Climate Change Here and Now

 

When it comes to climate change, many of us fear what the future will bring. And we should fear that. But this is what we are already seeing!

Western Canada and United States already experienced the incredible this summer. The heat wave and the fires it caused were astounding. As the Guardian said,

“Heat and fires it caused killed hundreds of people, and are estimated to have killed a billion sea creatures. Daily temperature records were smashed by more than 5C in some places. In Lytton British Columbia the heat reached 49.6C. The wildfires that consumed the town produced their own thunderstorms.”

The west coast of Canada, an area famous for mild temperature experienced Canada’s highest temperature ever as a result of what scientists have called a heat dome. That happened when a ridge of high pressure acted like the lid of a hot pot with boiling water that prevented hot air to escape. Such events have been extremely rare in the past.  But as the Guardian claimed, “an initial study shows human activity made this heat dome…150 times more likely.” This is where we are—here and now. This is not our dire future. We are in our dire future.

The World Weather Attribution Group of scientists use computer models to assess global trends of climate change and heating temperatures and extreme weather events.  They warned that temperature increases of 5ºC like B.C. experienced this year “exceeded their worst-case scenarios.”

As the Guardian said, “Scientists did not hide their alarm that a usually cool part of the Pacific northwest had been turned into a furnace.”

A climatologist Nick Bond said, “it blows my mind.” Mine too.

Welcome to apocalypse now.

Statistics are not always Lies

Mark Twain famously disparaged statistics. He said, “There are lies, damn lies and statistics.” Maybe (OK probably) I am not sophisticated enough to understand them but sometimes those stats tell a powerful story. Sometimes stats are important.

I read some stunning stats yesterday. Of all the provinces in Canada Saskatchewan has the lowest rate of vaccination uptake in the country. At the same time, Saskatchewan has the highest rate of new Covid-19 cases in the past 14 days as it gears up to send Covid-19 patients out of the province for help because its health care system is on the brink. Yesterday, Saskatchewan had 510 new Covid-19 cases  per 100,000 people in the past 14 days. Prince Edward Island on the other hand had the highest rate of vaccine uptake among all the provinces and the lowest rate of new Covid-19 cases in the past 14 days per 1000,000 people  at 6.  Remember this is per 100,000! 510 to 9! Does that not tell us a lot about the effectiveness of the vaccines? Frankly that is a stunning statistic.

The people who are not taking up the vaccines in my opinion are significantly responsible for this. The Vaccines are free and widely available.  The reasons for not taking them have been largely discredited. Yet many people are not taking them, to the point where health care systems are on the brink of disaster.

Yet we are expected not to openly criticize the people who resist vaccines because criticism will not be effective. I disagree with that. We should criticize. We should do it with kindness (as I was reminded recently), but we should do it. A friend has a duty to advise a friend when we see them going on a dangerous path.

 

 

 

A stealth Enemy: Air Quality

 

In early 2020 the world changed–we experienced Covid-19. This was something new an international pandemic that hit home to everyone except the most obtuse virus deniers, religious fanatics, anti-science cranks, and conservatives and their fellow travelers.

Covid-19 was big. It changed the world. In many respects the world changed including massive economic slow-downs or even lockdowns. For more than a year we were required to wear masks in most social settings. Many of us were not able to work. An international Marshall plan was established to work on vaccines. Millions of people died while millions of people denied the reality of their illness or the efficacy of the vaccines created to stem the tide. Yes, the world was different.

In the midst of this pandemic and the international response it was difficult to see anything else. As a result, we missed some pretty important things. For example, few paid attention to air quality. That was a mistake.

Rebecca Solnit was the first to draw my attention to this disturbing fact. As she reported in The Guardian,

While Covid ravaged across the world, air pollution killed about three times as many people. We must fight the climate crisis with the same urgency with which we confronted coronavirus.”

  

I was shocked to read that. It couldn’t be true. Could it?

After all at the time she wrote, 2.8 million people had died as a result of Covid-19 and it captured our entire attention. Whether we believed it or not, clearly covid-19 was the issue. Since then of course, millions more have died, and we are nowhere need done with this pandemic.

What most of us did not know is that during the first 15 months of the pandemic that Solnit was writing about “3 times as many people died from air pollution.”

While Covid ravaged across the world, air pollution killed about three times as many people. We must fight the climate crisis with the same urgency with which we confronted coronavirus.

 

According to a recent scientific study, 8.7 million people per year die of the effects of air pollution. And part of the problem is that most of us are unaware of this disturbing fact. Air pollution is a largely invisible enemy unless you visit some place like Phoenix Arizona as I did for nearly 10 years in a row. You can see it there. Air pollution usually arrives by stealth. As a result, unlike Covid-19 the world has not rallied to defeat it. There have been no lockdowns or mask requirements because of air pollution. Largely this stealth attack has gone unnoticed and unquestioned.  We have normalized the havoc by treating it as what Solnit called “moral background noise.” Instead Covid-19 gets all the attention. Solnit says we should treat air pollution like an emergency, like we have done with Covid-19. She does not say attention to Covid-19 was misplaced.

The first thing we must realize is that there is more than one serious consequence to burning fossil fuels.  We must also recognize that  climate change is not the only serious effect of our determination to burn fossil fuels. Climate change is a serious problem, perhaps the most serious in the world right now, notwithstanding Covid-19, but so is air quality.  The problem is that burning fossils fuels is to deep a part of the status quo that we don’t really see it. We are blind to it and have come to believe there is no reasonable alternative.

As Solnit said,

“We are designed to respond with alarm to something that just happened, that breaches norms, but not to things that have been going on for decades or centuries. The first task of most human rights and environmental movements is to make the invisible visible and to make what has long been accepted unacceptable. This has of course been done to some extent, with coal-burning power plants and with fracking in some places, but not with the overall causes of climate chaos.”

 

We cannot let this stealth bomber slip under the radar.  Climate change creates similar problems as until we experience dramatic effects as when wild fires consume British Columbia and California forests, or ice bergs break off continents, birds disappear, or in my case, beautiful flowers come earlier in spring, we often fail to take note of the serious changes. It is also difficult to notice when some of the richest and most predatory corporations in the world pay huge sums of money to pundits for hire to confuse the science and persuade these problems are not real.

We must be alert to these problems and the consequences they foist on us. We must dissent from the normal. We must resist the fake reality that predatory capitalist firms try to impose upon us.  As Solnit said,

“According to CNBC, at the outset of the pandemic, “New Delhi recorded a 60% fall of PM2.5 from 2019 levels, Seoul registered a 54% drop, while the fall in China’s Wuhan came in at 44%.” Returning to normal means drowning out the birds and blurring out the mountains and accepting 8.7 million air pollution deaths a year. Those deaths have been normalized; they need to be denormalized.”

Solnit also reminded us that,

 

“A lot of attention was paid to whatever actions might have caused Covid-19 to cross from animals to humans, but the actions that take fossil fuel out of the ground to produce that pollution that kills 8.7 million annually, along with acidifying oceans and climate chaos, should be considered far more outrageous a transgression against public health and safety.”

 

One of the excuses these corporations have tried to get us to believe is that we can’t afford to change. One thing Covid-19 has showed us is that we can afford to spend the money that it takes to fight off disaster. Hugely impactful changes require huge responses. We can do it. We must. We must not tolerate a “normal” that costs the lives of 8.7 million people every year (in addition to all the other horrific effects of fossil fuel consumption.

Rebecca Solnit left us with some hope in her important essay:

“My hope for a post-pandemic world is that the old excuses for doing nothing about climate – that it is impossible to change the status quo and too expensive to do so – have been stripped away. In response to the pandemic, we in the US have spent trillions of dollars and changed how we live and work. We need the will to do the same for the climate crisis… With a drawdown on carbon emissions and a move toward cleaner power, we could have a world with more birdsong and views of mountains and fewer pollution deaths. But first we have to recognize both the problem and the possibilities.”

 

We need to get serious about climate change and air pollution and stop ignoring the problem or paying lip service to them as we have been doing in Canada. It is time for change. It is time to realize that this is not a future problem—this is happening now. This is apocalypse now.

Welcome to the apocalypse: Doom is Here

 

For a number of years now we have been hearing, seeing, and reading predictions of doom. There have been so many such predictions that many people have stopped listening, watching, or examining such claims. People have doom fatigue.

I know a good friend of mine who said to me, quite a few years, “We are fucked.”  Sorry for the bad word. He used it so I feel I must tell you the truth. Frankly, I always thought he was exaggerating. Now I know he was telling the truth.

In fact, now I would go one big step farther than that. Doom is here. It is not something my grandchildren will have to worry about. I will have to worry about it. and I am an old man who will die soon as I was once told.

That has never been clearer than it is in this year 2021. The apocalypse is here.  What convinced me of that was the incredible weather this year. In particular, the off the charts heat wave in British Columbia convinced me of that. British Columbia is of course the last place we expect heat waves. British Columbia is famous for mild weather. Mild winters and mild summers. Perfect climate in other words. Well not this year. In fact, not in the last few years.

It is for that that reason that Sir David King the former U.K chief scientific advisor said, “Nowhere is safe…who would have predicted a temperature of 48/49C in British Columbia?”  The answer is obvious–no one would have predicted that.

In fact, I heard a climate scientist say that those temperatures did not appear on any of the climate models, not even the most extreme. It was not only unexpected, it was basically incomprehensible.

Welcome to apocalypse now. You don’t need to wait for it; it’s here. We are doomed. I want to explore this topic in future posts.

 

Nearing the End?

Are we nearing the end of the pandemic?  It is too early to tell, but there are some encouraging signs.

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, a woman of quiet wisdom I have found, as well as a conservative person not given to making radical statements (unlike some impetuous bloggers) said,

“cases have started levelling off as more people get vaccinated and after public health measures were reintroduced in August and September to slow transmission. It’s the first time since July where the pandemic does not appear to be in a growth pattern for the country.”

 

We must remember she did not go any further than that. After all she is a careful, prudent scientist. Not some blathering blogger. But you can’t blame us for getting excited after 18 months of pandemic.

Dr. Tam also mentioned that Saskatchewan and Alberta had the highest rates of Covid among the provinces. She also mentioned that according to Public Health Agency data areas of the country that were hardest hit recently were those who eliminated rules on mask wearing and gathering sizes too early while not enough people had been vaccinated against Covid-19.

I wish more people in Canada understood this and trusted our top health officials instead of getting their public health advice from personal research on the Internet. Too many people think medicine is easy and that 7 years or more of medical education is not needed to evaluate the science of vaccines.

 

 

Statistics of the War in Afghanistan

 

Mark Twain once said, “There are lies, damn lies, and statistics.” But there are also some statistics that are pretty darn telling.

Here are some interesting statistics about the war as of mid-April 2021.

The American war in Afghanistan cost a lot of treasure. At least a trillion and maybe more, but when it gets to figures like that my eyes glaze over anyway. Whether it was one trillion or two or three who really cares. But importantly, lives.  The war lasted 20 years. The longest war in US history.  And we must remember the US has been in a lot of wars.

2,442 US troops died in the war.  3,800 American private security forces died. I found it interesting that more private American soldiers died than regular military.  It “paid off” for Americans to outsource the war as much as possible. After all who feels sorry for private security forces?

20,666 Americans were injured in the war. Much of the suffering of war is caused by injury. People came back from the war with all kinds of injuries including, of course, post-traumatic stress disorder.

Even though no one in the west really pays attention to this, but 47,245 Afghans died in the war. This is really the most important number though people in the west pay so little attention to it. This of course followed the 10-year war with Russia.  The people have Afghanistan have suffered enormously. That much is clear from the numbers.

 

That is a lot of suffering.

Now for the question:  What was worth so much suffering?

 

Dragon’s Mouth

 

There are some spectacular beauties in the bogs of Manitoba.  One of them is an orchid called Dragon’s Mouth.

After visiting the Brokenhead ecological reserve where I am not allowed to get off the trail, in order  to protect the flowers of course,  I went to another spot nearby where I had no such restrictions. Only fools go to such places. People like me. This allowed me to get very close to a spectacular Manitoba orchid—Dragon’s Mouth (Arethusa bulbosa). This year, the one’s in the reserve were not close enough to the boardwalk to photograph. Some years they have been much closer.

 

The Genus Arethusa to which this flower belongs is named after Arethusa of Greek mythology. Arethusa was a river nymph in the service of Artemis, goddess of the moon, and patroness of unmarried girls and  chastity. This gave her awesome responsibilities of course. One day when Arethusa was bathing in the river she was spotted by the river god Alpheus who naturally pursued her. This required her god Artemis to change into a spring to rescue her from her distress.

This is an interesting genus because there is only one species in the genus bulbosa is it. Sadly, like so many of our orchids these are declining in numbers because the wetlands in which they live are constantly being drained in the name of progress. Can you imagine a world without these gems? It would certainly be much poorer. Is that progress?

According to William Petrie’s Guide to Orchids of North America, “the flower gives the impression of being alive and listening  and reminds one of a small creature with erect ears and drooping tongue.”  I think this is a lovely description of this beautiful plant, except that it suggests the flower is not alive. It is certainly alive. Only a cretan would deny that.

 

Thinking of my mother on a jaunt to the Brokenhead Wetland Ecological Reserve

In June this summer, I went to the Brokenhead Wetland Ecological  trail (one of my favourite places) in search of Spotted Coral Root (Corallorhiza maculata) and met with great success. At a place where I had never seen these little gems before, right near the beginning of the trail I found a great plant. Not only that but the flowers were right beside the trail, before the boardwalk even began, so I did not have to succumb to temptation and go off the trail, which we are urged never to do. As my mother taught me, it is always best not to expose myself to temptation.  She knew me. Today there was no issue as  they were right where I needed them to photograph them.

Today there was no issue they were right where I needed them to photograph them. These are very unusual flowers since they belong to the Genus Corallorhiza or Coral-roots.  These flowers are mycoheterotrophs which means they are not able to produce chlorophyll and hence must obtain their nutrition from other plants by way of specific mycorrhizal fungi in the soil.  Orchids often have a mutualist relationship with fungi and this is one  orchid genus that has that. These orchids spend most of their time underground and appear above ground only briefly, since in the absence of chlorophyll they don’t require sunlight which they are not able to use to produce food . The only “leaves” they have are actually scales. That means they have no green on their bodies at all. So instead of producing sugar as food, as most plants do from sunlight, they have a special relationship with these fungi who supply food to them. Sort of like the relationship we have with our mothers.

These are very small orchids and I can only photograph the tiny but beautiful flowers with a macro (close-up) lens. Even then, it is impossible to get more than one flower in focus at one time.  Yet, I think it is worth the effort to catch these gems and this was probably the best opportunity to capture them on camera I have ever had. The word “maculata” is Latin for spotted. It is not immaculate in other words. Which is fine with me. I prefer spots and have no longing for the immaculate.

Since I am a wild flower guy and not just an orchid guy, I also paid attention to other beauties namely, Smooth Fleabane (Erigeron glabellus). Though common these flowers certainly merit some attention too.  

These flowers have a lovely flower head of ray flowers (the bigger outer flowers) that range in colour from near white, to blue, and purple. The much smaller inner disk flowers are yellow.  I find the combination of the two stunning.

The name Erigeron come from the Greek word “eri”  which means early  and “geron” which means ‘old man.’ These flowers appear fairly early in the year and then produce fluffy grey seed clusters, hence its name. I find it appropriate that I like this flower as I was prematurely grey and now am sadly bald. Life is hard.

 

 

With two lovely flowers like these and a few others I have not included in this post, I must say it was a great day.  My mother would have quoted her favourite Bible verse, “This is the day the lord has made.” And I would have agreed with her.

 

Co-parenting with the Government

 

Jordan Klepper was sent by the The Daily Show with Trevor Noah show to Johnston County North Carolina to visit with people protesting masks and vaccines. Kleeper has a knack for getting people to say strange things on camera.

Parents there were desperate to get their children back into schools. Nothing wrong with that agenda, but it was interesting how they went about accomplishing that. North Carolina, of course, is part of the American bible belt. Sort of like North Carolina’s version of Manitoba’sSouthern Health district .

Just like Manitoba hospitals there have Intensive Care Units that are filled and they faced mandates to wear masks. The parents that protested did not like those restrictions. And some of their arguments in favor of their positions were deeply fascinating. The protest rally reminded me a lot of the one I saw in Steinbach at about the same time. As Jordan Klepper said, “putting on a piece of cloth was just too much,” for the protesters. It was a terrible encroachment on their freedom.

The most common T-shirt or sign the protesters displayed was telling: “I don’t co-parent with the government.” Others included: “Stop muzzling our children.”   “My rights don’t end where your feelings begin!!!” “Say No to critical race theory.” “Educate not indoctrinate.”  Or “Unmasked, unmuzzled, unvaccinated, unafraid.” One  sign painted on an image of the American flag said, “that mask is as useless as our governor.”

The protesters, like those in Steinbach, were against it all. They didn’t like compulsory vaccines or masks or social distancing rules.  All the things the scientists said were needed to keep schools open were opposed by the protesters. One protester said, “Masks will never protect Americans.” Another said masks don’t work. Her child was suffering after wearing a mask for so long. She told Kleeper the problems he had as a result were acne on his face. But he didn’t have covid.  She admitted that. But he had acne. Klepper asked her if she had to choose between acne or Covid-19 fro her son what would she choose? She made it clear she would consider Acne as being worse.

Another mother protester said the problem with wearing masks was that children were forced to breath in air that the body was trying to get rid of. Klepper asked her how surgeons did it? They had been wearing masks for years. Her answer was this: “That’s a good question.” Yeah that is a good question.

Klepper pointed out that a recent study from the CDC and Duke University, one of North Carolina’s world class colleges, said  that wearing masks would be helpful for school children. She challenged people to smell the toxins going into the body as a result of masks. According to Klepper “There’s science and there’s the smell test so you’re going with the smell test?”  She nodded assent.

Klepper asked another woman what were the problems with masks.  She answered, “I think breathing. I’ve done a little bit of research about carbon dioxide that people are saying is an issue now with the masks.” When Klepper pointed out that scientific research had established that wearing masks in settings like schools was an advisable thing she just said, “Nah. Oh no. I mean I don’t think so.” She just threw up her hands and said  “oh I just don’t know.”  She had not even a hint of an answer to a very simple question from Klepper. She preferred “a little bit of research” and “what some people are saying” to the world’s best scientific and health evidence.

A male protester when asked where was the harm in having kids wear masks replied that “For kids the harm is they can’t gauge emotional awareness. They don’t see the facial expressions.” Klepper asked, “You think not being able to see the lower half of a facial expression outweighs the dangers of Covid might pose to kids in the community?” The man replied, “Well the dangers are what you think they are.”  In other words, (I think) something is dangerous only if I think they are dangerous. The man also suggested that most of the people in the hospitals were not really sick. Even those in ICUs.

Another man asked if the diagnoses were true. He had walked through the hospitals and he said they are not filled with covid patients. I know from personal experience that this is a common claim. I have heard it too. This man said he had walked through a hospital taking videos and guess what, “they’re not covid patients.” He did not explain how he could tell by looking at them whether or not they were covid patients. He did not explain how hospital security had let him in ( a frightening possibility).

 

Klepper asked one of the women wearing a sign that said she did not co-parent with the government, if her kids went to private or public school. She said public school and Klepper asked, “isn’t that sort of co-parenting with the government?” She said no because “we get to vote our school board so we have a voice.”  Klepper, “So you work with the government?” Mother, “Yeah.” She detected no incongruity.

 

Klepper asked another parent similar questions because he too sent his child to public schools. “So you are kind of co-parenting with the government?” “Well in that regard if you say my taxes pay for that then yeah.”  Klepper asked him if he gave back his child tax credit?” The man looked dumbfounded and said, “No.”

Klepper said “ they saw this as a fight against something much more disturbing than face coverings.” One replied, “Terrible. Wearing a mask is slavery. Also, I discovered in my research that Satanists wear a mask during the rituals.  6 feet apart and wear a mask during their rituals.” She also said “we are in a war with Satan…I have no fears.”  Klepper replied, “You have no fears just a healthy belief in Satan and his affect on Covid?” Her reply:” Absolutely.”

Words Matter

 

When I was a lad in High School we had a course called “Words are important.” A lot of heat has been generated without a lot of light, by people on both sides of the dispute about vaccines. I have been as guilty of using improper language as anyone else. It is time for me to do better. It is important to choose the right words if we want to communicate effectively with others.

First of all, I must learn not to refer to people by one of their characteristics. People are complex. None of us are defined by one issue and none of us like to be defined by one issue. For example, we should not refer to a person as “a diabetic.”  Rather such a person should be referred to as “a person who has diabetes.”  That might seem like a minor change. It is not minor. It is significant. There have been recent studies that show by using the proper expression, which recognizes the other as a person who happens to have an illness like diabetes, that will be appreciated by the person being referred to. Such communication is much more effective because it is more respectful. In fact, according to Dr. Garfinkel, a frequent CBC radio commentator on the pandemic,  the difference can be striking. The data suggests that reducing a person to one issue can have a powerful impact on that person. It can reinforce bias or stereotypes that ought to be avoided because it amplifies resistance. If we want to help, we should do it right. No one likes to be reduced.  We should be smart if we want to make a difference.

Similarly, one should not refer to someone as a schizophrenic, or criminal, or anti-vaxxer.  A person should be referred to as a person who has schizophrenia, or a person who has committed a crime, or a person who is reluctant to take a vaccine.

Calling a person an anti-vaxxer or schizophrenic or criminal reduces a person to that one issue. It does not respect that the person is complex and cannot be reduced to one issue. If you want to communicate successfully with such a person you respect them first and foremost as a person. Labels can be damaging and are rarely helpful.

My bad. I have been guilty of this mistake. Words are important because respect is important. Words matter. I will try to do better Starting now.