Category Archives: Environmental Apocalypse

Covid-19 and Air Pollution

As I mentioned earlier, in the past couple of years of the pandemic, air pollution has killed a lot more people than Covid-19.  Yet one is treated like an emergency while the other is more or less ignored. I think that is a big mistake.

Air pollution no doubt contributed to the effects of Covid-19.  How could it not?  Covid-19 usually effects the respiratory system. So does air pollution.  As Beth Gardner reported in the National Geographic,

“When Covid-19 began tearing around the globe, Francesca Dominici suspected air pollution was increasing the death toll. It was the logical conclusion of everything scientists knew about dirty air and everything they were learning about the novel coronavirus. People in polluted places are more likely to have chronic illnesses, and such patients are the most vulnerable to COVID-19. What’s more, air pollution can weaken the immune system and inflame the airways, leaving the body less able to fight off a respiratory virus.”

 

Dominici is a professor of biostatistics at Harvard and she has created a data platform that aligns information on the death of millions of Americans with a day-by-day summary of the air those people who died were breathing. What a great idea! But the results of her investigation were disturbing. Her data goes back for 20 years.

How she got the data is an interesting story in itself, but I will leave you to read the article in the Geographic. She was collecting the information for years before any one had ever heard of Covid-19.

First of all, she and her researchers noticed that even in places where air quality standards were met, pollution was linked to higher death rates. This meant the air quality  standards were too lax! The air that will meet the standard won’t be safe enough. Of course, death is not the only result of bad air.  Other health conditions are also concerning if you care at all about quality of life. I know I do.

The research team discovered that a host of ailments that required hospitalizations had gone up wherever there was air pollution. Her research showed that things like kidney failure and septicemia also went up where air quality was poor. They learned that air quality with particulate matter, even very small matter, had a big effect.

For example, as Beth Gardner explained her findings,

“added to a mountain of evidence demonstrating the dangers of PM2.5, or particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers, about a 30th the width of a human hair. Some of those particles—of soot, for example—can cross into the bloodstream. Scientists have found them, including even tinier “ultrafine” particles, in the heart, brain, and placenta.”

 

The researchers found there was a very close connection between Covid-19 deaths and poor air quality. As she said,

“the places where decades of exposure to bad air had primed people’s bodies to be susceptible to the coronavirus. Worldwide, the team reported in December, particle pollution accounted for 15 percent of COVID-19 deaths. In badly polluted countries in East Asia, it was 27 percent.”

 

This surprised many ordinary people, but most scientists were not so surprised. Dominici said, It made perfect sense.” She already knew what much of the public doesn’t—that dirty air ends far more lives, and with far greater regularity, than the novel coronavirus.”

Its time we started to realize that. This is also an environmental problem is not something in our future; it is with us here and now.

A Pandemic in Slow Motion

 

We are all familiar with the Covid-19  pandemic. The world economy shut down to deal with it. Who ever thought that was possible?  Why was it possible? Only because the world realized this was an emergency and as a result the world took emergency measures.

There are actually bigger problems out there. One is climate change; another is bad air quality. There are others too. They require emergency measures as well.

Beth Gardner wrote an informative article on air pollution in National Geographic.  Not exactly a left wing rag. The National Geographic called “air pollution… a pandemic in slow motion.” People just don’t realize how dangerous it is and because it is stealthy, except in some very large cities like Beijing, Mumbai, Los Angeles and Phoenix, we seldom take notice of it.  I know I did pay attention when I lived in Phoenix. It bothered me to see that constant haze in the atmosphere when I drove into the city from the suburbs where we lived for 3 months.

As leader writers for her article said, “Dirty air is a plague on our health, causing 7 million deaths and many more preventable illnesses worldwide each year.” But the solutions are clear.” So far, in over a year of the Covid-19 pandemic which I do not want to make light of, nearly 5 million people have died world-wide.  And, of course, we hope the disease is nearing the time in which it will be controlled because of vaccines. Dirty air is really a big problem, we just don’t realize it yet.  We will.

We could tackle dirty air  too and actually it would cost us a lot less money than fighting Covid-19.

We seem better at tackling fast moving pandemics than the slow ones.

 

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.

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.