Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Clogging The Works For Others

Some time ago there was a notice from the City of Santa Rosa that wet wipes were clogging the machinery in the water works.  This degrades the city's ability to provide quality drinking water and keep the sewer system running smoothly.  When the pipes are clogged, you get a nasty sewer backup.

So there was a plea to stop flushing wipes, paper towels, facial tissues, and feminine hygiene products down the toilet.  Their mnemonic catch phrase was "only flush the 3 P's: pee, poop, and (toilet) paper."  Personally, I never flushed paper towels or feminine hygiene products, but I stopped flushing kleenex and so-called "flushable" wet wipes.

Then came the coronavirus and people started using a lot more wet wipes for disinfecting purposes, and the City had to remind us all again that there was no such thing as a "flushable" wipe.  Not enough people stopped.  The original reminder had to be repeated yesterday.

Will enough people stop it this time?  If not, there could be a sewer backup or a disruption in our potable water supply.  And that would affect everyone, not just the rebellious or stupid ones.  I can stop doing something that's going to cause me harm but I may not be able to stop someone else from causing me harm.

There's a parallel here.  Worldwide, there are a couple million coronavirus cases.  Of those 2.5 million confirmed cases, over 800,000 have been resolved -- 650,000 recoveries, and 170,000 deaths.  That says 80% recover, but 1 in 5 die.  See https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/ for the latest numbers. 

So, do I care if some states don't issue statewide stay-at-home orders?  My state issued one pretty early on, and we're still losing people, but not as fast as some other states.  Our president has ordered all immigration to stop, so maybe no one from another country can bring their infection to us.  But the highly contagious virus is already here and states can't block non-residents from entering their states.  So someone from a re-opened state could infect some of us in a locked-down state.

I wish there had been a coordinated, nationwide response to this pandemic.  Even it if was late, and a lot of people had to die unnecessarily, at least we'd be on the same page.  There might still be demonstrations against any lockdown.  The organizers of the first of those demonstrations advised people to wear their masks and keep their distance from each other.  That didn't happen.  And the signs the demonstrators waved and the chants they sang were directed against Democrats.  And then our President egged them on with his "LIBERATE" tweets.

I mourn that something that should be treated as a medical and economic emergency had to turn political.  We're going to lose a lot more people -- old people, people of color, poor people, most through no fault of their own -- before this is over.  If it is ever over.

Monday, March 30, 2020

COVID-19 Could Help The Climate

One thing the COVID-19 pandemic has done, on the positive side, is prepare us for crises.  But, while the novel coronavirus is sweeping through the human population of this planet like a wildfire in Northern California, climate change is more like a slowly heating pot of water that we're all sitting in like frogs waiting to be boiled to death.  Carbon dioxide (CO2) levels and global average temperatures are rising just as relentlessly, if not as rapidly, as coronavirus cases.

As of March 30, 2020, at 10:15 am Pacific Daylight Time there were 755,367 cases worldwide, with 36,273 deaths.  See Coronavirus Update for current figures.

Countries that have been under lockdown in response to the pandemic have seen a noticeable drop in greenhouse gas emissions.  Scientists have pointed to this as a lesson in how to prepare for, or avoid, the worst impacts of climate change.  CO2 comes from industry, electricity production, and transportation.  All of these have seen reductions since the stay-at-home measures have risen in scope.

"If we can think about how to prepare for climate change like a pandemic, maybe there will be a positive outcome to all of this," said Christopher Jones, lead developer of the CoolClimate Network, an applied research consortium at the University of California, Berkeley. "I think there are some big-picture lessons here that could be very useful."

Pollution-monitoring satellites operated by NASA and the European Space Agency observed drastic decreases in concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which is also released by cars, power plants and industrial facilities, from Jan 1 to Jan 20 and again from Feb 10 to Feb 25. Studying NO2 concentration in the atmosphere can help scientists understand other heat-trapping greenhouse gases that drive global warming.  Both China and Northern Italy have recorded significant falls in NO2.  

Another noxious gas that has shown significant drops is carbon monoxide (CO).  The BBC found that in New York City, CO was down nearly 50% compared to last year.  

But experts warn that observed reductions are temporary and that as cities, countries and economies bounce back, so, too, will emissions, unless some major changes are adopted.  Jacqueline Klopp, co-director of the Center for Sustainable Urban Development at Columbia University in New York City said the pandemic could make companies and governments realize that other threats to humanity, including climate change, could be just as devastating and that it's imperative to develop protective measures. 

"As we move to restart these economies, we need to use this moment to think about what we value," she said. "Do we want to go back to the status quo, or do we want to tackle these big structural problems and restructure our economy to reduce emissions and pollution?"

Last month a poem written by Kitty O'Meara, a Senator in the Irish Seanad (Senate) hit Facebook and immediately went viral.  It's titled "And the people stayed home".
And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.
And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.
And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.
Let's heal the Earth!