How We Can Build a Hardier World After the Coronavirus

Inequality means that some people must live near sources of air pollution, such as a steel mill, in Detroit—which in turn weakens their lungs and means that they can’t fight off COVID-19.Photograph from Alamy

The coronavirus pandemic has revealed one particularly shocking thing about our societies and economies: they have been operating on a very thin margin. The edifice seems so shiny and substantial, a world of silver jets stitching together cities of towering skyscrapers, a globe of soaring markets and smartphone connectivity. But a couple of months into this disease and it’s all tottering, the jets grounded and the cities silent and the markets reeling. One industry after another is heading for bankruptcy, and no one knows if they will come back. In other words, however shiny it may have seemed, it wasn’t very sturdy. Some people—the President, for instance—think that we can just put it all back like it was before, with a “big bang,” once the “invisible enemy” is gone. But any prosperity built on what was evidently a shaky foundation is going to seem Potemkinish going forward; we don’t want always to feel as if we’re just weeks away from some kind of chaos.

So if we’re thinking about building civilization back in a hardier and more resilient form, we’ll have to learn what a more stable footing might look like. I think that we can take an important lesson from the doctors dealing with the coronavirus, and that’s related to comorbidity, or underlying conditions. It turns out, not surprisingly, that if you’ve got diabetes or hypertension, or have a suppressed immune system, you’re far more likely to be felled by covid-19.

Societies, too, come with underlying conditions, and the two that haunt our planet right now are inequality and ecological turmoil. They’ve both spiked in the past few decades, with baleful results that normally stay just below the surface, felt but not fully recognized. But as soon as something else goes wrong—a new microbe launches a pandemic, say—they become starkly evident. Inequality, in this instance, means that people have to keep working, even if they’re not well, because they lack health insurance and live day to day, paycheck to paycheck, and hence they can spread disease. Ecological instability, especially the ever-climbing mercury, means that even as governors try to cope with the pandemic they must worry, too, about the prospect of another spring with massive flooding across the Midwest, or how they’ll cope if wildfire season gets out of control. Last month, the U.S. Forest Service announced that, owing to the pandemic, it is suspending controlled burns, for instance, “one of the most effective tools for increasing California’s resiliency to fire.” God forbid that we get another big crisis or two while this one is still preoccupying us—but simple math means that it’s almost inevitable.

And, of course, all these things interact with one another: inequality means that some people must live near sources of air pollution that most of us wouldn’t tolerate, which in turn means that their lungs are weakened, which in turn means they can’t fight off the coronavirus. (It also means that some of the same people can lack access to good food, and are more likely to be diabetic.) And, if there’s a massive wildfire, smoke fills the air for weeks, weakening everybody’s lungs, but especially those at the bottom of the ladder. When there’s a hurricane and people need to flee, the stress and the trauma can compromise immune systems. Simply living at the sharp end of an unequal and racist society can do the same thing. And so on, in an unyielding spiral of increasing danger.

Since we must rebuild our economies, we need to try to engineer out as much ecological havoc and inequality as we can—as much danger as we can. That won’t be easy, but there are clear and obvious steps that would help—there are ways to structure the increased use of renewable energy that will confront inequality at the same time. Much will be written about such plans in the months to come, but at the level of deepest principle here’s what’s key, I think: from a society that has prized growth above all and been willing to play fast and loose with justice and ecology, we need to start emphasizing sturdiness, hardiness, resiliency. (And a big part of that is fairness.) The resulting world won’t be quite as shiny, but, somehow, shininess seems less important now.


Passing the Mic

Mary Annaïse Heglar is one of the freshest and most important voices in the climate movement. She’s the writer-in-residence at Columbia University’s Earth Institute in partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council. Her personal essays—most of which revolve around themes of climate justice—are some of the most engaging writing I know on a subject that often inspires earnestness; a recent favorite was in Wired magazine. This interview has been condensed for clarity.

You say, “The facts have been on our side for a very long time, but we’re still losing.” Why?

The science on climate change has been crystal clear for literally decades. As Amy Westervelt has illustrated beautifully, on her podcast “Drilled,” the fossil-fuel companies knew that before anyone else. James Hansen testified before Congress thirty-two years ago. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (the precursor to the Paris Agreement) dates back to 1992. We didn’t wind up in a climate crisis for lack of information, or even for lack of clearly communicated information. What was done was not done out of ignorance—it was done out of malice and greed. If all we had to do was have the right facts, we’d have been done a long time ago.

People feel as if they can’t take part in the fight because they’re not scientifically inclined. What do you tell them?

What I tell them is, “Girl, me, neither!” But you don’t need a scientific background or inclination to be part of the climate movement or conversation. This is not about science; it’s about justice. The science proves the severity of the injustice, sure, but it’s not the entire story. There’s a place for everyone in the climate movement because everyone, even the smallest toddler, understands the concept of “no fair.”

Everyone always asks me, “What should I be doing as an individual?” But is that even the right way to frame the question?
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I get that question all the time, too, and it’s really frustrating. As I argue in my article, if you’re ready to graduate beyond the things that everyone should be doing—like cutting your carbon footprint, and voting for the climate, and showing up to demonstrations—then you’ve reached the point where you’re ready to become a bona-fide climate person. That means you’re past the one-size-fits-all activism. It’s time for your activism to mold to you, and only you can do that. No one told Greta [Thunberg] to strike, no one told Jamie and Nadia [the teen-age climate activists Jamie Margolin and Nadia Nazar] to help start Zero Hour. They just did it. No one told me to write—in fact, plenty of people told me not to! There’s so much to be done on climate, and so much that the people already involved with it haven’t thought of. There’s so much room for new ideas and new voices, so if you’re a new or aspiring climate person, you’re right on time. The better question would be “What can I do next?” An even better question would be “How did you find your niche in climate?” And then take those answers and carve out your own niche.


Climate School

As Earth Day approaches, Denis Hayes, who spearheaded the original observance, in 1970, writes in the Seattle Times about what had been the plans for a mass fiftieth-anniversary day of action next week. The activities will be going online, instead, at EarthDayLive, but Hayes points out that we’ll get a real chance to show our commitment on November 3rd. His essay is worth looking at for the vintage photographs alone, but he adds an aside that I didn’t know: just days after the original protest, in which some twenty million Americans participated, the escalation of the war in Cambodia and the shootings at Kent State drove it out of the news.

Cutting down rain forests is a bad idea because it helps wreck the climate. It also increases the chances that diseases will jump from animals to humans, according to a new Stanford study. The veteran writer David Quammen distills some of those lessons in a new interview, based on his book “Spillover,” from 2012. I confess that I had no idea that one in four mammal species on our planet was a bat.

The Times has a doleful piece on Nepali climate migrants leaving their home villages because of the Himalayan drought. According to one official, ongoing bouts of extreme weather across the region threaten to “reverse and undermine decades of development gains and potentially undermine all our efforts to eradicate poverty.”

Scoreboard

President Trump keeps rolling back environmental regulations, but one of the few silver linings to the incompetence of this Administration is that it frequently manages the rollbacks with the same flat-footedness that it brings to, say, epidemiology. This means that the courts often overturn them; last week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit restored a regulation that prohibited businesses from using chemicals in refrigeration systems that contribute to climate change.

In Kansas (of all places), a judge appointed by the former far-right governor Sam Brownback (of all people) ruled that the utilities could not charge people a monthly fee more for putting solar panels on their roofs. The surcharge—similar to plans put in place across the nation by utilities who fear that the quick penetration of solar power will undercut their revenues—would have in some cases extended the time it takes for residents to pay off their systems from thirteen years to thirty-nine. That the judge was the appointee of an anti-environmental governor makes the ruling “almost a cherry on top of an ice-cream sundae,” as one advocate put it.

Warming Up

Judy Twedt, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Washington, managed to put the Keeling Curve of rising carbon dioxide to music—“it gets screechy at the end,” she admits, as the numbers keep rising. Here’s a short interview with her, and her tedx talk, and her home page, where you can check out the score she made from the data record of melting sea ice.


A Guide to the Coronavirus

The Year You Finally Read a Book About Climate Change

Selected by the NYT editors of the Books and Climate Desks

Perhaps you prefer reading to escape reality, not confront it. But if the 50th anniversary of Earth Day has inspired you to decide that now’s the time to pick up a book about climate change, we’re here to help you find the right one for you.

I don’t even know where to start.

What We Know About Climate Change

by Kerry Emanuel

nonfiction

An M.I.T. climatologist and a conservative, Emanuel sounds the alarm in a measured and scientifically sound way, making clear what we know and what we don’t know. There is little panic in this slender book, but there is a lot of troubling information.

Emanuel specifically thought of his book as a way of offering ammunition to those trying to convince family members or friends who are skeptical or don’t understand the science.

“Young adults who are disputing this problem with their own parents or an uncle or something — they can hand the book to them and say, ‘Will you at least read this?’” Emanuel said in a 2013 interview with The Times. “One at a time, you might change minds.”

I just want to understand how we got here.

The End of Nature

by Bill McKibben

nonfiction

McKibben wrote this book in 1989 when global warming was still referred to with the more innocuous sounding phrase “the greenhouse effect.” It was an abstract worry in the future even for environmentalists, who were still reeling from the fight to save the ozone layer. For McKibben the crises were connected and spoke to a bigger problem: a disregard for nature and how humans were capable of harming it.

His book is a lament that nature has lost its independence. Even if everything could be done to stave off warming, McKibben writes, it would have to come from human ingenuity and depend on our intervention into natural processes. This is another sign that we have encroached too far — that nature itself is over, as McKibben puts it.

His only solution, one we certainly have not heeded in the decades since, is to take a step back, “to go no farther down the path we’ve been following.”

I’m ready for the hard truth. Don’t sugar-coat it.

The Sixth Extinction

by Elizabeth Kolbert

nonfiction

Reporting from the Andes, the Amazon rainforest, the Great Barrier Reef and her own backyard, Kolbert registers the impact of climate change on the life of our planet. What emerges is a picture of the sixth mass extinction, which threatens to eliminate 20 to 50 percent of all species on Earth within this century.

All the warnings are here, in Kolbert’s elegant, accessible prose: sea levels rising, deforestation, the dispersion of disease-carrying species. But she also digs deep, offering an intellectual history of “extinction” and placing in context the catastrophes ahead by grappling with how life on Earth ended and was regenerated in the distant past.

“By disrupting these systems,” Kolbert writes, “we’re putting our own survival in danger.”

For the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, The New York Times is bringing you The Greenhouse, a five-part digital event series on climate change. Join us on our next live video call this Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. Eastern, where the Times Book Review editor Gal Beckerman and climate journalist Kendra Pierre-Louis will discuss this recommended list. They will also be joined by Amitav Ghosh, the author of “The Great Derangement.”

Who saw this coming?

The Drowned World

by J.G. Ballard

fiction

With its vision of a London swamped by the rising Thames River and a warming planet leading to an urban landscape of lush tropical foliage, Ballard’s dystopian fantasy — written in 1962 — laid the groundwork for generations of climate-change fiction to come. The book imagines the dawning of a new geologic age like the one environmentalists now call the Anthropocene, with resulting changes to a broad swath of plant and animal species, humans very much among them.

The plot involves a looter who refuses to leave London even as the water grows hotter, and an expedition of scientists trying to determine whether civilization might someday take root again. “But the main action is in the deeper reaches of the mind,” Kingsley Amis wrote in a 1963 review of the book for The Observer, “the main merit the extraordinary imaginative power with which whatever inhabits these reaches is externalized in concrete form. The book blazes with images, striking in themselves and yet continuously meaningful.”

I’m fascinated by how people behave when things get bad.

The Wall

by John Lanchester

fiction

Lanchester’s novel, published in 2019, elegantly and chillingly imagines how current political attitudes might play out as the repercussions of climate change grow more severe. With sea levels rising and extreme weather events increasingly common, an island nation that closely resembles Britain has built a concrete wall around its entire perimeter to hold back both the water and the desperate tide of refugees from harder-hit areas.

The narrator, Joseph Kavanagh, has embarked on his mandatory two-year service as a “Defender,” guarding a section of the wall against outsiders even as he falls in love and mulls in restrained language about what the future will bring. That includes the threat of invasion, as a government official tells the Defenders at a pivotal moment: “The shelter blew away, the waters rose to the higher ground, the ground baked, the crops died, the ledge crumbled, the well dried up. The safety was an illusion. … The Others are coming.”

Did we learn anything from Hurricane Katrina?

Salvage the Bones

by Jesmyn Ward

fiction

Set in the days leading up to and immediately after Hurricane Katrina, this National Book Award-winning novel follows a black family in Mississippi as it prepares for, and recovers from, disaster. Esch, a pregnant teenager, is at the center of the story. A fierce, mythology-loving young woman, she’s quick to connect the events of her own life with those of the Greeks.

For all the devastation at its core, this is an insistently hopeful book. As our reviewer put it: “Like every good myth, at its heart, the book is salvific; it wants to teach you how to wait out the storm and swim to safety.”

I live on the coast. How scared should I be?

The Water Will Come

by Jeff Goodell

nonfiction

“Sea-level rise is one of the central facts of our time, as real as gravity,” Goodell writes at the start of his book, published in 2017. “It will reshape our world in ways most of us can only dimly imagine.” This book takes us there, to a place where we can picture Miami completely underwater.

Goodell, who has written other books about climate change, here travels the world to cities like Lagos, Rotterdam and Venice that are at risk of vanishing if the rise in water levels follows current projections.

Maybe the most interesting element he explores is people’s inability to see the rising tide. Talking to an influential developer in Miami, Goodell asks if he’s worried about the future when the ocean takes over. He isn’t, he says. “Besides,” the developer adds, “by that time, I’ll be dead, so what does it matter?”

New York is the center of my universe.

New York 2140

by Kim Stanley Robinson

fiction

It can be easy to forget that the island of Manhattan is just that, an island — but as rising waters encroach on coastal lands everywhere, life in the city has the potential to change dramatically. Robinson’s novel, published in 2017, envisions a financial district with canals in place of streets and an uptown crowded with skyscrapers as the wealthy move to higher ground.

A thought experiment with an ensemble cast, the novel is less concerned with a conventional plot than with showing a slice of life across various classes, with particular attention to the workings of the economy and other social systems. Maybe the most remarkable feature of the story is how little it imagines life changing, despite the drastically revised landscape: The building super works on repairing submerged apartments, the police inspector looks for missing squatters and the hedge funder bets on mortgages that are (literally) under water.

What’s happening to the Great Lakes?

The Death and Life of the Great Lakes

by Dan Egan

nonfiction

Egan tells the story of the Great Lakes as a series of radical ecological mutations. Ever since the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825, and accelerating after the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959, the lakes have experienced a parade of ever more villainous invaders, from the vampire-like lamprey to a small bug-eyed fish called the alewife. The attempts to defeat them only led to a series of unintended consequences that made matters worse.

This is a classic case of human meddling. Lake Erie in particular provides water to 11 million people and experiences more debilitating algal blooms than any of the other Great Lakes. It is suffering because of the presence of life-sucking mussels that have made their way around the lakes on the hulls of speedboats.

All this means, Egan writes, that we could soon experience “a natural and public health disaster unlike anything this country has experienced in modern times.”

I know it’s all politics. So who’s to blame?

Losing Earth

by Nathaniel Rich

nonfiction

How did we get here, and more importantly, how long have we known it was going to get this bad? Rich’s book comes to the shocking conclusion that, as he puts it, “nearly every conversation we have in 2019 about climate change was being held in 1979.”

This is a history of what could have been. Rich frames his narrative through a central character, Rafe Pomerance, a Friends of the Earth lobbyist who first came across the issue of global warming in a 1979 E.P.A. report. The problem was met with immediate concern, even by conservatives. But then? The initial clarity and momentum was lost. Rich sees politicians and energy companies as bearing most of the blame.

The sad fact we’re left with is that even though the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was established in 1988, a hopeful convergence, more carbon has been emitted into the atmosphere since then than in all the preceding years’ of history of civilization.

Someone must be profiting from climate change. Where’s the money?

Windfall

by McKenzie Funk

nonfiction

In this deeply reported 2014 book, Funk covers the globe to find the stories of those companies and countries that are responding to global warming in the most craven way imaginable. Rather than search for solutions, they are imagining the best means for making money off the changing contours of the planet.

Shell and Chevron are investing billions in oil fields in the Arctic, where retreating ice has created more exploitable land. China and speculators from Wall Street are setting up huge farms in African countries to take advantage of coming food shortages. Then there is the private security industry, which is gearing up to help prevent the movement of climate refugees with improved walls and surveillance equipment.

It’s a sad tale, which Funk tries to mitigate by also profiling those companies pouring their energies into creative responses to these situations.

I’d like a novel that taps into my current, IRL dread.

Weather

by Jenny Offill

fiction

Lizzie, the narrator of Offill’s latest novel, is a mother who’s juggling fears on multiple levels: concern for her brother, a recovering addict; financial worries; and general apprehension about the direction of the world. This taxonomy might feel familiar to many readers: How can you reconcile your personal, daily inconveniences with the fear that the world as we know it is ending?

Our reviewer pointed out the book’s narrative dilemma, asking: “What happens when the horror of climate change gets lodged so deep under our skin we can’t escape it any longer? What happens when an author manages to translate this horror from an abstraction to a gripping tale of immediate particulars?”

Ultimately, this slim book is an “attempt to tell a story about climate change that carries the same visceral force as our private emotional dramas — that is, in fact, inseparable from them.”

What are some future scenarios?

The Madaddam Trilogy

by Margaret Atwood

fiction

Atwood’s terrifying, though often very funny, series imagines the societal, economic and biological fallout from an ecological disaster right down to glowing rabbits, labs with names like the RejoovenEsense Compound and pseudo-foods called ChickieNobs.

“Oryx and Crake,” the first book, focuses on a character named Snowman, who makes his way as one of the last remaining humans in a post-pandemic world. “The Year of the Flood,” the next novel, essentially retells that story from other perspectives, giving Snowman’s backstory, set against the backdrop of the arrival of a disaster long feared by a religious cult. And as our reviewer wrote of “MaddAddam,” the finale: It “lights a fire from the fears of our age, then douses it with hope for the planet’s survival. But that survival may not include us.”

I’m a dystopian. Prepare me for the worst.

The Fifth Season

by N.K. Jemisin

fiction

This fantasy novel, the first in Jemisin’s astonishing Broken Earth trilogy, imagines social collapse going hand-in-hand with geologic catastrophe on a planet as violent as the people who inhabit it. With the world’s single supercontinent in the process of dividing, and climate change wrought by vast clouds of volcanic ash, the ruling elites work to subjugate a minority population that has some ability to influence planetary events.

In The Times, the science writer Annalee Newitz praised the book for exploring a science that is “oddly neglected in science fiction: the geophysics of exoplanets. Though we have plenty of stories about the physics of space travel and the biology of alien life, very few authors tackle the actual rocky, gassy, molten stuff that planets are made of. Jemisin does it brilliantly, crafting a tale that is both intensely moving and scientifically complex.” The book was the first by an African-American writer to win the Hugo Award for best novel, but not the last: Each of its sequels also won, making Jemisin the first author ever to win the Hugo for every book in a trilogy.

I need help arguing with my denialist uncle.

Merchants of Doubt

by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway

nonfiction

Two historians of science, Oreskes and Conway, take a step back to understand the ways that science itself can be co-opted. They begin by looking at how the tobacco industry got scientists to refute studies that linked smoking and lung cancer, and move on to the pernicious role that right-wing think tanks have played in undermining the scientific data about acid rain and the ozone layer.

The latest and perhaps most dangerous of these campaigns has been waged against climate change. Oreskes and Conway detail how little known but well-funded groups like the Heartland Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute have managed to sow doubt on behalf of industries that don’t have an interest in confronting global warming.

The authors also have another warning: In the interest of balance, journalists have sometimes propagated ideas that are false and harmful, inadvertently helping to spread confusion.

I’m just an old-fashioned tree-hugger.

The Overstory

by Richard Powers

fiction

Trees are the real heroes of this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, a series of interconnected stories that follow characters from 1800s New York to the timber wars of the Pacific Northwest. Whether it’s an immigrant family staking its new life on the American chestnut or an 11-year-old coder who has an unfortunate encounter with a Spanish oak, humans’ connections to trees make up the emotional core of this book.

As our our reviewer, Barbara Kingsolver, wrote of Powers: “Using the tools of story, he pulls readers heart-first into a perspective so much longer-lived and more subtly developed than the human purview that we gain glimpses of a vast, primordial sensibility, while watching our own kind get whittled down to size.”

What about the animals?

Flight Behavior

by Barbara Kingsolver

fiction

The sudden, unusual appearance of monarch butterflies rattles a rural Tennessee farm town, and a rift soon opens up in the community: Religious residents see the insect swarms as a sign from God, while others are drawn toward scientific explanations. Dellarobia, a young mother in an unhappy marriage, is one of the latter. When an entomologist comes to town to study the butterflies, he hires Dellarobia to work alongside him, offering her a chance to expand and improve her life.

Kingsolver, who was a scientist before she began writing novels, seamlessly weaves together the story of a biological aberration and a woman’s coming of age.

I only have time for one canonical read.

Parable of the Sower

by Octavia Butler

fiction

It’s 2024 California and the situation is dire: Water is scarce, communities are walled off and a pill called “pyro” gives immense pleasure to people who start fires. As one character puts it: “People have changed the climate of the world. Now they’re waiting for the old days to come back.”

This 1993 classic is composed of diary entries by an African-American teenager, Lauren, who’s determined to make her way in this new world. The daughter of a Baptist minister, she develops her own belief system, Earthseed, and has “hyperempathy,” which causes her to experience other people’s pain and pleasure as if it were her own. Eventually, she’s forced to flee her home and head north, accompanied by a group of survivors who rally behind her vision for a better world.

What will inspire the climate activist of the future?

Our House Is on Fire: Great Thunberg’s Call to Save the Planet

by Jeanette Winter

kids

With charming artwork and straightforward language, this picture book, aimed at children aged 3 to 8, uses the inspiring life story of the young climate activist Greta Thunberg to help kids understand climate change — and to give them a sense of what they can do about it.

By following Thurnberg’s story — of a girl who at 15 decided she wasn’t going to be complacent about the crises she kept hearing about — young people can see how powerful an individual can be when they decide to act.

Though it’s aimed at informing and motivating, the book, like Thurnberg, is also about urgency. Her dramatic words guide the tone: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic … I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”

What will our grandchildren think of us?

The Great Derangement

by Amitav Ghosh

nonfiction

Ghosh gets right to the heart of the matter, imagining how our great grandchildren will view us and offering a disturbing vision: We are deranged. Our inability to deal with a catastrophe we can’t see but know is coming indicates a failure of imagination.

The interesting contribution of this book, which comes out of a series of lectures Ghosh delivered at the University of Chicago in 2015, is his indictment of the culture-makers. It has become unfashionable to seem too concerned. To make climate change the theme or setting of a novel, Ghosh writes, is “to court eviction from the mansion in which serious fiction has long been in residence.”

His bigger point is that we need a change of narrative. But to do this means that those who make our narratives need to lead the way, to bring their talents of storytelling to bear on what is, he writes, no less than an “existential danger.”

What I can do right now?

The Story of More

by Hope Jahren

nonfiction

Jahren, the author of the acclaimed memoir “Lab Girl,” turns her attention to climate change and specifically the responsibility we each bear for contributing to the problem. It’s not a scolding book — Jahren approaches the problem from the perspective of her own personal life, her youth in the Midwest and her decision to move to Oslo in 2016 because of the state of scientific research in America.

She looks at the way our decisions about what we eat affect the planet as a whole. What concerns her is the divide between those who consume and waste more and those who live on much less. By looking at the global disparities, she comes to stark conclusions about who is the cause of the problem and what could be a solution.

As she puts it, “What was only a faint drumbeat as I began to research this book now rings in my head like a mantra: Use Less and Share More.”

SOURCE


Written by Gal Beckerman, Greg Cowles and Joumana Khatib. Designed and produced by Claire O’Neill.

Here Are Some Wealth Equality Measures COVID-19 May Spur

Two economists call for reknitting a much stronger safety net in Canada. Plus, a Tyee video explainer on universal basic income.

WATCH: This short Tyee video explains the idea of a universal basic income. The policy may gain currency if Canada is plunged into a depression causing high unemployment, argues economist Lars Osberg. 

The pandemic is throwing a spotlight on those most vulnerable in Canada’s economy, and emboldening governments to take measures long urged by critics of the nation’s widening wealth inequality. The Tyee interviewed two economists who say the crisis could spur further policy shifts designed to shrink the divide.

Housing the homeless

People who are poor are most affected by the pandemic, noted Lars Osberg, an economics professor at Dalhousie University and author of The Age of Increasing Inequality: The Astonishing Rise of Canada’s 1%. And the pain is just beginning. “There’s going to be quite a likelihood of a severe recession and it could last some time.”

“People in the homeless population typically have a lot of health problems, partly because their life is so stressful, so they’re quite susceptible to all sorts of ailments,” Osberg said. “And, one of the things that a pandemic reminds us of is that their health affects our health, if they get sick, we get sick.”

Don Davies, the NDP MP for Vancouver-Kingsway, made similar points in a recent Facebook Live town hall. “I think we have to pay particular attention to the Downtown Eastside and vulnerable populations, like people that are living on the street who find it very difficult to self-isolate, and find it very difficult to keep social distancing,” Davies said. “So I think we have to put more resources and we have to try extra hard in order to assist those populations.”

Raising taxes on wealthier Canadians

“Public health and the prevention of epidemics and pandemics is just a good reason why you have to have a decent standard of living for people at the bottom of this society,” said Osberg. “And to pay for that, you need taxes on people at the top.”

He suggests taxing not just the earnings of wealthy people, but their holdings. Such wealth taxes, he said, “are useful ways of preventing the ever-increasing concentration of wealth.” Without such interventions, the stratum of people who make most of their money from increasing values of assets such as real estate and stocks will steadily pull away from wage earners in the percentage of overall wealth they control, the French economist Thomas Piketty has documented.

The pandemic will only hasten that divide, argued Osberg. “At the top of the income pyramid, if you’ve got a big salary, if you’ve got a lot of dividends coming in, [the pandemic does not much] affect you. But many, many people are working paycheque to paycheque and so it’s a really big deal when suddenly paycheque dry up and that was what the welfare state was supposed to be all about, giving people a sense of economic security about their future.”

851px version of inequality.jpeg
Amidst the pandemic, a lineup at the Cash Money outlet on Broadway Street in Vancouver. Canada’s employment rate fell to 58 per cent in March, the lowest since 1997. Photo by Joshua Berson.

 

Osberg also expects to see renewed efforts to tax the money people leave behind when they die. “Canada is one of the few countries in the world that doesn’t have an inheritance tax. Even the United States has an inheritance tax,” he said. “Historically, that was always a major initiative of social reformers to prevent the emergence of an inherited elite who just passed the fortunes from one generation to the next.”

Seeing government debt and deficit budgets differently

“I think there was a sort of manufactured crisis in the mid-1990s about the debt levels [of provinces] and the debt level of the federal government,” Osberg said. “So [social welfare] programs were cut back dramatically in the mid-1990s, and then they were never restored, and that produced an increase in economic insecurity which amounts to a decline in our quality of life.”

Facing the post-pandemic recession, governments will have to weigh any criticisms about accumulating debt against the economic survival needs of many citizens. “Resentments build up when people can plainly see that they’re not participating in the growth of incomes that they observe,” Osberg said.

“The last few weeks has clearly shown that you don’t have to balance the budget, if government wants to spend a few hundred billion dollars, they can spend a few hundred billion dollars,” he said. “That’s what they’ve just done right, in the space of like, a couple of weeks, these entirely new social programs have just appeared, right? Yeah. That could have been done at any point in time.”

“One way that the elite can kind of keep a lid on it is by looking for scapegoats,” Osberg continued, pointing to the immigrant-bashing tactics of U.S. President Donald Trump.

Expanding and strengthening the rights of employees

Kevin Milligan, an economics professor at the University of British Columbia, says he would like to see a change in how we talk about essential workers.

“It’s going to be a very different conversation about the rights of employees, about working in unsafe conditions, about the value they provide,” he told The Tyee. “I think that those conversations are going to look very different now than they did a few weeks ago.”

Bolstering local production of vital products

Given the shortage in coronavirus-fighting supplies such as masks, ventilators and testing kits, MP Davies believes that Canada should be making those products within its borders. “I have been calling on our government to ramp up domestic production of all of these to better ensure that we can produce these essential supplies and the equipment we want,” he said.

Osberg agreed, predicting “more of an emphasis on building this stuff here, because, you never know when the trade routes will get disrupted again.”

But Milligan offered a caution. “I think it makes sense to have some domestic productive capacity for emergency supplies but I would not want that to lead to a broad retrenchment of global supply chains which benefits so many of us in so many ways. If we shut that down, it would immiserate us all.”

Raising the floor for workers as higher unemployment becomes the norm

Canada’s employment rate fell to 58 per cent in March, the lowest since 1997. Rather than a blip, it may be a sign of what becomes normal in the future, said Osberg. “It’s not just this downturn, it’s also the long-term thing we have to worry about when we have more and more technological unemployment.”

Osberg said the COVID-19 crisis provides a lesson we should not ignore, by illustrating “the need for a much stronger social safety net. Part of that is an unemployment insurance system that’s worthy of the name. Part of that also is a guaranteed annual income.” To learn about how a guaranteed annual income could work, watch The Tyee’s short video explainer at the top of this piece.  [Tyee]

Now Is the Time to Enshrine Ecocide Into Law

In the wake of the global tragedy that is COVID-19, the international community must come together and enshrine Ecocide into law.

Shutterstock

Shutterstock

In a very significant move, after more than 200 conservation NGOs called on the WHO to ban live wildlife markets this week, a bipartisan group of US lawmakers have followed suit. The UK government will, I am confident, do the same in due course, but we must think bigger than that.

The international community must use the shared tragedy of COVID-19 as the catalyst for incorporating planetary health into all future multilateral agreements, and – most importantly – for this to be legally binding. There is a mechanism for this: Ecocide should be added to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Banning wildlife markets and properly enforcing the laws around wildlife crime is an obvious starting point, but what we require is a seismic shift in the way we treat our natural resources; enshrining Ecocide into law would be that seismic shift.

In a global economy natural resources are shared resources: when China fails to police the wildlife trade we all suffer; when Brazil burns the Amazon we all suffer; when Australia’s domestic policies lead to the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef we all suffer, and it is time that the perpetrators of these globally-significant crimes be held accountable by the rest of the international community.

When governments, corporations and individuals breach human rights, they are made to suffer the costs politically, financially and in restriction of trade or liberty. The time has come for Ecocide – crimes against nature – to be treated the same way as genocide and other crimes against humanity, because crimes against nature are crimes against humanity.  SOURCE


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Eco anxiety, anxiety climate… the solution to save the planet ?

The water in the canals, to Venice, back to crystal clear.The birds singing, you hear everywhere, even in the city. The emission of CO 2 decreases dramatically, leading to the heavens purest air and most breathable. Aerial photos from China that show how pollution has decreased… in The middle of the human drama caused by the coronavirus, we will have had a thin comfort : see nature take back color. As we said the philosopher Frédéric Lenoir, ” while we wore masks, the planet breathed “. A meager satisfaction, certainly, but a satisfaction all the same which reminds us that our mind is often more affected than we think by the environmental. Because our moral also depends on the state of nature. And when it is damaged, polluted, defiled, we do not feel well.

This sadness, inner suffering, related to the destruction of landscape now has a name : the “solastalgie” (others prefer to speak of” eco-anxiety “, but the expression is less pretty). A kind of nostalgia for the beauty vanished from our planet. This is one of the concepts most discussed in ecology today and that could well make a difference. The term was coined by the australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht in 2003, whose major book, ” The Emotions of the Earth “, has just been published in France. He relied on the experience of the inhabitants of the Hunter Valley in Australia. They lived in a place that is rustic and beautiful, a little corner of paradise, up to this gigantic open-pit mines will be dug, creating a hell of industrial pollution terrible, ugliness crippling, horrific crash. As a result, a deep sense of sadness, discouragement – sometimes with physical and psychological conditions – seized of the premises. To describe the damage caused among his fellow-citizens, Albrecht coined the term ” solastalgie “, which refers to ” the pain of having lost a place to which it was attached “. A concept that is today a great success, adopted by many thinkers and activists eco – friendly to begin with Naomi Klein in “Plan B for the planet : the green New Deal,” (ed Actes Sud) — and now studied at the university, of thesis of 3rd cycle it being even devoted to them. “The interest of the solastalgie, it is that it addresses the practical impact of the destruction of nature on people,” explains Alexandre Lacroix, the editorial director of “Philosophy Magazine” and author of “in Front of the beauty of nature” (Allary Editions). How, for example, the visual or sound pollution can have consequences on the psyche of the human being. Too often, the discourse on ecological is a little abstract and cold : it refers to reports that are encrypted, the levels of CO 2, it refers to the carbon footprint… Not always easy to represent. So if you’re talking to someone from this end of the field that he loved and which has been cemented or converted into a discharge, all in a row, it will include… The solastalgie allows you to resume a link that is simpler, more emotional landscapes. “To highlight the aesthetic dimension of ecological disaster, this is echoed by many people. Moreover, it is based on the feelings solastalgiques that the German Greens were able to experience electoral success. As they spoke of global warming, their discourse remained too theoretical. But when they began to evoke the pain to see the Black Forest damaged by pollution, a lot more voters adhered to their views.

The term eco-anxiety is too negative, too scary. While the solastalgie is more wide, more open. Alice Desbiolles, doctor

The doctor Alice Desbiolles, specialist in environmental health, which animates the page Facebook ” The Stétho Alice “, has first introduced this concept in France (a book on the topic is planned for the autumn).

“The solastalgie and eco-anxiety are the same thing. It is the moral distress related to the destruction of its environment. But I find that the term eco-anxiety is too negative, too scary. While the term solastalgie is more wide, more open. He had a lot of success as it put a word on the evils felt by many. I get a number of testimonies : some will be disrupted by the fires in Australia, others by the global warming or the destruction of the species. But all will experience this solastalgie…”

There are these extreme natural events that are raging in the far distance, and that we are concerned about. There is also what is happening around us, which affects our privacy and our memories. Well, Juliet, 43 years old, “she says, heart still tight,” the construction of a railway line in Seine-Maritime, region of the family home where [elle a] spent many a holiday ” : “For years, they built rails, disfiguring of the charming villages, éventrant of the prairies… It is quite the bucolic landscape that had nurtured my childhood that has been cancelled. I still feel the sadness. “Bernadette Kaars is also experiencing this sense of loss. This teacher retired 61-year-old, moved to the Tigné, Maine-et-Loire, suffers since a few years, following the installation of wind turbines at 850 meters from his house. “This has very much affected my husband and me. It is a daily pain. The wind turbines are huge, they are seen of all our windows. You feel literally weighed down by their presence. And the fact that they are in motion captures attention. They are totally switched on to the landscape ! Not to mention the noise is perpetual, and the blinking lights in the night. This was a charming bucolic environment has become an industrial vision… It is very depressing. “Situation preposterous where a process is supposed to combat the pollution creates even more visual pollution, noise, etc To sadness, combined with anger : the couple’s home has lost its real estate value. The ex-teacher said to have the impression that ” everything is decided in Paris, that there was no consideration for the rural “. But this rage has also led her to engage within the Federation Sustainable Environment and to mitigate against the installation of wind turbines (a case of more frequent occurrence, since, in France, seven out of ten projects create today an appeal before the administrative courts). “The fact that I fight against such an injustice has done me well, it is a real psychotherapy,” she says. It is without doubt the best way to cure the solastalgie.

“To fight the depression related to the destruction of nature, nothing is worth a fight to defend the environment,” confirms Alice Desbiolles. Is this not also the story of Greta Thunberg, who, in the throes of serious psychological problems – she ate more, spoke more, and was restored by a strike to the climate and campaigning actively across the planet ? Greta Thunberg, the first and most famous solastalgique of the world ? The image of the formula of the poet Hölderlin, ” where grows the risk also grows that which saves “. This could bring us into this era of the ” symbiocène “, announced by Glenn Albrecht with accents of a prophet of new age, where the human being will live finally in harmony with nature. The solastalgie will she be the engine of the green revolution ?

SMALL PRECISE ECO-PATHOLOGY

In his book, “Emotions of the Land” (ed The Links That Release), the australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht proposes new terms to describe the ecological situation of today and the feelings that it provokes in us. Sometimes surprising, always stimulating. Glossary.

SOLASTALGIE

Feeling of distress caused by the degradation of the environment. More specifically, the desolation proven in the face of the devastation of a natural beloved, which is part of our identity, and for which we feel nostalgia.

PSYCHOTERRATIQUE

The relation between the psyche and the biophysical environment, between mental health and the state of the planet.

DEFICIT DISORDER NATURE

Lack of empathy for the natural world and plant. Is seen particularly in individuals who have grown up in an urban environment, without direct experience of nature – a disorder that can degenerate into a ” écophobie “, or fear of nature.

Related Post:  The return of Friends will have to wait

The ANTHROPOCENE

Current period when the human being dominates brutally the Earth, the exploits and destroys it.

SYMBIOCÈNE

Era, to come, of the history of the Earth where people live in harmony with nature, where the imprint of humans will be reduced to the maximum.

ÉCOPARALYSIE

State of persons aware of the environmental emergency, but be unable to act (often because of the magnitude of the task)

TIERRATRAUMA

State of “solastalgie” acute. For example, when

a fire destroys your immediate environment.

TERRAFURIE

Extreme anger caused by the self-destructive inclinations of the industrial society and technology.

SOURCE

Will Climate Change Threaten Earth’s Other ‘Lung’?

Phytoplankton produce half of the oxygen in our atmosphere, but understanding how they respond to climate change is complicated and critically important.

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Ask someone on the street about the importance of the Amazon, and there’s a reasonable chance the response will include an understanding that forests play an essential role in storing and cycling global carbon. Follow that question with another on the importance of ocean phytoplankton, and there are good odds on it being met with a shrug.

Yet the significance of ocean phytoplankton is nearly impossible to overstate.

Drifting in the top layer of the world’s oceans, phytoplankton are a diverse group of microscopic, photosynthetic organisms. Most are single-celled algae, some are bacteria, and others are classified as protists – neither plant nor animal. Phytoplankton are estimated to produce nearly half the daily oxygen in our atmosphere, and as the basis of the ocean food web, sustain all major marine life forms. When they die, a percentage sink to the ocean floor, sequestering as much carbon as all terrestrial plants.

“If phytoplankton populations were to suffer significant decline, there would be serious consequences for marine food webs, including fisheries, and changes to the balance of nutrient cycling,” says Dr. Katherina Petrou, senior lecturer in phytoplankton ecophysiology at the University of Technology Sydney in Australia, via email.

How phytoplankton will respond to the effects of climate change is a pressing and stubborn research question. Study is made complicated by an array of interdependent variables that include warming surface sea temperatures, ocean acidification, and changes in sea ice and cloud cover.

A decade ago, Canadian researchers made headlines with an alarming study estimating ocean phytoplankton populations had dropped 40% since 1950, and were continuing to decline at a rate of around 1% per year, with ocean warming from climate change suspected. The findings were hotly debated, and in the years since, a more nuanced yet still alarming picture of how phytoplankton will fare under climate change has begun to emerge.

In a 2015 study by two of the same Canadian researchers, projections of phytoplankton concentrations are described as “highly divergent.” Taken in aggregate, the paper maintains published research shows phytoplankton numbers increasing in near-shore waters over shorter, more recent time spans, and declining in open oceans over longer periods. “Most published evidence suggests changes in temperature and nutrient supply rates as leading causes of these phytoplankton trends,” the study reads.

“Global modeling studies using historical data have revealed declines in phytoplankton over the last few decades, but with variability between oceans and regions, and even some patches where phytoplankton have increased,” says Petrou. “Based on these data, studies using computer models to project future conditions conclude that in many parts of the ocean, phytoplankton will decline as seas warm and water mixing patterns change.”

Warming Water

Given access to sunlight and nutrients, phytoplankton can bloom in numbers of millions of cells per litre of seawater. But as the oceans warm, the water column is forming into more distinct layers, and staying that way for longer periods. The result is a layer of warmer water sitting atop cooler, nutrient-rich water beneath. When this stratification begins it can promote blooms by keeping phytoplankton cells in the upper layer, near sunlight, says Oscar Schofield, a professor at the department of marine and coastal sciences at Rutgers University. However as the bloom progresses, phytoplankton exhaust the nutrients available to them. Stratification can then prevent the resupply of nutrients into the upper layer, says Schofield, causing phytoplankton concentrations to fall, resulting in a net decline.

Climate change is shifting not only the intensity of phytoplankton blooms, but their composition. Harmful algal blooms (also known as red tides) are expected to increase as the oceans warm. Biotoxins released from the blooms can cause large-scale die-offs of fish and shellfish, with knock-on effects to coastal economies.

Aerial algal bloom
An aerial view of green algae blooms swirling around the Baltic Sea. Photo: European Space Agency, (CC BY-SA 2.0)

“In some cases we see species growing faster, but in many instances warmer temperatures are altering ecosystems,” Petrou says. “Some species are recorded as moving towards the Polar regions, where water temperatures are lower. However, for current Polar species this poses a bit more of a problem, as they have nowhere cooler to move to.”

Schofield studies phytoplankton off the Antarctic Peninsula, the western arm of the Antarctic that reaches up toward South America. “It’s the fastest warming place on the planet in terms of winter air temperature,” he says, “so we see a lot less sea ice being made every year.” There, Schofield says, satellite observation suggests large phytoplankton declines.

But on the Antarctic Peninsula, Schofield theorizes it’s not too little mixing in the water column causing declines, but too much.

Lacking the protection of sea ice, the ocean undergoes deep mixing from strong winter winds. This disperses the free-floating phytoplankton deeper into the water column, limiting their access to sunlight. “It takes longer for that deep mixing to settle down and promote phytoplankton growth,” Schofield says. The warmer, moister climate also promotes cloud formation instead of cold, clear conditions, again limiting sunlight available to the phytoplankton.

Acidification Winners and Losers

In simple terms, ocean acidification is the ongoing decrease of seawater pH caused by the absorption of atmospheric carbon dioxide. When seawater reacts with CO2 it creates carbonic acid, which breaks down to release hydrogen and bicarbonate ions. The surplus hydrogen ions increase the acidity of the oceans.

Ocean acidification will reshape marine food webs, most notably by making it more difficult for organisms such as shellfish, starfish, snails, and corals to build their shells or exoskeletons from calcium carbonate. For phytoplankton as a whole, however, the response to ocean acidification is more nebulous.

An exception to this uncertainty is a group of phytoplankton called coccolithophores, which are vulnerable to acidification because they too build calcified exoskeletons. “They cover their cell walls with tiny chalk platelets,” says Petrou. “Increasing acidity has been shown to dissolve these plates, in the same way that a tooth will dissolve in a glass of cola.”

Another type of phytoplankton, diatoms, are single-celled algae that produce around half the organic matter in the ocean, and one-fifth of the oxygen you are breathing right now. Instead of calcium carbonate, diatoms build cell walls out of silica.

Research by Lennart Bach, a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania, tends to indicate diatoms will benefit from increased ocean acidity. “CO2 is required for photosynthesis,” Bach says. “So in itself it is not the issue.”

But it’s not so simple. “There’s winners and losers within the phytoplankton community with respect to basically every environmental factor that will change,” Bach says. “Temperature, CO2, stratification, light, environment, there are a lot of factors. And when you only look at one like acidification, then they are on the winning side, but of course, you have to consider all factors because they will occur all at the same time in the future ocean. So it’s really hard to say.”

Declines or increases of phytoplankton types, relative to other phytoplankton, could also spell trouble. In a 2019 meta-analysis of studies on diatoms’ response to acidification, Bach and a colleague write: “[Diatoms’] prevalence relative to other phytoplankton taxa could profoundly alter marine food web structures and thereby affect ecosystem services such as fisheries or the sequestration of CO2 in the deep ocean.”

As well, a recent experiment by Petrou and other scientists discovered that in the Southern Ocean, future ocean acidification may hamper diatoms’ ability to build silica cell walls. At simulated rates of acidification possible before century’s end, the diatoms were smaller and lighter. With their ballast reduced, the cells would be less able to sink to the ocean floor and sequester carbon.

study published in Nature in 2018, by an international team of researchers, also suggests that increased acidification could interfere with a poorly understood mechanism that allows diatoms to acquire iron — an essential nutrient for the algae.

“The decline in diatom ability to take up iron will reduce growth, while the loss in ability to form dense silica shells will alter diatom sinking rates and increase their susceptibility to grazers,” Petrou says. “Combined, the two processes suggest diatoms are in for a hard time under future ocean conditions.”

“We’re changing the climate, and that’s going to change a lot of the basic conditions we see in the ocean,” says Schofield. “And the thing about the ocean is, generally, it’s bottom up controls, meaning that if you change the food at the base of the web, it ripples directly up…. If and when that happens globally, it will change our planet. But we’re still at a point where we can’t give a quick, easy answer.” SOURCE

 

Oil price plunges to lowest level since 1999 as world drowns in oversupply

OPEC deal to cut production not enough to offset even greater plunge in demand for fuel

Oil from Canada’s oilsands typically trades at a discount to the U.S. oil price at the best of times, and the latter dipped below $13 a barrel on Monday. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

The economic slowdown caused by COVID-19 is pushing oil prices down to their lowest level in more than 20 years.

The futures contract for West Texas Intermediate lost $6 US a barrel on Monday, going to $11.66 US, the lowest level since 1999.

The price of oil is plunging because there’s very little demand for it, and oil companies are running out of places to store it. Storage tanks at the U.S. hub of Cushing, Okla., are now holding 55 million barrels of crude, which is their highest level since 2018.

Storage on land is filling up everywhere, so some producers have taken to storing their excess oil at sea, renting tankers to float around aimlessly to store the crude until a higher price or buyer can be found. Rates for the biggest oil tankers have tripled in less than two weeks to more than $100,000 a day as producers scramble to secure space.

“Floating storage remains the only outlet for a mismatched production and consumption backdrop,” Evercore analyst Jonathan Chappell said in a note to clients last week.

Market sending signal

Crude storage is spiking because there’s not enough demand for the stuff that’s already out there. The oil cartel known as OPEC tried to address that earlier this month by promising to pump 10 million fewer barrels of oil every day, but even that huge cut isn’t enough to offset the corresponding drop in demand.

Lockdowns, travel bans and the general economic slowdown associated with the COVID-19 pandemic have reduced demand for oil by about 25 million barrels a day, so OPEC turning off the spigots by 10 million barely makes a dent.

“If your bathtub is about to overflow and you turn down the tap a little, it will still overflow,” oil analyst Bjarne Schieldrop with SEB Research said Monday.

“Rather than Donald Trump … telling the oil market or oil producers what to do, it is now the oil price which is the oil market dictator,” he said. “It is saying, ‘Shut down production because we have too much!'”

Canada’s oil price plunges

WTI isn’t the only oil blend there’s too much of. The type of oil from Canada’s oilsands is known as Western Canadian Select and it typically trades at a discount of between $10 and $15 to WTI, because it is harder to transport and refine.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney tweeted on Monday that the price of WCS actually dipped into negative territory overnight — meaning Canadian oil companies are functionally having to pay to get rid of their product.

Jason Kenney

Western Canadian Select oil is now trading at negative prices.👇

Killing & delaying pipelines landlocked us. collapsed demand.

The Russian-Saudi price war surged supply, filling up inventories.

The future of hundreds of thousands of Canadian jobs is at stake.

CBC News has not been able to independently verify that barrels of Western Canada Select in fact traded hands at negative prices, but hedge fund executive Pierre Andurand of Andurand Capital said negative prices make sense in the current climate.

“There is no limit to the downside to prices when inventories and pipelines are full. Negative prices are possible,” he tweeted. “I am not saying it will happen. If it does it would be very short-lived. But just be careful out there.”

SOURCE

 

The ‘Profoundly Radical’ Message of Earth Day’s First Organizer

Denis Hayes, who coordinated the first Earth Day 50 years ago, is president and C.E.O. of the Bullitt Foundation, which funds environmental causes, in Seattle.

Denis Hayes, who coordinated the first Earth Day 50 years ago, is president and C.E.O. of the Bullitt Foundation, which funds environmental causes, in Seattle.Credit…Grant Hindsley for The New York Times

SEATTLE — One day in the fall of 1969, Denis Hayes, a graduate student at Harvard, snagged a 10-minute meeting with Gaylord Nelson, a United States senator from Wisconsin who had been talking up his idea for a national teach-in about environmentalism.

The visit stretched into a two-hour conversation, and at the end of it Mr. Hayes had a job. He ended up organizing the original Earth Day on April 22, 1970.

Mr. Hayes has participated in many other Earth Day events in the years since, so it should be no surprise that he is chairman emeritus of Earth Day 2020, which has shifted, in the time of coronavirus, to the digital realm. It has also come to focus on another threat to the planet, climate change, which 50 years ago “was not part of the national discussion,” Mr. Hayes said.

In recent days, Mr. Hayes has drawn a connection between the coronavirus and climate change, and the failure of the federal government to effectively deal with either one. In an essay in the Seattle Times, he wrote that “Covid-19 robbed us of Earth Day this year. So let’s make Election Day Earth Day.” He urged his readers to get involved in politics and set aside national division. “This November 3,” he wrote, “vote for the Earth.”

The power of activism to spark political change was at the core of the first Earth Day. In 1970 some 20 million people across the United States, from thousands of schools, colleges, universities and communities, took part in demonstrations, marches, environmental cleanups and even a mock trial of automobiles that ended in smashing a car with sledgehammers. New York City closed down parts of Fifth Avenue and 14th Street for its celebration.

The enormous turnout — one tenth of the population of the United States at the time — and the enthusiasm for change led to unprecedented action from the federal government. Congress passed the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, and President Richard M. Nixon, a Republican, created the Environmental Protection Agency.

“This is the major thing that turned Nixon around, scared the hell out of him,” said Ralph Nader, the consumer advocate, in a recent interview. On that first Earth Day, he spoke at the University at Buffalo.

And while Mr. Nader fully credits Senator Nelson, one of the nation’s leading environmentalists at the time, with providing the inspiration that brought Earth Day about, he said, Mr. Hayes and his young colleagues “provided the perspiration.”

Over several hours of conversation he described the path that took him from small-town Washington state to a personal mission to change the world.

Born in Wisconsin, Mr. Hayes moved with his family at age 6 to Camas, a cozy town by the Columbia River where “everybody knew everybody.” His father worked at the hulking Crown Zellerbach paper mill.

Credit…Associated Press
Credit…CWH/Associated Press

Credit…Santi Visalli/Getty Images

Young Denis could hop on his bike and ride out to spectacular natural landscapes. But environmentally, the town “was an unconstrained disaster” because of the mill. “There was no pollution control of any kind,” he said. “When they discovered that the acid rain was pitting the roofs of automobiles, they put a carwash at the end of the parking lot.” Sore throats from the smoke were common, as were fish kills in the Columbia.

He attended a couple of colleges, reading widely in political and economic theory but without satisfaction. Over the next three years’ time, he traveled across Asia and much of Africa, Eastern Europe and the Middle East, working when he needed money for the next leg and living on peanut butter and oatmeal, and the occasional cup of coffee loaded with all of the sugar and cream on the table. “It’s a whole lot better to look back on than to actually experience,” he said.

One night in the Namib desert, in southwestern Africa, he had what he has called an epiphany after seeing the Etosha Pan, a large hollow where water collects after rains. He marveled at the diversity of animals. “It was a truce,” he said, before “they went back and killed one another as they needed to.”

On a meditative night in the desert, in a state of mind heightened by his “terrible diet” and the desert chill, “It just came together in my mind that we’re animals and we didn’t abide by the principles that govern the natural world,” he said.

He woke up the next morning with a purpose. “I wanted to devote my life to advancing principles of ecology as they apply to human beings and to human communities, to human processes.”

Learn more about climate change, straight from New York Times reporters
How bad is climate change now?

He returned to the United States, attended Stanford and after graduation, gained acceptance to Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. But then came the conversation with Senator Nelson, which Mr. Hayes initially hoped would lead to a class project. He soon dropped out of Harvard and persuaded several classmates to come with him.

They set up shop in ratty offices above a burger stand in Dupont Circle. Early on, the group realized that the Senator’s initial idea for a “teach-in” might not generate much enthusiasm. A progressive ad man, Julian Koenig, who had come up with the “Think Small” ads for Volkswagen and other groundbreaking campaigns, suggested a punchier name: Earth Day. It stuck.

The young Mr. Hayes burned with a fire that clearly charmed a New York Times journalist, Gladwin Hill, who described him as a man who “hops around the country like an ecological Dustin Hoffman, preaching mobilization for environmental reform with sober but evangelical militance.”
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Credit…The LIFE Picture Collection, via Getty Image
Credit…Paul Sakuma/Associated Press

Mr. Hayes explained his principles of ecology, of rejecting unbridled growth that strips away the world’s resources, causes pollution and harms people. “The ecological freak is not questioning his share of the pie so much as he is questioning how we’re getting our flour,” he said. “The problem isn’t technological; the problem is a matter of values.”

These days, Mr. Hayes doesn’t use phrases like “ecological freak.” But the fire is still there.

“This was not an anti-litter campaign,” he recalled. “This was talking about fundamental changes in the nature of the American economy.” The cause that drew 20 million people into the streets was, he said, “in some ways much more profoundly radical” than the anti-Vietnam War movement.

Michael B. Gerrard, a Columbia University law professor and director of the school’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, said that “Earth Day was, to the environmental movement, like a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly and taking flight.” It changed lives, including his: He was a student at Columbia and covered the first Earth Day for the campus newspaper. He calls that day “one of the steps along the path that made me decide to make a career as an environmental lawyer.”

In the years after the first Earth Day, Mr. Hayes served as a senior fellow at the Worldwatch Institute in Washington, D.C., and President Jimmy Carter made him director of the Federal Solar Energy Research Institute in Colorado, where he promoted solar power from an institution with nearly 1,000 employees and a $130 million budget.

That was when he first heard about climate change, in discussions with scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder. “I was asking, ‘How certain are you of all this?’ The answer was, ‘You’re never certain of anything,’ but that their level of certainty was at the 98 percent level.”

He began dovetailing concerns about climate change with his promotion of renewable energy. In January 1980, he delivered an address to the American Association for the Advancement of Science and said that the continued use of fossil fuels would lead to warming of Earth’s atmosphere. That would have “many adverse consequences for life as it now exists,” he warned, such as sea-level rise, inundated coastal farmland and communities, disrupted weather patterns and food production, among others.

Time is short, he warned: “because of the rather long lead time needed to convert from one energy source to another, a decision to reduce fossil fuel use swiftly after the year 2000 would have to be made today.”

Forty years later, the science has only grown clearer. But the effort to address the problem has barely begun. MORE


John Schwartz is a reporter on the climate desk. In nearly two decades at The Times, he has also covered science, law and technology. 

 

It’s the End of the World Economy as We Know It

Experts suggest there will be “a rethink of how much any country wants to be reliant on any other country.”

Credit…CHINATOPIX, via Associated Press

When big convulsive economic events happen, the implications tend to take years to play out, and spiral in unpredictable directions.

Who would have thought that a crisis that began with mortgage defaults in American suburbs in 2007 would lead to a fiscal crisis in Greece in 2010? Or that a stock market crash in New York in 1929 would contribute to the rise of fascists in Europe in the 1930s?

The world economy is an infinitely complicated web of interconnections. We each have a series of direct economic relationships we can see: the stores we buy from, the employer that pays our salary, the bank that makes us a home loan. But once you get two or three levels out, it’s really impossible to know with any confidence how those connections work.

And that, in turn, shows what is unnerving about the economic calamity accompanying the spread of the novel coronavirus.

In the years ahead, we will learn what happens when that web is torn apart, when millions of those links are destroyed all at once. And it opens the possibility of a global economy completely different from the one that has prevailed in recent decades.

“As much as I hope we are able to get ordinary economic activity back up, that’s just the beginning of our problem,” said Adam Tooze, a historian at Columbia University and author of “Crashed,” a study of the extensive global ripple effects of the 2008 financial crisis. “This is a period of radical uncertainty, an order of magnitude greater than anything we’re used to.”

It would be foolish, amid such uncertainty, to make overly confident predictions about how the world economic order will look in five years, or even in five months.

But one lesson of these episodes of economic tumult is that those surprising ripple effects tend to result from longstanding unaddressed frailties. Crises have a way of bringing to the fore issues that are easy to ignore in good times.

One obvious candidate is globalization, in which companies can move production wherever it’s most efficient, people can hop on a plane and go nearly anywhere, and money can flow to wherever it will be put to its highest use. The idea of a world economy with the United States at its center was already falling apart, between the rise of China and America’s own turn toward nationalism.

There are signs that the Covid-19 crisis is exaggerating, and possibly cementing, those changes.

“There will be a rethink of how much any country wants to be reliant on any other country,” said Elizabeth Economy, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “I don’t think fundamentally this is the end of globalization. But this does accelerate the type of thinking that has been going on in the Trump administration, that there are critical technologies, critical resources, reserve manufacturing capacity that we want here in the U.S. in case of crisis.”

Consider just a few pieces of evidence for the weakening underpinnings of globalization.

France’s finance minister directed French companies to re-evaluate their supply chains to become less dependent on China and other Asian nations. U.S. Customs and Border Protection has said it will seize exports of certain medical supplies. And on Friday, Senator Lindsey Graham suggested that the United States should punish China for failing to contain the virus by canceling debt the Chinese government owns — a step that would risk the role of U.S. Treasury bonds as the bedrock of the world financial system..

Trade as a share of global G.D.P. peaked in 2008 and has trended lower ever since. The election of President Trump and the onset of a trade war with China had already made multinational companies start to rethink their operations.

“I think companies are actively talking about resilience,” said Susan Lund, a partner at McKinsey who studies global interconnectedness. “To what extent would companies be willing to sacrifice quarter-to-quarter efficiency for resilience over the long term, whether that’s natural disasters, the climate crisis, pandemics or other shocks?”

She envisions not so much a full-scale retreat from global trade as a shift toward regional trade blocs and greater emphasis on having companies build redundancy into their supply networks. Governments will probably insist that certain goods, like pharmaceuticals and medical equipment, rely more on domestic production given the current global scramble for those items.

China has reoriented its economic strategy, aiming to be not a low-cost manufacturing hub for the world but the maker of technologically advanced products like aircraft and telecommunications equipment. That has made Americans, Europeans and the Japanese all the more reluctant to have major operations in China, for fear of intellectual property theft.

Under the Trump administration, the United States has experienced strain with even traditional allies in Western Europe. Put it all together, and a more every-nation-for-itself mentality was already becoming ingrained before Covid-19, in ways the pandemic seems to be reinforcing.

“What typically happens after you get a crisis like this is people talk about new eras and how the post-pandemic world will be different,” said Ruchir Sharma, chief global strategist at Morgan Stanley Investment Management. “This time I think the trends that were already in motion before this pandemic will be accelerated.”

In a past episode of de-globalization — the unwinding of global commerce that took place amid World War I and the 1918 flu epidemic — there was also a remaking of the global financial system, with the British pound losing its pre-eminence.

That kind of thing could plausibly happen this time too, but initial signs point the other way: toward the dollar’s becoming even more entrenched at the center of the global financial system.

The U.S. Federal Reserve has opened swap lines with 14 overseas central banks — which enables them to pump dollars into their domestic banking systems — and started a novel program that lets other countries obtain dollars by pledging Treasury bonds as collateral. Those moves are helping ensure that a global dollar shortage doesn’t paralyze the world economy.

European officials have been reluctant to take steps that would make the euro more central to the world currency system, such as issuing bonds that are jointly guaranteed by the countries of the eurozone. And China has, if anything, been reluctant to remake its financial system in ways that could enable the renminbi to become more crucial to world commerce, such as allowing free capital flows in and out of the currency.

Mark Carney, the former governor of the Bank of England, delivered an influential speech to fellow central bankers last August arguing that the current international monetary and financial system, with its deep dollar dependence, was unsustainable. But the pandemic may be entrenching that flawed system.

“The dollar system is inherently unstable, but so is a bicycle,” said Mr. Tooze, the historian. “They’re unstable, but if you’re a skilled rider of them, they’re great. And the Fed has demonstrated it’s a skilled rider of the dollar hegemony bike.”

At times over the last 12 years, it has felt as if the world were reliving the period of 1918 to 1939, but as if told by a forgetful student who was getting the events out of order. That era also featured a global financial collapse; a rise of authoritarian governments; the emergence of a new economic superpower (the United States then, China now); and a pandemic, though not in that sequence.

We may not know exactly where this crisis will lead, for the world economy or anything else. But one thing seems clear: History sure can be scary when you don’t know how it ends. SOURCE


Neil Irwin is a senior economics correspondent for The Upshot. He is the author of “How to Win in a Winner-Take-All-World,” a guide to navigating a career in the modern economy. @Neil_Irwin  Facebook

How to Beat COVID-19 Angst: Let the Sheep Do It

Writing in the New York Times, Pete Wells discovers a virus-era version of the perpetual yule log — a six-hour loop of grazing livestock that provides soothing balm to the shut-in.

” I discovered a video that was posted on YouTube last week called “Relax with Sheep.” In it, a herd of sheep grazes below the vines of Shafer Vineyards outside Napa, Calif., for more than six hours. There are occasional shots of sheep resting their puffy round bodies between meals, and once in a while a flock will march slowly out of the frame on their way to what I imagine must be greener pastures. Mostly, though, the sheep stand and eat.”

SOURCE


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