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The Great Pause Week 22: Coronation Part III

This is the third and final installment in a series. I began by looking at the latest findings about the CoV-2 virus and its effects on the human anatomy. Last week, I looked at the mental damage and how that is compounding an already negative trend in the global culture of the 21st century and how it adds synergies to Covid-19, making it even more devastating.

When I began this series within a series I said we would first look at the scientific and factual evidence about the virus and its pandemic consequences and then try to tease out some implications for what may lie ahead.

The questions most often raised are how long before we get back to something resembling the old normal and what will have changed.

What’s the best thing that can happen with the coronavirus from a public health standpoint? Since we don’t yet know for how long blood antigens confer immunity, a drug that works to block viral uptake or a therapy that quickly neutralizes Covid would be great. Nobel Prize territory. If that can happen quickly, by the end of 2020, so much the better.

What’s the worst that could happen with this pandemic? The coronavirus may be far more virulent and insidious than we are yet supposing. It can reignite everywhere from a small outbreak anywhere. It can damage many separate organs in different and lasting ways. The virus may take up residence in its victims and chronically produce Covid over and over again for a lifetime. Judging by the charts of exponential growth and the fact that most major hotspots are in gateway cities, I think this pandemic has only just begun and as the curve of infection turns up it will compound at ever-faster rates. Here in México both cases and deaths are rising consistently at more than 8% week over week, a doubling every 9 weeks. If that rate continues, half a million cases become a million in two months, two million in four months, and so on.

Daniel Griffin MD: 14:20 hair loss, telogen effluvium and anagen effluvium 16:15 covid rashes and pseudo chilblains 16:53 neurological impacts. Guillain-Barre, C-reactive protein (CRP). Drop foot (peroneal nerve) 18:28 cardiovascular issues 21:31 gastrointestinal manifestations 21:58 kidney 22:48 conjunctivitis and eye discharges

The newly observed symptom of long-term hair loss may create societies where everyone looks like Buddhist monks. But the brain-damaged younger patients whose numbers are now multiplying may require lifelong assistance, as do those with renal failure. What does a world with 100 million of those victims look like?

There are consequences to nearly all governments’ neglect of adequate preparation and then the disparate response ranging from malignant tardiness to crass indifference until, like in México, crematoria were overcome with a backlog of bodies to burn. The few bright spots — New Zealand, Vietnam, Iceland — are overshadowed by their neighbors’ unprotected kill zones and exposed millions. What might have been contained and even extinguished in the early months is now too endemic in the world population for anywhere with an open border to ever be Covid-free.

Recent stories in the science press have suggested that SARS-Cov-2 will eventually run its course the way SARS-CoV-1 has, although there are important differences in virulence between the two that suggest that course could be very long in running and the final tally most gruesome. There are rumors both favorable to and disparaging of vaccines. It is likely we will find ourselves in August a year from now in a very similar condition to where we are now: the hammer and the dance; reductions in death-to-case ratios owing to improved therapies; perhaps some relatively small number of people showing immunity via vaccination; but universal public masks, bans on large gatherings, travel restrictions, and mandatory distancing, ventilation and disinfectants in sparsely frequented public spaces like offices, schools and airports.

In other words, it won’t be over.

In my new book, now going to press August 24th, I offer a number of lessons we, collectively as a species, could be learning from this experience, but I have more recently been sobered and chastened by reading by Bernard Henri Lévy, only just translated a few weeks ago by Yale Press.

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In my book, and in these blog posts, I took the position that viral pandemics have stricken human civilizations for more than 7000 years and inevitably expose cultural fault lines. They are a painful but necessary corrective. It is easy to see how much larger is the swath Covid has cut through populations of lower caste — racial and ethnic minorities; indigenous peoples; migrant refugees, prisoners, and our neglected elderly and handicapped. But to impute catharsis, Lévy scolds, is to overreach; that falls into the realm of hope and belief, not evidence or logic.

In prior segments I looked at at least some of the worst the virus might have in store for us. But let’s ask the other side of that question. From a planetary health standpoint, what’s the best that can happen?

The best outcome is that it reduces human population and its pollution footprint back to where it last found relative harmony with the rhythms of the natural world. That is a very large demand, and not likely to be met by Covid. Ugo Bardi points out:

Covid not only won’t exterminate enough humans to bring back a balance of natural regulatory systems, it won’t even slow human population growth very much. Climate change, on the other hand — the latent impact of our overshoot — could usher in human extinction within this century. The worst outcome of Covid, therefore, might be for it to conclude before our all-devouring industrial juggernaut wipes nature from the map once and for all.

But Lévy chastises me for imagining that. He writes:

In his most recent monthly , Richard Heinberg waded into the feud between Extinction Rebellion and Deep Adaptation. Both take as a given (as do I) that a near-term collapse of global financial arrangements is inevitable. The pandemic lockdown is likely to hasten that day of reckoning, as Nate Hagens predicted in March in his prescient . The latest numbers from the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and others well situated to measure the damage forecast an economic downturn of unprecedented scale, but those same institutions nonetheless predict gradual recovery over some years to decades, eventually to pre-crisis GDP and renewed growth. That irrepressible optimism is what buoys stock exchanges. The World Trade Organization estimates that global trade is poised to fall by between 13 and 32 percent in 2020, the worst crisis since the early 1930s, but evoking the 1930s seems also to promise a New Deal just over the horizon.

And yet, in the real world, entire industries are now confronting the same realities as sports franchises. Many shuttered retail storefronts and eateries will never reopen. Business-school models that augured success pre-2020 no longer apply in a semi-constant-pandemic world. And yet, disruption alone does not assure collapse. It may, however, incentivize repentance and reform.

Lévy writes:

I would say if there is a lesson we can take from this pandemic, even as it grinds on, it is that a trillion dollars, three trillion, ten trillion, are not that big a get when the chips are down and you are confronted with far greater losses if you don’t spend for prevention. Even knowing that modern currency systems are fictions, as easily erased as written into existence, climate change has always been nickel and dimed by national legislatures since before the Kyoto Protocol. The mere billions pledged to the Green Climate Fund have amounted, so far, to only a jar full of paper IOUs. Some, like Bush’s and Obama’s, rather than be called in for payment, have been retrieved from the jar and burned.

This essay has already run overlong but bear with me a short while more. In his most recent Bill Gates runs some useful numbers:

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EIA Petroleum Supply Monthly

Gates then goes on to show how, within a few decades, climate change will be costing 5 times the number of lives each year as Covid is expected to take in 2020. It is likely costing some of those lives this week in summer heatwaves where there is no electricity to run air conditioners because it was knocked out by the most recent of the record-breaking Atlantic hurricanes, El Derecho, or monsoonal rains. His three pieces of advice:

Pandemics have always been a part of living on Earth. They have been with us since we began. They can never be eliminated, but they can be tamed. There will be times when you have to stay home and miss sports, concerts, eating out, and other gatherings, but it’s not all bad. These can be special moments if you choose to benefit from them.

The climate crisis is infinitely worse than any pandemic, and yet most people continue to ignore it and assume there is nothing they could do that would make a difference. We ignore the warnings. But human extinction is a much larger threat than losing some percent of the population from a virus. What a pandemic shows is that small changes by individuals — wearing masks, keeping physical distances, avoiding closed-in spaces full of strangers — add up to a large collective effort that can arrest the disease. Likewise, small steps, such as using solar power, making biochar for your garden, and not burning things if there is another way to “dispose” of them, can make a big difference to the climate.

Lévy asks if Covid is a

I think in that last line Lévy sets up a false dichotomy. Economics is the system for — managing one’s home. We need a systemic approach that is life-affirming and provides our needs. We need a new system that works equally well in a time of plague and climate emergency. We used to speak of universal basic income as a theory, but Covid made it real. Debt jubilee is a theory, but it may soon be widely applied. All the parts are there, laid out before us, we only need the quiet determination to take our time and assemble them now, with care and thoughtfulness, and craft a better world.

Ryōkan said,

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Emergency Planetary Technician and Climate Science Wonk — using naturopathic remedies to recover the Holocene without geoengineering or ponzinomics.

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