaiser, and Catherine Matacic), Science magazine took a thorough, detailed tour of the ever-evolving state of understanding of the disease. “Despite the more than 1,000 papers now spilling into journals and onto preprint servers every week,” Science concluded, “a clear picture is elusive, as the virus acts like no pathogen humanity has ever seen.”
In a single illuminating chart, Science lists the following organs as being vulnerable to COVID-19: brain, eyes, nose, lungs, heart, blood vessels, livers, kidneys, intestines. That is to say, nearly every organ:
And the disparate impacts were significant ones: Heart damage was discovered in 20 percent of patients hospitalized in Wuhan, where 44 percent of those in ICU exhibited arrhythmias; 38 percent of Dutch ICU patients had irregular blood clotting; 27 percent of Wuhan patients had kidney failure, with many more showing signs of kidney damage; half of Chinese patients showed signs of liver damage; and, depending on the study, between 20 percent and 50 percent of patients had diarrhea.
On April 15, the Washington Postreported that, in New York and Wuhan, between 14 and 30 percent of ICU patients had lost kidney function, requiring dialysis. New York hospitals were treating so much kidney failure “they need more personnel who can perform dialysis and have issued an urgent call for volunteers from other parts of the country. They also are running dangerously short of the sterile fluids used to deliver that therapy.” The result, the Post said, was rationed care: patients needing 24-hour support getting considerably less. On Saturday, the paper reported that “[y]oung and middle-aged people, barely sick with COVID-19, are dying from strokes.” Many of the patients described didn’t even know they were sick:
The patient’s chart appeared unremarkable at first glance. He took no medications and had no history of chronic conditions. He had been feeling fine, hanging out at home during the lockdown like the rest of the country, when suddenly, he had trouble talking and moving the right side of his body. Imaging showed a large blockage on the left side of his head. Oxley gasped when he got to the patient’s age and covid-19 status: 44, positive.
The man was among several recent stroke patients in their 30s to 40s who were all infected with the coronavirus. The median age for that type of severe stroke is 74.
But the patient’s age wasn’t the only abnormality of the case:
As Oxley, an interventional neurologist, began the procedure to remove the clot, he observed something he had never seen before. On the monitors, the brain typically shows up as a tangle of black squiggles — “like a can of spaghetti,” he said — that provide a map of blood vessels. A clot shows up as a blank spot. As he used a needlelike device to pull out the clot, he saw new clots forming in real-time around it.
“This is crazy,” he remembers telling his boss.
These strokes, several doctors who spoke to the Post theorized, could explain the high number of patients dying at home — four times the usual rate in New York, many or most of them, perhaps, dying quite suddenly. According to the Brigham and Women’s guidelines, only 53 percent of COVID-19 patients have died from respiratory failure alone.
It’s not unheard of, of course, for a disease to express itself in complicated or hard-to-parse ways, attacking or undermining the functioning of a variety of organs. And it’s common, as researchers and doctors scramble to map the shape of a new disease, for their understanding to evolve quite quickly. But the degree to which doctors and scientists are, still, feeling their way, as though blindfolded, toward a true picture of the disease cautions against any sense that things have stabilized, given that our knowledge of the disease hasn’t even stabilized. Perhaps more importantly, it’s a reminder that the coronavirus pandemic is not just a public-health crisis but a scientific one as well. And that as deep as it may feel we are into the coronavirus, with tens of thousands dead and literally billions in precautionary lockdown, we are still in the very early stages, when each new finding seems as likely to cloud or complicate our understanding of the coronavirus as it is to clarify it. Instead, confidence gives way to uncertainty.
In the space of a few months, we’ve gone from thinking there was no “asymptomatic transmission” to believing it accounts for perhaps half or more of all cases, from thinking the young were invulnerable to thinking they were just somewhat less vulnerable, from believing masks were unnecessary to requiring their use at all times outside the house, from panicking about ventilator shortages to deploying pregnancy massage pillows instead. Six months since patient zero, we still have no drugs proven to even help treat the disease. Almost certainly, we are past the “Rare Cancer Seen in 41 Homosexuals” stage of this pandemic. But how far past?
This storm will pass. But the choices we make now could change our lives for years to come.
Yuval Noah Harari – March 20, 2020
Humankind is now facing a global crisis. Perhaps the biggest crisis of our generation. The decisions people and governments take in the next few weeks will probably shape the world for years to come. They will shape not just our healthcare systems but also our economy, politics and culture. We must act quickly and decisively. We should also take into account the long-term consequences of our actions. When choosing between alternatives, we should ask ourselves not only how to overcome the immediate threat, but also what kind of world we will inhabit once the storm passes. Yes, the storm will pass, humankind will survive, most of us will still be alive — but we will inhabit a different world.
Many short-term emergency measures will become a fixture of life. That is the nature of emergencies. They fast-forward historical processes. Decisions that in normal times could take years of deliberation are passed in a matter of hours. Immature and even dangerous technologies are pressed into service, because the risks of doing nothing are bigger. Entire countries serve as guinea-pigs in large-scale social experiments. What happens when everybody works from home and communicates only at a distance? What happens when entire schools and universities go online? In normal times, governments, businesses and educational boards would never agree to conduct such experiments. But these aren’t normal times.
In this time of crisis, we face two particularly important choices. The first is between totalitarian surveillance and citizen empowerment. The second is between nationalist isolation and global solidarity.
In order to stop the epidemic, entire populations need to comply with certain guidelines. There are two main ways of achieving this. One method is for the government to monitor people, and punish those who break the rules. Today, for the first time in human history, technology makes it possible to monitor everyone all the time. Fifty years ago, the KGB couldn’t follow 240m Soviet citizens 24 hours a day, nor could the KGB hope to effectively process all the information gathered. The KGB relied on human agents and analysts, and it just couldn’t place a human agent to follow every citizen. But now governments can rely on ubiquitous sensors and powerful algorithms instead of flesh-and-blood spooks.
In their battle against the coronavirus epidemic several governments have already deployed the new surveillance tools. The most notable case is China. By closely monitoring people’s smartphones, making use of hundreds of millions of face-recognising cameras, and obliging people to check and report their body temperature and medical condition, the Chinese authorities can not only quickly identify suspected coronavirus carriers, but also track their movements and identify anyone they came into contact with. A range of mobile apps warn citizens about their proximity to infected patients.
About the photography
The images accompanying this article are taken from webcams overlooking the deserted streets of Italy, found and manipulated by Graziano Panfili, a photographer living under lockdown
This kind of technology is not limited to east Asia. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel recently authorised the Israel Security Agency to deploy surveillance technology normally reserved for battling terrorists to track coronavirus patients. When the relevant parliamentary subcommittee refused to authorise the measure, Netanyahu rammed it through with an “emergency decree”.
You might argue that there is nothing new about all this. In recent years both governments and corporations have been using ever more sophisticated technologies to track, monitor and manipulate people. Yet if we are not careful, the epidemic might nevertheless mark an important watershed in the history of surveillance. Not only because it might normalise the deployment of mass surveillance tools in countries that have so far rejected them, but even more so because it signifies a dramatic transition from “over the skin” to “under the skin” surveillance.
Hitherto, when your finger touched the screen of your smartphone and clicked on a link, the government wanted to know what exactly your finger was clicking on. But with coronavirus, the focus of interest shifts. Now the government wants to know the temperature of your finger and the blood-pressure under its skin.
The emergency pudding
One of the problems we face in working out where we stand on surveillance is that none of us know exactly how we are being surveilled, and what the coming years might bring. Surveillance technology is developing at breakneck speed, and what seemed science-fiction 10 years ago is today old news. As a thought experiment, consider a hypothetical government that demands that every citizen wears a biometric bracelet that monitors body temperature and heart-rate 24 hours a day. The resulting data is hoarded and analysed by government algorithms. The algorithms will know that you are sick even before you know it, and they will also know where you have been, and who you have met. The chains of infection could be drastically shortened, and even cut altogether. Such a system could arguably stop the epidemic in its tracks within days. Sounds wonderful, right?
The downside is, of course, that this would give legitimacy to a terrifying new surveillance system. If you know, for example, that I clicked on a Fox News link rather than a CNN link, that can teach you something about my political views and perhaps even my personality. But if you can monitor what happens to my body temperature, blood pressure and heart-rate as I watch the video clip, you can learn what makes me laugh, what makes me cry, and what makes me really, really angry.
It is crucial to remember that anger, joy, boredom and love are biological phenomena just like fever and a cough. The same technology that identifies coughs could also identify laughs. If corporations and governments start harvesting our biometric data en masse, they can get to know us far better than we know ourselves, and they can then not just predict our feelings but also manipulate our feelings and sell us anything they want — be it a product or a politician. Biometric monitoring would make Cambridge Analytica’s data hacking tactics look like something from the Stone Age. Imagine North Korea in 2030, when every citizen has to wear a biometric bracelet 24 hours a day. If you listen to a speech by the Great Leader and the bracelet picks up the tell-tale signs of anger, you are done for.
You could, of course, make the case for biometric surveillance as a temporary measure taken during a state of emergency. It would go away once the emergency is over. But temporary measures have a nasty habit of outlasting emergencies, especially as there is always a new emergency lurking on the horizon. My home country of Israel, for example, declared a state of emergency during its 1948 War of Independence, which justified a range of temporary measures from press censorship and land confiscation to special regulations for making pudding (I kid you not). The War of Independence has long been won, but Israel never declared the emergency over, and has failed to abolish many of the “temporary” measures of 1948 (the emergency pudding decree was mercifully abolished in 2011).
Even when infections from coronavirus are down to zero, some data-hungry governments could argue they needed to keep the biometric surveillance systems in place because they fear a second wave of coronavirus, or because there is a new Ebola strain evolving in central Africa, or because . . . you get the idea. A big battle has been raging in recent years over our privacy. The coronavirus crisis could be the battle’s tipping point. For when people are given a choice between privacy and health, they will usually choose health.
The soap police
Asking people to choose between privacy and health is, in fact, the very root of the problem. Because this is a false choice. We can and should enjoy both privacy and health. We can choose to protect our health and stop the coronavirus epidemic not by instituting totalitarian surveillance regimes, but rather by empowering citizens. In recent weeks, some of the most successful efforts to contain the coronavirus epidemic were orchestrated by South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore. While these countries have made some use of tracking applications, they have relied far more on extensive testing, on honest reporting, and on the willing co-operation of a well-informed public.
Centralised monitoring and harsh punishments aren’t the only way to make people comply with beneficial guidelines. When people are told the scientific facts, and when people trust public authorities to tell them these facts, citizens can do the right thing even without a Big Brother watching over their shoulders. A self-motivated and well-informed population is usually far more powerful and effective than a policed, ignorant population.
Consider, for example, washing your hands with soap. This has been one of the greatest advances ever in human hygiene. This simple action saves millions of lives every year. While we take it for granted, it was only in the 19th century that scientists discovered the importance of washing hands with soap. Previously, even doctors and nurses proceeded from one surgical operation to the next without washing their hands. Today billions of people daily wash their hands, not because they are afraid of the soap police, but rather because they understand the facts. I wash my hands with soap because I have heard of viruses and bacteria, I understand that these tiny organisms cause diseases, and I know that soap can remove them.
But to achieve such a level of compliance and co-operation, you need trust. People need to trust science, to trust public authorities, and to trust the media. Over the past few years, irresponsible politicians have deliberately undermined trust in science, in public authorities and in the media. Now these same irresponsible politicians might be tempted to take the high road to authoritarianism, arguing that you just cannot trust the public to do the right thing.
Normally, trust that has been eroded for years cannot be rebuilt overnight. But these are not normal times. In a moment of crisis, minds too can change quickly. You can have bitter arguments with your siblings for years, but when some emergency occurs, you suddenly discover a hidden reservoir of trust and amity, and you rush to help one another. Instead of building a surveillance regime, it is not too late to rebuild people’s trust in science, in public authorities and in the media. We should definitely make use of new technologies too, but these technologies should empower citizens. I am all in favour of monitoring my body temperature and blood pressure, but that data should not be used to create an all-powerful government. Rather, that data should enable me to make more informed personal choices, and also to hold government accountable for its decisions.
If I could track my own medical condition 24 hours a day, I would learn not only whether I have become a health hazard to other people, but also which habits contribute to my health. And if I could access and analyse reliable statistics on the spread of coronavirus, I would be able to judge whether the government is telling me the truth and whether it is adopting the right policies to combat the epidemic. Whenever people talk about surveillance, remember that the same surveillance technology can usually be used not only by governments to monitor individuals — but also by individuals to monitor governments.
The coronavirus epidemic is thus a major test of citizenship. In the days ahead, each one of us should choose to trust scientific data and healthcare experts over unfounded conspiracy theories and self-serving politicians. If we fail to make the right choice, we might find ourselves signing away our most precious freedoms, thinking that this is the only way to safeguard our health.
We need a global plan
The second important choice we confront is between nationalist isolation and global solidarity. Both the epidemic itself and the resulting economic crisis are global problems. They can be solved effectively only by global co-operation.
First and foremost, in order to defeat the virus we need to share information globally. That’s the big advantage of humans over viruses. A coronavirus in China and a coronavirus in the US cannot swap tips about how to infect humans. But China can teach the US many valuable lessons about coronavirus and how to deal with it. What an Italian doctor discovers in Milan in the early morning might well save lives in Tehran by evening. When the UK government hesitates between several policies, it can get advice from the Koreans who have already faced a similar dilemma a month ago. But for this to happen, we need a spirit of global co-operation and trust.
Countries should be willing to share information openly and humbly seek advice, and should be able to trust the data and the insights they receive. We also need a global effort to produce and distribute medical equipment, most notably testing kits and respiratory machines. Instead of every country trying to do it locally and hoarding whatever equipment it can get, a co-ordinated global effort could greatly accelerate production and make sure life-saving equipment is distributed more fairly. Just as countries nationalise key industries during a war, the human war against coronavirus may require us to “humanise” the crucial production lines. A rich country with few coronavirus cases should be willing to send precious equipment to a poorer country with many cases, trusting that if and when it subsequently needs help, other countries will come to its assistance.
We might consider a similar global effort to pool medical personnel. Countries currently less affected could send medical staff to the worst-hit regions of the world, both in order to help them in their hour of need, and in order to gain valuable experience. If later on the focus of the epidemic shifts, help could start flowing in the opposite direction.
Global co-operation is vitally needed on the economic front too. Given the global nature of the economy and of supply chains, if each government does its own thing in complete disregard of the others, the result will be chaos and a deepening crisis. We need a global plan of action, and we need it fast.
Another requirement is reaching a global agreement on travel. Suspending all international travel for months will cause tremendous hardships, and hamper the war against coronavirus. Countries need to co-operate in order to allow at least a trickle of essential travellers to continue crossing borders: scientists, doctors, journalists, politicians, businesspeople. This can be done by reaching a global agreement on the pre-screening of travellers by their home country. If you know that only carefully screened travellers were allowed on a plane, you would be more willing to accept them into your country.
Unfortunately, at present countries hardly do any of these things. A collective paralysis has gripped the international community. There seem to be no adults in the room. One would have expected to see already weeks ago an emergency meeting of global leaders to come up with a common plan of action. The G7 leaders managed to organise a videoconference only this week, and it did not result in any such plan.
In previous global crises — such as the 2008 financial crisis and the 2014 Ebola epidemic — the US assumed the role of global leader. But the current US administration has abdicated the job of leader. It has made it very clear that it cares about the greatness of America far more than about the future of humanity.
This administration has abandoned even its closest allies. When it banned all travel from the EU, it didn’t bother to give the EU so much as an advance notice — let alone consult with the EU about that drastic measure. It has scandalised Germany by allegedly offering $1bn to a German pharmaceutical company to buy monopoly rights to a new Covid-19 vaccine. Even if the current administration eventually changes tack and comes up with a global plan of action, few would follow a leader who never takes responsibility, who never admits mistakes, and who routinely takes all the credit for himself while leaving all the blame to others.
If the void left by the US isn’t filled by other countries, not only will it be much harder to stop the current epidemic, but its legacy will continue to poison international relations for years to come. Yet every crisis is also an opportunity. We must hope that the current epidemic will help humankind realise the acute danger posed by global disunity.
Humanity needs to make a choice. Will we travel down the route of disunity, or will we adopt the path of global solidarity? If we choose disunity, this will not only prolong the crisis, but will probably result in even worse catastrophes in the future. If we choose global solidarity, it will be a victory not only against the coronavirus, but against all future epidemics and crises that might assail humankind in the 21st century.
Yuval Noah Harari is author of ‘Sapiens’, ‘Homo Deus’ and ‘21 Lessons for the 21st Century’
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Yuval Noah Harari (Foto: World Economic Forum/Ciaran Mc)
Para Harari, autor dos best-sellers “Sapiens: uma breve história da humanidade e Homo Deus: uma breve história do amanhã”, intensificar a globalização é o caminho para se vencer futuras pandemias
247 – Em artigo publicado no Le Monde, um dos principais jornais franceses, Yuval Noah Harari, historiador e filósofo israelense, alertou para o risco de políticas isolacionistas em decorrência do coronavírus: “[S]em confiança e solidariedade globais, não seremos capazes de parar a epidemia de COVID-19 e provavelmente teremos que enfrentar outras epidemias parecidas no futuro.”
Ele se refere ao discurso dominante no atual momento de pandemia. De acordo com ele, “[N]os últimos anos, políticos irresponsáveis minaram a confiança que se poderia ter na ciência, nas autoridades públicas e na cooperação internacional.”
Por exemplo, declarações como “vírus chinês” de líderes mundiais e teorias da conspiração que visam atacar a China, como a de que a tecnologia 5G é responsável pela transmissão do coronavírus, geram um ressentimento geopolítico que pode levar ao isolacionismo.
Ele continua: “a melhor defesa que os homens têm contra patógenos não é isolamento, é informação. A humanidade venceu a guerra contra patógenos porque, na corrida armamentista entre patógenos e médicos, os patógenos dependem de mutações cegas e os médicos da análise de dados científicos.”
“A verdadeira proteção vem do compartilhamento de informações científicas confiáveis e da solidariedade internacional. Quando um país é atingido por uma epidemia, ele deve compartilhar de forma transparente os dados coletados sobre a infecção, sem medo de desastres econômicos, enquanto outros países devem poder confiar nessas informações.”
Para ele, o mundo globalizado gera uma dinâmica na qual um caso com potencial grave em um país isolado “não apenas ameaça iranianos, italianos ou chineses, mas sua vida também, diretamente. O mundo inteiro tem interesse em não deixar isso acontecer.”
Assim, ele conclui: “Se essa epidemia levar à uma maior desunião e desconfiança entre os homens, essa seria a maior vitória do vírus. No entanto, se ela levar à uma cooperação mais estreita, aí sim não teremos somente derrotado o vírus, como também todos os outros que estão por vir.”
It should be no surprise that I’m obsessed with science fiction. Considering that I’m both a graphic designer and work in cryptocurrency, it’s practically required that I pay homage to the neon-soaked aesthetics of Blade Runner 2049, have a secret crush on Ava from Ex Machina, and geek out over pretty much anything Neal Stephenson puts out.
However, with a once theoretical dystopia now apparently on our doorstep, we should be considering the trajectory of our civilization now more than ever. Suddenly, the megacorps, oppressive regimes, and looming global crises don’t seem so distant anymore.
What were once just tropes in our favorite works of science fiction are now becoming realities that are impacting our daily lives.
And here we are, wrestling with the implications of our new reality while trapped in our living rooms staring into glowing rectangles straight out of Ready Player One.
Recent events surrounding COVID-19 have put us at a bit of a crossroad. We have an opportunity in front of us now to continue down this path, or use this crisis as a wake up call to pivot our future toward a world that is more equitable, safe, and empowering for all. We are the heroes of our own journey right now.
Our worldview and idea of what is possible is largely shaped by the media we consume. You are what you eat after all. And while the news might inform us, it’s our fiction that inspires us to imagine what is possible.
Science fiction has always asked the big questions, while simultaneously preparing us for what may be around the corner.
Where are we heading?
What problems might we create for ourselves?
And wait…weren’t we promised flying cars?
Through captivating characters, suspenseful plots, and philosophical musings woven throughout, we use fiction above all else to tell great stories and entertain. But there is another purpose, which is to inspire the next generation about what the human mind is capable of and to shape our future for generations to come.
How many engineers got their start after seeing Star Wars? How many interface designers were inspired by Minority Report? Famously, Steve Jobs was inspired to create the iPad after first seeing a concept in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The world needs this vision more than ever. And while I love the dystopian vibes of cyberpunk aesthetics as much as anyone, is there another world we can create that inspires us (and the next generation) to manifest a more sustainable, equitable, and free future for all?
I’ve recently come across a lesser known genre of science fiction called “solarpunk.” Like cyberpunk, it is a genre of speculative fiction wrapped in a signature aesthetic that paints a vision of the future we could create. The following definition from this reference guide summarizes it well:
Solarpunk is a movement in speculative fiction, art, fashion and activism that seeks to answer and embody the question “what does a sustainable civilization look like, and how can we get there?” The aesthetics of solarpunk merge the practical with the beautiful, the well-designed with the green and wild, the bright and colorful with the earthy and solid. Solarpunk can be utopian, just optimistic, or concerned with the struggles en route to a better world — but never dystopian. As our world roils with calamity, we need solutions, not warnings. Solutions to live comfortably without fossil fuels, to equitably manage scarcity and share abundance, to be kinder to each other and to the planet we share. At once a vision of the future, a thoughtful provocation, and an achievable lifestyle.
Apart from the clear aesthetic differences, a key difference here between solarpunk and cyberpunk is the emphasis on solutions, not warnings.
It appears that solarpunk is not interested in exploring potential paths that may go wrong. Rather, it assumes that the problems are already here and focuses most of its energy on solutions and a path forward. The warnings of cyberpunk tap into the fear of what might happen, and uses that as a premise for creating plot tension. Solarpunk encourages us to accept the reality of the present and move forward by focusing on solutions to the problems at hand.
There are also some clear differentiators on how society is structured and depicted in the two genres.
Economy dominated by large corporations
Environment is usually wrecked, oppressive
Powerful technology has created wealth gap
Drugs used as escape from reality
Man merging with machine
Decentralized symbiotic economic structures
Living in balance with environment
Technology empowers the individual
Drugs used to expand consciousness and augment reality
Man working alongside machine
Sunny with a chance of showers
A big difference here is how humanity chooses to harness the technology we create. Do we use it to evolve ourselves past our current biological form and catapult us toward merging with machines or do we show thoughtful restraint and use technology to bring us more in balance with our own biology and ecosystem?
This is the question for the ages, and yet I don’t think the answer has to be so black and white. In many ways, creating and using technology is the most natural thing that we can do as a species. A beaver gathering sticks to build a dam is no different than a person using an ax to build a roof over their head. The clean lines of an iPhone seem to contrast the squiggly lines of the raw materials it’s made of, but at the end of the day it’s all a byproduct of an exploding supernova.
“We are made of star stuff” — Carl Sagan
Technology does not need to be viewed as an alien phenomenon separating us from nature, but rather as an emergent phenomenon and inevitable byproduct of all natural systems.
Solarpunk ideas remind us that there is a path forward in which we can have our cake and eat it too. We can embrace the exponential rise of our understanding and control over the universe while using that knowledge to ensure that we do not destroy our environment, society and ourselves in the process.
Now I know what you might be thinking, because I am right there with you.
Is this too good to be true? Maybe.
Is reality likely to play out this peacefully? Unlikely.
Should that stop us from trying? No.
It’s called speculative fiction for a reason. It’s not productive to pretend that things will magically fall into place if we put out the right vibes into the universe. We need calculated progress, backing from the hard sciences, and an understanding that compromises and tradeoffs will always have to be made.
The goal of solarpunk is not to wish for a better future, but rather to propagate a series of values, approaches, and awarenesses into our collective psychology that allow us to continue pushing forward with our progress, without sacrificing our own humanity and connection to the natural world in that pursuit.
It is a well known concept that our expectations for the future are guided largely by our predictions of what it will look like. You don’t have to be stoned in a dorm room to think “Dude… the future only looks like the future because that’s what we say the future looks like.”
And yet our visions aren’t always correct. We constantly overestimate what can be done in one year and underestimate what can be done in 10 years. It is clear in drawings from the Victorian era that our predictions for the future are often misguided by our present moment.
When we say something looks futuristic, we are largely comparing that to other artifacts of our present, concept art, and this year’s latest blockbuster. It therefore puts a lot of pressure on the creators shaping our fictional worlds, for they are the first to the front lines in a war of ideas competing to define what the future of our world could and should look like.
Most of our stories about the future are largely dystopian. I understand how important the backdrop of an oppressive regime can be in creating an antagonist you love to hate, or how an experiment gone wrong can set up a hero’s redemption and a captivating plot arc, but I still find myself yearning for a different take on what our future could look like. Are we so sure that our path leads to dystopia that we can’t even explore alternative options, even in our imaginations?
I’m not trying to tell people what they should or should not create. In fact, I believe that our freedom to do so is a liberty that should be fought for at all cost. What I am asking, however, is why we as humans have a tendency to explore only the darkest visions of our future in the stories we tell ourselves? As fun as it is to dream up a techno dystopian future, I’d bet that most of us probably prefer not to live in a world that is oppressed, dangerous, and for some reason always raining.
I believe that, if we can manifest more visions of the future based not in what we are afraid of, but in what we are hopeful for, we’ll be surprised with what we accomplish and who we can inspire.
Escritor e professor Isaac Asimov fez, há 50 anos, surpreendentes previsões de como seria o mundo em 2014
Professor Isaac Asimov fez impressionantes previsões para 2014… há 50 anos (Reprodução)
Em 1964, durante a Feira Mundial de Nova York, o New York Times convidou o escritor de ficção científica e professor de bioquímica Isaac Asimov a fazer previsões de como seria o mundo 50 anos depois, ou seja, este ano. Asimov escreveu mais de 500 trabalhos, entre romances, contos, teses e artigos e sempre se caracterizou por fazer projeções acuradas sobre o futuro. As previsões do escritor, que morreu em 1991, são surpreendentes.
Asimov prevê que os equipamentos de culinária pouparão a humanidade de fazer trabalhos tediosos. “As cozinhas estão equipadas para fazer “auto-refeições”. “Almoços e jantares serão feitos com comidas semi-preparadas, que poderão ser conservadas em freezer. Em 2014, as cozinhas terão equipamentos capazes de preparar uma refeição individual em alguns poucos segundos”. Só faltou mesmo ele usar a palavra “microondas”.
O escritor previu um mundo repleto de computadores capazes de fazer as mais complexas tarefas. “Em 2014, haverá mini computadores instalados em robôs”, escreve ele, no que parece ser uma alusão aos chips. E garantiu que será possível fazer traduções com uma dessas máquinas, como se previsse a existência do Google Translator.
As ligações telefônicas terão imagem e voz, garantiu Asimov em seu texto. “As telas serão usadas não apenas para ver pessoas, mas também para estudar documentos e fotos e ler livros”. E prevê que satélites em órbita tornarão possível fazer conexões telefônicas para qualquer lugar da Terra e até mesmo “saber o clima na Antártica”. Mas em Terra haverá outras soluções. “A conexão terá que ser feita em tubos de plástico, para evitar a interferência atmosférica”, escreve ele, como se já conhecesse a fibra ótica.
Asimov previu que em 2014 o cinema seria apresentando em 3-D, mas garantiu que algumas coisas nunca mudariam: “Continuarão a existir filas de três horas para ver o filme”.
Ele previu que já existiriam algumas usinas experimentais produzindo energia com a fusão nuclear. Errou. Mas acertou quando vaticinou a existência de baterias recarregáveis para alimentar muitos aparelhos elétricos de nossa vida cotidiana. Mais ainda: “Uma vez usadas, as baterias só poderão ser recolhidas por agentes autorizados pelos fabricantes” — o que deveria acontecer, mas nem sempre acontece.
Asimov erra feio nas suas previsões relacionadas ao transporte.
Ele acreditou que carros e caminhões pudessem circular sem encostar no chão ou água, deslizando a uma altura de “um ou dois metros”. E que não haveria mais necessidade de construir pontes, “já que os carros seriam capazes de circular sobre as águas, mas serão desencorajados a fazer isso pelas autoridades”.
Para o escritor, em 2014 o homem já terá chegado a Marte com espaçonaves não tripuladas, embora “já estivesse sendo planejada uma expedição com pessoas e até a formação de uma colônia marciana”. O que nos faz lembrar da proposta pública de uma viagem a Marte só de ida, feita recentemente, para formar a primeira colônia no planeta.
Asimov cita a provável existência de “televisões de parede”, como se pudesse prever as telas planas, mas acredita que os aparelhos serão substituídos por cubos capazes de fazer transmissões em 3-D, visíveis de qualquer ângulo.
O escritor previu que a população mundial seria de 6,5 bilhões em 2014 (já passou dos 7 bilhões) e que áreas desérticas e geladas seriam ocupadas por cidades — o que não é exatamente errado. Mas preconizou, também, a má divisão de renda: “Uma grande parte da humanidade não terá acesso à tecnologia existente e, embora melhor do que hoje, estará muito defasada em relação às populações mais privilegiados do mundo. Nesse sentido, andaremos para trás”, escreve ele.
“Em 2014 será comum a ‘carne falsa’, feita com vegetais, e que não será exatamente ruim, mas haverá muita resistência a essa inovação”, escreve Asimov, referindo-se provavelmente aos hambúrgueres de soja.
Expectativa de vida
O escritor preconizou problemas devido à super população do planeta, atribuindo-a aos avanços da medicina: “O uso de aparelhos capazes de substituir o coração e outros órgãos vai elevar a expectativa de vida, em algumas partes do planeta, a 85 anos de idade”. A média mundial subiu de 52 anos em 1964 para 70 anos em 2012. Em alguns países, como Japão, Suíça e Austrália, já está em 82 anos.
“As escolas do futuro”, escreve Asimov, “apresentarão aulas em circuitos fechados de TV e todos os alunos aprenderão os fundamentos da tecnologia dos computadores”. O que ele não previu foi a possibilidade de os alunos ensinarem os professores quando se trata de uso de computadores — como, aliás, ocorre em algumas escolas públicas brasileiras.
Asimov previu uma população entediada, como sinal de uma doença que “se alastra a cada ano, aumentando de intensidade, o que terá consequência mentais, emocionais e sociais”. Depressão? “Ouso dizer”, prossegue ele, “que a psiquiatria será a especialidade médica mais importante em 2014. Aqueles poucos que puderem se envolver em trabalhos mais criativos formarão a elite da humanidade”.
Bioengineers have discovered that mouse embryos are contemplating their cellular fates in the earliest stages after fertilization when the embryo has only two to four cells, a discovery that could upend the scientific consensus about when embryonic cells begin differentiating into cell types. Their research used single-cell RNA sequencing to look at every gene in the mouse genome.
The research team used single-cell RNA-sequencing to measure every gene in the mouse genome at multiple stages of development to find differences in gene expression at precise stages. Credit: Art by Victor O. Leshyk provided courtesy of bioeningeering professor Sheng Zhong, UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.
Bioengineers at the University of California, San Diego have discovered that mouse embryos are contemplating their cellular fates in the earliest stages after fertilization when the embryo has only two to four cells, a discovery that could upend the scientific consensus about when embryonic cells begin differentiating into cell types. Their research, which used single-cell RNA sequencing to look at every gene in the mouse genome, was published recently in the journal Genome Research. In addition, this group published a paper on analysis of “time-course”single-cell data which is taken at precise stages of embryonic development in the journal of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“Until recently, we haven’t had the technology to look at cells this closely,” said Sheng Zhong, a bioengineering professor at UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering, who led the research. “Using single-cell RNA-sequencing, we were able to measure every gene in the mouse genome at multiple stages of development to find differences in gene expression at precise stages.”
The findings reveal cellular activity that could provide insight into where normal developmental processes break down, leading to early miscarriages and birth defects.
The researchers discovered that a handful of genes are clearly signaling to each other at the two-cell and four-cell stage, which happens within days after an egg has been fertilized by sperm and before the embryo has implanted into the uterus. Among the identified genes are several genes belonging to the WNT signaling pathway, well-known for their role in cell-cell communications.
The prevailing view until now has been that mammalian embryos start differentiating into cell types after they have proliferated into large enough numbers to form subgroups. According to the co-authors Fernando Biase and Xiaoyi Cao, when the first cell fate decision is made is an open question. The first major task for an embryo is to decide which cells will begin forming the fetus, and which will form the placenta.
The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health (DP2OD007417) and the March of Dimes Foundation.
Zhong’s research in the field of systems or network biology applies engineering principals to understand how biological systems function. For example, they developed analytical methods to predict personal phenotypes, which refer to the physical description of an individual ranging from eye and hair color to health and disposition, using an individual’s personal genome and epigenome. Epigenome refers to the chemical compounds in DNA that regulate gene expression and vary from person to person. Predicting phenotypes with genome and epigenome is an emerging area of research in the field of personalized medicine that scientists believe could provide new ways to predict and treat genetic disorders.
F. H. Biase, X. Cao, S. Zhong. Cell fate inclination within 2-cell and 4-cell mouse embryos revealed by single-cell RNA sequencing. Genome Research, 2014; 24 (11): 1787 DOI: 10.1101/gr.177725.114
W. Huang, X. Cao, F. H. Biase, P. Yu, S. Zhong. Time-variant clustering model for understanding cell fate decisions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014; 111 (44): E4797 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1407388111
Dec. 30, 2013 — As many of us start to think about our New Year’s resolutions (or breaking them), we may not realize that the tradition of making promises on the first day of the year is a custom started by our Roman ancestors.
Janus, the Roman god of new beginnings, was frequently shown with two faces, referring to the fact that he looks both backwards and forwards. The Romans named the first month of the Julian calendar, Januarius, in his honour. (Credit: Royal Holloway University)
“Rome’s highest officials made a resolution to remain loyal to the republic and swore oaths to the Emperor on 1st January,” said Professor Richard Alston, from the Department of Classics at Royal Holloway University.
“A grand ceremony marked the occasion, where the Roman legions would parade and sacrifices were made on the Capitoline Hill. This annual event renewed the bonds between citizens, the state and the gods.”
New Year’s Day offered all Roman citizens an opportunity to reflect on the past and look to the year ahead. People would exchange sweet fruits and honey, greet each other with blessings for the coming year and the courts only worked in the mornings, so they had a half day holiday.
“On 1 January, our Roman ancestors celebrated Janus, the god of new beginnings who had two faces — one looking into the past and another looking to the future,” Professor Alston added. “Janus represented doors and thresholds and the Romans named the month of January in his honour.
“Janus also symbolized the values of home, family, friendship and civilization, and the doors of his temple were closed when Rome was at peace and thrown open in times of war, as if the god was no longer present. Just like we do today, we also know that the Romans celebrated a mid-winter festival in which they met with friends, exchanges gifts and had a good time before the start of the year ahead.”
Physicist Stephen Hawking, speaking at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, said if humans don’t migrate from the planet Earth to colonize other planets, they’ll face extinction in 1,000 years. So, phew, we’re good, guys. We’ve got like 900-plus years to just sit on this. That’s a relief. [RT]