Covid-19 has made us all feel suddenly vulnerable…

…to disease, which is novel and unsettling in a era of advanced medicine that has allowed us to reasonably expect long lives.

It’s like going back a century, before antibiotics and a sophisticated understanding of disease, when you lived your life knowing that you were in a cosmic lottery–and that any moment an unexpected disease could take everything. That is of course still true today, but much, much, less likely than in previous eras.

Our first instinct in the current pandemic is to shut everything down and shelter for maximum protection. But it is hard to imagine humanity living like this for the next year or more in the absence of a vaccine or cure. So maybe, in and Age Of Pandemic, we will have to learn to live as our forbears lived: bravely and pursuing our goals while never really knowing how long we have.

Life will be less secure but perhaps more intense. Less predictable but perhaps more urgent. Lots of the less fortunate on the planet already live like this. Now everyone will.

The #BlackfishEffect Gets Some Tiger (King) Stripes…

Tiger King ain’t Blackfish in terms of inspiring audience activism. But thanks to Blackfish director Gabriela Cowperthwaite and the ALDF, celebrities are petitioning Congress for protections for big cats:

The reaction has not been the same for “Tiger King,” the Netflix docuseries about exotic cats displayed at roadside zoos. While the show has been wildly popular — the streaming company said that 34 million U.S. viewers watched it during its first 10 days of release — the majority of fans seem more interested in its eccentric human characters than its animal stars.

Gabriela Cowperthwaite, the director of “Blackfish,” would like to change that. So, along with the Animal Legal Defense Fund, she has authored a petition to Congress in support of a federal bill called the Big Cat Public Safety Act. The petition — which has been signed by celebrities like Joaquin Phoenix, Glenn Close, Olivia Wilde and Sarah Silverman — calls for an end to the private ownership of big cats and cub petting.

“Once a documentary scores a passionate audience that has stumbled into this world they didn’t know about, you can pivot and give them a meaningful place to land,” said Cowperthwaite, who began thinking of how to get involved after an April 9 New York Times article declared “‘Tiger King’ Is Not ‘Blackfish’ for Big Cats.” “It’s not too late. The film snagged people’s attention. Now it’s about capitalizing on the passion and giving it an outlet, which I’m not sure is clear right now.”

Warms my heart. Go Gabriela…

COVID Silver Linings: Ocean Noise

Reduced ship traffic is yet one more way wildlife–marine mammals, especially whales in this case–is benefitting from the global pandemic lockdown:

“We have a generation of humpbacks that have never known a quiet ocean,” said Fournet, whose work has shown that the whales alter their calling behaviour in response to a noisy ocean.

Late April usually marks the beginning of the cruise ship season in south-east Alaska, with the boats docking at Vancouver before heading north. This year the health crisis has halted them.

“What we know about whales in south-east Alaska is that when it gets noisy they call less, and when boats go by they call less,” said Fournet.

“I expect what we might see is an opportunity for whales to have more conversation and to have more complex conversation.”

Long may it last.

COVID Silver Linings: Is Iceland Getting Out Of The Whaling Business?

The pandemic is making whaling a difficult business, and that is squeezing Icelandic whalers hard:

Icelandic whaling company IP-Utgerd announced April 24 that it is stopping whaling completely, while the country’s largest whaling firm, Hvalur hf., says it won’t be hunting any whales for the second year in a row.

IP-Utgerd, which mainly targeted minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata), cited financial difficulties after no-fishing zones were extended off the Icelandic coast, forcing its boats to go further and further offshore. Hvalur, which hunts threatened fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) as well as minke whales, is ceasing operations because of stiff competition with Japan, among other reasons, according to Kristján Loftsson, the company’s CEO.

One company down. Another teetering.

Dept. Of Dubious Documentaries: Planet Of The Humans

I haven’t watched this controversial Michael Moore-backed documentary. But if you are tempted to watch, read this first:

But the film, directed by Jeff Gibbs, a long-time Moore collaborator, is not the climate message we’ve all been waiting for — it’s a nihilistic take, riddled with errors about clean energy and climate activism. With very little evidence, it claims that renewables are disastrous and that environmental groups are corrupt.

What’s more, it has nothing to say about fossil fuel corporations, who have pushed climate denial and blocked progress on climate policy for decades. Given the film’s loose relationship to facts, I’m not even sure it should be classified as a documentary.

Great Whales Are More Valuable Than Trees…

Hard not to love great whales for their beauty and intelligence alone. But they are also among the greatest carbon recyclers on the planet:

A whale accumulates carbon through feeding and stores it in its body during its long lifetime. Some whales weigh up to 200 tonnes, with an average lifespan of 70 years. One species, the bowhead whale, is estimated to have a lifespan of 268 years.

When a whale dies, it sinks to the bottom of the ocean, where the carbon in its body is sequestered. The IMF estimates that each great whale sequesters 33 tonnes of CO2 on average, and that a tree absorbs only up to 22kg of CO2 a year. Tree-planting schemes are being seen as the cheapest and fastest method of taking CO2 out of the atmosphere, but the evidence suggests conserving and boosting whale populations also has great carbon-capturing potential…[snip]

…Whales do more for carbon capture when they are alive, however, thanks to their jumbo-sized poo. These “faecal plumes” contain enormous amounts of nutrients – including phosphorus, iron and nitrogen – that are essential for the growth of microscopic organisms known as phytoplankton. When these plants photosynthesise, they consume carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. The IMF calculates that phytoplankton are responsible for capturing about 37 billion tonnes of CO2, the same as 1.7 trillion trees, or four Amazon forests’ worth. They also contribute as much as 50-85% of the oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere. The famous National Geographic ocean explorer Sylvia Earle has estimated that they provide the oxygen for one in every five breaths we take.

Scientific research shows that whales have a “multiplier effect”, increasing phytoplankton production wherever they are found. As well as bringing nutrients from the ocean’s depths to the surface through their vertical movement, called the “whale pump”, whales also distribute them laterally on their vast migrations, a phenomenon named the “whale conveyor belt”.

Great whales are by far my favorite example of “Everything is connected.” Let’s let them be, so they can do what they do.

Yes, dockless electric scooters might annoy you…

…but they will also make your city better:

Almost overnight, countless American cities witnessed a mass demonstration of “the geometry problem” of urban transportation: Space in cities is limited, and different modes of getting around use that space with different efficiencies. Each car takes up about 50 square feet of space (more for trucks and SUVs) and requires 85 feet of stopping distance when traveling a measly 25 miles per hour. By contrast, scooters take up about the same amount of space as a jogger, and bikes typically take up no more than 10 square feet. That’s why a two-way, protected bike lane can transport about seven times more people than a car lane of equal size. And it’s why bike and scooter riders don’t really experience problems like gridlock or circling for parking.

American cities that for generations have sought without success to combat congestion with more car lanes are now being hit over the head with another solution: smaller vehicles. This is a lesson that cities in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Europe absorbed long ago, as seen in the popularity of bikes, mopeds, and tiny cars. Micromobility, in concert with “macromobility” offered by mass transit vehicles like buses and trains, promises to use limited road space more efficiently than passenger cars—including electric or autonomous cars—ever could.

No transport revolution is without angst and anger. But get in board this one. It will help make your city less polluted, less congested, and more livable.

COVID Is Shutting Down The Meat Industry

Just as the virus shut down car culture and traffic, it is shutting down meat processing:

Tyson Foods, one of the U.S.’s biggest meat processors, didn’t mince words in a full page New York Times spread that ran Sunday, in which they warned, “the food supply chain is breaking.”

“As pork, beef and chicken plants are being forced to close, even for short periods of time, millions of pounds of meat will disappear from the supply chain,” John Tyson, Chairman of the Board of Tyson Foods, wrote in a letter published as an advertisement. “As a result, there will be limited supply of our products available in grocery stores until we are able to reopen our facilities that are currently closed.”

Tyson then goes deep Orwell by adding that millions of animals will be “depopulated.” Apart from the cruelty, apart from the fact that industrial meat production will be a source of future pandemics, apart from the fact that meat is a climate disaster, Americans will now get a chance to discover that that daily life without gobs and gobs of meat is…fine.

Bird BS

This is the sort of thing I find totally enraging (and dispiriting, if I am honest):

Known as ashy tailorbirds, they were destined for the Indonesian island of Java, where they were likely to spend their lives in a collector’s cage.

Millions of similar birds are stolen from the wild every year, and prized specimens can ultimately sell for thousands of dollars. These birds are not treasured for their plumage or meat, but for their songs.

An illicit trade that begins in the primeval forests takes many of the birds to Indonesia’s teeming capital, Jakarta, where they are entered into high-stakes singing competitions at which government officials frequently preside.

It is a perfect allegory for how dysfunctional humanity’s relationship with nature truly is, and could only happen in a culture where we value profit and entertainment above all else.