Return of the native is my first Hardy book, I blog on Civilizations rising and falling,, economics and industrialism and energy issues and I felt I needed perspective of the world before and during the early days of the Industrial Revolution. It may be a lousy reason to read Thomas Hardy, you say. But he returned in spades research material I was seeking and the book ended up being a great read with believable characters, honest description of rural life in the heathland of old Wessex, that area in south and west England now renamed.. I have lived most of my 7 decades without cable TV and have never seen a soap opera but if I had, I hope it would be as good as this book portrays relationships rising and colliding and conjoining. The characters are the beautiful sultry Eustacia Vye stuck in the boodocks and longing for love and city lights; Damon Wildeve, an engineer turned innkeeper who sometimes longs for Eustacia; Idealistic Clym Yeobright who returns from a financially rewarding and unfulfilling career in Paris to set up a radical school. Eustacia sees Clym as her ticket out of boring but beautiful Egdon Heath. He moves in with his mother and his cousin, Thomasin Yeobright, a sweet and substantial country girl. Clym is the returning native of the title. Egdon heath is the setting and so richly described that it becomes in effect a character in the novel. There are a variety of interesting locals with Diggory Venn a reddleman, who mines a red iron oxide clay used to mark sheep. Diggory is an important unassuming and generous character of remarkable competence who assumes increasing importance throughout the novel. The characters interact like shifting Venn diagrams of love relationships. Love won. Love’s labor lost. Love deferred. Early on I found Hardy slow going with long flowery descriptions of just about everything and everybody with a myriad of mythical allusions both Nordic and Greek but I found the poetic style started to grow on me. There was not abundant dialog but what there was seemed honest and to the point. The second third of the novel started to pick up with startling plot shifts and drama. At times reading turned into page turning frenzy. I will spare the reader the gory details but the ending was satisfying and Thomas hardy likes to tidy up all the loose ends. His characterization was well done with fully formed men and women having to face all the trials that flesh is heir to but possessing wistfulness and an ability to get on with their lives. I am ready for more Thomas Hardy.
Our Soon to be Uninhabitable Earth
This blog post is a book review of The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells which if you read only one book this year about important topics like climate change, let it be this book.
The title of the book is The Uninhabitable Earth, Life after warming” by David Wallace Wells. It was published in 2019 and judging by the comments, it created quite a furor, both pro and con. The book was preceded by a 7000 word article in New York Magazine on July 10. 2017.
The Uninhabitable Earth is divided into four sections: Cascades, a 36 page overview of global climate change science and possible scenarios. This is a cogent summary of the books contents and the author’s conclusions and is compelling. The next section is Elements of Chaos, which is a specific listing of 12 elements that Wallace –Wells felt needed separate chapter headings. It includes familiar themes of hunger, ocean rise, melting of the icecaps, weather disruptions, wildfires etc. The next major section is The Climate Kaleidoscope which is an excellent overview of cultural and intellectual dynamics underlying global climate change This includes the role of capitalism, technology and conventional Neo Liberal economic philosophy and various myths like the myth of “progress” in human history. It also describes the intellectual and emotional responses of a variety of authors and thinkers to the realities of climate change. I found this section exceedingly interesting because it dealt with people’s responses to the unfolding delamination of the industrial revolution taking place this century.
The final tiny section is called the Anthropic Principle which is an odd section that lays out the possibility that the science might be wrong or exaggerated and what do we as passengers of this Spaceship earth need to do to avert something that may or may not come to pass. It is his summary page but is by no means the end of the book. The next 66 page section is his “Notes” which might be the best section of the book because it is a scientific bibliography and his comments which I would urge the reader not to skip. In this notes section you will be introduced to poets like Robinson Jeffers and “reformed” environmentalists like Paul Kingsnorth with the Dark Mountain Project who have abandoned the environmental protest movements to save the world and who are now born again to try to live in a world in slow collapse while learning to adapt to the civilization that will emerge. Are they quitters? Naive? Or prophets? But I digress……. to the beginning.
“Cascades”, the first section starts with this hook in the first sentence: “It is worse, much worse than you think.” This chapter is the core of the book in my opinion and includes events and facts that are beyond any dispute. Example: There have been 5 mass extinctions and four of the five have come as consequences of green house gas emissions leading to global warming. Only the Cretaceous extinction was a consequence of an asteroid altering the climate. None of these mass extinctions added carbon to the atmosphere at anywhere near the rate humans have been injecting into the atmosphere since the end of WW 2. He says the majority of the carbon dioxide emissions have occurred since the debut of Seinfeld and 85 % of all human emissions have happened since I was born in 1944. David hammers this point home again and again emphasizing that it is the rapidity of these emissions additions that is the crux of the problem and the cause of all the changes being wrought to the world’s climate. He also states that the level of atmospheric Co2 in the air is higher now than it has ever been in the last “ 800,000 years and perhaps the last 20 million years.” That sentence caught me as it did many scientists who have criticized the book. Which is it? 800,000 years or 20 million? Eight hundred millennia is bad enough if true but twenty thousand millennia is way more significant.
The book is laden with a detailed litany of facts and figures and research laying out scenarios and consequences of our fossil fueled assault upon nature and the planet. The one number which has drawn the most attention has been the degree of warming by 2100. This has been estimated by the IPCC(UN International panel on Climate Change) studies most recently in 2018. This is due for an update in 2 years. These reports have been described as the gold standard. They are currently estimating a change of 3.2 deg C by 2100. Because that date is 80 years away both climate change deniers and some prominent climate scientists have questioned the number as too high. A greater number it should be noted have criticized the IPCC as too low! Because of the underlying assumptions of the models, there is no way to know the future. Before starting this post I made an extensive review of scientific comments not only of David’s book and his New York article but of the IPCC studies. I ignored criticisms emitting from most politicians and corporate fossil fuel interests as baseless in most cases due to biased blatant self interest. Most studies have said that anything higher than 2 degrees C will be catastrophic for the planet. Some of the criticisms I read were clearly splitting hairs or quibbling with numbers too abstruse for us non climate scientists. I would urge the reader to concentrate on the facts beyond dispute such as: the planet is warming, emissions are increasing, plants, animals, fish and birds are dying , wildfires are growing, pollution is worsening , people are breeding and virtually nothing is being done to reverse these processes despite meaningless international agreements such as the Kyoto accords or the Paris Agreement.
There have been pledges by some world leaders to be “carbon neutral” by specific dates such as 2050 or 2060. These leaders almost never lay out how that timeline will be reached except by stating bald nonsense that fossil energy will be replaced by “Renewable” energy, by “green” energy, by newer generation nuclear energy plants, by wind and solar, by carbon sequestration, by pie in the sky “geoengineering” projects and other carbon capturing schemes. Nowhere in this tower of babble do we hear of concrete immediate measures which could be enacted right now to curb emissions because change needs to happen RIGHT NOW. The fastest and most effective would be a carbon tax on all fossil sources. This would mean a substantial gas and diesel tax, a tax on electricity from coal and gas and measures to mandate energy reduction measures across the economy such as raising insulation in buildings, mandating strict MPG standards in vehicles etc These measures have been tried and in some cases imposed but just as often rescinded. An attempt to raise the gas tax in France resulted in riots and Green Green Washington State turned down a modest carbon tax proposal in 2018. These are among the facts elucidated in David’s book. Reading about all these good faith protests and proposals is a sorry experience of read it and weep.
David Wallace-Wells near the end of the book actually expresses optimism that measures can be taken to keep global temperature below 2 deg C by 2100 assuming that people will finally wake up to the peril of doing nothing. Doom and gloom books almost always try to end on a hopeful note but this attempt at a happy ending really falls flat after reading the book. I will let the reader draw their own conclusions.
I will now have to levy my own criticism on this book because David left out perhaps the most important fact about global warming and climate change.
I assume he must know and understand the point I am about to make and omitted it because it likely would have torpedoed the publication. Here it is and it is bleak reality. The economy IS ENERGY and Energy, that is FOSSIL ENERGY is the ECONOMY. Remove fossil energy and what do you get? You answer the question. Wind and solar “renewable” will never replace Fossil energy at our current scale despite what Gretta Thunberg and AOC say . I have covered this so called migration to renewables in previous posts and will not bother to recapitulate my reasons. Hop on the gangplank my friend and enjoy your last trip on our fine new ship with a grand name, don’t you think? HMS Titanic. I like the way it rolls on the tongue. ……..
Now for my personal conclusions and predictions with apology to Davis Wallace-Wells . Leslie Gore said it best:” It’s my party and I can cry if I want to…….cry if I want to…cry if I want to…. You would cry too if it happened to you…” This economic industrial growth party will be over when we run out of oil, gas and coal which should happen if we’re lucky before climate Armageddon. It will be only then that we can finally bury the Myth of Progress once and for all. No one in this country at least, is going to give up their F150s and their sprawling suburban paradise because of alarmist climate nonsense. The machine will just keep rolling along until the great derailment. Climate hysteria? Fake news pardner.
Should you take the Covid 19 vaccine?
I have studied and blogged about the Covid pandemic since early February and I have followed treatment and vaccine development with interest since then recommending tiered approaches of prevention and management to friends and family. The first tier is to build up your natural immunity with diet, exercise and vitamins and supplements thought to be useful. I have scoured the world literature and media reports and one does need to maintain skepticism no matter the source. Early on the WHO and the CDC issued misleading and entirely wrong assessments and recommendations and I relied upon European and Asian studies early on. It does appear that Vitamin D in 5000 units/day along with selenium and zinc confers resistance to Covid but this is not well supported by properly constructed US studies. There is no downside to their use in moderate amounts. There are many companies rushing their vaccines to market utilizing some tried and true vaccine technologies while others are using revolutionary genetic sequencing methods. Most companies use either injection of messenger RNA of the Spike protein of the sars covid-2 virus. Pfizer and Moderna’’s trials use this technique. Messenger RNA is very fragile and these RNA chunks are encased within a protective fatty shell or nanoparticle. They then get into your body’s cells and instruct your protein making machinery of ribosomes to make copies of the virus spike proteins which allow the body to recognize the real Covid invaders spike protein and thereby mount an immune response firing up the various components of the immune system. This is a new technology and may have risks to some in our population such as those with autoimmune diseases, a class of diseases poorly understood. The clinical trials were run by Pfizer and Moderna and were not large or lengthy. Importantly, the 95 % efficacy reported is a measure of “relative” not absolute risk. Example: over 99% of the participants in both vaccinated and placebo groups DID NOT get Covid. More in the placebo group did but the numbers were very small. Only 95 cases of Covid occurred in the Moderna trial and most were in the placebo group. The PCR test used did not mention how many”cycles” were used in the run which influences positive results. Was the cycle frequency the same in both groups? Side effects were minimal The vaccines were not administered to all age groups and duration of immunity is unknown. The immunity does appear to last at least two months which is when the results were released. The Oxford(UK) AstraZeneca vaccine uses an inactivated Chimpanzee cold virus bonded to the mRNA spike protein. Participant numbers were small and only vaccinating those between 18 and 55 and there was some question of dosing regimens. The most widely distributed vaccine is the Chinese vaccine by Sinopharma using traditional methods of an inactivated corona virus which has been given to over a million people. Unfortunately data on the efficacy is sketchy and hampered by poor US/China relations.
The Russian Sputnik vaccine also uses a human adenovirus bonded to spike protein. Results and efficacy is anecdotal..
Novovax is a US company using a wacky idea of selecting the baculovirus, an insect virus to get the spike protein into Moth(!) cells who then produce the proteins which are somehow captured. This technique is called “protein subunit” technology. Sanofi/GlaxoSmithKline are also using this protein subunit method. So then what to think?
Here are my conclusions based upon preliminary reliable information. The trials are relatively small in extent and duration. They are certainly RUSHED. The project is called Warp Speed. Duration and intensity of immunity is unknown. Not all age and racial groups both healthy and those with compromised health were tested nor were children, infants or pregnant women or patients on chemotherapy or immune rejection regimens. Could these RNA subunits provoke genetic mischief down the line? Corona viruses are sturdy stable viruses but mutation in the spike protein would likely doom these vaccines. DNA is robust and RNA falls apart quickly so this is probably a safe new technology but there is no way to know for sure. One thing is certain. The companies are in it for the money. Billionaires are being minted daily under their roofs. These vaccines are not polio vaccines which were open source vaccines in the public realm. Unregulated profit driven proprietary vaccine development is problematic by its very structure. The US medical establishment is rushing new and expensive vaccines into distribution and not bothering to test inexpensive promising vaccines from other countries from non US companies. I plan on waiting.
Hugh Owens MD, Wilson
It has been a while since my last blog post in this second decade of the 21st century. We have all been occupied with the Covid 19 virus and finding time to read anything besides escapist literature has been difficult along with trying to keep a little subsistence farm afloat but winter has hit the Wyoming mountains early and with the landscape turning snowy dark and deep, I am finding time to reflect upon these changes to our region and the planet. This book by Hope Jahren PhD, a Minnesotan living in Norway was a pleasant perspective.
Hope Jahren PhD is an utterly engaging and easy to read author of scientific subjects. Her first Book “Lab Girl” was a NYT bestseller dealing with her scientific and teaching career.
The Story of More is her latest short book published this year(2020). The sub title”How we got to climate change and where to go from here” is in some ways incomplete but I’ll give you her slow to evolve conclusions: Burning fossil fuels releasing carbon dioxide is generating global warming. ‘’ll also give you her “where to go from here” segment: USE LESS and SHARE MORE.”:
The structure of the book is uniquely hers if not anthropocentric. She was born in 1969 in a small town in southern Minnesota whose economy had one big employer, the “Hog Kill”, a meat processor operating in a rural region encircled by Corn and soybean fields. She uses her 51 years to show how the world had changed in her 51 years. Early in the book she said we have 4 resources: “Earth, the sky, the ocean and ourselves”. This is not a unique idea as the ancients said the key elements were earth, air, fire, and water. Notice that the ancients did not consider “ourselves” an important element nor do I. I regard “ourselves” as part of the problem.
Hope breaks her book into 4 parts: (1)Life, who, how and where we are
(2)Food: for these inhabitants: grains, meat fish. (3) Energy: and its impacts on us and the planet and and (4) more impacts on same, including melting icecaps, rising seas, changing weather etc..
Her book is an extensive data recital of human resource consumption of the planet and the alterations it has induced. She uses no footnotes but offers a complete source list of her data at the end of the book, She includes no graphs or pictures which might have been useful. Her writing style is conversational and digresses at times into her upbringing and teaching and research career and unrelated topics such as her chapter on high fructose corn syrup and its impact on diet and health.
Her conclusions and recommendations at the end mirror the title. She says that the world population has doubled since she was born in 1969 and that it will probably “never have less than 7 billion people.” Her recommendation to solve these looming risks to the planet are an egalitarian sharing of these resources as a means of combating inequality of access to opportunity, health, education and communal happiness. It is a sunny view of life reflecting her optimistic outlook.
I feel that as a reviewer I must point out shortcomings and omissions in her treatise.
My biggest critique of her book is that while she has an entire section dealing with Energy, she misses its significance on how it altered the world in the last 250 years of the Industrial Revolution. She misses the WHY and HOW of the changes on the earth wrought by the availability of the unexpected but the all too brief energy bonanza of fossil fuels. For example the population explosion occurred first and foremost because of the availability of industrial food production, processing, and distribution of food and goods made possible by the concentrated energy of Oil, particularly diesel oil. She also makes the common mistake of how many of these fossil resources remain to be discovered and consumed as she conflates “resources” and “reserves.” Nowhere in the book does she address the Economy and the role of energy. Bluntly, Energy IS the Economy and energy consumption is the root of all the positive and negative changes it has made to the human civilization and the natural world. She may very well be aware of all of this but it is absent from the book. She entirely lacks an ecological perspective of the world and all its living components such as the concept of “carrying capacity” or “Overshoot and collapse.” Reference her statement that “The earth may never have less than 7 billion people.” Hope Jahren gets many factors well integrated into her arguments but her naively optimistic Kumbaya conclusions at the end of the book were unconvincing to this reader.
I include a review of Hope’s first book, Lab Girl because I regard them as companion reads.
Binging during the current Covid pandemic has been a popular pastime for many of us but instead of binging on Netflix I have been binging on Hope Jahren and it has been a wild ride indeed. I started with her newest book, the Story of More and moved backward to her wonderful wacky and informative Lab Girl. Lab Girl is a manic and compelling gallop through her varied and tumultuous and rich life, part memoir, part Botany textbook, part biography of her remarkable partner Bill(Bill WHO?). She flits in and out and forward and back from her stolid Norwegian Minnesota upbringing at the knee of her scientist teacher father whom she adored. The book follows her journey through college at U of Minnesota to graduate work at Berkeley and a succession of teaching and research jobs in Atlanta, Johns Hopkins ,Norway and U of Hawaii. In all of these places she sets up housekeeping in her self- constructed labs ably assisted by her pal, chum, research fellow, Bill the Armenian, as quirky a character as you are ever likely to meet. The book is most remarkable for its unique structure of short chapters revealing detailed and fascinating vignettes of the secret life of plants overlaid upon her unpredictable and rash hijinks in and out of her labs. I called her life a manic gallop and it becomes apparent that her mania is real because she is bipolar. She is also a genius at word and sentence construction explaining complex scientific matters to complexity of emotions all the while trying to prevail in a man’s world. She reminds me of Ginger Rogers who did every dance move of Fred Astaire but did it backward and in heels! There is little stability and security in most of Hope’s life but somehow she wings it and manages to soar to the kind of heights only possible to a person who has total confidence in her abilities as a scientist, a woman, and even a wife and a mother.
One advantage of reading an authors’ book out of chronology is seeing the germ of the next book growing within the first. In her Epilogue she writes” Our world is falling apart quietly. Human civilization has reduced the plant, a four hundred million-year-old life form into three things: food, medicine, and wood. In our relentless and ever intensifying obsession with obtaining a higher volume, potency, and variety of these three things, we have devastated plant ecology to an extent that millions of years of natural disaster could not.” There you are: The Story of More. Lab Girl’s companion book. Read this 5 star book and The Story of More with or without your mask. Social isolation and distancing was never so much fun.
This Corolla Virus thing is starting to hit close to home. John Prine died yesterday and I can think of a lot of people I would like that virus to set up housekeeping inside besides John Prine. John wrote some poignant and funny songs and very little these days is funny and poignant. We are just starting the second week of April here and folks are dropping like flies in NY and Europe. Meanwhile back in the District of Corona the shitstorm just waxes and wanes with lies and ill formed policy proposals from both the Orangeman in chief and his democratic opponents. We are learning that the 2 Trillion $ money printing operation is vastly complex when it comes to delivering welfare checks to the slobs on Main Street but works just fine getting to the hedge fund parasites like Citadel who ran into trouble when their algorithms imploded in the recent bear market . Their senior economic adviser, a certain Ben Bernanke, was able to have his former cronies at the Fed cook up some rescue rules. I can’t prove that he called Jerome Powell singing the blues but in no time flat all those leveraged losses disappeared. There is no coordination or even intelligent discussion going on in the White House and every press conference is a litany of lies and bumbling mismanagement.
Amazingly, some of Trumps statements might actually be true. Chloroquine especially in combination with Zpak and Zinc might be a possible treatment. He also might be right about mocking a Governor’s request for 30000 ventilators. It is starting to be very obvious that being put on a ventilator for Corona pneumonia is almost a death sentence. Chinese and Italian statistics indicated that you only had one chance in 3 or 4 of surviving the typically long duration vent management required. Governor Cuomo of NY recently said that the fatality rate being put on a ventilator in NY was a staggering 80%. These figures to me hint that ventilator management for the Corona virus might be the wrong thing to be doing mainly because the longer a patient is on a ventilator, the harder it is to get them weaned off of it. I do know a bit of what I speak because I have put many hundreds of patients in my career on ventilators. It is frequently a last ditch option and I always resisted it if I could. It may be that this virus is more of a blood disease than a pulmonary disease. Support for this theory comes from a recent Chinese paper that described the possible pathophysiology of the Covid Virus. Pathophysiology is a study of how a particular disease process changes the function of a particular organ and as I understand this is still incomplete science. But it seems to indicate that the virus proteins may attack and displace the iron “heme” from one of the chains of hemoglobin in the red blood cell and if so the red blood cell can carry less oxygen and CO2 and what’s worse, the liberated iron has its own cellular toxicity. The real issue appears to be cellular hypoxia.
One of the biggest ongoing problems revolves around testing for Covid-19. There are two types of tests currently being used. One is the PCR test also abbreviated RT-PCR. This is the nasal/Pharyngeal swab test and it detects the particular RNA signature of the Covid-19 virus. It is used early on in the infection. Later on there are serological tests from blood drawing which measures the titer of the particular antibodies elaborated by the patient’s immune system as it fights the infection. High titers, high immunity to Covid-19. The importance of serological testing to measure immunity is that if a person has a high titer of antibodies it means he/she can get back to work and not have to worry about getting Covid -19 again. The more people that can get back to work the sooner the economy can resume. For example the country could issue a medallion to wear around the neck, a bracelet or some decal to put on your car or appear on your cell phone stating your immunity. Sounds great, right? Not so fast. A recent paper by the Imperial College in London has said that most of the tests they have evaluated have flunked! That really is terrible news if you don’t have serological tests you can trust. And here is another disappointment from Chinese researchers who tested 175 hospitalized patients who had confirmed Covid-19 by PCR tests. The bad news was that about 1/3 of the 175 patients had titers of antibodies too low to confer immunity9less than 500) and “several” patients had no detectable titers at all. Most of these low titer patients were less than 40 years old. The older over 50 population had far higher titers. This is potentially bad news because the younger tranches tend to get less severe cases compared to the older population but it seems to indicate that they didn’t develop immunity either! It seems to indicate that they could contract the Covid-19 again. It is possible that other modalities of the immune response such as T cells or a cytokine response might have made them better rather than a pure antibody response. It suggests that this group of 175 will need to be tested within the next year to see how antibody levels change but I didn’t see in the abstract whether that was part of their plan. Let’s hope so. It seems to indicate that it could be some time before the world gets a handle on the host responses following a covid-19 infection. The good news is that a variety of vaccines are under development using all manner of tried and proven techniques but how long they confer immunity and how specific they are to the virus and its haplotypes needs to be determined by clinical trials which take time.. Some vaccines have even proven toxic. Stay tuned for the vaccine news because it is most likely to be THE solution. Other treatments during the infection will certainly be tried and one would hope there will be treatment drugs with efficacy such as hydroxycloroquine/zinc/zpak.
One final little tidbit I read yesterday is that a Chinese study said people with type O blood types fared much better than others. Type A blood types seemed to fare much worse. The message I want to continue to hammer home is that YOU MUST NOT GET THIS VIRUS until a vaccine is developed. Stay isolated in your cave.
Wait! There’s more! It seems the corona virus can hit animals. A tiger in the Bronx zoo has it and one would have to assume pets can get it. Who knows whether the animals can transmit to humans but if a Tiger coughs in your face you need to be worried. Wear a mask if you visit the Bronx Zoo and hope the tiger has one too.
Well that is the latest news from the end of the first week of April 2020.
We are happily isolated here in Wyoming by a rotten climate and low density of people most of the year and we like it that way! Stay safe out there, wear a mask in public and get planting your garden!
Awakening this morning I saw the large white flakes drifting down into the skylight and wondered if spring would ever come to Wyoming. WE are more than a week into spring and the snow pack remains stable at 24”. We are eager to move manure and compost to the fields, start a new hoop greenhouse, fence a few new paddocks and get on with a life which results in social isolation for us every year from November to April.
Another unvaccinated lamb died this morning from Clostridium leaving us just one meat lamb for the family. There will be no lamb sales this year to our friends and neighbors. Egg sales are robust and Daisy our very pregnant Jersey, will calve in 5 or 6 more weeks. My daughter will also be birthing at the same time! This farm continues to practice Social Distancing” reinforced by a locked farm gate which keeps people out and animals in. After all, this is Wyoming, where social distancing is a way of life. The internet has been a positive force for information and social communication and for instance this weekend my nephew Patrick and his family in Charlotte are streaming a piano concert by his son Andrew which the whole scattered family will tune in to. It doesn’t feel too isolating here.
It is terribly sad seeing all the worldwide suffering from the Corona virus pandemic but every country seems so wrapped up in its own responses that the millions of stranded refugees will get little to no help when countries like Italy and Spain can’t even take care of their own. My previous post alluded to the fact that our artificial energy dependent economy may not survive its current form after the dust settles from this pandemic because our urban living structures are a perfect homeland for a virus which thrives within them. These same structures will be abandoned when the fossil energy plug is pulled which this pandemic may accelerate. And if not this pandemic, then the next. If there is any good news in this dark time is that Planet Gaia may get a reprieve from mankind’s destruction of her environment. There may dawn a realization that most of us will have to find a better way to live. Living in a crowded urban supply chain dependent anthill carries real risks like dying alone in a crowded ICU plugged into a ventilator drowning in your secretions.
I am a lucky old man who spent 15 years as an Emergency Room Doctor and I decided in the mid 80’s that I had to get out because of a mysterious ailment appearing which seemed to be carried by blood and other bodily secretions. It began posing risks to ER and OR staff like myself who spent part of our time resuscitating trauma and OR patients hanging fresh units and getting splashed and painted by their blood. After a few of my colleagues began to sicken and die I knew it was time to make a change by removing myself from the battlefield. Eventually the agent was discovered which was HIV and ways were devised to mitigate the risks. I am glad I can’t work now in those front line ER s not the least because my medical license lapsed 16 years ago. My heart goes out to those courageous nurses and doctors who used to be colleagues who have to push open those swinging doors into fresh and deepening chaos every morning. PTSD is a guaranteed consequence to their service and if this pandemic lasts too long they will be facing the same factors I faced 35 years ago. I used to say that life is short but it’s a lot shorter if you’re covered in blood.
Our industrialized finacialized overpopulated carbon spewing civilization is destroying our environment and there is little chance that this homo sapiens will be sapient enough to turn things around before we hit the wall. Perhaps a tiny clump of RNA might be just the ticket to trigger a realization that it is time to look at a new planetary living model with less crowding allowing us room to work our muscles to move around and perhaps grow our own food. We might even learn to work with our hands, frugally conserve our dwindling resources and resume our tribal village life again free from the destructive addiction of our social media distractions.
John Denver had a song which might give a little musical impetus to such a change. It was called “Blow up the TV!”
She was a level-headed dancer on the road to alcohol
I was just a soldier on my way to Montreal
Well, she pressed her chest against me
About the time the jukebox broke
She give me a peck on the back of the neck
And these are the words she spoke
Blow Up Your TV, throw away your paper
Go to the country, build you a home
Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches
Try and find Jesus on your own
Well here we are closing out the last full week of March 2020. The bogus stock market had 3 up days this week and is now down 3-4% on the last day of the week. Infection curves remain exponential worldwide and a few political figures have contracted the virus. The more the merrier in my opinion because very few are leaders . The US just passed China in cases and is set to be the new epicenter of the world with the EU nipping at our heels. Africa and India are relatively unscathed so far but exponential curves being what they are typically start out tiny before blowing up. It is hard to Imagine a country which faces greater devastation than India if the virus sets up housekeeping there. Their leader realizes that and closing down the country for 3 weeks with very few cases demonstrates his concern. Whether it will work in the long run is dubious.
The dense urban areas have fared the worst so far and this pandemic has shown the fragility of the world’s globalized industrialized economic system. There is an ongoing battle of the bands going on with one camp demanding resources to fight the virus by pouring medical resources into a broken Public Health System before it can destroy the economy and the other camp pouring money into the economy. This gambit a restive attempt to ward off economic collapse using fiscal underpinning to counteract the sudden stall of world markets. It is a time of great displays of courage and altruism along with shocking instances of denial and blatant stupidity, greed, and peevishness from the white house but also from selected governorships and a few large countries to the south of us notably Brazil and Mexico. Amazingly PBS recently stated that Trump enjoys a 60% approval over his handling of the crisis, a poll which left me gasping for air. Behind the scenes the Federal Reserve is in a full on panic attack of QE money printing and asset purchases of securities and bonds and probably equities to save the huge corporations and financial elites and banks much like what was done in 2008. In addition vast sums have been printed since November in Repo rescues to keep money and credit from “freezing up,” Supply chains across the world are not supplying and oil and energy demand and world transportation has fallen off a cliff.
Oil consumption is estimated to be off as much as 20 million barrels a day,about 20% when the next figures will be issued. The feud between OPEC and Russia about production quotas resulting in a flood of oil supplies at a time of a catastrophic drop in world demand couldn’t have been timed any worse to kill the oil market. The Trump administration has been demanding these two players STOP these production excesses. The Irony of course is that the US is the world’s largest oil producer and it has shown no sign of stopping fracking in the Permian and Baaken formations and so oil prices may have more to fall. The US oil majors have embarked upon enormous debt assumptions within the past few years to fund dividends,stock buybacks.executive bonuses, asset purchases and exploration and are now just giving the oil away. North Dakota prices for frac oil are under $15 and Canadian oil sands oil under $13 as I write. Our local Wyoming Sour is near ZERO! If this continues for much longer Frac insolvency looms and not just to the small and medium players. Other commodities world wide have been hammered as well and the real danger to the globe is what happens to food commodities and delivery and planting schedules now that we are in Spring. I wonder what might happen to fuel deliveries when refineries and oil companies continue to produce transport fuels at a loss. If a company could afford it it would seem to me that it might be better to cap wells and shut in production and lay off workers to preserve what you can of your underground reserves. Those with urgent cash flow needs may not have that luxury.
A major point of this post is not to cover the health risks and progression of this pandemic. My major emphasis is continue to repeat the precariousness of the globalized economic model which is a point I have made for over a decade. Simply put, I think this model is in the early and rather sudden stages of collapse. Along with other students of energy I have long maintained that ENERGY, primarily oil energy, IS THE ECONOMY. Oil is the single most important factor driving increased GDP, world resource production, world food production, world global climate disruption, world pollution and world overpopulation. Oil energy use is directly or indirectly behind vast increases in world urbanization and changing job patterns. Without cheap oil, Ricardo’s Comparative Advantage of world job sourcing could never have taken hold to such a huge extent.
The Sixth Extinction of our insects, mammals and birds would not be happening if the world population was still 2 billion people which it was in the year I was born. Without globalized excessive tourism and massive increases in oceanic and airline transportation and its associated interdependent supply chains this Corona virus would have had a much harder time of it establishing a foothold in the world. The Black Deaths of the 14th century were also spread rapidly through the transportation networks of the time. I have stated in many past blogs that the collapse of this Industrial civilization is baked into the cake this century. I have long speculated that the collapse could take many forms from a gradual decline with some up reversals, to a stair step decline, to a catastrophic sudden decline brought on by some trigger such as war, a massive environmental event, asteroid impact, nuclear holocaust or a pestilential pandemic. This recall’s Durer’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”War.pestilence,famine, and death.
Our civilization is fragile and unsustainable for a myriad of reasons. Vast income inequality began to grow in the seventh decade of the 20th century just as US conventional oil production peaked in 1970. Coincidence or consequence? The past 50 years since then have seen the largely fair and functional capitalistic system which generated the prosperity for the 200 years up to 1970 captured by greedy elites who manipulated the nations tax and legal system allowing them to establish monopolies and eliminate competition giving them their wish of privatization of their profits and socialization of their losses when they bet wrong. They manipulated the financial system creating arcane “instruments” like mortgage backed securities and derivatives along with inscrutable algorithms and corrupt unfair trading engines like HFT(high frequency trading) for the purpose of making money from leveraged paper and digital paper never actually making anything of value for the rest of the world. Parasite is not a strong enough word to describe them. This was accompanied by vast debt issuance and degradation of the currency which continues right up to today’s multi trillion dollar bailout of almost everyone, all triggered by a tiny speck of RNA looking like the label on a Mexican beer bottle. My view is that we are seeing some of the early stages of economic collapse and if financial collapse follows any doubt I had about the timing would be erased. But the jury is still out and the courageous soldiers in the ERs along with all the ancillary staff may yet turn the tide as they try to save us but the hospital health system in the US is almost certain to be overwhelmed in some regions. The jury is also out on whether we are already on the road to herd immunity or just barely started as until we have herd immunity requiring vast increases in testing, there is no light at the end of the tunnel signalling the end of the pandemic. Getting to herd immunity with a population with the variety of comorbidities present in the US population is likely to increase the death toll as well. An effective vaccine or treatment for Covid 19 is obviously necessary but the nature of the pharmaceutical and insurance industries does not give me hope. The abject incompetent federal response to date also gives me little optimism. I think it is self evident that we will not return to the American Dream we were all enjoying before that first case in Wuhan on November 24, 2019 broke the spell of China’s ongoing economic miracle. I have a nagging ache in the pit of my stomach that what little social cohesion we have in the US might crumble in the face of food or energy shortages and the anxiety brought on by millions realizing that their future is collapsing right before their eyes. It should be self evident that our entire social economic globalized system was a perfect setup waiting for a pandemic. A TV Western from the 50’s always closed with:” That’s the way it happened. Moving West.” That’s the way it happened.
Meanwhile down on the farm………….I will try to do a little farm blogging as time permits. Last week was not a good one as we lost 2 lambs to Clostridium Perfringens, a killer of lambs who aren’t vaccinated. Clostridium lives in the soil. One variety causes Tetanus as well as food poisoning.. We are down to a 2 month supply of forage and will need to resupply in case of a national lockdown. WE still have 2 feet of snow on the ground making storage and movement a struggle.I am not confident of nationally secure supermarket food supplies and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the military get involved to deliver food. I have long said the dense cities are at great risk of supply chain issues and social unrest. Desperate people do desperate things and martial law is not out of the question. Our armed 2nd amendment citizenry poses a real danger of blood in the streets. We here in flyover country will probably see a delay in clusters for a while( I hope) but if we let the tourists come that bet is off. Local gossip is the national parks will be open with no fees. This could be very bad for our gateway communities. Many of our locals here are ignoring pleas for social isolation and if this continues the next cluster is nigh. Our hospital is woefully unprepared. They claim they are fully prepared. Nurses there have told us they are short masks, gloves and gowns. They have a screening tent out front of the ER but no electrical power. Bring your own flashlight. We can do corolla tests here but Labcorp sends it to Cheyennne and it takes 7 days for results. With cases and deaths doubling every 3 days in Europe right now, 7 days is too long to be of value. We are holding up fine psychologically and get out every day for walks and exercise but rarely see any others and keep our distance if we do. My hip replacement was cancelled 16 hrs before I was to go under the knife and I am still limping around. I have no hope that elective surgery will return any time soon and who would go into a hospital now? My dad used to say: ”Stay out of hospitals. People die there.” I expect that a tourist shi__hole like Jackson will suffer economically and the service people will drift away soon. Most people here are hoping for a short lived downturn but I am unconvinced. I think this is the great inflection point I have been blogging about for many many years. This country and much of the world is following an unsustainable economic and social/environmental model working too little at productive jobs, traveling too much, using too much energy and getting too little exercise. We eat too many low nutrient high fat and high salt foods, become too fat and waste our lives away staring at the absurdities of those blue screens and antisocial media getting ever more lonely and isolated and ultimately angry at our sorry existence but not knowing why. The neoliberal economic community of academic and government economists have finally been revealed for what they have always been: deluded high priests and viziers staring at their invented models, issuing deliberately manipulated statistics to cover up the real underlying pathology of inequality and resorting to glorifying the magic of financialization where money is made in vast amounts by a few elites weaving their algorithms into computer fabric to make money trading paper money. It does appear to me that if the Federal Reserve and Treasury continue with their paper money printing we will not be short of toilet paper in the future. Right now the government is following the same model used 12 years ago rescuing banks and corporations who made colossal bad bets and missteps as the big boys were privatizing their profits and socializing their losses. There is simply no justification to rescuing the airline industry or the cruise industry because of their impending bankruptcy. The executives will depart millionaires but the airplanes and boats and the gates will remain ready to be restarted with their debts liquidated when/if air /boat traffic demand returns with new management and rehiring former staff. The best thing that could happen to the planet is for this consumptive globalized supply chain economy which has long utilized Ricardo’s system of comparative advantage circle the drain and head down to the septic tank so we can get busy building a new model that is better aligned to human and planetary needs. Will this happen? Not if the elites have anything to say about it in which case we just move up the collapse date. Stay safe out there everybody and BACK OFF!
We are approaching the Ides of March 2020 .The Corona Virus is all the rage here in the US. The markets are crashing, the president is babbling and the virus is setting up house keeping here in the New World. The chaotic brain of the of the Tweeter in Chief is on full display lurching from pillar to post as he issues strange and contradictory pronouncements on the Corona Virus pandemic generally downplaying its significance while praising his (mis)mangement of it and blaming the media for exaggeration and fake news. It is clear there will be no leadership from the White House. Even formerly respected organizations like the WHO and the CDC have made some really stupid decisions like delaying calling this obvious Pandemic, a pandemic and in the case of the CDC shipping thousands of defective proprietary testing kits to labs around the country with restrictive testing guidelines and at the bargain price of $3700 since reduced to a discounted $3200. Trust in government seems to be fading fast and with good reason. A lot of bloggers, myself included have maintained for years that the current industrial civilization reliant as it is upon cheap fossil energy and fueled by rampant financialization and debt was getting long in the tooth. All empires have a lifespan and eventually fail and there is often a triggering event. These triggers have been wars, environment collapse or climate change, wealth inequality and yes Pandemics. The 14th century gave us the Black death which proliferated in Europe’s newly built and crowded cities and may have killed 50% of the population. The microorganism was likely Pasturella Pestis carried by rodents and marmots displaced from East Asia by drought and climate change. Does that sound familiar? It should, because in many ways we share some of the same living conditions of 600 years ago. We are living in dense urban and suburban enclaves, crowded together on mass transportation, dependent upon tenuous supply chains and isolated from food and water sources and nature. Most of the products we need and rely upon are made elsewhere. We make very little of of what we need and live in a consumption based throwaway economy. Most of us are unhealthy and fat and not a part of an emotionally supportive community. In 1790 only 5% were living in cities and by this century over 80%. This is a perfect setup for a pandemic especially a new virus for which there was no herd immunity. The globalized nature of crowded transportation facilitated a rapid dissemination of the novel Corona Virus and so here we are squabbling over what to do about it while we swarm big box stores stocking up on TP and bottled water. I think it is self evident we are looking at some degree of political collapse which is not confined to the US. We are well along into environmental collapse with all manner of species going extinct, with glaciers melting and temperatures rising. We have blown through most of the worlds accessible non renewable natural resources and the keystone resource, Oil, is increasingly being seen as finite with most of it in control of shaky and tyrannical governments. Global Central bank policies and money printing have destroyed our markets making it impossible to discern true market value of anything. The banks have usurped the political process by obtaining free money from the government using fractional reserve lending promoting rampant borrowing which has had the effect of shifting consumption forward and sending millions into penury. Consume. Consume. CONSUME! It is hard for this author not to believe that we are lurching toward some form of economic and financial collapse., Cheap and abundant fossil energy has created cheap and abundant machine produced food and fed billions of mouths who rely upon that food often produced and shipped by the same fossil energy from one continent to another. When that business model fails so will food distribution and production. We are in overshoot and the consequence of overshoot in an ecological system is a die off. Many authors such as Dimitri Orlov have made the contention that in many regions we are enduring forms of social collapse manifested by among other things, dangerous drug addiction and overdose and senseless mass killings even of school children. This was not happening 100 years ago.
It’s my guess that if this pandemic does not trigger a collapse of an unsustainable civilization, there will be another one coming along down the track that will. This is good news for the planet if we can go from an extractive consumption based economy to one where we use less carbon emitting energy we might be able to build a new civilization using available renewable materials.
Covid-19 : Supply Chains and Disaster Preparedness.
We here in Jackson Hole are way past starting a discussion on instituting disaster preparedness for the upcoming Corona Virus which is likely to pay us an unwelcome visit this year. I have discussed supply chains and how they impact life here in my blogs and in previous guest editorials and it is time to hammer this meme home again. There is no evidence the current administration in DC is taking the current world pandemic seriously beyond fatuous statements that the situation is” under control.” Clearly, nothing is under control and we in Wyoming will need to find local and state officials to formulate an intelligent response. I would like to offer a first take on what we should be doing right here and right now.
First: consider our vulnerability. We are 99% dependent on long supply chains for everything we use and consume here because our economic and corporate leaders decided decades ago to maximize efficiency and profit over buffers, inventories and redundancy. We have JIT(just in time) delivery of everything. And what is worse is that we are not at a nexus of supply chains like in Denver and Salt Lake.. We are at the TAIL END of the supply chains. Some of our supply chains are relatively secure such as in energy and others like food and medicine are at risk. The Novel Corona virus is unique in that it is long lived on dry surfaces, spreads easily because of a High R0( “R nought”) of over 2.5 meaning one carrier infects an average of 2.5 individuals. You need a R0 of less than1.0 for the virus to die out. Asymptomatic carriers can spread infection before they show symptoms and carriers can infect for periods greater than 14 days. You can be “REINFECTED” after the first episode. The disease is spread not only by aerosol droplets from victims coughing but from droplets landing on clothes and skin surfaces, credit cards, door handles etc. The disease varies in lethality but the aged over 70 and those with chronic disease are at great risk. Amazingly, children seem to be largely spared so far. There is no treatment beyond supportive and there is no vaccine and none in the near future. Testing is not being done in the US unless you visited China or came in contact with a documented victim. The first batch of only 200 test kits send out this month from the CDC to regional labs had many that were defective, The test may be unreliable with many “false negatives” even on people who later died of Covid-19. Research labs have to get permission from the government to try to develop new and better tests. These are grim facts to swallow. What then should we do now?
Swamp Cheyenne with calls and emails asking that our Governor set up a task force of experts. China has helped to show us some possible strategies:1. Keep people isolated to try to get the R0 below 1.0. 2. Keep critical aspects of the economy going such as food distribution and critical medical supplies. 3. Keep the infection rate low enough so that it doesn’t swamp our hospitals. 4. Establish stockpiles of masks, and medical supplies such as oxygen, pulse oximeters and portable respirators. We need gowns and hoods giving full isolation for our nurses and doctors. We have very few doctors and nurses trained in pandemic response techniques and few doctors know how to intubate and manage respirator patients. They are a vital link in any response and we must keep them healthy. We need decontamination agents and equipment and people who know how to use it. This little hospital has very few critical care beds. Perhaps more could be added in the OR or even in the large hotels in town. We may need emergency providers from the Fire and EMT community who are skilled in starting IVs and managing airways.
Members in the community need to be self sufficient. First and foremost they need stockpiles of food and water primarily long lasting non refrigerated items like grains, beans and rice. Every person needs to have a minimum of 1-3 months of food. The LDS church has long demanded that of its members and good websites abound. Both the Red Cross and the Dept of homeland security have good disaster plans online. Read them. We have no community food depots but we could easily set up such areas. If efforts such as this fail then most people will need a plan B which could include learning to live under quarantine or even evacuation. We may need to consider restricting tourism by turning back tour buses and restricting aircraft from hot areas or even entirely. Most people have the sense to self regulate by staying out of crowded venues like aircraft and buses, concerts and conventions, sports events and crowded bars, restaurants and churches and of course schools. Under this scenario the local consumptive, service and tourism based economy will be brought to its knees. Welcome to Wuhan, Iran and Italy where this is a current reality. Let the discussion begin!
This a guest editorial which our local newspaper has decided not to post,presumably because it is a booster of our Real Estate and tourism based economy and my letter casts doubt upon its viability in the medium term. The situation in the US is especially grim because of our dysfunctional, profit based health system with millions without insurance and many more millions with high deductibles and co pays. Having Trump/Pence in charge just adds another terminal layer of ignorance, denial and incompetence. The only way to manage and monitor this situation is at a national level with intelligent leadership. Testing needs to be FREELY AVAILABLE to everybody. The high cost of the tests guarantee that the spread will be exponential. South Korea does the tests for FREE. From a treatment standpoint there is little reason to be tested because there are no treatments beyond supportive, and supportive treatment could easily swamp the nations hospital beds and ICU beds. There are 931,000 beds in the US and only 94,000 ICU beds most of which are already occupied. I see this morning that Trump says he is not afraid and plans to continue with his political rallies. Let’s hope so.
Hugh Owens MD, Wilson.