Category Archives: Health

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.

Dying or Thinking: Health authorities’ “Agenda”


CBS Morning show recently filmed a man in a Louisiana hospital bed recovering from Covid-19.  If I did not know better I would have thought he was in Boundary Trails Hospital l between Winkler and Morden. After a lengthy stay in the hospital as a result of Covid-19, he was about to get out of hospital but still he said he would not get a vaccine. The interviewer asked him why and he responded, he did not want the government to “shove it down his throat.”  When asked what they were shoving down his throat , he said the local, state, and federal governments were all trying to shove it down his throat. The interviewer asked, “what are they shoving the science?’  The patient answered “No they are shoving the fact that this is their agenda. The agenda is to get me vaccinated.” What is so remarkable about this is that he was dead right (not dead yet, but right).  Public health officials do want to get him vaccinated to protect the public, including him.

Excuse the naughty words, but as John Oliver responded to this interview,

“public health officials agenda is to get you vaccinated. And you know what Covid’s agenda is?  To fucking kill you! To burrow into your body, into your hot little mouth, fuck around with your body, flip your nostrils off, make soup taste more like nothing than it already does and then kill you!”


Why is no one worried about that agenda?  Because Covid -19 is not the government. And that makes all the difference. Such people don’t trust anything that comes from the government, even if it will save their life.

People like that will never be persuaded.

The vaccine is doing its job. Nearly 100% of patients in hospital beds for Covid-19 are now unvaccinated. It is not perfect. There are some breakthrough cases. But the success rate is astonishingly good and the side effects are surprisingly low. Frankly, for most of us there is no good reason not to take the vaccine and a lot of good ones to take it.

As Bertrand Russell said, “Most people would rather die than think. And most people do.”


Anti-vax Insanity


Charles M. Blow of the New York Times has written about unreason in relation of vaccines. He also saw that part of the reason for vaccine hesitancy could be explained by reference to their holder’s political beliefs. Unfortunately, in the United States and Canada, Covid-19 has become a hot political issue. This started when Conservatives asserted that they did not believe Covid-19 was real.  This movement was led by Donald Trump the President of the United States who originally said ‘Covid is a hoax’. He believed and convinced many of his followers that left wing liberals were trying to make him look bad and were trying to interfere with their freedoms. As a result, astonishingly, the richest country in the world became the largest victim of covid-19.

Blow summed up the history this way:

“Nothing better exemplifies the gaping political divide in this country than our embarrassing and asinine vaccine response. Donald Trump’s scorched earth political strategy has fooled millions of Americans into flirting with death. And now thousands are once again dying for it.

Almost from the beginning, efforts to combat the virus were met with disdain from a president who felt the crisis made him look bad. The science was denied. We came to live in a world where masking was mocked and ingesting disinfectant was offered up as a possible cure.”


This is what a world messed up by politics looks like. Every day I hear stories about people who refused to take the vaccine for the feeblest of reasons. Repeatedly people distrust physicians and government officials in favour of something they have “learned” from the Internet or their friends. How can that be?

Blow recognized that religion brought with it unreason in its trail. And that was not a pretty sight:

The optics of countless socially distanced funerals is less offensive to those conservatives than the optics of being socially distanced in a Fuddruckers.

It was all lunacy. It is all lunacy. This should never have happened. There are people dead today — a lot of them! — who should still be alive and who would be if people in the heights of government and the heights of the media had not fed them lies about the virus.”



The result of course is frequently disastrous. As Blow concluded,

So, we have a situation in America where people are dying and will continue to die of ignorance and stubbornness. They are determined to prove that they are right even if it puts them on the wrong side of a eulogy. This is like watching millions of people playing in traffic.


As Goya said,” the sleep of reason brings forth monsters.” What else can one expect?

We Should Celebrate Vaccines


I heard Dr. Sanjay Gupta on the Late Show earlier this week. Dr. Gupta pointed out that

“vaccines are 90% effective. I don’t think we can celebrate that enough. They were developed so fast and are so effective, it will fundamentally change science. It will change the pace of medical innovation. Those mRNA vaccines may be therapies for cancer in the future.”


And yet astonishingly, many people don’t trust them! Not only that, they don’t even want to take them. They are turning their backs on one of the wonders of science! Instead, people turn to ignorant friends for medical advice. They listen to friends who get their information from dubious sources on the Internet instead of these astounding scientists who have been working their hearts out to help us. How can this be?

Vaccines are one of the greatest wonders of modern science. In the 19th century 95% of all people died from infectious diseases. Now in the 21st century only 5% of people die from infectious diseases.  Vaccines are one of the main reasons that people in the 20th century lived twice as much longer as those in the 19th century. And this is mainly because of vaccines.

And yet so many people distrust them. How can this possibly be the case?

I remember when I was a very young lad in the 1950s  polio was the infectious disease that scared everyone. There was a man living down the street from us, half a block away. He contracted polio.  We feared that like so many others he would have to live in an ‘iron lung’ for the rest of his life.  Many patients died. I remember when the polio vaccine was developed and I could hardly wait to get it. It was new technology, like the Covid-19 vaccines, but we all wanted it immediately.

After the introduction of polio vaccines the illness has been virtually eliminated. The last person in the US who contracted the illness naturally died in 1979.

Sadly, many people today don’t believe in the vaccines. They think they are risky.  Some are waiting for the rest of us to take them and test them out like guinea pigs. They want us to blaze a trail for them before they take them.

Many people were surprised at how quickly scientists discovered vaccines for Covid-19. I know I was one of them. But there were things I did not know. Scientists have been working on the mRNA vaccines for about 10 years. This was not magical new technology.

Anti-vaxxers used to warn us that vaccines were very dangerous because they required insertion of the virus into our bodies to generate an immune response. That does sound risky doesn’t it?  These technologies don’t do that, they “teach” our cells how to make the proteins that will trigger an immune response to the new coronavirus SARS- CoV-2.  They don’t require the insertion of the virus into our bodies. Anti-vaxxers should be rejoicing! Then our own bodies make the anti-bodies to recognize the virus when it appears in our bodies at a future time.

We should rejoice that we have so many smart scientists to develop vaccines. We should trust them.


Health: Sometimes you have to Spend money to save Money


I have learned a few things about our healthy system. Not many I know. First, it is a wonderful system. If you are sick our health care professionals can help. Not always, but often. And the workers are kind, dedicated, caring, and professional. Just what you need if you are sick. I know this from personal experience in a stressful time.

But there is room for improvement too. I have just gone for my 3rd Covid-19 test. And as I write this I am waiting for the results. Do I have a cold or Covid-19? We’ll see.

Yesterday, I was told because of the symptoms we had, Chris and I should go for a Covid-19 test. So we immediately, tried to make an appointment for the test. Thankfully, in Steinbach we can make appointments. A friend of mine in Winnipeg stood in line (yes you heard that right, she stood in line) for about 3 hours waiting for her test. No appointments? Why can’t they make appointments in Winnipeg? Can you imagine how many people can’t stand for 3 hours? How many people gave up in frustration long before they reached the end of the line? How many people did not get tests that they should have got? How many other people were then exposed to these untested individuals who should have been tested?

Why do people who walk rather than drive have to wait so long? Is this because the walk-in tests are given where mainly poor people live? Where many indigenous people live? Are they not important too?


For me trying to make an appointment was a very annoying process. They have so few telephone lines that you must phone over and over again after hearing annoying recorded messages. I don’t know how many times Chris and I called. We were both phoning repeatedly. Each time we had to listen to at least part of an annoying recorded message. I know the first time I tried to get a test a few months ago. I found the message very confusing. Again I almost gave up. How many people give up and don’t get tested when they should?

Eventually we got through and made an appointment. Even with the appointment we had to wait in line for about half an hour after waiting a few hours for the appointment. I considered that a reasonable delay. It is not easy to schedule appointments for an entire day and have them all align perfectly.

But why does the province not hire more people to take the calls? Why does the province not hire and train more people to administer the tests? I know not anyone could do the jobs, but surely it would not take that long to train people to administer a simple nasal swab. It should not take a highly trained health care professional.


We are experiencing high unemployment in Manitoba. Most of these people are being paid by the government not to work. I am glad they are getting paid. Yet, I know most people would rather work than receive a cheque not to work. In Canadian society jobs give us meaning and a sense of worth. That is why people want to work. At least until they become old like me and believe they have worked long enough. So why don’t we hire people who don’t have jobs to do these jobs? Then phone calls could be handled all day and all night. Why don’t we keep the offices open as long as it takes to get it done promptly? The same goes for administering the tests in a lab. That might be trickier but surely it could be done if we used a little ingenuity. In Manitoba we have been in this pandemic for more than 6 months, why have we not arranged for this by now?

It is important that people get tested quickly. It is important that the test results are available quickly. Not just for me. I am not that important. For others. So if necessary people who contacted me can be told to get tested and also self-isolate sooner rather than later.

Now I am waiting for my test results. This is already more than 48 hours after my test was taken. This is nearly 60 hours since I was notified to get a test. When the test results come, and if I am positive, they will want to contact trace. By the time the professionals come to see me to do that I will likely have forgotten at least some of the people I contacted. After all it is so long ago, and I have trouble remembering whom I saw in the last hour. And I have been staying isolated at home. That means some people who should be tested won’t be tested and will continue to contact other people.

The same reasoning applies to schools. Why don’t we hire more unemployed teachers? I think there are lots of them around. I know some of them who can’t find a job. Why don’t we hire more janitors and maintenance people and keep schools open 18 hours a day? Or more? Then we can have smaller class sizes. Then everyone in those schools, including my precious grand daughters can be safer. The staff and teachers can be safer because they will be able to stay socially distant? Then there will be less community spread and we will all be safer, even those of us who have no direct contact with schools. I think this makes sense.

I know this costs money, but the investment is worth it. Our conservative government likes to avoid spending tax money. But sometimes that is foolish. If we do a better job of this business people can go back to work sooner. Then we can all pay them less assistance. Businesses can avoid bankruptcy. Our economy can grow. Sometimes we have to spend money to save money. That is called an investment.

Imagine too how people can live better and safer lives! This is not just about money.

Doesn’t this make more sense than opening bars and restaurants without social distance requirements?