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.

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.

Elegy For An Icon…

giant sequoias are dying:

Because now giant sequoias are starting to die where they stand. And it’s been my job to document it. Last summer, our park botanist requested a photo log of declining sequoia health. So each week when I was out in the field, I took pictures of several groups of dying sequoias, snapping photos from the same GPS point each time. Then I carefully labeled each photo with the date and location and dropped it into a folder on the park’s internal network. These photos won’t do anything to save the trees. But it seems important, somehow, to provide our grandchildren with some kind of record of the time we realized we might be losing the largest trees on Earth.

 

Weekend #Earthism Reads…

The Sound Of Icebergs Melting: My Journey Into The Antarctic

It was the opposite of what we imagined. Rather than water dripping down through air, we were listening to air escaping up through water. We were so close to the ice that this ancient fizz was surprisingly loud. Though we humans never hear it above the surface, this is the sound the Antarctic makes every summer. And as the planet heats, the sound is getting louder.

The Baller: Can attitude help save the planet? A frightened climate reporter meets an ex-basketball player with a serious game plan

Attempting some sort of equanimity about, basically, horror, I’d been vacillating along a “hope or despair” continuum. But recently I’d decided that both ends of that scale were bankrupt. Hope wasn’t precisely rational, and despair was too cruel to the living—anyone who genuinely cared about a place or a child had to come up with something, anything, more useful than “Good vibes only” or “We’re screwed.”

So I was quietly seeking a better approach as I wrote story after story on efforts to curb climate emissions. And while working on a cover story earlier that year about how the built environment (cities, roads, offices, homes, infrastructure) was an enormous part of the problem, I’d called up Mazria, who was recognized as a thought leader on the topic.

One hour on the phone with him had jolted me.

After I hung up, I told a colleague, “I just spoke with a man who has a strategic plan to beat climate change. Not ‘fight the good fight,’ but win.”

The Ecological Vision That Will Save Us: To avoid the next pandemic, we need a reckoning with our place in nature

With faith, you can ask how life will be on the other side. Will you be changed personally? Will we be changed collectively? The knowledge we’re gaining now is making us different people. Pain demands relief, demands we don’t repeat what produced it. Will the pain of this pandemic point a new way forward? It hasn’t before, as every war attests. This time may be no different. But the pandemic has slipped a piece of knowledge into the body public that may not be easy to repress. It’s an insight scientists and poets have voiced for centuries. We’re not apart from nature, we are nature. The environment is not outside us, it is us. We either act in concert with the environment that gives us life, or the environment takes life away.

Read. Enjoy. Think.