earthweal open link weekend #16

Welcome to earthweal open link weekend #16.

Here’s your chance to air your vatic laundry, whether drip-drying new ocean verse or exhuming classic moldie oldies.

Include your location in your link so we can apprize the global choir, and be sure to visit your fellow linkers and comment.

Open link weekend ends at midnight EST Sunday night to make room for Monday’s weekly challenge.

Hope you are staying safe and productive on all the distant islands of this pandemic.

– Brendan

 

A cool and rainy day here in Central Florida (this Thursday, at least, when I broke ground on this week’s open link write). Thunderstorms rolled into the afternoon swelter as my wife and I were painting a hallway after a decade of promises to do so. (Projects are such vigorish for staying-in-place blues.)

Cracks of thunder broke into tracks from a 3-CD collection of Philly Soul by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff—“Expressway to Your Heart” by Soul Survivors, “Only The Strong Survive” by Jerry Butler, “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” by Howard Melvin & the Blue Notes. Arch 70s disco soul for hard times; my wife had bought the set 20 years ago after a resoundingly bad yard sale—instead of making some real cash for bills, we barely made enough to eat dinner out on a hot Florida summer night and score the CD set.

Thick smells of paint as we grunted and groaned painting corners, rolling thunder and memories of walking frozen Chicago streets in 1972 with “Me and Mrs. Jones” echoing deeply in my teenaged soul. But it’s great music for painting projects—how long has it been since we’ve given these CDs a spin?—making the afternoon feel like a seedy Chicago movie theater where I used to go watch grindhouse movies with the Puerto Ricans who lived us in my high school years, “Enter the Dragon” and “Superfly,” “Death Wish” and “Unholy Rollers.” Painting all that over, so many decades later, with a wife who never went any of those places but still loves the music so …

It rained through the night last night—something we so need here after months of almost none while pandemic dreams lay siege. Have yours been weird? Last night I wandered lost in some great bowel of a hotel complex, late and later for a job interview, passing bars where patrons motioned me to join them and the full weight of something overhead felt about to collapse.

Somewhere I read that dreams for everyone are weird right now because we’re in the doldrums of a massive change with no real clarity or end in sight. Maybe you have a COVID-19 dream in your holster you’d like to spin out and fire for open link weekend. I usually wake from mine exhausted.

Public comment in Chennai, India.

Climate news is bad, as one would expect in a world of continuing inaction and denial. Scientists now say that Greenland’s ice sheet melted last summer at a record rate largely because of a high-pressure dome which sat over the area, much as it did in 2012 when Greenland experienced its worst melting event. If this weather phenomenon becomes a more normal event, as it is expected in climate models of a warming earth, sea level rise will accelerate at a much faster rate.

Another chirrup of bad news from a worsening world: A study published this month in Nature states that climate change could result in a more abrupt collapse of many animal species than previously thought, starting in the next decade if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced. Large swaths of ecosystems would falter in waves, creating sudden die-offs that would be catastrophic not only for wildlife, but for the humans who depend on it.  We can look on our presently clearer skies and pray that enough people start working from home instead of commuting to an office for the merciful slowdown in emissions. Our pain is nature’s gain …

Yes, but back to our pain. The bonds of medical safety are stretching the bonds of sanity, especially at the extremes. In Michigan yesterday, thousands gathered at the state capital to protest Democratic governor Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order, milling on the steps with rifles and pistols on display as well as Trump 2020 signs and shouting “lock her up!” (“It’s always lock her up,” a ruffled feminist tweeted.) Rural areas of the state have been less affected the virus than In Detroit where 5,000 residents have been stricken by the virus and nearly 400 have died.  (Commenting to reporters later in the day, Gov. Whitmer said, “The sad irony here was the protest is they don’t like being in this stay-at-home order and they may have just caused a need to lengthen it.”)

Protestors on the steps of the Michigan state capital.

Let’s remember that Republican South Dakota governor Kristi Noem still refuses to issue even a localized stay-in-place order after 600 employees and relatives of the workers at a Smithfield meat-packing plant in Sioux Falls were stricken with the virus, causing the facility to close and resulting in dire warnings about the security of the nation’s meat supply. “I don’t believe (a stay-at-home order is) appropriate considering the data, the facts and the science that we have,” governor Noem said Tuesday, referring, I suppose to the alternative-facts universe by which coronavirus hotspots get pooh-poohed while they mushroom.

In good ole Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis has adopted a similar “What Me, Worry?” attitude about the virus in the Sunshine State, waiting too long to order a rather flimsy stay in place order (allowing spring breakers to mosh on beaches, cruise ships to sail out and tourist parks to remain packed), refusing to disclose details about nursing home infections, languishing on unemployment claims (35,000 of 850,000 submitted have cleared) and deeming televised professional wrestling and golf “essential” entertainment options. “You know what Florida really needs now?” asked a recent op-ed by the Miami Herald editorial board. “A governor.” ‘Tis easier to find a Gulf sea-turtle without oil in its belly than get an unemployment application approved in this state …

Not that DeSantis or any other elected official accused of misconduct, abuse of power or simple favoritism toward vested interests over the vital needs of citizens have much cause for worry. The pandemic is obliterating the newspaper industry; 50 percent ad revenue losses have sent the stock of the 280-daily newspaper behemoth Gannett down into whaleshit territory where other newspaper chains like McClatchy have languished for too long. My former employer, which used to do a fairly good job of convincing those newspapers to run cartoons on its pages for exorbitant rates, is looking more doubtful than a penguin diving into the bubbling  Antarctic sea ..

A sobering essay by Ed Yong titled “Our Pandemic Summer” published on April 14 in The Atlantic. It’s the best analysis I’ve seen on what we face next in contesting a virus for which we have no vaccine, is killing about 7 percent of those it infects and is already resurging in Singapore, China, Taiwan and other Asian states trying to re-engage daily life. Yong writes,

The pandemic is not a hurricane or a wildfire. It is not comparable to Pearl Harbor or 9/11. Such disasters are confined in time and space. The SARS-CoV-2 virus will linger through the year and across the world. “Everyone wants to know when this will end,” said Devi Sridhar, a public-health expert at the University of Edinburgh. “That’s not the right question. The right question is: How do we continue?”

It’s hard to imagine this stuff a month from now, much less a duration which lasts through the summer or much longer after that.  But welcome to the strange new world of weirdness without end. You can thank the obscenity of lust for exotic meat; or silence from officials when truth was needed; or the inaction of other government officials when immediate action was called for. A pair of epidemiologists project that the US death toll would have been ten times lower had social distancing measures been implementing just two weeks earlier. You can’t help but wonder how much humanity would be improved if it had retained more animal instincts.

Now there’s talk of restarting a desperately stalled economy, of going back to work and school albeit with great (OK, some) caution. But you have to add a heaping dollop of uncertainty as to just how to proceed. “We’ve never faced a pandemic like this before in modern times, so we’re going to have to be flexible,” Jong quotes Caitlin Rivers of the John Hopkins Center for Health Security. “There’s no real playbook.”

More than anything, weirdness is the result, an omnipresent goo-goo eyed whack-a-mole fucking with our dailiness, our relationships, our eating habits, our dreams, our poetry.

Shall I iterate the weird sampling of the moment? There’s a Japanese cult called Happy Science which claims that coronavirus is a disease spread by extraterrestrials and offers “spiritual vaccines” for a fee.  Streets are almost empty in many urban areas, but speeding tickets are being issued at an all-time high. A judge in Florida (of course) has ordered that attorneys who participate for court hearings via Zoom bother to get out of bed and dressed. Authorities in the Maryland village of Taneytown warn residents that they must put on pants before leaving the house to check the mailbox. Routines are disintegrating for those now working from home; meal-times are all over the place, diets are in an uproar, bedtimes are a flaccid joke and streaming has become a less obliterative form of opiate abuse. A bobblehead of Dr. Fauci will soon be available. A man in Cheltenham, England, ran a virtual marathon in his back yard. Authorities now warn runners to give more space to each other as they may create a wake of air behind them that could carry exhaled respiratory droplets for 15 feet or more, meaning that the droplets could reach people walking or jogging well behind them. Tigers and lions at the Bronx Zoo have come down with the virus. A Kentucky town has created a neighborhood “safari” for kids during the pandemic, placing stuffed animals in the windows of houses. In Hutchins, Texas, a semi-truck hauling toilet paper to market crashed and caught fire, destroying the precious commodity.

And all the jobs created in the US after the Great Recession have been wiped out with 22 million jobless claims filed in the past 4 weeks. When you look at the graph of job losses in this country during and since the recession, scale is totally lost, with this mild ambling Poconos of a curve irrupted by the starkest upward brutal Himalayas of a four-weeks spike. Weird weird weird.

The new normal is unendingly new: I could sit all day at my Twitter feed, eager for the next instant’s weird development. I try not to—there are halls to paint—but the weight of weirdness bears down on everything, especially dream-time. Last night I wandered about the vast and lavish underground lobby of some grand hotel—there was the sense of enormity hundreds of floors rising above—trying to get to an important event while I passed bars with gleaming taps and bathrooms always too occupied to relieve myself in. And the weird is so invisible, nothing burning or exploding; it’s just the sense that everything is being pushed over by weirdly invisible hands. Like the cold rains today—where did they come from, when it’s been so hot and humid and still for days? There will be a job market out there when I can finally suit up and start showing up again, right? If this is the new normal, it’s a drip I can do without. Can I? Please? Will someone tell weirdness that its season is now over?

Unfortunately, no one has that kind of authority, nobody is really free to decide what they want to and go however they please in weird time. Coronavirus is the truest libertarian, infecting whomever comes unprepared within sneezing distance. The decision to restart a country’s economy cannot be done with any conscience without knowing how many of its population has been infected. Testing is crucial: The official count is the tip of an iceberg, but how much lies below? What is called “herd immunity” means that 60 to 80 percent of a population have endured the infection and survived (and making the wait for a vaccine unnecessary). Liberal estimates put the current infection range at about 20 percent. “However,” Jong writes, “if just 1 to 5 percent of the population has been infected—the range that many researchers think is likelier—that would mean ‘this is a truly devastating virus, and we have built up no real population immunity,’ said Michael Mina, an epidemiologist and immunologist at Harvard. ‘Then we’re in dire straits in terms of how to move forward.’”

With wide-scale testing still a ways off in the U.S. and cabin fever beginning to trump the fear of virus fever, I’m not sure who to feel sorrier for—those going back to jobs in such uncertain peril or unemployed folks who can’t find a way to get back into perilous workplaces. Which straits are more dire?

In the end, humanity is fast catching up with the Earth’s dire straits, with climate change pushing so many species to the brink of extinction. Coronavirus will not spell the end of homo sapiens, but it does lend a certain vantage which the rest of life has been crowded into.

At the end of his essay, Yong likens this to contrast between those who have lived in with disability and the rest of us who are now gaining some appreciation for their plight:

The disability community has also noted that, at a time when their health is in jeopardy and their value is in question, abled people are struggling with a new normal that is their old normal—spatial confinement, unpredictable futures, social distance. “We know how to do community from afar, and how to organize from bed,” said Ashley Shew of Virginia Tech, who studies the intersection between technology and disability. “Instead of feeling this great vacuum, our social life hasn’t radically changed.” Disability scholars have written about “crip time”—a flexible attitude toward timekeeping that comes from uncertainty. “Everything I enter in my calendar has an asterisk in my mind,” Shew said. “Maybe it’ll happen, maybe it won’t, depending on my next cancer scan or what’s happening in my body. I already live in this world when I’m measuring in shorter increments, when my future has always been planned differently.”

As the rest of the U.S. comes to terms with the same restless impermanence, it must abandon the question When do we go back to normal? That outlook ignores the immense disparities in what different Americans experience as normal. It wastes the rare opportunity to reimagine what a fairer and less vulnerable society might look like. It glosses over the ongoing nature of the coronavirus threat. There is no going back. The only way out is through—past a turbulent spring, across an unusual summer, and into an unsettled year beyond.

Crip time it is then—schools still suspended, employment still distant, enforced isolation without clear end, stock market volcanic, job loss curve at full lust thrust, dream-time anxieties oceanic as the night mashes down. Will there ever be something definitive to be said about all of this?

I keep thinking we’ll find it in our poetry, but maybe the times are just too weird. No poetry survives the era of pyroclastic rain when Mt. Vesuvius erupted next to Pompeii. Maybe everyone was too busy dancing.

Until then, then, this continuance. Keep your poems coming!

 

 

weekly challenge: CONNECTING HUMANS, WILDLIFE AND THE CORONA VIRUS

Typical Wet Market in China (Getty Images)

 

By Sherry Marr

As you know, my heart is always with the animals, wild and domestic. Anderson Cooper of CNN recently interviewed Dr. Jane Goodall, who said she hoped the corona virus pandemic would soon be over. Then she added, “I hope and pray that the nightmare will soon be over for the wild animals who are captured and kept in horrible conditions for food. Our too-close relationship with wild animals in the markets, or when we use them for entertainment, has unleashed the terror and misery of new viruses, viruses that live in them without harming them, but mutate into other forms to infect us.

“We have amazing brains,” she continued. “We are capable of love and compassion for each other. Let us also show love and compassion for the animals who are with us on this planet.”

Music to my ears. But will humankind listen? Have we learned anything from this? Stay tuned. I have a discouraging answer to that question farther down in this feature.

This virus has made clear as never before how interconnected we all are with the natural world and the other species we share the planet with. We know now, there is a direct connection between the wild animals in the wet markets of Wuhan and the corona virus. The pangolin (scaly anteater) and the civet are said to have played a part in transmitting it. Researchers say it likely originated in the Chinese horseshoe bat.

In wet markets, people buy and eat such things as barbecued bats, monkeys, cats and dogs, all kept in terrible conditions. They look out through the wire in terror, knowing they are about to die a horrible death. They are killed in ways too brutal for me to relate.  We don’t want to know this. It makes us uncomfortable. We prefer to look away.  We can easily imagine the distress of a single human in this world that we have made so difficult to live in. Each individual animal feels the exact same fear, pain and terror that we do. They haunt me.

Some of our North American practices in our factory “farms” are as brutal as anything we cluck about across the sea.

Because I know that animals feel everything we feel, because I have seen their tears and I hear their cries for help all over the world, I can’t turn away. I bear witness. I sing the song of their desperate lives, hoping enough of us will hear and come to their rescue.

We are now paying the price of wildlife trafficking. The bill has come due. The demand for apes, for bush meat and body parts, for elephants, rhinos, big cats, giraffes has brought us to this moment.  The pangolin is one of the most trafficked animals on earth. Who would have thought our fates would intertwine?  These are creatures that belong in the wild, whom we have interfered with terribly. Now seven tigers in captivity at the Bronx Zoo in the U.S.  have the virus, infected by their human handler.

As early as 2007, studies warned “wet markets are a time bomb for a virus outbreak”. And this week both the White House coronavirus expert Anthony Fauci and U.N. Biodiversity Chief Elizabeth Mrema called for a global shutdown of all wild animal markets, “to prevent the next pandemic.”  Oh my goodness.

Here is where my heart sinks. China did order the wet markets closed when the virus broke out. But they re-opened as soon as lockdown regulations were relaxed.

Let that sink in. How discouraging, that we learn nothing from what we live through. How frustrating that profit continues to be the driving force, above survival of the planet, its people, and the other beings whose survival is totally at our mercy. Mea culpa.

As citizens of our global village, the protection of our environment equals the protection of our future, and our grandchildren’s. The laws we create to protect wildlife will also protect human communities. A shift to restoring the earth to balance will create employment, through alternative sustainable livelihoods that do no harm. This will create more successful human communities.

Compliance will be a problem; the wild animal trade is peoples’ livelihoods. We need to develop artisan markets, tourism, wildlife protection and land stewarding jobs instead. The UN chief noted that the risk is of driving the trade underground, making it even more dangerous and less regulated.

In the short window of time remaining before we pass the tipping point (which feels ever nearer, to me), we need to make every effort, personally, nationally and globally, to heal the harm we have done to Mother Earth. We have seen how quickly the natural world responded, when we humans took our feet off the gas pedal and stayed indoors: she began to heal, skies cleared, waters grew cleaner. Mother Earth has been sending us messages in every voice she has, telling us she was in trouble. With this virus, perhaps she has finally gotten our attention. I hope so.

We have seen how governments at every level, faced with the global threat of the virus, have come together. Everything else was set aside to address the problem which threatens our lives. I hope they will do the same for the climate crisis, when the virus subsides, for it threatens us every bit as much. I think of wildfire season, not that far off, with foreboding. Governments and everyday people have shown we can step up with courage, determination, and with full and loving hearts, when the cause is urgent. I have to hope that on the other side of the crisis, we will address climate change, of which this virus, our global appetites, and the voracious maw of capitalism have all played their part.

For your challenge: as always, I keep it wide open. Write about whatever this sparks in you: our connection with the natural world and with the wild, your fear, anger, hope, love of animals, domestic and wild, or your frustration at humanity’s slowness to grasp our shared predicament. Never did we think we would be living through times like this. How is the virus affecting you?

Bring us your words, experiences and feelings about these difficult times we live in. Be assured, we will read them with deep respect.

 

Sources:

https://www.facebook.com/AndersonCooperFullCircle/posts/1366604073527280

https://slate.com/technology/2020/04/jane-goodall-coronavirus-species.html?fbclid=IwAR0mUUBrGRcO0BhxjLqJF4rI_QBGmjeLhgHGQjWEOxsUbhwttnqzCjsHnYU

https://www.ccn.com/shockingly-chinas-wet-markets-are-reopening-will-we-ever-learn/

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-52177586

https://www.newindianexpress.com/world/2020/apr/08/wet-markets-important-risk-factor-for-coronavirus-spread-un-biodiversity-chief-2127349.html

earthweal weekly challenge: PANDEMIC AND CLIMATE CHANGE

Tom Toles / Washington Post

There has been a “clear” immediate effect of pandemic on climate change. With economic activity flattened worldwide, highways are emptied, factories are at a standstill, jet traffic lulls. In China alone, carbon emissions were down 25 percent in January—an amount equivalent to half the annual emissions of Britain.

The change is palpable. You can see blue skies in Los Angeles. The waters are clear in Venice. People are outside walking. One researcher at Stanford University estimated that the reduction of air pollution in China alone for two months was enough to save 50,000 people who would have otherwise died prematurely.

That’s a good deal, but it is short-term. The engines will rev up again once the epidemic is under control or a vaccine has been widely administered. The curtain of one crisis will fall, fading into another much more lasting. Meehan Crist writes,

To be clear, the coronavirus pandemic is a tragedy — a human nightmare unspooling in overloaded hospitals and unemployment offices with unnerving speed, barreling toward a horizon darkened by economic disaster and crowded with portents of suffering to come. But this global crisis is also an inflection point for that other global crisis, the slower one with even higher stakes, which remains the backdrop against which modernity now plays out. As the United Nations’ secretary general recently noted, the threat from coronavirus is temporary whereas the threat from heat waves, floods and extreme storms resulting in the loss of human life will remain with us for years.

There are eerie similarities between pandemic and climate change. Infection rates follow an upward spike similar to the upward curve of increasing carbon in the atmosphere. But the time scales are vastly different, one realized in weeks, the other in decades.

As Lawrence Torcello and Michael Mann write, both pandemic and climate change are wicked problems where acting smart is crucial .

As with climate change, understanding the difference between recommendations based on good science and reckless opining or misinforming is critical, and as with climate change, taking appropriate action now will pay future dividends. Likewise, the necessary disruptions to everyday life and the status-quo might not seem so indispensable to those who aren’t directly experiencing the worst impacts of COVID-19 or of climate change. In both cases, however, the reality is that the slower we are to react, the higher the cost will be in death as well as economic loss.

 “Flattening the curve” is the product of collective action in both cases, and the economic impact is equally drastic—plenty of pain up front to minimize long term impacts. And in both cases, doing to little will be far more costly.

Resistance to the actions necessary to resolve both crises are coming from the same quarter, amplified by right-wing media and blessed by leaders struggling for power. (Great clip by The Daily Show titled “Saluting The Heroes of the Pandumbic”) The response from these people to both climate change and now the pandemic is so identical, you have to wonder if the two crises bear a single a truth.  (Of course they do.) Climate scientist Katharine Hayhow tweeted, “The six stages of climate denial are: It’s not real. It’s not us. It’s not that bad. It’s too expensive to fix. Aha, here’s a great solution (that actually does nothing). And—oh no! Now it’s too late. You really should have warned us earlier.” Wait! Is she talking about climate change, or the pandemic?

The Trump administration is racing to roll back environmental regulations and privatize public lands ahead of the upcoming election. Taking advantage of scaled-back pollution enforcement due to the pandemic, the EPA and the Interior Department are racing though deregulation measures—like lifting migratory bird protections and holding oil and gas sales with little or no opportunity for public comment. And just a few days ago, the Trump administration rolled back Obama-era vehicle mileage standards, raising the ceiling on damaging fossil fuel emissions for years to come and gutting one of the United States’ biggest efforts against climate change.

Rebuilding our economic infrastructure is required by both and it will take great leadership and cooperation from every level of government—especially between the parties. (Hissing from the hard right isn’t helping, nor is the “we’ll give everything away for free” from the left.) Certainly the necessity weighs heavily enough to achieve something significant. In the U.S. ten million people filed for unemployment in just two weeks, overwhelming state unemployment offices. Once the big curve is flattened, no one know what jobs there will be to return to; now may be the time for significant investment in green-energy jobs. President Obama had promised them in the wake of the Great Recession, and the Green New Deal was proposed as a way forward into the age of climate change.

It is hoped that there may be habits learned in this short term which could be of great help in addressing the long-term challenges of climate change—reduced long-distance travel, say, or less dependence on automobiles (long-term unemployment will devastate the commute for many.)

The pandemic comes at an awful time for the oil and gas industry as oil prices have been depressed due to a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia; the plunging demand for gas due to people staying at home has put the industry in survival mode. Rates of return for oil and gas projects have slumped from 20 percent to about 6, making sustainable energy projects much more attractive. Will the industry bounce back with the resumption of business, or will this finally push the industry into a retreat that will finally give the climate a chance to recover?

Let us not think climate change has been shelved in any significant way except for our awareness. What we experience in the climate this year is largely the product of increased carbon emissions twenty years ago. The Great Barrier Reef off Australia is being further devastated by the third major bleaching event in the past five years. The Gulf of Mexico is three degrees above normal, spelling intensified thunderstorm and hurricane activity for the region. And where the pandemic has kept people indoors and off the streets, clearing skies and waters, it has hurt climate change progress in other ways. And crucial UN climate talks scheduled in Glasgow for November have been delayed a year due to the coronavirus. We might be focused elsewhere, but the crisis has not at all.

Many things to think about.

For this challenge, write about pandemic and climate change together.

  • How are the two issues similar, how do they differ?
  • What if pandemic is an accelerated petri dish for understanding the arc of climate change?
  • What have you learned about self-sacrifice for a longer common good in the pandemic, and how has that changed your perspective on climate change?
  • Where do the two blossom, how do they bleed?
  • Has the public’s attention to the climate change crisis been enhanced or diminished by pandemic, or both?
  • Is pandemic a synecdoche of climate change, where a part represents the whole? Does it serve as a lens for seeing better the grander sweep?
  • Does the dramatic uptick of human mortality in pandemic help us understand the extinction cascade of so many species caused by climate change?
  • A recent challenge looked at the weird mosh-pit of timescales caused by climate change—where geologic ages have become entangled with human days—is this another example?
  • Does the accelerated drama of pandemic and the possibilities of human intervention for good show us how the same is possible with climate change?
  • What of a collective refusal of fossil-fuel living, learned by necessity during pandemic, continued in order to flatten the curve of carbon emissions?

Much to write about!

—Brendan

earthweal open link #14

 

Welcome to earthweal open link weekend #14. Post a poem in whatever theme or mood that suits you. Share something new or a rave fave from the past. Include your location in your link so we get a feel for the breadth of global reportage. And be sure to visit your fellow linkers and comment.

Open link weekend ends at midnight EST Sunday night to make room for Monday’s weekly challenge. March 16 will be the present moment of pandemic and how climate change comes into play. Very interested in finding out through your poetry about the interface of those two global phenomena.

And if any of you are interested in trying your own hand at a weekly challenge, let me know! Would love some fresh DNA in the gene pool.

But for now—sing us a song of whatever and more!

—Brendan

Sweet alyssum.

 

In a recent op-ed piece, Roger Cohen observes what a quiet time we’ve entered:

This is the silent spring. The planet has gone quiet, so quiet you can almost hear it whirling around the sun, feel its smallness, picture for once the loneliness and fleetingness of being alive.

This is the spring of fears. A scratchy throat, a sniffle, and the mind races. I see a single rat ambling around at dusk on Front Street in Brooklyn, a garbage bag ripped open by a dog, and experience an apocalyptic vision of vermin and filth.

Scattered masked pedestrians on empty streets look like the survivors of a neutron bomb. A pathogen about one-thousandth the width of a human hair, the spiky-crowned new coronavirus, has upended civilization and unleashed the imagination…

Massively empty communal spaces pair with a bulge on the other side: What a crowded, crowing interior we’ve opened up, Tik-Tokking a strangely blooming inner primrose path. Zooming our collective unsociable mugs. Gaming and binge-watching and tweeting to fill the empty cathedral within. Reading books, perhaps for the first time …

Time had almost vanished in the digital world, and now it is the grand taskmaster. Who knew? Days are chunks, not flows: managerial tasks, not billows of indulgence. In the past month I’ve:  Cleaned out and organized the garage; my dresser; the bathroom; purged every shelf, drawer and file in my study; made lists of tasks in the yard and house, from weeding to planting to painting and fixing; arranged files in my laptop & tweaked pix I had meant to long ago; wondering, all the while, what to do next.

As my layoff approached—I saw it coming for months—I thought about what a month or two of reprieve from work-time might be like when I could just collect up my past and be. I saw all the above projects in the golden light of time I never had enough of: But now that I’m doubled down in off-time—laid off and ground further down from possibilities of employment by pandemic—mostly time now is a burden, the thing one must carry, and duration is gritty towards iron-heavy. Who knew? I wonder now at the well-paid hours I used to lavish and slave in my former career. Then everything counted, sort of, and was well furnished; now everything counts for everything and contributes hardly at all.

And you know? I seem to have less time than ever. Writing these prompts takes time I must begrudge at the cost of other Important Things, though right now I can hardly imagine what they are.

It’s significant that Cohen identifies this time as a “silent spring,” for it unleashes memories of Rachel Carson’s 1962 jeremiad about the poisoning of America through better chemistry. Despite the authority of her claim that DDT was destroying local ecosystems (and reinforced by the massive character assassination campaign launched against Carson by the chemical industry), nearly 50 years later here we still are, with industries still busily poisoning us as ever, for the good of shareholder profit. As dramatized in the recent movie Dark Waters, Dupont Chemical has always known the C8 compound it used to make Teflon coating decreased fertility, lowered birth rates, cancer, liver dysfunction and thyroid disease) and has vigorously fought—right up to the present—attempts to either regulate the chemical or warn the public.

Writing back in 1962, Carson posed a question we still must ask: “As crude a weapon as the cave man’s club, the chemical barrage has been hurled against the fabric of life – a fabric on the one hand delicate and destructible, on the other miraculously tough and resilient, and capable of striking back in unexpected ways. These extraordinary capacities of life have been ignored by the practitioners of chemical control who have brought to their task no ‘high-minded orientation,’ no humility before the vast forces with which they tamper.”

Which brings us to the coronavirus pandemic. Maybe it’s a stretch comparing DDT to coronavirus, but think about it. The coronavirus pandemic is the result of an emptying of forest species to supply a human need which has no basis for need other than vanity or folk belief—products, both of errant humanity. We hunted pangolins to a hair’s breadth from extinction, and one of them en route to our markets carried some infected batshit it had stepped in. Now the human world has been silenced, if only for a time (do not doubt we’ll come roaring back) to contest the surge of a virus which is harvesting in mass numbers the sick, the old, the weak, both physically and financially—a Darwinism unleashed by our own invasive hands. Sorcerer’s apprentice indeedy.

How will we wash our hands of that? Ask Dupont and the intrepid supply chain of poachers and wild markets; it’s the same capitalism at work.

A third conspirator of course is the ineptitude of world leaders like Donald Trump, failing so miserably to prepare and respond to the crisis, especially here in the United States where industry groups have such influence in national policy. (Remember, it was pressure from the national Chamber the Commerce and pro-business advocates like Steven Moore and Art Laffer that had Donald Trump making absurd rumblings about re-opening America  for business by Easter—remember “the cure should not be more harmful than the disease”?) A recent article in Foreign Policy magazine called the poor-to-criminally negligent response of the US government to the pandemic “the worst intelligence failure in U.S. history,” “more glaring than Pearl Harbor or 9/11.”) Donald Trump now echoes Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell’s claim that government inaction is the Democrats’ fault—the White House was distracted by impeachment proceedings earlier in the year when it should have been preparing for the coming pandemic.

Yet the real wonder in the vista of nastiness—the fourth horseman of our apocalypse—is that we US citizens allowed a disease like Trump into office, which says volumes about our indifference and distraction, two qualities pandemic revels in. And despite the cascading awfulness of this guy, he still has a good chance of getting re-elected back into the White House come November. Huh?

Likewise, the inept government response worldwide to this pandemic is no different than the human community’s failure to respond to the climate crisis: Present gain trumps future risk every time. The cruel irony is that the truth is just the opposite: present inaction yields even greater future risk.

As we endure this spring silenced by our own ill-preparation in dealing with the consequences of our behavior, all of the errancies of human civilization find themselves burnished. Authoritarians use government control measures to consolidate power. Domestic violence is soaring. Scammers are taking advantage of fear. Hackers are breaking into Zoom meetings to harass women and sling racial slurs. Here in Florida, gun shops are declared essential services.

Are we lost? Never in one sense. Humanity ever adapts and innovates and responds. We race toward stronger tools, we embrace new methods of coping. We look for silver linings. Cohen himself searches for these:

… Yet, to write, to read, to cook, to reflect in silence, to walk the dog (until it braces its legs against moving because it’s walked too much), to adapt to a single space, to forsake the frenetic, to contemplate a stilled world, may be to open a space for individual growth. Something has shifted. The earth has struck back. Exacting breathlessness, it has asserted its demand to breathe.

Is this silent spring a curse, a gift, or both? That is up to us and our time to decide. The new normal is only the present one, and this pandemic has many chapters to come.

A poem in a recent New York Times Sunday magazine struck a somewhat reassuring, somewhat dissonant chord, which may be the most we can hope for:

HOW TO SURVIVE THIS

Barbara Kingsolver

O misery. Imperfect
universe of days stretched out
ahead, the string of pearls
and drops of venom on the web,
losses of heart, of life
and limb, news of the worst:

Remind me again
the day will come
when I look back amazed
at the waste of sorry salt
when I had no more than this
to cry about.

Now I lay me down.
I’m not there yet.

 

Postscript:

My sweet 89-year-old uncle died yesterday. Posing as one of his children, I was able to get past the front desk of the assisted living facility where he and my aunt are now living (places like that are in lockdown) and spent some time by his side. He’d suffered a major stroke and could not speak, but he did squeeze my hand as I remembered out loud all the fun we had as kids when my mom came to visit her sister. How he drove the ski boat around the lake by their house in Orlando all those decades he was on call as a neurosurgeon. How he complained that when I played their Steinway, I never could finish any ditty I started. (Pianos were not made for first drafts.) How he and I would make up couplets about food over dinners my aunt prepared. How he helped pay for my sister’s college and loaned me the money for my DUI fine. I thanked him for always taking care of my Mom and making their house a welcoming place for our family as we all grew up and had kids and worked careers.

I told him I loved him: He squeezed my hand. I talked with my aunt for a while after and then departed, saving my mask in a baggie and driving quiet streets in Orlando while spring spread in silent glory. Later that afternoon as I was planting sweet alyssum in the window boxes,  my cell phone dinged – a text message from my cousin Kitty to say her father had died. I’d seen him in his final hours.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s unemployment website is down again. Yesterday I got the last of four things on shelves at my grocery store. It’s stunningly beautiful outside. Hardly any traffic goes up and down our street today. The Allman Brothers’ “Sweet Melissa” lingers in my ears as life drones on.  What a world we live in.

earthweal weekly challenge: FLATTENING THE CURVE

 

Hi friends,

Sherry Marr here—Numbers of those affected by the coronavirus change by the hour, and are rising rapidly. As of my final edit at 9 a.m., Sunday, March 29, globally we have 685,913 known cases, with 32,239 deaths.

In Canada, we have a total of 5,886 with the virus, and 63 deaths. My province of B.C. has 884 current cases, with 17  deaths.

On Friday, I was shocked to hear that the United States already has more cases than China had, now documenting 120,000 infected, reporting 2100 deaths. Infectious disease specialists predict a very dire spread of this voracious virus in the U.S.

This is very alarming. I worry for my friends and neighbours to the south. I worry for us all. Stay in your two-metre bubbles, kids.

Clearly, self-isolation is the only way to flatten the curve and slow this voracious monster. But it took too long for enough people to get the message.  A week ago, Vancouver, B.C., parks and beaches showed up on the news with hordes of people out enjoying the sun, oblivious. It was outrageous. It has gotten better since. Officials were in tears on the news, begging people to stay home, fearing our health care system could well collapse under the weight of what is to come.

Prime Minister Trudeau himself is in self-isolation, working from home, as his wife Sophie has the virus. He appears outside his front door every morning for his daily briefing, and works on facetime the rest of the day. I am pleased that the Canadian government is doing its utmost to take care of us and help us through this time. Leadership is clear and active, with constant updates. (My sympathy is with my neighbours in the U.S. at this time. I am glad state leaders are taking the reins and doing what needs to be done.)

On the graphs, the curve is spiking steeply, with no sign of it leveling, and by the time this posts, the increase will be definitive. Officials exhort us to practice social and physical distancing, in a desperate effort to flatten the curve. (In Italy, cases went from a thousand in one week, to 40,000 the next week. Canada was at the thousand mark as I began writing this last weekend. It has since doubled.)

Tofino is, as always, taking a leadership role. Before mandates were issued, the mayor requested tourists to not travel here, to wait till this is over. Resorts and small businesses and restaurants voluntarily began closing their doors. Tourists already here were asked to leave.

Tla-o-qui-ahts took action early, meeting traffic coming through Sutton Pass, on our only highway in. Locals and essential traffic were allowed through; tourists (many of them from the U.S.) were asked to turn around and go home. They have closed off their communities to non-residents in order to protect their vulnerable population.

Tofino hospital (photo: Joseph Bob)

Our small Tofino Hospital has ten beds, two ambulances and ONE respirator. We service Tofino, Ucluelet and all of the Nuu chah nulth reserves on the West Coast and on outlying islands. Our front line workers will be stressed to the max and beyond with what they know is coming.

Our local representatives are doing a remarkable and reassuring job of keeping us informed. Local front line workers and essential businesses are doing a heroic job of taking care of us. But they are not allowed to tell us whether it is in our community or not. The head doctor at the hospital is requesting permission from the provincial health officials. Knowledge helps us look after ourselves even more pro-actively.

The Canadian government has earmarked a financial package totalling $82 billion dollars, to help individuals and small businesses survive the lack of income involved in work stoppages and business closures. Wow. The government has set aside $55 billion in tax deferrals for businesses and families.  Families will soon feel some assistance with increased monthly child benefit payments. Low income singles (me) and families will receive a higher GST payment in April. Further financial mortgage and housing relief measures are being taken, and workers who do not qualify for Employment Insurance benefits can apply for direct payments without a wait period. One MILLION Employment Insurance claims were filed this past week. That is a lot of households who don’t know how they’re going to pay the rent.

(The Credit Union where my sister is a small business manager immediately announced that all loan and mortgage payments are suspended for six months.)

Yesterday the streets of Victoria, down-Island, usually jammed with tourists, were empty. Two major hotels, including the famous Empress, closed their doors. So many hourly wage earners have been laid off in all sectors.

My own daughters are self-isolating, as am I. My son is an essential service worker.

Industries are being asked to start producing health supplies, such as respirators and masks, that are in short supply across Canada. I am impressed by how government has stepped up to take care of those of us with the least resources. But I wonder what will happen as this continues long-term. They keep telling us this is a marathon, not a sprint.

How is it in your part of the world? How is your country doing at flattening the curve?

It has been heartening to watch world leaders come together to fight this common foe. (I only wish they would come together around the climate crisis with the same dedication and focus. Maybe after the virus abates, they will.) Most people are following directives around social distancing (staying home, avoiding crowds, keeping two metres between oneself and another person). It has been astonishing to note how many ignore the directives, putting others at risk.

We have become such an entitled species; it is disappointing to see how many All-About-Me examples we have heard about on the news: like the couple in Kelowna, B.C., who bought up the entire meat section of a chain store.  (There could be a whole other conversation about the connection between our meat-eating, the terrible lives of factory animals, and the climate crisis.) People were still gathering, so as of  March 22, malls, parks and beaches were being closed. There will be steep fines for noncompliance with physical distancing.

Because we have become such global travellers, all of the first instances of the virus in Canada were related to people coming back from travelling. But now travel has been restricted; ominously, more cases are now coming from community spread.

All over Vancouver Island, we are watching businesses closing, airline, bus and ferry service being reduced, only essential services continuing. People are working in solidarity to try to keep themselves and each other safe.

By the time this posts, I am wondering if the mandate will have advanced from social distancing to sheltering in place. I suspect that is not far off, judging by officials’ frustration at public noncompliance. But people are becoming more aware, as the days go on.

I have been staying home, since I have a compromised immune system. I have been out only twice, for groceries. I hope to not go out again for the next while. I take in the fresh air on my balcony.

Right now, our CoOp reserves the first hour of the day for seniors to shop, to minimize our exposure.  A guard stands at the door to let only we elderly through. (I don’t need to show I.D. LOL.) It’s peaceful with so few of us in the store. I am happy the cashiers, on the front lines and very exposed, wear rubber gloves. I am so grateful to them for coming to work when they are nervous. May they stay safe.  I bought extra groceries the last time I went, so I won’t have to go back, just in case we get to the point where our only grocery store gets closed. Right now, they are on reduced hours.

These times bring out the best and the worst in human nature.

The Italians were first to inspire us, singing from their balconies at six every evening. My heart lifted at the sight and sound of them, that first evening, so beautifully sharing songs and smiles with the world. It fell next morning, when I saw the long line of military trucks hauling away the bodies.

People in Greece and Spain and Vancouver, B.C.,  applaud on their balconies to thank the health care workers and front line people looking after us in this crisis. Some howls have even been heard in Tofino and Ucluelet. Our debt to the doctors, nurses and health care professionals has never been more clearly demonstrated, as they risk their own lives to keep us safe.  Some of them, sadly, world-wide, have succumbed to the virus.

On TV, health officials BEG us, sometimes in tears, to stay home, the only way to flatten the curve. The trajectory of how quickly and exponentially this virus moves is terrifying. From one day to the next, from one week to the next, this virus spreads in frightening leaps. Those who ignore this advice are risking other lives along with their own.

Of concern is the homeless population, who have nowhere to self-isolate. In Canada, the North West Territories, in the first weeks, had no incidences of the virus, and tried to prevent all non-essential travel to keep out the virus. Sadly, on March 21, the first case was documented. Around this time, the virus showed up in South Africa. The spread in both Africa and India will be difficult, if not impossible, to control, given how many people live closely together, lacking adequate shelter and resources.

Amazingly, China spiked and not only flattened, but conquered the curve in their country by enforcing very stern measures. This shows it can be stopped.

But in many of our countries, accustomed as we are to our “rights and freedoms,” governments are faced with a harder task, asking people to comply and trusting that we will be responsible. So it will take longer for them to take the next step, giving the virus more time to spread.

Of special concern are the homeless, as well as First Nations communities, many of which lack clean drinking water and access to medical care and basic medical supplies. These communities will be hit hard.

People are staying home here; the village is quiet. We writers are fortunate in these times. We have our poetry community online; we have a platform for sharing our feelings and thoughts; we have friends around the world to stay in touch with.

This is scarier than any science fiction book or movie predicted. We feel helpless in the onslaught, but we do what we can. I am being careful. But I live in an old apartment building. How many other residents will be as careful? How many germs are lurking on the railings going downstairs, on the door we all go in and out of, in the laundry room?

How are you weathering this threat? In your comments, tell us how things are in your area, in your country, state or province. How are you doing personally? What are you doing to get through self-isolation? Do you know anyone who has come down with the virus? How are they doing?

I told Brendan that he began this site at exactly the right moment, when we need to come together, to share experiences, fears, wisdom, hope – and our poems, as we write our way through the strange and frightening times we live in. Looking back at what I agonized over last year, I realize we were not as bad off then as we thought we were.

Sadly, it seems only when humans’ actual survival is threatened, do we wake up to the world we have made and the damage we have done. When Mother Earth’s message wasn’t heeded in wind and storm and fire, what is left is this terrible pandemic, in which the message is loud and clear: we are interconnected across all perceived boundaries of time and space and geography, with every other living being on the planet. What happens to one, happens to us all. The aboriginal people have known this for millennia, and have tried to tell us. We are suddenly hearing their wisdom now.

For your challenge, write about whatever aspect of this issue speaks to you: self-isolation, social distancing, fear of contagion. Or, conversely, you might write about our increased awareness of our interconnectedness, and how people are rising to the challenge, showing the best side of all we can be. There are many heroic stories we are not yet hearing. Maybe you know of some. I look forward to whatever you bring back to the communal fire.

Stay safe, my friends.

—Sherry