The Earth Is Telling Us We Must Rethink Our Growth Society

Why COVID-19 previews a larger crash. What we must do to save ourselves.


In two centuries, human population has spiked seven-fold and consumption by 100 times. ‘The Earth will have its revenge,’ warns noted UBC systems ecologist William Rees, co-inventor of the ecological footprint concept. Photo by Joseph Stevenson via Flickr/Creative Commons.

As the pandemic builds, most people, led by government officials and policy wonks, perceive the threat solely in terms of human health and its impact on the national economy. Consistent with the prevailing vision, mainstream media call almost exclusively on physicians and epidemiologists, financiers and economists to assess the consequences of the viral outbreak.

Fair enough — rampant disease and looming recession are genuine immediate concerns; society has to cope with them.

That said, we must see and respond to the more important reality.

However horrific the COVID-19 pandemic may seem, it is merely one symptom of gross human ecological dysfunction. The prospect of economic implosion is directly connected. The overarching reality is that the human enterprise is in a state of overshoot.

We are using nature’s goods and life-support services faster than ecosystems can regenerate. There are simply too many people consuming too much stuff. Even at current global average levels of consumption (about a third of the Canadian average) the human population far exceeds the long-term carrying capacity of Earth. We’d need almost five Earth-like planets to support just the present world population indefinitely at Canadian average material standards. Gaian theory tells us that life continuously creates the conditions necessary for life. Yet humanity has gone rogue, rapidly destroying those conditions.

When will the media call on systems ecologists to explain what’s really going on? If they did, we might learn the following:

That the current pandemic is an inevitable consequence of human populations everywhere expanding into the habitats of other species with which we have had little previous contact (H. sapiens is the most invasive of “invasive species”).

That the pandemic results from sometimes desperately impoverished people eating bushmeat, the flesh of wild species carrying potentially dangerous pathogens.

That contagious disease is readily propagated because of densification and urbanization — think Wuhan or New York — but particularly (as we may soon see) because of the severe overcrowding of vulnerable people in the burgeoning slums and barrios of the developing world.

That the coronavirus thrives because three billion people still lack basic hand-washing facilities and more than four billion lack adequate sanitation services.

A population ecologist might even dare explain that, even when it comes to human numbers, whatever goes up must come down.

None of this is visible through our current economic lens that assumes a perpetually growing, globalized market economy.

Prevailing myth notwithstanding, nothing in nature can grow forever.

When, under especially favourable conditions any species’ population balloons, it is always deflated by one or several forms of negative feedback — disease, inadequate habitat, self-pollution, food shortages, resource scarcity, conflict over what’s left (war), etc. All of these various countervailing forces are triggered by excess population itself.


Human-set fires in the Amazon: The current pandemic is an inevitable consequence of human populations everywhere expanding into the habitats of other species with which we have had little previous contact. Photo: Pixabay Creative Commons.

True, in simple ecosystems certain consuming species may exhibit regular cycles of uncontrolled expansion. We sometimes refer to these outbreaks as “plagues” — think swarms of locusts or rodents.

However, the plague phase of the cycle invariably ends in collapse as negative feedback once again gains the upper hand.

Bottom line? There are no exceptions to the first law of plague dynamics: the unconstrained expansion of any species’ population invariably destroys the conditions that enabled the expansion, thus triggering collapse.

This unprecedented outbreak is attributable to H. sapiens’ technological ingenuity, e.g., modern medicine and especially the use of fossil fuels. (The latter enabled the continuous increases in food production and provided access to all the other resources needed to expand the human enterprise.)

The problem is that Earth is a finite planet, on which the seven-fold increase in human numbers, vastly augmented by a 100-fold increase in consumption, is systematically destroying prospects for continued civilized existence. Over-harvesting is depleting non-renewable resources; land degradation, pollution, and global warming are destroying entire ecosystems; biophysical life support functions are beginning to fail.

With increasing real scarcity, growing extraction costs, and burgeoning human demand, the prices for non-renewable metal and mineral resources have been rising for 20 years (from historic lows at the turn of the century). Meanwhile, petroleum may have peaked in 2018 signalling the pending implosion of the oil industry (abetted by falling demand and prices resulting from the COVID-19 recession).

These are all signs of resurgent negative feedback. The explosion of human consumption is beginning to resemble the plague phase of what may turn out to be a one-off human population cycle. If we don’t manage a controlled contraction, chaotic collapse is inevitable.

Which brings us back to society’s restricted focus on COVID-19 and the economy.

Listen to the news, to politicians and pundits in this time of crisis. You will hear virtually no reference to climate change (remember climate change?), wildfires, biodiversity loss, ocean pollution, sea level rise, tropical deforestation, land/soil degradation, or human expansion into wildlands.

Nor is there a hint of understanding that these trends are connected to each other and to the pandemic.

Discussion in the mainstream focusses doggedly on defeating COVID-19, facilitating recovery, restoring growth and otherwise getting back to normal. After all, as Gregory Bateson has written, “That is the paradigm: Treat the symptom to make the world safe for the pathology.”

Let that sink in: “Normal” is the pathology.

But returning to “normal” guarantees a repeat performance. There will be other pandemics, potentially worse than COVID-19. (Unless, of course, some other form of negative feedback gets to us first — as noted, there is no shortage of potential candidates.)

Consider the present pandemic as yellow flagging for what nature may yet have in store. Earth will have its revenge. Unless, to avoid full-on negative feedback, we stand back and re-focus. This means consciously overriding humans’ natural myopia, thinking generations ahead and abandoning our perpetual growth narrative.

Surely the time has come to reconsider what seems to have become a “self-terminating experiment with industrialism.”

To save itself, society must adopt an eco-centric lens. This would enable us to see the human enterprise as a fully dependent subsystem of the ecosphere. We need to script a new cultural narrative consistent with this vision. We must reduce the human ecological footprint to eliminate overshoot — below is a curve that really needs flattening.

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A different curve to flatten: Let’s start with a 50-per-cent reduction in energy and material throughput, as implicit in the 2015 Paris climate accord. Provided by William Rees.

Our cultural reset cannot end there. As medical supplies and equipment run out and supply chains stretch or break, people everywhere are becoming conscious of hazards associated with today’s increasingly unsustainable entanglement of nations.

We will have much to celebrate if community self-reliance, resilience and stability are once again valued more than interdependence, efficiency and growth. Specialization, globalization and just-in-time trade in vital commodities have gone too far. COVID-19 has shown that future security may well reside more in local economic diversity. For one thing, countries under stress may begin hoarding vital commodities for domestic use. (As if on cue, on April 3, Donald Trump, president of Canada’s biggest trading partner, requested 3M to suspend exports of badly-needed respirator face masks to Canada and Latin America.) Surely we need permanent policies for the re-localization of vital economic activities through a strategic approach to import displacement.

We might also build on the better side of human nature as ironically invigorated by our collective war on COVID-19. In many places, society’s fear of disease has been leavened by a revived sense of community, solidarity, compassion, and mutual aid. Recognition that disease strikes the impoverished hardest and that the pandemic threatens to widen the income gap has renewed calls for a return to more progressive taxation and implementation of a national minimum wage.

The emergency also draws attention to the importance of the informal care economy — child rearing and elder care are often voluntary and historically subsidize our paid economy. And what about renewed public investment worldwide in girls’ education, women’s health and family planning? Certainly individual actions are not enough. We are in a collective crisis that demands collective solutions.

To those still committed to the pre-COVID-19 perpetual-growth-through-technology paradigm, economic contraction equates to unmitigated catastrophe. We can give them no hope but to accept a new reality.

Like it or not, we are at the end of growth. The pandemic will certainly induce a recession and possibly a global depression, likely reducing Gross World Product by a quarter.

There are good reasons to think that there can be no “recovery” to pre-COVID “normal” even if we were foolish enough to try. Ours has been a debt-leveraged economy. Thousands of marginal firms will be bankrupted; some will be bought up by others with deeper pockets (further concentrating wealth) but most will disappear; millions of people will be left unemployed, possibly impoverished without ongoing public support.

The oil patch is particularly hard hit. Canada’s tar sands producers who need $40 dollars a barrel to survive are being offered one tenth that, less than the price of a mug of beer. Meanwhile, oil production may have peaked and older fields upon which the world still depends are declining at a rate of six per cent per year.

This heralds a future crisis: GWP and energy consumption have historically increased in lock-step; industrial economies depend utterly on abundant cheap energy. After the current short-term demand-drop surplus dries up, it will be years (if ever) before there is adequate new supply to replicate pre-pandemic levels of global economic activity — and there are no adequate ”green’”substitutes. Much of the economy will have to be rebuilt to size in ways that reflect this emergent reality.

And herein lies the great opportunity to salvage global civilization.

Clearing skies and cleaner waters should inspire hopeful ingenuity. Indeed, if we wish to thrive on a finite planet, we have little choice but to see the COVID-19 pandemic as preview and our response as dress rehearsal for the bigger play. Again, the challenge is to engineer a safe, smooth, controlled contraction of the human enterprise. Surely it is within our collective imagination to socially construct a system of globally networked but self-reliant national economies that better serve the needs of a smaller human family.

The ultimate goal of economic planning everywhere must now turn to ensuring that humanity can thrive indefinitely and more equitably within the biophysical means of nature.  SOURCE


Q&A: A Harvard Expert on Environment and Health Discusses Possible Ties Between COVID and Climate

Air pollution makes people more vulnerable to respiratory infections; climate change brings people in closer contact with animals that can spread disease.

Dr. Aaron Bernstein has witnessed firsthand how climate change and public health are intertwined. Credit: Kris Snibbe/Harvard University

Doctors and public health researchers are getting an increasingly accurate and nuanced picture of the many ways climate change damages human health.

Now, questions have arisen about whether climate change contributed to the outbreak of COVID-19, whose spread the World Health Organization declared a pandemic on Wednesday. For example, did habitat loss, driven in part by climate change, make it easier for pathogens to spread among wildlife and for the virus to jump to humans? Does air pollution, mainly from the burning of fossil fuels, make some people more vulnerable to contracting the illness?

We spoke to Dr. Aaron Bernstein, a pediatrician and Interim Director of The Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health (Harvard C-CHANGE), who has seen firsthand how climate change can harm children, mostly through the burning of fossil fuels. We asked him about the ways that climate change might have played a role in the emergence of COVID-19, about any parallels between “virus denial” and climate denial and about how to prepare for the inevitable next pandemic. A lightly-edited version of our conversation follows.

A connection between COVID-19 and climate change doesn’t seem obvious at first glance, at least to lay people, so could you explain the links that you see?

I think the strongest links I see are actually related, first of all, to air pollution, and fossil fuels as a source of air pollution, and fossil fuels, of course, are the major cause of climate change. The other connections I see are that the way we think about the environment as it pertains to health has gotten us into a rut with the emergence of infections like COVID and climate change.

Let me explain a little bit more of what I mean by that. You look at climate change, we have transformed the nature of the Earth. We have fundamentally changed the composition of the atmosphere, and as such, we shouldn’t be surprised that that affects our health. We have, as a species, grown up in partnership with the planet and life we live with. So, when we change the rules of the game, we shouldn’t expect that it wouldn’t affect our health, for better or worse. That’s true of the climate. And the same principle holds for the emergence of infections.

If you look at the emerging infectious diseases that have moved into people from animals or other sources over the last several decades, the vast majority of those are coming from animals. And the majority of those are coming from wild animals. We have transformed life on Earth. We are having a massive effect on how the relationships between all life on Earth operate and also with ourselves. We shouldn’t be surprised that these emerging diseases pop up.

The principle is that we’re really changing how we relate to other species on Earth and that matters to our risk for infections.

I’d like to drill down into the two points that you made. So let’s start with species and climate change. There are a lot of things that lead to habitat loss for species and bring them into closer proximity to human communities. Bulldozing a jungle can do that. But how does climate change play a role in decreasing the distance between wildlife and people?

To be clear, we don’t know with COVID, what role if any the climate effects that we’re already seeing in species around the world may have had on the risk of this disease emerging. We know clearly that it had to do with a market in which animals were commingled, the bats and, potentially, pangolins. But it’s not clear, for instance, whether bat migration patterns, which have been influenced by climate, have played a role.

But we have other examples. We see this extraordinary migration to the poles. We’re watching all kinds of life forms run away from the heat, and that has led to the spread of pathogens, because animals that carry pathogens came in contact with other animals that didn’t carry those pathogens and there was transmission. The constraints upon animal migration because of habitat loss may force animals into closer proximity. The bottom line here is that if you wanted to prevent the spread of pathogens, the emergence of pathogens, as we see not just with people and COVID, but as well with wildlife, you wouldn’t transform the climate. Because that forces species to come into contact with other species that may be vulnerable to infections. There are lots of forces, and habitat loss is a major contributor to it.

I want to go back to the original thing you said when I asked you to tease out these links to climate, and that is about air pollution from fossil fuels, and how that affects human vulnerability to a respiratory ailment like COVID-19. Could you talk a little about that?

I should be clear it’s not just fossil fuels. Burning anything, so it could be indoor pollution from cook stoves. It could be burning agricultural waste. It could be burning wood. It could be wildfire. Air pollution is strongly associated with people’s risk of getting pneumonia and getting sicker when they do get pneumonia. We don’t really have much in the way of evidence to show that connection with the COVID epidemics.

Given what we know now, it would be very surprising to find that air pollution didn’t affect the risk of people either getting the disease or getting sicker when they do get the disease.

Why is that? 

We have lots of research that shows that air pollution, particularly particulate matter air pollution, increases the risk of people getting sick with bacterial and viral pathogens that cause pneumonia, and that people who are exposed to more air pollution get sicker when they get exposed to those kinds of pathogens.

There seems to be a pushback in some quarters about the severity of the virus and its spread. And that reminds me of climate denial. I hear the echoes, and I was wondering if you hear those echoes, too, between that push back and climate denial? And what are those echoes, if you do hear them?

It’s hard to know. I’ve certainly heard officials downplay the risks of infection in the face of people who, I’d argue, have stronger scientific credentials and are raising more concerns. It’s hard to know where that lack of concern comes from. But it is certainly the case that the absence of science in discussing or trying to understand what’s going on is really unhelpful. We have scientists who’ve made their lives trying to understand what happens when you have populations that are exposed to diseases like COVID, and it would seem to me that we as a society would greatly benefit from listening to them rather than politicians.

I’d encourage anyone to pick up on the Twitter feeds of the scientists who have spent decades researching these problems, and see what they’re saying. Ask yourself, if you were really sick, would you go to a politician, or would you go see a doctor?

When there is this kind of push back or minimizing of the threat of this virus, what could the public health consequences be?

I don’t know that, given the public discourse I’ve seen. that there are many people who are blowing this off. I don’t get the impression that there is anyone in our society, with the exception of certain politicians, who is looking at this and saying this is not an “all systems go” situation.

I just saw an Op-Ed that said if we want science on demand, if we want a robust response to a pandemic, we have to have the systems in place to do that. As you look at this, what do we need in terms of research and preparation if we want a better response next time to a pandemic? Things that we don’t have now, for example?

I think that at a very high level, the amount of funding that has gone into the public health infrastructure in the United States in recent years has been wildly disproportionate to the need. And so we shouldn’t expect to be ready for problems like this if we don’t in fact support public health financially. We’re in a position of playing catch up because we’ve underfunded the public health infrastructure that would be necessary to appropriately respond to this.

How certain are you that there could be a next time, a next pandemic, and that climate change could play a role in that, to bring it all full circle?

The likelihood is high that this will happen. This has happened through human history but the data we have shows that the pace is accelerating. That’s not terribly surprising. We’re living in highly dense urban places. Air travel is much more prevalent than it used to be. And climate is a part of what is fundamentally reshaping our relationship with the natural world.

We are concerned, for instance, that the trees of New England are changing, turning over rapidly, and the new forests taking over New England may in fact be more fire-prone.  Wildfires, which destroy forests and habitat, can lead to human-animal interfaces that wouldn’t have happened. Because when animals lose their homes they’re going to go somewhere else. Climate change is a destabilizing force when it comes to the spread of infection through several potential pathways.

If you wanted to do something to prevent disease emergence, first of all we need to seriously reconsider how we do business with the biosphere. We can’t simply pretend that we can extract things and put species in assortments that they’ve never been in before, and hope that somehow doesn’t lead to disease emergence. And another good thing to do would be to prevent climate change because it changes how we relate to other species.  SOURCE

Coronavirus: Meanwhile, some good news amid COVID-19 gloom

Amid the pandemic scare, these are the news that instill our hope that though there’s a long way to go, we can fight.

With number of coronavirus cases increasing every hour and countries on lockdown, one can sense fear in the atmosphere. People are panicking due to lack of information or misinformation. But trust experts, there is nothing to panic. One needs to maintain hygiene and social distancing.

So far more than 160 cases have been reported in India, as per Health Ministry website. The condition across the globe is critical but we know–this too shall pass. So amid this situation of crisis, here are some good news to give you a sigh of relief.

Fight Against Coronavirus

  • Zero domestic infection reported in China – In a major milestone against coronavirus pandemic battle, China marked a major milestone in its battle against the coronavirus pandemic as it recorded zero domestic infections for the first time since the outbreak emerged, but a spike in imported cases threatened its progress. The pandemic, it seems is on decline as nations across the world have shut down in a desperate effort to contain the pandemic, with more people now infected and having died abroad than in China. There have been no new cases in Wuhan — the central city where the virus first emerged in December — for the first time since authorities started publishing figures in January, according to the National Health Commission.
  • China has closed down its last coronavirus hospital as there were not enough new cases to support them. 
  • Doctors in India have been successful in treating coronavirus. Combination of drugs that are being used are Lopinavir, Retonovir, Oseltamivir along with Chlorphenamine. Same medicines are being suggested globally.
  • Researchers of the Erasmus Medical Center claim to have found an antibody against coronavirus.
  • A 103-year-old Chinese grandmother has fully recover from COVID-19 after being treated for 6 days in Wuhan.
  • Apple reopens all 42 china stores.
  • Cleveland Clinic developed a COVID-19 test that gives results in hours.
  • In South Korea, number of new cases are declining.
  • Italy has been hit hard only because they have the oldest population in Europe, as per experts.
  •  Scientists in Israel might reportedly announce the development of a coronavirus vaccine.
  • 3 Maryland coronavirus patients fully recovered
  •  A team of Canadian scientists are making excellent progress in Covid-19 research.
  • A San Diego biotech company is working towards developing a Covid-19 vaccine in collaboration with Duke University and National University of Singapore.
  • Reportedly, plasma from newly recovered patients from Covid -19 can treat others infected by Covid-19.

Amid the pandemic, these news reinstate our faith and give us hope to fight with double the strength. Wash hands, stay away from each other to stay safe. SOURCE

Ten Thoughts on the Power of Pandemics

They disrupt, reveal, renew. They give opportunity to rethink what we’ve come to believe is normal.


Non-pharmaceutical interventions such as hand washing, social isolation and the banning of crowds can dramatically slow the spread of a viral plague. Images source: Wikihow

[Editor’s note: Tyee contributing editor Andrew Nikiforuk is the author of two best-selling books on epidemics: The Fourth Horseman and Pandemonium, both published by Penguin Books.]

“It is the microbes who will have the last word.”—Louis Pasteur

In 2016 the Commission on Creating a Global Health Risk Framework for the Future, a U.S. panel of health experts, warned that “the conditions for infectious disease emergence and contagion are more dangerous than ever” due to overpopulation, urbanization, industrial livestock crowds and mobility.

The panel estimated that there was a 20 per cent chance that four pandemics could unsettle the globe over the next century.

The late Joshua Lederberg, a Nobel Prize winning biologist, warned more than a decade ago that the world had entered a disquieting era of plague making.

“We have crowded together a hotbed of opportunity for infectious agents to spread over a significant part of the population. Affluent and mobile people are ready and willing and able to carry affliction all over the world within 24 hours’ notice. This condensation, stratification and mobility is unique, defining us as a very different species from what we were 100 years ago,” he wrote.

As dramatic agents of biological change pandemics resemble tsunamis or bombs. They can wash over continents changing political arrangements, religious beliefs, artistic endeavours and economic habits.

Or they can blow up fossilized institutions and destabilize political dynasties.

In the past they have stopped wars and started them. Pandemics have the energy to rattle and even collapse civilizations. Think of them as mighty and uncertain biological recalibrations.

As COVID-19 provokes the usual spate of plague behaviours (fear, dread, generosity and compassion) it is worth remembering that pandemics remain critical and immutable social forces that shape our lives. They paralyze and disrupt. They reveal and renew. Here then are 10 characteristics that the global economy and its elites have mostly ignored about the energy of pandemics:

1. Pandemics are one of four biblical horsemen that give meaning to our lives and shape human history.

The White Horse represents the word of God or truth. The Red Horse symbolizes the power of the state over peace and war. The Black Horse, for good and ill, commands the busts and booms of economics and famines. Last but not least, comes the Fourth Horseman. It represents the disquieting influence of microbial life and pestilence. As I noted in my book The Fourth Horseman nearly 30 years ago, we don’t like to think that we are a part of history anymore, but we are walking memories of past plagues.

2. Pandemics may appear as random events, but are really the product of cultivated vulnerabilities by different civilizations at different times.

Homo sapiens have a long history of provoking plagues with overcrowding, dirty water, deforestation, poor nutrition, ruinous poverty, soil erosion and novel agricultural practices.

Influenza, for example, started to unsettle the globe when Chinese farmers added ducks to rice paddies to control insects in the 16th century. That single change put avian viruses in close proximity to pigs, which helped the virus jump to humans.

3. So-called “non-pharmaceutical interventions” such as hand washing, social isolation and the banning of crowds can dramatically slow the spread of a viral plague.

In contrast vaccines and drugs rarely arrive on the scene until the pandemic has waned. In fact material changes in human behaviour, housing, nutrition and hygiene have always had the most impact on slowing or stopping plagues.

The experiences of COVID-19 in South Korea and Italy illustrates how rapid changes in human behaviour can alter outcomes.

As of March 14 South Korea had 67 deaths. Meanwhile Italy has lost more than 1,266 citizens, a death rate of seven per cent for those known infected, much higher than South Korea’s.

4. Pandemics invite a rude parade of blame, conspiracies and religious zealotry.

As waves of plague undid Europe fearful authorities scapegoated Jews for spreading the Black Death. (They practiced better hygiene and therefore were suspect by the afflicted.) During the industrial revolution working people thought that the rich had invented cholera to murder the poor.

In scores of riots they attacked the rich, hospitals and doctors. When the Spanish flu pandemic hit Africa, white South Africans blamed blacks for the mounting death toll because blacks worked in the most crowded and appalling work places. That blame eventually morphed into a noxious political policy: apartheid.

COVID-19, of course, initially directed a surge of racism against Chinese citizens even though the virus probably did not originate in Wuhan’s wet market as widely reported.  The market merely spread the virus.

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A poster created by one of Spain’s most famous cartoonists, Miguel Brieva.
5. Global trade has always played a formidable role in disease exchanges.

The Silk Road brought rats and fleas to 13th-century Europe resulting in a demographic collapse in which one in four people died.  The slave trade bombarded two continents with epidemics. Waves of cholera epidemics followed European trade routes from the Ganges Delta to the slums of major cities. Global steamship traffic dutifully carried influenza around the world and played a key role in spreading the deadly Spanish flu pandemic.

6. Each and every pandemic leaves a unique and unpredictable legacy.

The Black Death killed so many people that feudal landlords were forced to increase wages and decrease rents to keep labour.  The die-off also changed humankind’s relationship with God and nature.

In the 17th century syphilis changed sexual politics between men and women and public baths fell out of fashion. Tuberculosis epidemics illuminated the perils of homeless and forced migrations. And so on.

7. As great disturbances in human affairs, pandemics invariably unsettle and change economies.

Smallpox emptied the Americas and allowed Spain to loot the region of its gold and silver. Smallpox also played a major role in shaping the ebb and flow of Canada’s bloody fur trade by dramatically killing off entire First Nations on the plains.

The Spanish Flu of 1918 to 1919 killed at least 50 million people and erased five per cent of global gross domestic production. Ebola ate up 10 per cent of the GDP of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea in 2014 and 2015. COVID-19 likely will be the costliest pandemic due to the complexity and fragility of globalization.

Some pandemics undo economies with mass die-offs but in most modern cases it is the fear of infection that bleeds financial systems.

8. Pandemics rudely outline weaknesses and faults in political leadership. Good leaders lessen their impacts while incompetent leaders add to the gravity.

President Woodrow Wilson was so focused on the First World War that he ignored repeated warnings about influenza and its impact on Atlantic troop movements to the Western Front. At the end of the war Canadian and U.S. authorities knowingly put sick troops on cramped ships with poor ventilation. As a result the flu killed 675,000 Americans while the trench warfare claimed but 53,000 U.S. soldiers.

President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa didn’t think HIV was caused by a virus and thousands died.

President Donald Trump, who initially accused his political rivals of perpetrating a “hoax” when they warned his administration wasn’t doing enough about COVID-19, failed to prepare the United States with adequate testing and containment.  Then, saying “I take no responsibility at all,” he falsely blamed the Obama administration for inadequate testing kits.

9. Pandemics are rarely equal opportunity events.

They might scare everyone but they don’t kill everyone: They tend to target the poor, the vulnerable and those wounded by bad health.

The Black Death struck down both rich and poor but really focused on the malnourished and the frail.

Smallpox became a terror for Indigenous Peoples because they had no immunity to this novel Old World virus. During the Spanish flu members of First Nations died at rates seven times higher than British Columbia’s provincial average.

Cholera primarily dogged the working class. HIV initially targeted marginalized communities: gay men and drug users. Ebola affected the poorest of the poor. To date COVID-19 seems to affect the elderly and unwell disproportionately.

10. Ultimately, pandemics invite us to question disturbances in the human family.

COVID-19, for example, could provoke challenges to the unsustainable complexity of technological life as well as the deadly biological traffic in all living organisms on a planet now crowded by eight billion people. We might, after the storm has passed, question the vulnerability of monocultures and the globalization of everything.

Long after the monotony of deprivation and separation, the survivors of pandemics will kiss and hold their loved ones with a new appreciation. They might light candles, true plague light, and offer prayers of thanksgiving.

The humbled will be thankful, as author of The Plague Albert Camus once was, for what pandemics have always taught those receptive to biological instruction: “There are more things to admire in men than to despise.”  [Tyee] SOURCE



If we want to change the story of the human race in the 21st century, we have to change the stories we tell ourselves.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.

Charles Dickens (1859)

We watched the news this year. Maybe you did too.

It didn’t look good. Countries on the verge of collapse, people taking to the streets, some in peaceful marches and extinction rebellions, others in violent clashes with security forces. Populism rearing its ugly head, bigotry worming its way into the algorithms, power corrupting absolutely, the powerless ignored or locked in cages on the border. Trade wars, surveillance capitalism and ‘re-education camps,’ war-torn hotspots mired in conflict, a global economy incapable of fixing its excesses, the partisan battle lines hardening, the lies becoming more brazen. An entire species fouling its own nest, the emissions (still!) rising, wildfires burning and losses cascading across ecosystems.

Perhaps, like us, you willingly participated in this insane, 21st century global experiment: take a nervous system that’s evolved for running away from cheetahs, and give it a big glowing screen showing it all the bad things happening in the world in near real time.

Fortunately, that wasn’t the only news. There were other stories out there, unsung victories for conservation, health, rising living standards, tolerance, peace, clean energy and environmental stewardship. Most of them didn’t make it into the evening bulletins or our Facebook feeds though, and that means that what we saw on our screens in 2019 was not the world. It was a negative image of the world, in both the photographic and tonal senses.

Here’s a better picture.




1. New surveys revealed that the population of humpback whales in the South Atlantic region now number 24,900 — almost 93% of their population size before they were hunted to the brink of extinction. BBC

2. Chinese authorities began preparations for the creation of the largest national park in the country’s history, covering an area of 27,134 km², and home to more than 1,200 wild giant pandas. NatGeo

3. The indigenous Waorani community of Ecuador won a landmark case against oil companies this year, protecting 180,000 hectares of their land against exploitation. Al Jazeera

4. In 2019, the United States passed a new law outlawing animal cruelty, China issued guidelines stating that from 2020 non-animal testing will be the preferred method for cosmetic products, and in Australia, cosmetics companies were banned from using data derived from animal testing.

5. Dolphins are breeding in the Potomac River in Washington for the first time since the 1880s, whale populations are exploding off the shores of New York, and 100 seal pups have been born on the shores of the Thames, 60 years after the river was declared ‘biologically dead.’ Telegraph

6. In July, Ethiopia smashed the world record for tree planting. Led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, millions of Ethiopians planted 353 million trees in 12 hours. BBC

Abiy Ahmed showing why he’s Africa’s most poplar leader (sorry couldn’t help ourselves). Image credit: CEO Magazine

7. The city of Seoul shut down all its remaining dog butcheries this year, and the Netherlands became the first country in the world to eliminate all stray dogs – not by euthanasia, but through education, free veterinary care and re-homing. Amsterdam Hangout

8. In Kenya, poaching rates have dropped by 85% for rhinos and 78% for elephants in the last five years, in South Africa, the number of rhinos killed by poachers fell by 25%, the fifth annual decrease in a row, and in Mozambique, one of Africa’s largest wildlife reserves went an entire year without losing a single elephant.

9. Belize doubled the size of ocean reserves around the world’s second largest barrier reef, South Africa increased its proportion of protected waters from 0.4% to 5.4%, Argentina created two new marine parks in the South Atlantic, bringing total protected areas to 8%.

10. Canada became the first country in the world to protect more than 10% of its ocean waters, after the government partnered with Inuit custodians to create a vast new conservation zone in the Arctic – the Tuvaijuittuq Marine Protected Area and the Tallurutiup Imanga National Marine Conservation Area. National Observer

11. India reported that its population of tigers has risen by over a third since 2014, and in Siberia, an unprecedented collaboration between China and Russia has paved the way for a new transnational park for the Amur leopard and the Siberian tiger.

12. Since 1990, France’s forest areas have increased by 7%, in Nepal, satellite images revealed that forests expanded from 26% in 1992 to 45% in 2016, and Costa Rica announced it has doubled its forest cover in the last 30 years; half its land surface is now covered with trees, a huge carbon sink and a big draw for tourists.

13. A new study revealed that the status of Great Britain’s carnivores has “improved markedly since the 1960s.” Thanks to conservation efforts, otters, pine martens, badgers and polecats have staged remarkable recoveries. Wiley

14. Canada banned the trade, possession, capture and breeding of whales, dolphins and porpoises, passed a Fisheries Act containing a legally binding requirement to rebuild fish populations, and unveiled new standards for marine protected areas, banning all oil-and-gas activity as well as mining, dumping and bottom-trawling.

15. An unprecedented conservation effort returned the Mexican Grey Wolf from the brink of extinction, giving it a new home in a reserve with other species endemic to its former territories, such as prairie dogs, bison, and longhorn sheep. Mexico News Daily

16. China’s tree stock rose by 4.56 billion m³ between 2005 and 2018, deserts are shrinking by 2,400 km² a year, and forests now account for 22% of land area. SCMP

17. The US Senate passed its most sweeping conservation legislation in a decade, protecting 1.3 million acres and withdrawing 370,000 acres from land available to mining companies. LA Times


A Green New Deal for Canada — what’s next?

Grassroots movement to address climate crisis

Organic farmer Brenda Hsueh introduces the Green New Deal to people in her barn at Black Sheep Farm outside of Scone. PAT CARSON

The United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres does not talk about climate change, he talks about a “climate crisis,” adding that “we face a direct existential threat.”

The Paris Agreement on climate was signed by 195 nations, including Canada, in 2017. On April 2, 2019 the Government of Canada announced in a news release that Canada’s climate is warming twice as fast as the global average. The report added that Canadians are experiencing the costs of climate-related extremes first hand, from devastating wildfires and flooding to heat waves and droughts.

In January of 2019, the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA) reported that climate change is linked to depression, anxiety and stress disorders in Canada.

There is a grassroots movement afoot to address the climate crisis in Canada and it’s called the Green New Deal. The Green New Deal is a political idea to tackle the climate crisis.

There have been more than 150 Green New Deal town hall gatherings across Canada this month alone, in cities like Toronto and Vancouver and smaller communities like Barrie and Wiarton. On May 25 there was one in a barn on a farm outside of Scone on Grey Road 3.

“In part it comes out of the LEAP manifesto and a lot of different progressive groups wanting to push society to make changes, not just on climate issues, but on social justice issues too,” explained Brenda Hsueh, an organic farmer who hosted the event at Black Sheep Farm.

Hsueh decided to take up the challenge of hosting a town hall because as an organic farmer most of her work is done in isolation and she wanted to see who else in her community was as angry and frustrated with society’s lack of action on this major issue.

Twenty-four people from different walks of life and different ages, including several local organic farmers, showed up as concerned as Hsueh about the climate crisis and the need for action now.

The Green New Deal calls on workers, students, union members, migrants, community organizations and people all across the country to gather and design a plan for a safe and prosperous future for all. It is a vision of rapid, inclusive and far-reaching transition, to slash emissions, protect critical biodiversity and meet the demands of the multiple crises.

In her opening remarks, Hsueh asked people to be “mindful that we are gathered today on the traditional land of the Three Fire Confederacy of the Ojibway, Potawatomi and Odawa people.”

Before beginning small group discussions she explained the concept of “green line” statements as a way to identify what people want to see and support in communities and the country. “Red line” statements identify what people do not want to see or support. The statements might be about labour, Indigenous peoples, food, disabilities, public transportation, health, agriculture, war, youth and faith to name just a few social justice topics. MORE


Kelowna town hall meeting attracts crowd pushing for action on ‘climate crisis’
Guelph: Community creates shared vision for Green New Deal

Stanford scientists creating ways to quickly, accurately and inexpensively find natural gas leaks

From production to consumption, natural gas leaks claim lives, damage the climate and waste money. Research teams at Stanford are working on better ways to find and fix gas leaks quickly and inexpensively from one end of the system to the other.

Stanford’s Robert Jackson used this specially equipped car to survey Manhattan and several other cities in search of natural gas leaks. (Image credit: Robert Jackson)

As it flows through pipelines from wells to stovetops, natural gas is prone to leaking, threatening not only human safety and health but also the health of the planet.

Over the past 10 years, natural gas leaks and explosions in U.S. residential and commercial neighborhoods have killed 73 people, injured 412 others and caused more than $500 million in property damage. Gas leaks and other emissions throughout the industry emit a third of all human-made methane, a greenhouse gas 36 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Researchers at Stanford and elsewhere are looking for fast and affordable ways of detecting leaks throughout the natural gas supply chain in an effort to reduce damage and save lives.

“While a large portion of methane in the atmosphere comes from agriculture and livestock, natural gas leaks are found throughout the gas distribution system,” said Stanford professor of geophysics Mark Zoback, director of the Natural Gas Initiative, which funds much of the work at Stanford tracking down and mitigating leaks.

When burned to produce electricity, natural gas releases about half the carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour that coal does, as well as less sulfur and nitrogen oxides, making it a tempting alternative to coal.

However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated that the oil and gas industry emitted approximately 8 million metric tons of methane in 2016 – the equivalent of emissions from 43 million cars in a year. A 2014 study by Adam Brandt, an associate professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford, found that such leaks can negate some but not all of the climate benefit of switching from coal to natural gas, as some experts, including Zoback, have advocated.

Working with postdoctoral scholar Arvind Ravikumar, Brandt recently led the Mobile Monitoring Challenge – a contest to find the most affordable and accurate ways of detecting natural gas leaks – along with colleagues from Stanford, Colorado State University and the Environmental Defense Fund.

A drone-based methane detector competes in the Mobile Monitoring Challenge at a natural gas facility in Colorado. (Image credit: Sean Boggs/Environmental Defense Fund)

In the course of the contest last year, drones whizzed overhead, trucks rumbled by and helicopters zoomed through the sky at controlled testing facilities in Fort Collins, Colorado, and Sacramento, California. MORE

How Removing Asphalt Is Softening Our Cities

Greening alleys reclaims public space, reconnects urban dwellers to one another, and invites nature deep into cities.


Portland alley advocates estimate there are 76 miles of alleys in their city—all potential green public spaces. This northeast Portland neighborhood is one of many projects reclaiming forgotten concrete pathways for nature and people. Photo by Derek Dauphin

The kids wanted something different for the Inukai Family Boys and Girls Club’s 5,000 square feet of alleyside space. They talked about a soccer field or a traditional playground—but surprised Schutz by choosing a nature park. They imagined dirt, logs, and boulders to climb on, raised beds to grow flowers and veggies, and hundreds of trees and plants throughout.

Schutz just had to figure out how to remove the pavement.

Doing so introduced her to a soften-our-cities movement in which cities such as Nashville, Tennessee, Montreal, and Detroit are rethinking all that cement. Alleys and alleysides in particular are being effectively reimagined as people-friendly pathways, parks, and lushly planted urban habitat.

Schutz and the kids she serves understand why the idea has been spreading. The day before they strong-armed the asphalt up, one girl asked her, “Miss Rachel, does this mean we get real grass we can touch?” MORE

It is time to respect the planet’s boundaries—and overhaul how we eat and waste food—if we want to feed our rising population

If we’re to feed the estimated 10 billion people on Earth in 2050—and protect the planet— we have to completely overhaul food production and choose healthier diets, says international report

Market in Barcelona, Spain. The authors recommend consumption of red meats and sugars to decrease by 50 percent, while increasing consumption of nuts, fruits, vegetables and legumes two-fold. Credit: ja ma/Unsplash)

The way we eat and grow food has to dramatically change if we’re going to feed the world’s increasing population by 2050 and protect the planet, according to a major report released today from the EAT-Lancet Commission.

“Civilisation is in crisis. We can no longer feed our population a healthy diet while balancing planetary resources,” wrote the commission, which was a three-year project and is comprised of 37 scientists from around the globe. “For the first time in 200,000 years of human history, we are severely out of synchronisation with the planet and nature.”

Agriculture is the largest pressure humans put on the planet.

The authors say reconnecting with nature is the key in turning around unsustainable agriculture and poor diets. If humans can “eat in a way that works for our planet as well as our bodies, the natural balance of the planet’s resources will be restored,” they write. “The nature that is disappearing holds the key to human and planetary survival.” MORE