Category: Politics

What goes around comes around!

Another account of dogs bonding with humans.

Chernobyl is a name that anyone born before, say, 1970 will associate with a terrible nuclear accident in Russia.

As Wikipedia put it:

The Chernobyl disaster was a nuclear accident that occurred on Saturday 26 April 1986, at the No. 4 reactor in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, near the city of Pripyat in the north of the Ukrainian SSR in the Soviet Union. It is considered the worst nuclear disaster in history both in terms of cost and casualties, and is one of only two nuclear energy accidents rated at seven—the maximum severity—on the International Nuclear Event Scale, the other being the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan. The initial emergency response, together with later decontamination of the environment, ultimately involved more than 500,000 personnel and cost an estimated 18 billion Soviet rubles—roughly US$68 billion in 2019, adjusted for inflation.

But recently BBC Future spoke of the bond that the guards and the abandoned dogs made.

Read it below: (Unfortunately you will have to go here to view the stunning photographs because the BBC prevents them being republished! But it is still a very interesting article.)

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The guards caring for Chernobyl’s abandoned dogs

The descendants of pets abandoned by those fleeing the Chernobyl disaster are now striking up a curious relationship with humans charged with guarding the contaminated area.

It wasn’t long after he arrived in the irradiated landscape of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone that Bogdan realised his new job came with some unexpected companions. From his first days as a checkpoint guard in Chernobyl, he has shared the place with a pack of dogs.

Bogdan (not his real name) is now in his second year of working in the zone and has got to know the dogs well. Some have names, some don’t. Some stay nearby, others remain detached – they come and go as they please. Bogdan and the other guards feed them, offer them shelter, and occasionally give them medical care. They bury them when they die.

All the dogs are, in a sense, refugees of the 1986 disaster in which Reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded. In the aftermath, tens of thousands of people were evacuated from the Ukrainian city of Pripyat. They were told to leave their pets behind. (Read more about the long-term toll of the Chernobyl disaster.)

Soviet soldiers shot many of the abandoned animals in an effort to prevent the spread of contamination. But, undoubtedly, some of the animals hid and survived. Thirty-five years later, hundreds of stray dogs now roam the 2,600km (1,000 sq mile) Exclusion Zone put in place to restrict human traffic in and out of the area. Nobody knows which of the dogs are directly descended from stranded pets, and which may have wandered into the zone from elsewhere. But they are all dogs of the zone now.

Their lives are perilous. They are at risk from radioactive contamination, wolf attacks, wildfires and starvation, among other threats. The dogs’ average lifespan is just five years, according to the Clean Futures Fund, a non-governmental organisation that monitors and provides care for dogs living within the Exclusion Zone.

That dogs inhabit this ruined place is well known – some of them have even become minor celebrities on social media. Clean Futures Fund co-founder Lucas Hixson, who gave up a research career to look after the animals, offers virtual tours of the Exclusion Zone featuring the dogs.

But less is known about the local workers who interact with these canines on a daily basis.

Jonathon Turnbull, a PhD candidate in geography at the University of Cambridge, realised it might be worth collecting these people’s stories.

“If I wanted to know the dogs,” he says, “I needed to go to the people who know them best – and that was the guards.”

What he discovered is a heart-warming story of the guards’ relationship with the animals they encounter in this abandoned environment – a tale that provides insights into the deep bond between humans and dogs.

The guards sometimes go to the trouble of helping the dogs by pulling out ticks embedded in their skin, or by giving them rabies injections

For instance, the guards have given several of the dogs nicknames. According to Turnbull, there’s Alpha, whose name refers to a type of radiation, and Tarzan, a dog well-known to Chernobyl tourists, who can do tricks on command and who lives near the famous Duga radar installation built by the Soviets. Then there is Sausage – a short, fat dog that likes to warm herself in the winter by lying on heating pipes. These pipes serve one of the buildings used by workers in the Exclusion Zone who are part of ongoing efforts to decommission and decontaminate the ruined power plant.

Access to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone requires a permit, so guards are tasked with controlling checkpoints on roads in and out of the area. People who dodge these checkpoints to trespass in the Exclusion Zone are known as “stalkers”. Guards report them to the police.

When Turnbull, who lives in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, started making regular visits to the zone, he met Bogdan, and other checkpoint guards. They were reluctant to talk at first so he had to win them over. Then he offered them to chance to take part in his research, which he says was a “turning point”. His idea was to give the guards disposable cameras and ask them to take pictures of the dogs – not posed portraits but scenes of everyday life. The guards only had one other request – “please, please – bring food for the dogs”. So Turnbull did.

The photos taken by the guards revealed how much they had developed companionships with the wandering dogs of the Exclusion Zone.

Turnbull published some of the resulting images and material from interviews with the guards in a paper in December. More recently, he interviewed one of the study participants again on behalf of BBC Future. The guard in question has asked not to be identified to avoid disciplinary action at work, so we refer to him here by the pseudonym “Bogdan”.

When Bogdan walks around the abandoned streets of the zone to check for stalkers, the dogs happily accompany him, he says. They always appear eager to see whether he, or a passing tourist, might be carrying food. Should a companion dog get distracted or run off to chase an animal, it always eventually returns to Bogdan, he adds.

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The loyalty goes both ways. Turnbull says the guards sometimes go to the trouble of helping the dogs by pulling out ticks embedded in their skin, or by giving them rabies injections.

Wolves, dogs and other animals could in theory carry radioactive contamination, or genetic mutations potentially passed on by breeding, to places outside the Exclusion Zone

Monitoring who comes and goes from the Exclusion Zone sometimes makes for a dull occupation. But there are always dogs nearby.

At some checkpoints, the guards have more or less adopted some of the animals. They feed them and give them shelter. But not all are so tame. During his research, one guard told Turnbull, “We can’t inject Arka because she bites.”

Another participant spoke of one dog that was even more difficult to approach. It refuses to be touched at all. “You should just give her a pan [of food] and go. She waits until you leave and then she eats,” the guard explained.

The dogs sometimes bark at strangers on first sight, that’s their nature, says Bogdan. But so long as they don’t feel threatened, they sometimes calm down and wag their tails. Occasionally it even seems as though they’re smiling, he adds.

Generally, visitors to Chernobyl are advised not to touch the dogs, for fear that the animals may be carrying radioactive dust. It’s impossible to know where the dogs roam and some parts of the Exclusion Zone are more contaminated than others.

There is wildlife living in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone besides dogs. In 2016, Sarah Webster, a US government wildlife biologist who was working at the University of Georgia at the time, and colleagues published a paper in which they revealed how mammals, from wolves to boars and red foxes, had colonised the Exclusion Zone. Camera trap data showed that the animals’ numbers were not noticeably lower in those areas where radioactive contamination is higher.

Animals living in the Exclusion Zone are not necessarily confined there. A later studyby Webster and colleagues, published in 2018, detailed the movements of a wolf tagged with a GPS device. It travelled 369km (229 miles) from its home range in the zone, taking a long arc to the south-east, then north-east again, eventually entering Russia.

Wolves, dogs and other animals could in theory carry radioactive contamination, or genetic mutations potentially passed on by breeding, to places outside the Exclusion Zone.

“We know it’s happening but we don’t understand the extent or the magnitude,” says Webster.

Turnbull says the guards do not generally worry about radiation, though they might occasionally use dosimeters to check a dog over.

It actually seems as though the dogs, through the companionship they offer, end up reassuring those who interact with them regularly, says Greger Larson, an archaeologist who studies animal domestication at the University of Oxford and who was not involved in Turnbull’s research.

“They’re kind of putting themselves in the shoes of the dogs,” he suggests, referring to the guards. “If the dog is fine, that means you’re fine.”

But in truth, this may only be a false sense of security.

“It’s an uncanny environment,” notes Turnbull. “You can’t see the danger. You’re constantly aware that it might be there but everything looks normal.”

Despite the fact that the dogs could pose a risk in terms of radioactivity, guards like Bogdan instead emphasise the benefits of having them around. For example, he claims to know dogs that bark in noticeably different ways depending on what they have spotted in the distance – a human stranger, a vehicle, a wild animal. Because of these helpful warning signals, Bogdan thinks of the dogs as “assistants”.

What’s happening in the Exclusion Zone is an echo of interactions with dogs that are known to have occurred within human civilisations for thousands of years, says Larson.

“We find this for the last 15,000 years or more, this is what people do, they make very close associations with not just dogs but a lot of domestic animals […] to sort of say, ‘this is our attachment to the landscape’,” he explains.

All over the world, there are dogs that inhabit a similar, in-between state – not quite fully domesticated, not quite fully wild. These are the feral dogs that roam cities and industrial areas looking for food, the ones that may become to some extent adopted by people but still wouldn’t be considered pets.

Chernobyl’s dogs also live in this sort of space, on the edge of domestication, but there is a difference argues Webster, who has participated in a separate study of Turnbull’s in the past.

“The Exclusion Zone is very different in that it’s abandoned by humans,” she says. “The only people in that landscape on a day-to-day basis, really, are the guards.” As such, the dogs’ opportunities for befriending humans are very limited.

While the outside world remains fascinated by the dogs, and their story, for many guards the connection runs much deeper. Bogdan says he is often asked why the dogs ought to be allowed to stay in the Exclusion Zone. “They give us joy,” he replies. “For me personally, this is a kind of symbol of the continuation of life in this radioactive, post-apocalyptic world.”

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What is so fascinating is that this interaction between the dogs and the people is an echo of the first interaction between hunter/gatherers and wolves of, perhaps, 25,000 years ago or more. And the guards of today and the dogs, whom Larson calls his assistants, are perfectly bonded.

It just goes to show that ‘what goes around comes around’!

Dogs in the White House

Dogs have been a regular part of the White House.

It will be of no surprise that dogs have been regular pets of Presidents over the years. Apart from the fact that they provide companionship and love the dogs are also never left alone unlike many  adults in normal life who often have difficult decisions to make.

So here’s an article in The Conversation that I am republishing.

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How Biden’s dogs could make the Oval Office a workplace with less stress and better decision-making

By

January 26th, 2021

Presidential pup Major Biden stretches his legs on the White House lawn. The Official White House photo/Adam Schultz via Twitter, CC BY

On Jan. 24 the White House welcomed two new residents: Champ and Major, the newly minted first dogs of the United States. The first dogs are poised to offer special benefits to workers in the White House.

The first ‘Indoguration’ hosted by the Delaware Humane Association. Delaware Humane Association

Since entering the political spotlight, Champ and Major have achieved celebrity status, making news when then-President-elect Joe Biden fractured his foot while playing with Major and stumping for Biden on the campaign trail. The dogs even share a Twitter account, which features photos and doggie press releases. Major, the first shelter dog to live in the White House, has delighted so many people, the Delaware Humane Association, from which Major was adopted, held an “indoguration” ceremony for him.

Pets in the Oval Office have long fascinated many on both sides of the aisle. George H.W. Bush’s springer spaniel, Millie, “authored” a book on life in the White House that charmed many readers – and even outsold her presidential guardian’s autobiography. More recently, Buddy Clinton, Barney and Miss Beazley Bush and Bo and Sunny Obama have captivated the American public while roaming the halls of the White House.

As a dog enthusiast, I too take enormous delight in seeing presidents’ dogs run down the White House hallways, deplane from Air Force One or campaign with their guardians. But as a psychologist studying dog cognition and behavior, I must add a crucial point: Dogs have much more to offer than feel-good stories and cute photo ops. A growing area of research suggests that dogs can provide real benefits, not only to their daily companions, but also to those in their orbit.

Promoting well-being

These benefits explain why many workplaces – from Amazon to Zygna – have begun welcoming dogs into their offices. Recent research suggests that dogs in the workplace can lead to increased worker engagement, lower employee turnover, greater work satisfaction and even enhanced employee cohesion and communication.

President Barack Obama takes a break outside the Oval Office with Bo in 2012. AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

The Oval Office, the site of momentous decisions, enormous stress and complex social dynamics, may benefit from dogs even more than typical workplaces. After all, stress can compromise decision-making and problem-solving abilities. Pets can alleviate stress, however, dampening these effects and leading to improved performance on difficult tasks.

Not only do people report feeling less workplace stress around dogs, but their very bodies tend to support this claim. A growing area of research suggests human heart rates slow, levels of the stress hormone cortisol shrink and blood pressure decreases when people hang out with dogs. Interestingly, the positive effects of pups on stress levels exceed that of even a close friend or family member: A dog will reduce your stress more than your spouse or best friend will. After all, dogs are naturally inclined to love you unconditionally and will never find fault with the way you slurp your soup.

President George H.W. Bush holds one of Millie’s six puppies at the White House in 1989. AP Photo/Ron Edmonds

Dogs may reduce stress because they provide social support. You may feel supported by your pooch, in part, because of the oxytocin feedback loop between humans and dogs. Oxytocin, a hormone involved in promoting social bonds, is released in both dogs and humans when gazing into each other’s eyes.

President George H.W. Bush holds one of Millie’s six puppies at the White House in 1989. AP Photo/Ron EdmondsPeople report improved mood, increased happiness and greater energy levels around dogs. And, on the flip side, they enjoy reduced feelings of depression, loneliness and negativity when dogs are present.

Creating connection

Given dogs’ skill at providing these supports and boosting mood, it may not surprise you to learn they work their magic not only one on one, but also in group settings. In the presence of a dog, people in groups have better social interactions, engage in more conversations and are more likely to form long-term friendships with one another.

President Clinton and President Chirac of France showing Buddy some love in 1999. National Archives and Records Administration

The effects of dogs as social lubricants can go further: Dogs even foster development of social support networks among their humans, leading to a sense of community, and more social interactions between people in their vicinity. These engagements offer opportunities for even more social support in high-stress environments. And perhaps most importantly, people are more likely to offer help when a dog is present.

Having Champ and Major in the White House may help President Biden and his staff navigate the stresses and tensions of the current political landscape. Beyond “indogurations,” tweets and cute photo ops, Champ and Major will offer physical, psychological and social benefits in the Oval Office.

In short, pets (yes, cats too!) improve the quality of life in almost every context – including presidential ones. Perhaps they can, even in a small way, play a role in uniting a divided country. After all, personal politics aside, isn’t it comforting to know there will be paws pattering around the White House again?

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As was said in the article: “In the presence of a dog, people in groups have better social interactions, engage in more conversations and are more likely to form long-term friendships with one another.

Dogs are miracle creatures and if you think of the benefits that dogs provide in crucial groupings and discussions that go on the White House then, frankly, they should be a non-negotiable addition to any White House incumbent!

Where is your dog coming from?

Bringing a dog into the USA.

Jean and I had the radio on, BBC Radio 4, yesterday morning and were listening to You and Yours. They had an item on puppies and the fact that at this time of the year, and especially this year, the number of puppies being brought in was very high.

Here is the background to the piece:

Instagram puppies; Gambling Act; Student Stress

You and Yours

There’s been a surge in puppies coming into the UK from oversees and animal welfare charities are worried about it. The Eurotunnel has put limits on the amount of dogs that can come through in one vehicle. We look at how puppies are advertised on social media and bred in countries like Russia and the Ukraine.

The former boss of Skybet, Richard Flint, reacts to the government announcement of a review of gambling laws. What can online betting companies do to make gambling fairer and safer?

We’ve been hearing how students have been struggling with their courses and accomodation in the pandemic – we hear from a father worried about his daughter in her first year, and she joins us too.

And, the number of house sales falling through because mortgage companies have downgraded valuations is rising. Are buyers just offering too much in the housing market boom?

Presenter: Peter White
Producer: Lydia Thomas

So turning to the USA here are the rules and regulations for importing dogs.  From the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

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Where is Your Dog Coming From?

The rules for bringing your dog into the United States depend on where you are coming from. Written or oral statements and any documents must be in English or have an English translation.

Different types of rabies exist in many mammals, but CDC focuses on importing dog rabies into the United States from certain high-risk countries. CDC experts collect and analyze rabies information around the world to determine a country’s risk for rabies.

Dog rabies was eliminated in the United States in 2007 and is under control in some other countries. However, many others do not have it controlled, and dogs coming from these countries can import this disease into the United States.

Dogs coming from a high-risk country will need a rabies vaccine certificate. High-risk countries have the greatest chance of importing dog rabies into the United States.

Photo credit: Audilis Sánchez, CDC

  • Example: Your adult dog lived in the United States (no-known–risk country) and visited Ghana (high-risk country) for any period of time. Before returning to the United States, your dog must have a valid rabies vaccine certificate. Be sure to get your dog vaccinated before you travel and take the papers with you.
  • Example: You are purchasing a puppy from Russia (high-risk country) on the Internet. Before entering the United States, your puppy must have a valid rabies vaccine certificate.

Dogs coming from a low-risk or no-known rabies risk (free of dog rabies) are NOT required to have a rabies vaccination certificate to enter the United States. However, when you enter the United States, you must provide written or oral statements that the dogs lived in a country with low or no risk for at least 6 months or since birth.

Photo credit: Michelle Decenteceo, CDC

  • Example: Your adult dog lived in the United States (no-known–risk country) and visited Mexico (low-risk country). This dog does NOT require a rabies certificate, because Mexico is low risk for dog rabies.
  • Example: Your puppy has lived in Germany since birth and is coming to the United States. This dog does NOT require a rabies certificate, because Germany has no-known risk for dog rabies.

In addition to CDC regulations, you must comply with US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and your destination state’s regulation, which are often more strict than federal regulations. Please be aware that dogs imported for commercial (resale or adoption) purposes have additional requirements from USDA.

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Going back to that item on BBC Radio there was reference to a YouTube video of an illegal import from Russia.

Here it is:

Last week Love Island’s Molly Mae and Tommy Fury posted photos of their new pomeranian puppy from Russia, Mr Chai. But just a few days later they announced the devastating news that Mr Chai had died following health complications and it’s an all too common problem, when dogs from puppy farms are sold to unsuspecting families. Vet Dr Scott Miller joins us to make sure you know how to spot the signs of a reputable breeder if you’re thinking of getting a pet, alongside Sadee Slater – the victim of an irresponsible breeder.

Staying safe is more than luck; it requires research and care, and a whole lot more!

The most common human infrastructure.

Is the fence!

I saw this article yesterday on The Conversation and thought it was very significant and, as a result, worthy of sharing with you.

But first a picture of the Australian dingo.

By Henry Whitehead – Original photograph, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Taken from an article on WikiPedia.

Here is that article from The Conversation.

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Fences have big effects on land and wildlife around the world that are rarely measured

November 30, 2020

By , Postdoctoral Researcher, University of California Santa Barbara,

and

, Ph.D. Candidate in Environmental Science, Policy and Management, University of California, Berkeley,

and

, PhD Candidate in Environmental Science, Policy and Management, University of California, Berkeley.

What is the most common form of human infrastructure in the world? It may well be the fence. Recent estimates suggest that the total length of all fencing around the globe is 10 times greater than the total length of roads. If our planet’s fences were stretched end to end, they would likely bridge the distance from Earth to the Sun multiple times.

On every continent, from cities to rural areas and from ancient to modern times, humans have built fences. But we know almost nothing about their ecological effects. Border fences are often in the news, but other fences are so ubiquitous that they disappear into the landscape, becoming scenery rather than subject.

In a recently published study, our team sought to change this situation by offering a set of findings, frameworks and questions that can form the basis of a new discipline: fence ecology. By compiling studies from ecosystems around the world, our research shows that fences produce a complex range of ecological effects.

Some of them influence small-scale processes like the building of spider webs. Others have much broader effects, such as hastening the collapse of Kenya’s Mara ecosystem. Our findings reveal a world that has been utterly reorganized by a rapidly growing latticework of fences.

Connecting the dots

If fences seem like an odd thing for ecologists to study, consider that until recently no one thought much about how roads affected the places around them. Then, in a burst of research in the 1990s, scientists showed that roads – which also have been part of human civilization for millennia – had narrow footprints but produced enormous environmental effects.

For example, roads can destroy or fragment habitats that wild species rely on to survive. They also can promote air and water pollution and vehicle collisions with wildlife. This work generated a new scientific discipline, road ecology, that offers unique insights into the startling extent of humanity’s reach.

Our research team became interested in fences by watching animals. In California, Kenya, China and Mongolia, we had all observed animals behaving oddly around fences – gazelles taking long detours around them, for example, or predators following “highways” along fence lines.

We reviewed a large body of academic literature looking for explanations. There were many studies of individual species, but each of them told us only a little on its own. Research had not yet connected the dots between many disparate findings. By linking all these studies together, we uncovered important new discoveries about our fenced world.

Early advertisement for barbed wire fencing, 1880-1889. The advent of barbed wire dramatically changed ranching and land use in the American West by ending the open range system. Kansas Historical Society, CC BY-ND

Remaking ecosystems

Perhaps the most striking pattern we found was that fences rarely are unambiguously good or bad for an ecosystem. Instead, they have myriad ecological effects that produce winners and losers, helping to dictate the rules of the ecosystems where they occur.

Even “good” fences that are designed to protect threatened species or restore sensitive habitats can still fragment and isolate ecosystems. For example, fences constructed in Botswana to prevent disease transmission between wildlife and livestock have stopped migrating wildebeests in their tracks, producing haunting images of injured and dead animals strewn along fencelines.

Enclosing an area to protect one species may injure or kill others, or create entry pathways for invasive species.

One finding that we believe is critical is that for every winner, fences typically produce multiple losers. As a result, they can create ecological “no man’s lands” where only species and ecosystems with a narrow range of traits can survive and thrive.

Altering regions and continents

Examples from around the world demonstrate fences’ powerful and often unintended consequences. The U.S.-Mexico border wall – most of which fits our definition of a fence – has genetically isolated populations of large mammals such as bighorn sheep, leading to population declines and genetic isolation. It has even had surprising effects on birds, like ferruginous pygmy owls, that fly low to the ground.

Australia’s dingo fences, built to protect livestock from the nation’s iconic canines, are among the world’s longest man-made structures, stretching thousands of kilometers each. These fences have started ecological chain reactions called trophic cascades that have affected an entire continent’s ecology.

The absence of dingoes, a top predator, from one side of the fence means that populations of prey species like kangaroos can explode, causing categorical shifts in plant composition and even depleting the soil of nutrients. On either side of the fence there now are two distinct “ecological universes.”

Our review shows that fences affect ecosystems at every scale, leading to cascades of change that may, in the worst cases, culminate in what some conservation biologists have described as total “ecological meltdown.” But this peril often is overlooked.

The authors assembled a conservative data set of potential fence lines across the U.S. West. They calculated the nearest distance to any given fence to be less than 31 miles (50 kilometers), with a mean of about 2 miles (3.1 kilometers). McInturff et al,. 2020, CC BY-ND

To demonstrate this point, we looked more closely at the western U.S., which is known for huge open spaces but also is the homeland of barbed wire fencing. Our analysis shows that vast areas viewed by researchers as relatively untrodden by the human footprint are silently entangled in dense networks of fences.

Do less harm

Fences clearly are here to stay. As fence ecology develops into a discipline, its practitioners should consider the complex roles fences play in human social, economic and political systems. Even now, however, there is enough evidence to identify actions that could reduce their harmful impacts.

There are many ways to change fence design and construction without affecting their functionality. For example, in Wyoming and Montana, federal land managers have experimented with wildlife-friendly designs that allow species like pronghorn antelope to pass through fences with fewer obstacles and injuries. This kind of modification shows great promise for wildlife and may produce broader ecological benefits.

Another option is aligning fences along natural ecological boundaries, like watercourses or topographical features. This approach can help minimize their effects on ecosystems at low cost. And land agencies or nonprofit organizations could offer incentives for land owners to remove fences that are derelict and no longer serve a purpose.

Nonetheless, once a fence is built its effects are long lasting. Even after removal, “ghost fences” can live on, with species continuing to behave as if a fence were still present for generations.

Knowing this, we believe that policymakers and landowners should be more cautious about installing fences in the first place. Instead of considering only a fence’s short-term purpose and the landscape nearby, we would like to see people view a new fence as yet another permanent link in a chain encircling the planet many times over.

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This is something that I hadn’t hitherto thought about. I suspect that I am not alone.

There are many aspects of the fence that warrant more careful thought. I will close by repeating what was said just a few paragraphs above:

There are many ways to change fence design and construction without affecting their functionality. For example, in Wyoming and Montana, federal land managers have experimented with wildlife-friendly designs that allow species like pronghorn antelope to pass through fences with fewer obstacles and injuries. This kind of modification shows great promise for wildlife and may produce broader ecological benefits.

Another option is aligning fences along natural ecological boundaries, like watercourses or topographical features. This approach can help minimize their effects on ecosystems at low cost. And land agencies or nonprofit organizations could offer incentives for land owners to remove fences that are derelict and no longer serve a purpose.

We are never too old to learn!

 

Purple Mountains

This is a film that all should watch!

Now again this has nothing to do with dogs and I would be the first person to say that there are still some people out there who are not convinced that global warming is a major result of human activity.. But none other than the Union of Concerned Scientists are persuaded that humans are the major cause. See their website here. (From which the following is taken.)

Every single year since 1977 has been warmer than the 20th century average, with 16 of the 17 warmest years on record occurring since 2001, and 2016 being the warmest year on recorded history. A study from 2016 found that without the emissions from burning coal and oil, there is very little likelihood that 13 out of the 15 warmest years on record would all have happened.

And further on in the article, this:

Scientists agree that today’s warming is primarily caused by humans putting too much carbon in the atmosphere, like when we choose to extract and burn coal, oil, and gas, or cut down and burn forests.

Today’s carbon dioxide levels haven’t been seen in at least the last 800,000 years. Data assembled from Antarctic ice core samples and modern atmospheric observations.

So on to the film.

My son, Alex, sent me the following email on the 7th October.

Hi Dad

This is a really interesting film about climate change in the west coast mountains, USA.  A bit skiing related but a good watch !

Lots of love

Alex

Included in the email was a link to the film available on YouTube.

The film is just under one hour in length and a great film to watch as well as having a clear, fundamental message: All of us must act in whatever ways we can if our children and grandchildren are to have a future. Indeed, do you believe you have another twenty or more years to live? Then include yourself as well.

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About The Film
Professional snowboarder and mountaineer Jeremy Jones has an intimate relationship with the outdoors. It’s his escape, his identity, and his legacy. But over the course of his 45 years in the mountains, he’s seen many things change: more extreme weather, fewer snow days, and economic strain on mountain towns.
Motivated by an urge to protect the places he loves, Jeremy sets out on a physical and philosophical journey to find common ground with fellow outdoor people across diverse political backgrounds. He learns their hopes and fears while walking a mile in their shoes on the mountain and in the snow.
With intimacy and emotion set against breathtaking backdrops, Purple Mountains navigates America’s divide with a refreshing perspective: even though we may disagree about climate policy, our shared values can unite us.

Please, please watch the film!

Thank you!

Twelve on twelve!

A look, courtesy of my daughter, at Sarah Nicolls’s 12 Years project.

Again, this is not about dogs, well not in a direct way. But, indirectly, it affects all of us, young and old, and, inevitably, it affects our dear dogs.

I’m writing this in response to something that came my way as an email sent from my daughter’s company, SOUND UK. The company holds to the view that: Sound UK produces extraordinary musical encounters for all.

Sarah Nicolls has her own website and on her About page this is what she presents.

My name is Sarah Nicolls. I am a visual artist who makes pictures with language, books with pictures, prints with type, and animations with words. I combine image, visual narrative, and time in prints, books, and ephemera that are often research-based. I am interested in urbanization, local history, climate change, the history of science and technology, alternative economies, found language, and the history of publishing. I have written a collection of self-help aphorisms, I publish a series of informational pamphlets, and I organize a range of participatory walks and programs around the series.

My recent books include an examination of the history of greenhouses, and a study of the stories we tell ourselves about disappearing islands, both real and imagined. My  limited edition artist books are in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum, Stanford, UCLA, and the University of Pennsylvania, among others.

For twelve years, I ran the studio programs at the Center for Book Arts in NYC, organizing classes, public programs, readings, and talks, coordinating publications, running residency programs, and teaching interns. I learned everything I know about letterpress and bookmaking while I was there. Now I teach at Pratt Institute and Parsons School of Design, and work on a variety of projects.

I also do illustration and design work for individuals and institutions. Do you have an interesting project in mind? Contact me here, I welcome commissions and collaborations.

Well back to Sound UK. This is Sarah.

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“What she does should be happening every week of the year” The Guardian

Acclaimed pianist and composer Sarah Nicolls’ new Inside-Out Piano project 12 Years was inspired by the 2018 IPCC Special Report saying we had just 12 years to radically change our behaviour to save the planet. Starting on the second anniversary of the report, 8 October, Sarah launches 12 nights of online performances.

With her striking vertical grand piano, Nicolls combines original music and recorded speech in an absorbing performance. Piano melodies and textures interweave with phone calls between three fictional characters challenging each other to either worry less or do more. We hear from environmental experts, survivors escaping from a wildfire and a glacier melting, eloquent speeches from Greta Thunberg and finally the sound of hope emerging. There is humour and humanity as well as time for reflection.

On selected nights leading climate scientists will also join Sarah for exclusive post-show discussions online, specifically to talk about what we can all do.

See list of speakers below.

“This should be prescribed viewing/watching/listening for anyone even remotely concerned with the welfare of our planet.” Ciaran Ryan, Galway Jazz Festival

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Plus, if you would care to listen to a track on Sarah playing her piano, then feel free:

I’m bound to say that I am reasonably hopeful of living another twelve years but, at the same time, reasonably expectant that life could become very interesting indeed!

The fate of the world!

Whichever way you look there are substantial challenges.

This post is largely a republication of a recent post from Patrice Ayme. Because when I read it I was profoundly affected. I thought that it needed to be shared with all you good people because if nothing is done then life as we know it is going to come to an end. Period! That includes our gorgeous dogs as well as us humans! So, please, please read it all the way through!

But before Patrice’s post is presented The Economist this last week came out with a special report entitled Business and climate change. I offer a small extract:


For most of the world, this year will be remembered mainly for covid-19. Starting in Asia, then spreading across Europe and America before taking hold in the emerging world, the pandemic has infected millions and killed hundreds of thousands. And it has devastated economies even more severely that did the global financial crisis which erupted in 2008.

But the impact of covid-19 has also given a sense of just how hard it will be to deal with climate change. As economic activity has stalled, energy-related CO2 emissions have fallen sharply. This year the drop will be between 4% and 7%. But to have a decent chance of keeping Earth’s mean temperature less than 2 deg C above pre-industrial levels, net emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases must fall to more or less zero by mid-century. And such a drop needs to be achieved not by halting the world economy in its tracks, but by rewiring it.

The next section in the special report was A grim outlook and it was, indeed, a very grim read.

So onto Patrice’s article.

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Back To The Jurassic In A Hurry: 500 Part Per Million Of Greenhouse Gases

Greenhouse gases (GHG) used to be 280 parts per million. Now they are around 500 ppm (including CH4, Nitrogen oxides, chlorofluorocarbons, etc.). This is more GHG than in at least thirty  million years, when the Earth was much warmer, and it is similar to CO2 densities during the Jurassic.

So we are presently transiting to a Jurassic climate. The transition to the Jurassic climate is happening at a rate many orders of magnitude faster than changes in the past. This implies that most forests of the Earth , desiccating and incapable to adapt fast enough, are going to burn… worldwide. This generalized combustion has a drastic potential consequence: generalized hypoxia.

So we should talk about climate catastrophe rather than climate change, and global heating rather than global warming: recent fires got helped by temperatures dozen of degrees higher than normal, in part from compression of the air due to record breaking winds. This is why parts of the Pacific Northwest which never burn are now burning. This will extend to Canada, Alaska, Siberia and already did in recent years. The catastrophic massive release of frozen methane hydrates could happen any time (it already does, but not as bad as it is going to get). It has up to one hundred times more warming power than CO2 (fires release it by billions of tons).

What is the way out? Well, hydrogen is the solution, in two ways, but has not been deployed as it could be. A decade ago, thermonuclear fusion, on the verge of becoming a solution, was starved for funding, and so was green hydrogen (the then energy secretary, Obama’s Steven Chu, prefered investing in batteries, it was more lucrative for his little greedy self).

Green hydrogen enables to store energy for renewables, avoiding blackouts which cut electricity to pumps to fight fires.

We, Spaceship Earth, went from 275 ppm of GreenHouse Gases (GHG) in 1750 CE to 500 ppm in 2020. That doesn’t mean we double the Greenhouse, because the main GHG gas is… water vapor (H2O). What we can guess the best at this point is the EXCESS radiative forcing since 1750 CE, and that’s already nearly 3 Watts per square meter… Equivalent to a million and a half nuclear reactors at full power…

Climate forcing is a fascinating subject, with vast areas without a high level of scientific understanding (LOSU). However we know enough to realize forceful mitigation has to be engaged in immediately.

Joan Katsareas from Philadelphia, PA wrote back: “Thank you @Patrice Ayme for sharing your knowledge of the causes and extent of the climate crisis. I will be seeking out more information on hydrogen as a solution.”

@Joan Katsareas Thank you for thanking me, that is much appreciated. Hydrogen is indeed the overall solution we need at this point. Actually Australia, in collaboration with Japan, is building a gigantic, 15 Gigawatts, project in north west Australia, AREH, the Asian Renewable Energy Hub, to convert renewables from sun and wind into hydrogen products which will then be shipped to Japan. The same needs to be done all over, it would collapse the price of “green hydrogen” (99% of the US hydrogen is from fossil fuels).

In the case of thermonuclear fusion, the  international thermonuclear experimental reactor (ITER) being built in France was slowed down by ten years, from reduced funding, and uses obsolete magnets (superconducting, but not High Temperature Superconductors, which can now be engineered with more compact and powerful fields). A massive effort would bring a positive energy thermonuclear reactor within 10 years… But that effort has not been made… except in China, the usual suspect, where a project, the China Fusion Engineering Test Reactor (CFETR), aims at an energy gain of 12 and a total power equivalent to a fission nuclear reactor. Its detailed engineering has been launched for a while (it’s supposedly symbiotic with the European DEMO project, which will produced as much as a large power station and will be connected to the grid. That too has been delayed, to the 2050s, although it’s feasible now).  The USA needs to launch a similar project, right away.

We face ecological constraints incomparably more severe than those of the Roman state. Rome did not solve its paltry problems, and let them fester: they had to do mostly with a dearth of metals, and the Franks solved them readily. This hindered the Roman economy. The situation we are facing, the threat of a runaway greenhouse is a terminal existential threat.

Look at Venus, we can look at our sparkling neighbor when the forests have finished burning, and the smoke dissipates (we were told it could be months). Once Venus probably had a vast ocean, and probably, life. But it died from a brutal greenhouse generated by Large Igneous Provinces (LIP). The same happened on Earth, on a smaller scale, more than once, in particular with the Permian Triassic mass extinction, which destroyed 95% of known species..

Now the rumor has it that indeed some life may have survived in the atmosphere.  This is not a joke. Consider: Life on Venus? Astronomers See a Signal in Its Clouds. The detection of a gas in the planet’s atmosphere could turn scientists’ gaze to a planet long overlooked in the search for extraterrestrial life.

Life on Venus? Ah, science, all those possibilities… We never imagined we would ever think possible.

Patrice Ayme

***

P/S: I argued in the past, before anybody else, that the dinosaur-pterosaurs-plesiosaurs extinction, and extinction of anything bigger than 20 kilograms was due to volcanism (I was at UC Berkeley when the two Alvarez were, and they seemed too full of themselves with the iridium layer, and I like to contradict certainties…)

How would LIP volcanism set forests on fire? Well, by the same exact mechanism as now: through a massive CO2 driven greenhouse, what may have terminated the Venusians…

In this perspective climate cooling, for millions of years, visible in the graph above, would have disrupted those species which were not equipped to generate enough heat, and then the LIP accelerated into a vast holocaust…

The end with general burning and acidic oceans is hard to duplicate with a bolide, so the impactophiles have argued that the bolide magically impacted the most CO2 generating rock imaginable… Maybe. But an enormous LIP does all that CO2 production/destruction of the oceans, effortlessly… A friend of mine who is the biggest of the big in this academic domain, he decides who publishes, replied to me that the 66 million year old Dekkan LIP is too small… To which I replied that we don’t know what lays below the ocean…

Who are you? How did you get here?

That is to the United States of America.

We tend to watch many of the TED Talks that come our way.

But this one had me riveted to my seat. It’s a very powerful, nearly 9 minutes long, talk given by a person who doesn’t have legal citizenship.

Speaking on a personal basis, I was a person who went through the Citizenship test, successfully I might add, in March, 2019. So I watched this video with more than just academic interest.

See if you sense the feelings I had.

At age 16, journalist and filmmaker Jose Antonio Vargas found out he was in the United States illegally. Since then, he’s been thinking deeply about immigration and what it means to be a US citizen — whether it’s by birth, law or otherwise. In this powerful talk, Vargas calls for a shift in how we think about citizenship and encourages us all to reconsider our personal histories by answering three questions: Where did you come from? How did you get here? Who paid?
Jose Antonio Vargas, author of “Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen,” is the founder of Define American, a nonprofit organization that uses stories to shift the narrative on immigrants.

In the 10th July issue of Science magazine there was an Editorial written by Sudip Parikh, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

I am taking the liberty of republishing that Editorial here. For I think it needs to be widely shared.

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Immigrants help make America great

Sudip Parikh

Science  10 Jul 2020:
Vol. 369, Issue 6500, pp. 120
DOI: 10.1126/science.abd6868

I am a scientist. I am an American. And I am the product of special expert visas and chain migration—among the many types of legal immigration into the United States. On 22 June, President Trump issued a proclamation that temporarily restricts many types of legal immigration into the country, including that of scientists and students. This will make America neither greater nor safer—rather, it could make America less so.

The administration claims that these restrictions are necessitated by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak to prevent threats to American workers. This reasoning is flawed for science and engineering, where immigrants are critical to achieving advances and harnessing the resulting economic opportunity for all Americans.

For decades, the United States has inspired both immigrants and nonimmigrants to make substantial contributions to science and technology that benefit everyone. Preventing highly skilled scientists and postdocs from entering the United States directly threatens this enterprise.

My uncle, a geologist, came to the United States in the 1960s to work at NASA. He then taught at Appalachian State University in North Carolina and later served as lead geochemist for the state of California. He sponsored my father to come to America in 1968. Leaving Mumbai, a city of millions, and arriving in Hickory, a town of thousands in North Carolina, my father came home to a place he had never been before. My parents worked in furniture factories and textile mills to put us though college and ensure we had opportunities. Today, my sister works at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and I have the privilege of leading the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS, the publisher of Science). We exist because of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 and our parents’ belief in the vision of the United States as a shining city on a hill. My family’s story is repeated by thousands of American scientists.

These stories include uncertainty when an immigrant’s status in America is in question. This uncertainty causes stress and the possibility that immigrants will leave and take their skills, talents, and humanity elsewhere. For the successful, these stories culminate with relief, celebration, and the pride of becoming a naturalized citizen. As President Reagan said, the United States is the one place in the world where “anybody from any corner of the world can come…to live and become an American.” Naturalized citizens love the United States deeply because they chose to be American. They and other immigrants make huge contributions to science and engineering.

According to the National Science Foundation, more than 50% of postdocs and 28% of science and engineering faculty in the United States are immigrants. Of the Nobel Prizes in chemistry, medicine, and physics awarded to Americans since 2000, 38% were awarded to immigrants to the United States. I don’t know the number of prizes given to second-generation Americans but Steven Chu—current chair of the AAAS Board of Directors—is among them. The incredible achievements of the American scientific enterprise speak volumes about the vision and forethought of the American people who have worked to create a more perfect union.

Suspending legal immigration is self-defeating and breaks a model that is so successful that other nations are copying it. As Thomas Donohue, chief executive officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said regarding the administration’s proclamation, “Putting up a ‘not welcome’ sign for engineers, executives, IT experts, doctors, nurses, and other workers won’t help our country, it will hold us back. Restrictive changes to our nation’s immigration system will push investment and economic activity abroad, slow growth, and reduce job creation.”

To develop treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, cure cancers, go to Mars, understand the fundamental laws of the universe and human behavior, develop artificial intelligence, and build a better future, we need the brain power of the descendants of Native Americans, Pilgrims, Founding Mothers and Fathers, Enslaved People, Ellis Island arrivals, and immigrants from everywhere. The United States has thrived as a crossroads where people are joined together by ideas and contribute by choice to the freedom and opportunity provided by this wonderful, inspiring, and flawed country that is always striving to live up to its aspirations.

Scientists, look around your labs and offices. Think about your collaborations and friendships. We must ensure that this “temporary” restriction on legal immigration does not become permanent. Now is the time to speak up for your immigrant colleagues and for America.

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I hope you read it!

The Unknown Future.

The latest essay from Tom Engelhardt!

You all know that for a great percentage of my time I write about dogs and republish other articles about dogs.

For dogs are precious. Dogs are sensitive. Dogs read us humans. Dogs play. They sleep. And much more!

Pharaoh enjoying Bummer Creek, March 20th, 2013. He was born on June 3rd., 2003 and died on June 19th., 2017.

But just occasionally I like to republish an essay from Tom Engelhardt.

Maybe because years ago he gave me blanket permission to republish his essays. Maybe because he and I are more or less the same age. Maybe because in my more quieter, introspective moments I wonder where the hell we are going. And Tom seems to agree.

Have a read of this.

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Tomgram: Engelhardt, The Unexpected Past, the Unknown Future

Posted by Tom Engelhardt at 3:50pm, August 9, 2020.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch.

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Even in this terrible moment, TD does its best to continue offering an alternate view of this increasingly strange planet of ours. And I can only do so because of the ongoing support of readers. (I just wish I could actually thank each of you individually!) If you have the urge to continue to lend a hand in keeping TomDispatch afloat, then do check out our donation page. For a donation of $100 ($125 if you live outside the U.S.), I usually offer a signed, personalized book from one of a number of TD authors listed on that page and you can certainly ask, but no guarantees in this pandemic moment. Still, you really do make all the difference and I can’t thank you enough for that! Tom]

It Could Have Been Different

My World and (Unfortunately) Welcome to It
By Tom Engelhardt

Let me be blunt. This wasn’t the world I imagined for my denouement. Not faintly. Of course, I can’t claim I ever really imagined such a place. Who, in their youth, considers their death and the world that might accompany it, the one you might leave behind for younger generations? I’m 76 now. True, if I were lucky (or perhaps unlucky), I could live another 20 years and see yet a newer world born. But for the moment at least, it seems logical enough to consider this pandemic nightmare of a place as the country of my old age, the one that I and my generation (including a guy named Donald J. Trump) will pass on to our children and grandchildren.

Back in 2001, after the 9/11 attacks, I knew it was going to be bad. I felt it deep in my gut almost immediately and, because of that, stumbled into creating TomDispatch.com, the website I still run. But did I ever think it would be this bad? Not a chance.

I focused back then on what already looked to me like a nightmarish American imperial adventure to come, the response to the 9/11 attacks that the administration of President George W. Bush quickly launched under the rubric of “the Global War on Terror.” And that name (though the word “global” would soon be dropped for the more anodyne “war on terror”) would prove anything but inaccurate. After all, in those first post-9/11 moments, the top officials of that administration were thinking as globally as possible when it came to war. At the damaged Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld almost immediately turned to an aide and told him, “Go massive — sweep it all up, things related and not.” From then on, the emphasis would always be on the more the merrier.

Bush’s top officials were eager to take out not just Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, whose 19 mostly Saudi hijackers had indeed attacked this country in the most provocative manner possible (at a cost of only $400,000-$500,000), but the Taliban, too, which then controlled much of Afghanistan. And an invasion of that country was seen as but the initial step in a larger, deeply desired project reportedly meant to target more than 60 countries! Above all, George W. Bush and his top officials dreamed of taking down Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein, occupying his oil-rich land, and making the United States, already the unipolar power of the twenty-first century, the overseer of the Greater Middle East and, in the end, perhaps even of a global Pax Americana. Such was the oil-fueled imperial dreamscape of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and crew (including that charmer and now bestselling anti-Trump author John Bolton).

Who Woulda Guessed?

In the years that followed, I would post endless TomDispatch pieces, often by ex-military men, focused on the ongoing nightmare of our country’s soon-to-become forever wars (without a “pax” in sight) and the dangers such spreading conflicts posed to our world and even to us. Still, did I imagine those wars coming home in quite this way? Police forces in American cities and towns thoroughly militarized right down to bayonets, MRAPs, night-vision goggles, and helicopters, thanks to a Pentagon program delivering equipment to police departments nationwide more or less directly off the battlefields of Washington’s never-ending wars? Not for a moment.

Who doesn’t remember those 2014 photos of what looked like an occupying army on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, after the police killing of a Black teenager and the protests that followed? And keep in mind that, to this day, the Republican Senate and the Trump administration have shown not the slightest desire to rein in that Pentagon program to militarize police departments nationwide. Such equipment (and the mentality that goes with it) showed up strikingly on the streets of American cities and towns during the recent Black Lives Matter protests.

Even in 2014, however, I couldn’t have imagined federal agents by the hundreds, dressed as if for a forever-war battlefield, flooding onto those same streets (at least in cities run by Democratic mayors), ready to treat protesters as if they were indeed al-Qaeda (“VIOLENT ANTIFA ANARCHISTS”), or that it would all be part of an election ploy by a needy president. Not a chance.

Or put another way, a president with his own “goon squad” or “stormtroopers” outfitted to look as if they were shipping out for Afghanistan or Iraq but heading for Portland, Albuquerque, Chicago, Seattle, and other American cities? Give me a break! How un-American could you get? A military surveillance drone overhead in at least one of those cities as if this were someone else’s war zone? Give me a break again. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d live to witness anything quite like it or a president — and we’ve had a few doozies — even faintly like the man a minority of deeply disgruntled Americans but a majority of electors put in the White House in 2016 to preside over a failing empire.

How about an American president in the year 2020 as a straightforward, no-punches-pulled racist, the sort of guy a newspaper could compare to former segregationist Alabama governor and presidential candidate George Wallace without even blinking? Admittedly, in itself, presidential racism has hardly been unique to this moment in America, despite Joe Biden’s initial claim to the contrary. That couldn’t be the case in the country in which Woodrow Wilson made D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, the infamous silent movie in which the Ku Klux Klan rides to the rescue, the first film ever to be shown in the White House; nor the one in which Richard Nixon used his “Southern strategy” — Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater had earlier labeled it even more redolently “Operation Dixie” — to appeal to the racist fears of Southern whites and so begin to turn that region from a Democratic stronghold into a Republican bastion; nor in the land where Ronald Reagan launched his election campaign of 1980 with a “states’ rights” speech (then still a code phrase for segregation) near Philadelphia, Mississippi, just miles from the earthen dam where three murdered civil rights workers had been found buried in 1964.

Still, an openly racist president (don’t take that knee!) as an autocrat-in-the-making (or at least in-the-dreaming), one who first descended that Trump Tower escalator in 2015 denouncing Mexican “rapists,” ran for president rabidly on a Muslim ban, and for whom Black lives, including John Lewis’s, have always been immaterial, a president now defending every Confederate monument and military base named after a slave-owning general in sight, while trying to launch a Nixon-style “law and (dis)order” campaign? I mean, who woulda thunk it?

And add to that the once unimaginable: a man without an ounce of empathy in the White House, a figure focused only on himself and his electoral and pecuniary fate (and perhaps those of his billionaire confederates); a man filling his hated “deep state” with congressionally unapproved lackies, flacks, and ass-kissers, many of them previously flacks (aka lobbyists) for major corporations. (Note, by the way, that while The Donald has a distinctly autocratic urge, I don’t describe him as an incipient fascist because, as far as I can see, his sole desire — as in those now-disappeared rallies of his — is to have fans, not lead an actual social movement of any sort. Think of him as Mussolini right down to the look and style with a “base” of cheering MAGA chumps but no urge for an actual fascist movement to lead.)

And who ever imagined that an American president might actually bring up the possibility of delaying an election he fears losing, while denouncing mail-in ballots (“the scandal of our time”) as electoral fraud and doing his damnedest to undermine the Post Office which would deliver them amid an economic downturn that rivals the Great Depression? Who, before this moment, ever imagined that a president might consider refusing to leave the White House even if he did lose his reelection bid? Tell me this doesn’t qualify as something new under the American sun. True, it wasn’t Donald Trump who turned this country’s elections into 1% affairs or made contributions by the staggeringly wealthy and corporations a matter of free speech (thank you, Supreme Court!), but it is Donald Trump who is threatening, in his own unique way, to make elections themselves a thing of the past. And that, believe me, I didn’t count on.

Nor did I conceive of an all-American world of inequality almost beyond imagining. A country in which only the truly wealthy (think tax cuts) and the national security state (think budgets eternally in the stratosphere) are assured of generous funding in the worst of times.

The World to Come?

Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the pandemic yet, have I? The one that should bring to mind the Black Death of the fourteenth century and the devastating Spanish Flu of a century ago, the one that’s killing Americans in remarkable numbers daily and going wild in this country, aided and abetted in every imaginable way (and some previously unimaginable ones) by the federal government and the president. Who could have dreamed of such a disease running riot, month after month, in the wealthiest, most powerful country on the planet without a national plan for dealing with it? Who could have dreamed of the planet’s most exceptional, indispensable country (as its leaders once loved to call it) being unable to take even the most modest steps to rein in Covid-19, thanks to a president, Republican governors, and Republican congressional representatives who consider science the equivalent of alien DNA? Honestly, who ever imagined such an American world? Think of it not as The Decameron, that fourteenth century tale of 10 people in flight from a pandemic, but the Trumpcameron or perhaps simply Trumpmageddon.

And keep in mind, when assessing this world I’m going to leave behind to those I hold near and dear, that Covid-19 is hardly the worst of it. Behind that pandemic, possibly even linked to it in complex ways, is something so much worse. Yes, the coronavirus and the president’s response to it may seem like the worst of all news as American deaths crest 160,000 with no end in sight, but it isn’t. Not faintly on a planet that’s being heated to the boiling point and whose most powerful country is now run by a crew of pyromaniacs.

It’s hard even to fully conceptualize climate change since it operates on a time scale that’s anything but human. Still, one way to think of it is as a slow-burn planetary version of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And by the way, if you’ll excuse a brief digression, in these years, our president and his men have been intent on ripping up every Cold War nuclear pact in sight, while the tensions between two nuclear-armed powers, the U.S. and China, only intensify and Washington invests staggering sums in “modernizing” its nuclear arsenal. (I mean, how exactly do you “modernize” the already-achieved ability to put an almost instant end to the world as we’ve known it?)

But to return to climate change, remember that 2020 is already threatening to be the warmest year in recorded history, while the five hottest years so far occurred from 2015 to 2019. That should tell you something, no?

The never-ending release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere has been transforming this planet in ways that have now become obvious. My own hometown, New York City, for instance, has officially become part of the humid subtropical climate zone and that’s only a beginning. Everywhere temperatures are rising. They hit 100 degrees this June in, of all places, Siberia. (The Arctic is warming at twice the rate of much of the rest of the planet.) Sea ice is melting fast, while floods and mega-droughts intensify and forests burn in a previously unknown fashion.

And as a recent heat wave across the Middle East — Baghdad hit a record 125 degrees — showed, it’s only going to get hotter. Much hotter and, given how humanity has handled the latest pandemic, how will it handle the chaos that goes with rising sea levels drowning coastlines but also affecting inland populations, ever fiercer storms, and flooding (in recent weeks, the summer monsoon has, for instance, put one third of Bangladesh underwater), not to speak of the migration of refugees from the hardest-hit areas? The answer is likely to be: not well.

And I could go on, but you get the point. This is not the world I either imagined or would ever have dreamed of leaving to those far younger than me. That the men (and they are largely men) who are essentially promoting the pandemicizing and over-heating of this planet will be the greatest criminals in history matters little.

Let’s just hope that, when it comes to creating a better world out of such a god-awful mess, the generations that follow us prove better at it than mine did. If I were a religious man, those would be my prayers.

And here’s my odd hope. As should be obvious from this piece, the recent past, when still the future, was surprisingly unimaginable. There’s no reason to believe that the future — the coming decades — will prove any easier to imagine. No matter the bad news of this moment, who knows what our world might really look like 20 years from now? I only hope, for the sake of my children and grandchildren, that it surprises us all.

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He runs TomDispatch and is a fellow of the Type Media Center. His sixth and latest book is A Nation Unmade by War.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer’s new dystopian novel (the second in the Splinterlands series) Frostlands, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Copyright 2020 Tom Engelhardt

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This is such a powerful essay written from the heart of a good man.

I, too, wonder and worry about the next twenty years. Indeed, there are the stirrings of a book in my head. How that younger generation are reacting to the present and, more importantly, how they will react and respond to the next few years?

I’m 75 and really hope to live for quite a few more years. Jean is just a few years younger.

But much more importantly I have a son, Alex, who is 49, and a daughter, Maija, who is 48, and a grandson, Morten, of my daughter and her husband, who is 9.

They cannot escape the future!

These are very strange times!

A Grist article raises a core question.

On June 4th this year Grist published an article written by Eve Andrews. It is not about dogs at all. Yet, it seems to me to ask a fundamental question about us humans. The article speaks of America but certainly it applies to my old country, the U.K., and it probably applies to most of the countries in the world.

I recently wrote to Annelise McGough, the Growth and Engagement Editor at Grist asking if I could republish the article. She kindly said yes!

So here it is!

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Grist / Windy Kelly / EyeEm

Why is everything falling apart in 2020?

By on Jun 4, 2020

Dear Umbra,

Did any aspect of climate change cause the pandemic to happen this year (versus last year or next year)? Could pandemics happen more often?

— Which Oracle Read Rightly Imminent, Existential Doom?

A. Dear WORRIED,

2020: what a year so far! As anyone who witnessed the crowds of face mask-clad people show up in the middle of a deadly pandemic to protest police violence this weekend can attest, a lot seems to be terrible all at once. You’re asking, in a sense, why now? It almost seems like it must be a rhetorical question. But it’s not — by understanding how we got into this mess, we might presumably be able to find our way out.

This doesn’t just apply to the pandemic.

Let’s start by taking your question at face (mask) value: There are multiple factors that have contributed to the rise of zoonotic illnesses — those of animal origin — over recent years, as my very sharp colleague Shannon Osaka delineated in an article and video earlier in the spring. Scientists believe COVID-19, like several other SARS viruses, likely originated in a bat. It turns out many strains of coronavirus can be traced back to bats! Who knew those little guys were such harbingers of destruction?

It’s not really on the bats, of course. Warmer temperatures (an established feature of climate change) and environmental degradation (often attributed to climate change, industrialization, or other products of human development) have driven a lot of animals to migrate out of their normal habitats and into human ones. Those factors have also contributed to different species coming into close contact with each other, which makes viruses normally contained to one species more likely to “spill over,” or jump to a new type of animal.

So clearly, the lead-up to the novel coronavirus’s outbreak was a gradual one. But perhaps 2019 was just warm enough to kill off enough of the insect population that some COVID-19-carrying bat depended on for food, and that drove it out to wreak some (unintentional) havoc on humanity. The bat’s habitat could have been destroyed by a new coal mine development. It could have woken up one morning and thought: This is my time to fuck shit up! Revenge on those humans that messed up my home! (OK, there was also probably a pangolin involved, but let’s keep things simple.)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 is the fourth major pandemic caused by a novel virus to hit the United States since the 1918 “Spanish flu” that killed 50 million people worldwide. And there are so many factors and variables that lead to the sprout of a pandemic that you could very well argue that, “Yes, of course it happened at this exact point in time” or “No, it could have happened at any point in time.” It’s impossible to know for sure. But climate change and habitat destruction are certainly working together to create circumstances more favorable to the spread of disease, and that means pandemics will likely become more common as the world grows warmer.

The thing is, highly contagious, devastating illnesses have always been a part of human life, even though a real pandemic is a few-times-per-century event. It’s a fact of sharing the Earth with other living things; it just happens. But humans are ostensibly equipped with the means to contain the spread of diseases and help heal those who become sick. At this moment, thanks to advances in medicine and information-sharing and communication, that’s more true than ever before!

And yet. The United States, an astonishingly wealthy nation with ostensibly the most advanced — certainly the most expensive! — medical system in the world, has lost around 100,000 people to COVID-19, with many more surely to come. That doesn’t even take into account the far-reaching hardship caused by an economic collapse as drastic, by some metrics, as the Great Depression. The current unemployment rate, for example, exceeds 20 percent.

The reality is that what some have referred to as “the lost spring” (and what could very well be “the lost year”) is not the product of a single infectious disease, but the boiling over of many long-standing crises, including structural forms of injustice. Like everything else in American society, the damage done by the coronavirus is unevenly distributed across race. The death rate of black Americans from COVID is three times that of whites, and 40 percent of black-owned businesses have shuttered due to social distancing measures. As of April, rates of black and Latino unemployment were 16.7 and 18.9 percent, respectively, compared to 14.2 percent for whites. These hardships continue to feed into the cycle of racial inequality in this country.

The devastation to American society that we are witnessing in real time, one could argue, could only have happened at the present moment. That’s due to the nightmarish confluence of horrific leadership, centuries of racial oppression, unprecedented wealth inequality, the erosion of the social safety net, privatization of medicine, a far-too-consolidated supply chain, politicization of science, a highly globalized economy, and one misguided or mischievous bat. Oh, and the climate change and environmental degradation that could have led to said bat’s misbehavior.

COVID-19 could have popped up at any time, as viruses do. The degree to which it’s ravaged American society, however, has little to do with the virus itself. Other countries such as New Zealand and South Korea, faced the same disease and came out the other side with far fewer deaths and less severe economic devastation. This is, to a significant degree, about governance and leadership.

It’s also a preview of what climate change can do. A very contagious respiratory virus is an unfortunate fact; it’s not going away, and it is a challenge to be dealt with. Climate change, just the same, is coming whether or not we pay attention to it. Communities, cities, and states are going to have to put measures into place to ensure that it doesn’t literally kill us all. That’s what adaptation means, and that’s why people talk about things like seawalls and tree cover and managed retreat.

But creating a climate-resilient society requires a lot more than just building or planting stuff! This is where I would normally tell you to vote for leaders who support all that building and planting and, more importantly, cutting carbon emissions in the first place. Yes, do that. And additionally, vote for leaders who will feed our starving public systems to make it so they actually support the people who need them. Vote for those who understand and want to change what non-white people experience, what poor people experience, what immigrants experience. Without all of these things, there cannot be a climate-resilient civilization.

If anything were made clear by the unique, mind-boggling suffering that the United States has seen in the past week, brought about by the collision of a viral pandemic and police brutality, it’s that voting is a necessary condition but it is not enough. You, WORRIED, wrote to me to ask why the pandemic happened right now, possibly because it seems like such a uniquely terrible moment for the country to have to deal with it. We not only have the worst possible leader, but also a general absence of leadership altogether.

Going back just a few months, I believe there was an opportunity for an alternate version of this moment in American history in which one incredibly dangerous virus did not kill as many people nor ruin as many lives. But even in that universe, it’s important to acknowledge that pre-pandemic life wasn’t so great for most people. Undoing this path and “restoring order” is a ridiculous hope, since the order that has existed for so long has created a society that is wholly unsustainable judging from almost any social, environmental, or economic perspective.

So what can we do with this knowledge? One, you should be angry. Be angry that leaders missed opportunities to fortify the nation beyond its military, to break down racist systems and promote equality, and to instate laws and policies designed to help prevent crises that, by all accounts, were utterly predictable.

Then I think you should show your anger, whether that’s through protesting, hurling money or your time or whatever you have at worthy organizations that will put it in the right hands, or just screaming and yelling, if you have to. And while voting might not feel like enough when so much feels so wrong, it’s a necessary condition for change — force people in power to know that they created that mess and that they are accountable for it.

Furiously,

Umbra

ooOOoo

Climate change or global warming is with us NOW. It is time to make fundamental changes to the way we live NOW. While many individuals are doing their bit we need international agreement, especially international support for the United Nations, for all the nations in the world NOW.

Thank you for reading this!

It breaks my heart.

Let me not stop with that. I want to hear from you. Are you worried? Or not quite as concerned as me and Umbra? Do you think it is in the hands of our leaders or is it an international problem?

Let’s have a bit of a discussion.