Misinformation and disinformation abound with COVID-19. The line we must use when we see incredulous Facebook posts or hear fabricated conspiracy theories (like Bill Gates concocted COVID-19 to make money), or the simple echoing of misinformation by the president, is “I would encourage you to listen to the truthtellers.” When asked, you can mention the doctors and scientists. If asked to elaborate further, you can say “Listen to the people not patting themselves on the back telling what a great job they are doing.”
Clint Eastwood’s most famous spaghetti western is “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” The title is a common framework to define a series of events, even preceding the movie. Using it one more time, let me frame a few issues with the coronavirus.
The few silver linings are seeing people going beyond the call of duty to help. The healthcare providers are heroes putting themselves at risk without all of the tools and resources needed. Volunteers and other good folks are doing their best to help through many means. As Mister Rogers said in times of crisis, focus on the helpers.
Seeing people come together to check if people need food shopping done or errands run is inspiring. Some employers are going beyond the call to help.
Another good outcome is the air quality has improved in major cities and carbon ouput has declined. Why? Fewer drivers and less travel. The lessening carbon output is actually noticeable from space in historical problem areas.
Being unprepared to start with. I have shared before examples of budget cutbacks causing key staff cuts hindering the ability to help. Then, when a crisis occurs people look back and say how could this happen? In this case, the Global Pandemic team was cut (once again) in 2018. And, in 2019 the tariff war with China caused the elimination of CDC epidemiologists on site in China to be cut.
These absences with the naysaying early on by the US president has left us in a catch up mode. More people have gotten the illness and exposure continues. Fortunately, more active shelter in place and social distancing measures are helping fight the risk led by state, local and now federal leadership. Hopefully, the stimulus bill will pass to open up funds to help.
The uncertainty and those who have lost their lives and loved ones. We are learning more things, but we still do not know as much as needed. We need data, tools, resources and money. We should not take this lightly. The stimulus bill will help, but it will not be a panacea. The financial recovery will take time, but the health risk must be the focus.
People are out of work and companies need customers. Hopefully, the risk curve can be flattened, but safety must be the primary lens. We need to avoid being too impatient and further exposing folks prematurely.
This is a long haul battle. But, the next few weeks and months are critical.
Last night, “60 Minutes” did a piece on the continuing forest fires in Australia. The risk has heightened due to climate change on this very hot and dry continent.
One of those whose home has been destroyed is incredulous by the lack of planning and execution by the prime minister and government. She said our country is on fire and the risk will continue and they cannot focus on that? Another person joined others and refused to shake the prime minister’s hand saying “you’re an idiot, mate.”
Not to be outdone, former conservative PM Malcolm Turnbull noted climate change is making the Australian forest fires worse. He referred to climate change naysayers in his own party as “idiotic.”
Their candor is needed. In the US, Republican lawmakers are now pushing the planting of a million trees. This is a good start, especially after twenty years of varying degrees of climate change denial, but addresses only one side of the issue. We need to also stop putting so much carbon and methane into the atmosphere as well as taking carbon out of the air with more trees (and other measures).
I am not advocating the use of derogatory terms like idiot or idiotic, but in the case of the current Australian PM, Scott Morrison, many would not shake his hand after he took a planned vacation to Hawaii while the fires were raging back home. That was not the wisest of moves.
I read this week House Republican minority leader Kevin McCarthy is pushing for a bill to require the planting of a million trees. Some members of the Republican party are now openly admitting climate change is a problem after over twenty years of varying degrees of denial.
The rationale is to two-fold. These members realize younger voters know climate change is a problem to deal with. These members also are pushing a carbon capture narrative to permit the unabated use of fossil fuel energy.
This is a good start for the Republican party, but a necessary strategy has two vital components:
1) take more carbon out of the atmosphere
2) put less carbon into the air
Focusing only on one or the other is half the battle. Fortunately, coal is on the demise in most places around the world. In the US, more coal-fired plants have been retired under Trump’s tenure than under the last three years of Obama’s. With all his bluster, Trump cannot stop the demise.
The key is to diminish natural gas, which has less carbon impact than coal, but creates a larger methane and water problem. While methane has a shorter life than carbon, it is more potent a problem.
We should embrace planting more trees. We should also increase mangrove areas near seashores which absorb a lot of carbon and protect against rising tides. And, as noted in the documentary “Ice on Fire,” there are a number of other carbon eating measures.
These with increasing solar, wind, and tidal energy sources and continued urban and agricultural climate efforts will help put less carbon in the air. The answer is all of the above and more.
Strong on the heels of Greta Thunberg’s visit to the United States and United Nations climate change conference in Spain, a royal member of the UK family is making a very public statement backed with funds to match. In an article by Simon Perry in People Magazine, of all places, a very important global mission was revealed in an article called: Prince William Unveils Ambitious New Environmental Mission: ‘The Earth Is at a Tipping Point and We Face a Stark Choice’.
The first three paragraphs from the article (see link below) are as follows:
“On Tuesday, the royal unveiled a multimillion-dollar international award to harness the best ideas for tackling the biggest environmental challenges in the world.
William, 37, has set his sights on spending the next decade rewarding visionaries and innovation. Called Earthshot, it will be awarded to five winners a year for the next decade, generating what William hopes will be 50 solutions by 2030.
‘The earth is at a tipping point and we face a stark choice: either we continue as we are and irreparably damage our planet or we remember our unique power as human beings and our continual ability to lead, innovate and problem-solve,’ William said in a statement. ‘Remember the awe inspiring civilizations that we have built, the life-saving technology we have created, the fact that we have put a man on the moon. People can achieve great things. And the next 10 years presents us with one of our greatest tests: a decade of change to repair the earth.’”
The case for change to reward climate change action innovation was echoed when “Dr. M. Sanjayan, CEO of Conservation International, added in a statement, ‘We have a very small window, 10 years, to jolt earth onto a path of sustainability. It can sound terrifying – or it can sound like one of history’s greatest opportunities. Yes, the challenges are daunting. But how we react is still, in this sliver of time left, entirely up to us – and that is what the Earthshot Prize is all about. It’s about this opportunity in front of us, right now, to choose to put our energies towards taking action and uncovering solutions, to choose to create the future we want over settling for the one that we fear.’”
It is good to see more public figures cite the need to act, especially with the recalcitrant US president who is beholden to the fossil fuel industry. Fortunately, good things are happening around the globe and in the US, but more is needed to address the climate change impact which is already happening. I applaud the future King. We all should.
On Friday, I went to see the movie “Dark Waters” about a long uphill battle some West Virginia families had against Dupont. Mark Ruffalo stars and co-produces the film, playing the attorney, Rob Bilott, who fought so long and hard as a favor to his grandmother. The movie also stars Anne Hathaway as his wife, Tim Robbins as his managing partner and Bill Pullman and is directed by Todd Haynes. Some of the families impacted by Dupont and involved in the court cases show up in cameos throughout the movie.
The movie is a must see. Your emotions will flow with Bilott’s throughout the movie. You will be inspired by his courage and tenacity and that of the first client a farmer named Wilbur Tennant, ably played by Bill Camp. You will also be saddened by how a company could cover-up for decades they were harming their employees, community and the buying public. Yes, we too, are also impacted by this story. Not to spoil the plot any further, but the word “Teflon” plays a key role.
Like “Erin Brockovich” before it, these movies should not have to be made. Companies need to do the right thing. Yet, when government agencies ask the companies and industry to police themselves, short cuts are made and information is hidden. Think Boeing for a recent example. Dupont is not very happy this movie was made. They should not be as it paints them many times over in a very poor light. They had many opportunities to do the right thing, but did not until their hand was forced. Even then, it had to be reinforced.
I will stop short here. Please go see it. Make sure the kids see it, as well. This is why our voices matter.
Climate change is no longer a futuristic concern. People, governments and businesses are responding to issues today whether it is sunny day flooding in coastal cities, increased magnitude and frequency of forest fires or stalled weather patterns causing more flooding or droughts.
Venice is an important face of rising sea levels, but Miami is the most at risk major city in the world say climate scientists. Yet, a town in Alaska has been forced to plan and move their town inland today.
An NPR story by Greg Kim earlier this month was entitled, “Residents Of An Eroded Alaskan Village Are Pioneering A New One, In Phases.”
“It’s finally moving day in Newtok, Alaska, the village where erosion has already claimed several homes and the river is banging on more doors. Newtok is sending a third of its residents across the Ninglick River this year, to its replacement village, Mertarvik. Decades of planning have built up to this moment.”
An earlier story from September noted, “In mid-October, Newtok will move one-third of its roughly 350 residents to a new village currently under construction on higher ground 9 miles away. The move will mark a sober milestone: Newtok residents will be the first Americans to be relocated because of the effects of climate change.”
Two things stand out. The Newtok citizens have been planning this move for over 25 years. While that may surprise some folks, we have known about climate change and rising sea levels for some time. Exxon Mobil is in court for misepresenting the impact of climate change to shareholders, but much of the prosecutor’s data comes from suppressed data from Exxon Mobil scientists. These scientists used to speak to groups about climate change concerns until management told them to stop. Shell Oil even produced an educational video on climate change concerns in the 1990s.
While these firms have moved to a naysaying strategy fueled by a Public Relations firm, they know the hard truths. And, if they forget, their shareholders voted that management tell them.
Newtok will not be the last US town or city which may need to move. Please remember the term sunny day flooding, as it represents days when sea water leave standing water in the streets of these cities.