Monday, March 16, 2020

Repost: Shedding Our Martian Ways: Coronavirus and H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds

This is a repost from PrincetonNatureNotes.org.


A deserted airport. A civilization shut down by a virus. It makes me think of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, in which Martians conquer England with heat-rays and "black smoke", and seem unstoppable until, suddenly and surprisingly, they succumb to lowly pathogens to which they have no resistance.

We have watched as civilization has been taken over by forces alien to reality, as cold and unsympathetic as Wells' Martians, with a rigid ideology that aims all skepticism outward, and denies the connection between combustion and climate change, between spending and taxation, present and future, self and responsibility, words and truth.

For those of us who imagine a civilization that goes beyond fossil fuels, an incremental shifting to renewable energy sources would have been the least disruptive, but the political opportunists and denialists foiled that approach. Failing an expedited incrementalism, the transition would begin instead like our response to the coronavirus, with a reset in which all unnecessary combustion is suspended. Then, in that unaccustomed quiet and new sympathy for nature and our descendants, we would rapidly build up renewable forms of energy, remake our lives in a vastly saner and more stable economy, one that would give us mobility and comfort in the present without stealing our future.

COVID - 19 has shown that such a reset is possible. We are a fabulously adaptable, resilient, resourceful species, and are surviving this shutdown for a virus as we would survive a shutdown to finally stop abusing the planet. That would be the finest way to celebrate the 50th Earthday coming up in April, as we begin to build our way back to abundance--the right way this time--give back to nature as it has so generously given to us, and reclaim a shared future. Let us shed our Martian ways, and become more human and humane, more of and for this earth.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Anti-Science Ideology Destabilizes Economies

My friends have voiced a broad range of opinions about the coronavirus. Some think it poses a big threat, while others think the whole thing is overblown. Meanwhile, the stock market swoons, and our local university with all its magnificent facilities is switching to virtual education for the rest of the semester, and telling students to stay home after spring break.

The swoon in the stock market brings back memories of a similar swoon during the subprime mortgage crisis in 2008. Back then, the great uncertainty was in the mortgage-backed securities--those bundles of home loans. Which loans were bad and which were okay? No one could tell because they came in bundles, sort of like a bunch of passengers on a plane, or students in a classroom. If one person in the group has coronavirus, then the entire bundle becomes suspect.

Someone wanting to protect society and the economy from uncertainty would want to be able to quickly determine how lethal the coronavirus is, and that means aggressively testing the population to see who has it and what percentage die from it. That's where those opposed to science, fact, government, and coordinated global action leave our country and its economy vulnerable to new potential threats like coronavirus and longstanding threats like climate change.

The statistics show just how badly those currently running the US government bungled the job of protecting the nation and economy from uncertainty. In this data from March 1, South Korea has already tested more than 100,000 people, while the U.S. has tested less than 500. South Korea's death rate of 0.6% would seem more accurate, given their aggressive testing of the population, and less worrisome than the US death rate of nearly 6%. But because the US took a dismissive approach towards this global threat, we're forced to make decisions based on poor data that breeds fear and uncertainty.

One other thing to point out: The cancelling of unnecessary travel is reminiscent of what a nation and world would do as part of weaning itself from fossil fuels. Knowing that all that combustion and the resultant supercharging of the atmosphere with extra CO2 poses a big threat to our collective future, economies would aggressively reduce fossil fuel consumption while rapidly building up alternative sources. We are incredibly resourceful and resilient, and would quickly adapt, just as we are adapting to the changes being imposed in response to the coronavirus threat.

In response to threats, the government is to the nation as the brain is to the body. A nation controlled by those opposed to science, fact, government, and coordinated global action is like a body without a brain--essentially unable to foresee threats and react effectively to protect itself. Two presidents--George W. Bush and now Donald Trump--have often preferred to "go with their gut" rather than with facts and data. Even though they have claimed to value the economy above all other concerns, their anti-government, gut-driven approach has left the nation essentially decapitated, and the economy vulnerable to collapse.