NOLA sanitation workers in second week of protests, as the capitalists running the U.S. work to break an unofficial general strike

The central dogma of the Neoliberal order that has gained and held power in America over the last few decades has been the privatization of public goods and services. Accompanying that effort to turn every level of society into a profit-making venture has come the destruction of any form of worker power or collective action. As the United States continues its unofficial general strike, under assault from political and capitalist strike-breakers, some official strikes are ongoing. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted a number of the ways in which the capitalist system further enriches the wealthy by exploiting and underpaying workers through any means – legal or not – they can get away with.

Sanitation work has always been one of the most dangerous jobs in the country, and one that is crucial to the mental and physical health of the entire population. Now, on top of the existing hazards of injury and infection, there is the constant exposure to COVID-19 through potentially infectious material in every bag of trash they collect. In New Orleans, a group of sanitation workers has been protesting pay and conditions for over a week now:

Striking sanitation workers on Monday renewed demands for hazard pay during the coronavirus pandemic as a major city vendor acknowledged that it signed a deal to pay their prison labor replacements less than the minimum wage outlined in its contract with the city.

For the past week, a group of about a dozen workers has gathered outside the New Orleans East headquarters of Metro Service Group, a waste disposal company that has a $10.7 million annual contract to collect trash in a wide swath of the city’s east bank.

Pictures of the demonstrators have circulated widely on social media. In one image, they hold the “I AM A MAN” signs that Memphis workers carried during the 1968 sanitation strike that ended with Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.

The striking workers, called “hoppers,” are employed through a staffing agency and do not have a collective bargaining agreement. They said they have continued to receive low pay even as the novel coronavirus brings new danger to their jobs. They also say they have only occasionally received protective gear, although the sanitation company says it’s amassed a stockpile of masks and gloves that it gives to workers.

“We feel like we’re putting our health at risk,” said sanitation worker Jerry Simon. “Every time we go out there, we could catch the virus.”

So far, the dispute shows no signs of ending. The workers and their employer can’t even agree on whether they were fired.

Simon said the workers went on strike on May 5 and the staffing agency, PeopleReady, fired them the next day. But the staffing company and Metro Service Group both disputed that the workers had actually been terminated. PeopleReady said the workers were welcome to come back at any time.

With some regular workers off the job, last week Metro Service Group filled their positions with state work-release inmates placed through a private company called Lock5 LLC. The inmates come from around the state, but they’re housed in a detention center that the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office leases to Lock5.

The work-release inmates were set to receive $9.25 an hour, according to Lock5 manager Hootie Lockhart. He said he usually tries to secure more pay, but the economic crisis has made it hard to find well-paying jobs.

The inmates stand to keep much less than that at the end of the day, moreover. In an arrangement outlined in state law, Lock5 takes up to 64 percent of inmate pay to cover its own expenses, Lockhart said.

Lockhart said he had no idea he was entering into a labor dispute when he sent inmates to New Orleans. He said he pulled the workers off the job when he found out.

“I did not know that there was a strike going on. That was never relayed to us,” he said. “We won’t be back. Not as long as there’s a labor issue.”

A Metro spokeswoman said there had been no service interruption because of the strike or the departure of Lockhart’s workers.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration said that under its contract, Metro Service Group is supposed to pay employees at least $10.25 an hour. In a statement on Monday, the company acknowledged that it signed a contract to pay the inmate laborers $9.25 an hour. The company said the inmates’ pay, which has yet to be invoiced, would be “amended” to meet the minimum.

“We’d like to add that, while hoppers went on strike and while we were unable to secure a regular stream of private sector workers to fill their spots during their strike, we are pleased to be able to provide work-release-approved inmates with meaningful work at a good wage so that they can more easily transition back into society,” said a company spokesman.

A Cantrell spokesman voiced no objections to the use of work-release inmates — noting that the city uses them during Carnival season — but New Orleans City Councilman Jason Williams said he was disappointed.

He also said he was “deeply concerned” about the original workers’ situation.

“These folks are as front-line as a janitor in a hospital,” Williams said. “They are taking contaminated materials away from our homes every day.”

The original workers employed by the temp agency, PeopleReady, said they want to meet with Metro Service Group to discuss their demands, which include a $15 hourly wage and $150 a week in hazard pay during the pandemic.

Simon said his group is open to compromise — but so far, the sanitation company isn’t talking.

“If we could talk, get a meeting, we could start getting somewhere. We’re ready to come back to work,” Simon said.

Collective action by workers has always been central to securing wages, and to safe working conditions under capitalism. In a system where “profit” is defined as income not spent on labor and materials, company owners have a direct financial incentive to underpay their workers, and to skimp on safety measures, as they have done throughout the history of this system. Very often, things like workplace safety are discussed in terms of industrial machinery or chemicals, or mine safety, but exposure to disease is absolutely a part of that, not just for healthcare workers, but for millions of other people who interact with the general public in a myriad of ways.

This pandemic has shown the degree to which that is true, with the high rate of exposure for all “essential” workers, and it has shown us how important it is for workers to have a say in the running of their workplaces. We have a long way to go to develop the kind of organized power we need, and it’s very clear that it is needed. The capitalist class has never made a move toward social responsibility without being forced to, and they have a record of going to extreme lengths to avoid making any concessions to the people whose work generates their wealth, and makes their society function.

If we’re going to deal with the economic, humanitarian, or environmental crises facing us, we need the power of organized, collective action, because the “elites” aren’t going to bother changing anything if it means losing even a little bit of their power. Look for actions and groups near you that you can support, and read up on the history and tactics of organizing for the good of the many.

Unfortunately, life costs money, and my income from this blog has yet to meet minimum wage for the time I put into it. If you can afford to, please consider pledging a couple dollars per month or so through my Patreon. This will help me continue creating and improving this blog by keeping a roof over my head, and food in my carnivorous pets so they don’t eat me. Crowdfunding requires a crowd, so if you can pitch in a little, it would help a great deal!

Urban gardening as part of the change we need

Taking control of our affects on the planet’s climate requires mostly or entirely ending our use of fossil fuels. At minimum, it requires us to develop a society that can function well without them, and that only uses them in rare circumstances. That’s a tall order. We use an incredible amount of energy every day, and a large majority of that comes from burning coal, oil, and gas.

The goal is to continue enjoying the benefits of modern technology, while reducing air pollution, and reducing our destabilizing effect on the climate. Replacing fossil fuels with one other source of power is unlikely. The closest we have to an option there is nuclear power, and while that will certainly be part of the equation, it’s unlikely to be a panacea.

The most commonly proposed “solution” is a compound approach, often described as “stabilization wedges”. To use a concept popularized by the COVID-19 pandemic response, we need to “flatten the curve” of CO2 emissions, and rather than trying to do it all at once with a total replacement of fossil fuels, we can divide the curve up into different wedges.

For example, one wedge we’ve been working on already is energy efficiency – improving insulation in homes, using things like LEDs for light, running more efficient appliances, and so on. All of this can reduce the total amount of energy we need to produce per person.

Another might be biogas from sewage. It will never be enough to supply all of our energy, but it’s an available source for part of what we need, and it will always exist in a reliable proportion to the number of people feeding into it.

Another is wind power.

Another is solar thermal power.

Another is photovoltaic.

Another is nuclear.

And so on. The progress we make in “filling in” those wedges not only gets us closer to stability, it also reduces the speed at which the climate will warm in the future, which buys us time to adapt to those changes that can no longer be avoided.

One set of wedges can be found in food production. We spend a lot of energy on food. Preparing the ground, watering crops, controlling pests, harvesting crops, processing the harvest, preserving the food, transporting it – all of that takes energy. All of it can also be done with less energy than is currently used. Some of that is a matter of efficiency, but some of it is also a matter of changing how we use the space we have.

As it stands, we mostly use monoculture farming. Vast areas are used for one crop, and one crop alone. This allows us to use specialized equipment to grow, harvest, and process vast amounts of a single food very efficiently, but it also means that very few parts of society grow all the food they need near where it’s needed. Instead, it’s grown in centralized locations, and shipped around the world. One place grows corn and soybeans, but little meat, fruit, or vegetables, so those must all be shipped in from farther away, which takes energy.

Some of that is determined by climate conditions – not all plants will grow everywhere; but some is just how we’ve designed our system, and we can start to change that. A study conducted in Sheffield, England, showed that using just 10% of the city’s current “green” spaces to grow food, could provide up to 15% of the fruit and vegetables needed by the population of that city:

In a study published in Nature Food, academics from the Institute for Sustainable Food at the University of Sheffield investigated the potential for urban horticulture by mapping green spaces and grey spaces across the city.

They found that green spaces including parks, gardens, allotments, roadside verges and woodland cover 45 per cent of Sheffield — a figure similar to other UK cities.

Allotments cover 1.3 per cent of this, while 38 per cent of green space comprised of domestic gardens, which have immediate potential to start growing food.

The interdisciplinary team used data from Ordnance Survey and Google Earth to reveal that an extra 15 per cent of the city’s green space, such as parks and roadside verges, also has potential to be converted into community gardens or allotments.

Putting domestic gardens, allotments and suitable public green spaces together would open up 98m2 per person in Sheffield for growing food. This equates to more than four times the 23m2 per person currently used for commercial horticulture across the UK.

If 100 per cent of this space was used for growing food, it could feed approximately 709,000 people per year their ‘five a day’, or 122 per cent of the population of Sheffield. But even converting a more realistic 10 per cent of domestic gardens and 10 per cent of available green space, as well as maintaining current allotment land, could provide 15 per cent of the local population — 87,375 people — with sufficient fruit and veg

It’s hard to know exactly what a more balanced society would look like, but I have to say that one in which people live around growing food, even in cities, seems like a step in the right direction, to me. I also think we ought to be doing more to grow food near where it’s eaten through indoor farms of various sorts. As I’ve said before, we need to make big changes in how we conduct agriculture, and those changes should account for the volatility of a warmer planet. Not every place will be able to feed itself at all times, but the closer we can get to that, the better we’ll be able to deal with a more chaotic climate, and the better we’ll be able to meaningfully help each other when needed.

That also applies to personal life. In the past, we were not as insulated from the world, and most societies made a habit of storing food and supplies against emergencies, or taking the nomadic approach and moving away from shortages. The fact that, as a species, we’ve become largely immobile, means that things like storing food, water, and medicine against unforeseen emergencies is a habit we should cultivate.The picture shows a canal with clear water running through a city. There are plants growing along the water's edge, with a path on either side, and more shrubs and trees on top of walls by the paths. Further out from the canal, you can see there are roads, and then skyscrapers.

Having food production be more diverse and abundant at a local level is part of that. It means that a blight on one crop won’t automatically mean famine or economic collapse, and it means that a disaster in another part of the world will do less to affect food supplies where you live. That, and gardening seems to improve quality of life for a lot of people.

I hope this study on urban gardening can point to a path we follow more, as an increasingly urban species, trying to find a more balanced way to live on this planet.

Unfortunately, life costs money, and my income from this blog has yet to meet minimum wage for the time I put into it. If you can afford to, please consider pledging a couple dollars per month or so through my Patreon. This will help me continue creating and improving this blog by keeping a roof over my head, and food in my carnivorous pets so they don’t eat me. Crowdfunding requires a crowd, so if you can pitch in a little, it would help a great deal!

Toure Reed: What Ta-Nehisi Coates got wrong about the New Deal

Ta-Nehisi Coates has done some excellent work on making the case for why reparations are needed as a matter of both justice, and of basic morality. His analysis of how we got to the current racial disparities in wealth, political power, and standards of living is important, and he makes a powerful case for taking action to ensure that people today, and into the future, aren’t forced to suffer from bigotry just because the infrastructure of their oppression was built before they were born.

All that said, there are some ways in which Coates misses the mark. Folks on the left often point out that racial divisions and animosity are actively exacerbated by people in power, at least partly as a tool of dividing the working class, and preventing solidarity from taking root. In this video, Toure Reed makes the point that the current racial divides along economic and geographical boundaries go beyond the effects of unquestionably racist policies before, during, and after The New Deal. It was also a matter of capitalists changing where industry was centered, and who was able to follow those jobs.

Listening to this, it feels a bit like hearing about a trial run of the process by which American industry was moved to other countries to increase profits through lower labor costs, resulting in rising poverty in America, and a shifting of our industrial pollution and problems to other populations, in the name of “free trade”.

Where the so-called “white working class” was left behind as capital moved jobs overseas, where the workers could not follow, the black working class was left behind as capital moved jobs out of cities. Those who could follow were the ones would could take advantage of the federal aid programs that, as Coates rightly points out, were only available to white people.

Under the New Deal and Segregation, a white supremacist, capitalist government joined the interests of the capitalist class with those of white people, at the expense of everyone else. In time, as changes in technology made relocating cheaper, and changes in the rights of workers made the cost of labor in the United States more expensive, it became clear that the primary allegiance being shown there was not to white workers, but to capitalists. The “free trade” era saw jobs moved again, and this time everyone was left behind. What remained was scapegoating along ethnic lines.

While moving to a democratic socialist model would not solve all problems, giving workers ownership and democratic control of their companies would end the ability of a handful of rich owners to destroy lives by shuffling the giving and taking livelihoods based on what increases their hoards. Reparations are an essential element in moving forward, but are, by themselves, insufficient. They must be part of a broader restructuring of where power lies in our society.

Unfortunately, life costs money, and my income from this blog has yet to meet minimum wage for the time I put into it. If you can afford to, please consider pledging a couple dollars per month or so through my Patreon. This will help me continue creating and improving this blog by keeping a roof over my head, and food in my carnivorous pets so they don’t eat me. Crowdfunding requires a crowd, so if you can pitch in a little, it would help a great deal!

Nomiki Konst on how the movement can keep its power

The Left has not had real power in the United States for a very long time. We’re starting to re-learn how to build that kind of massed democratic power, but the people who currently run things don’t want us to change the systems that gave them their wealth and power. There are – as there have always been – efforts to use real concerns and real differences to undermine efforts at building the solidarity we need to overcome the accumulated power of the aristocracy. Nobody has all the answers (that’s part of why we’re stronger in solidarity), Nomiki Konst is one of the people working to figure out and provide at least some of them:

Unfortunately, life costs money, and my income from this blog has yet to meet minimum wage for the time I put into it. If you can afford to, please consider pledging a couple dollars per month or so through my Patreon. This will help me continue creating and improving this blog by keeping a roof over my head, and food in my carnivorous pets so they don’t eat me. Crowdfunding requires a crowd, so if you can pitch in a little, it would help a great deal!

Heeding warnings, and proactive responses to climate change: megadroughts

The notion of designing infrastructure around anticipated environmental conditions is not a new one. The easiest example to illustrate this is probably floods – across the world there are dams, levees, and certain areas – often agricultural fields – can be designated and designed as places for water to flow, to reduce its effects elsewhere. Boston, MA is currently working on a plan to redesign the city with sea level rise in mind. While the waters will eventually reach the point where portions of the city are permanently below sea level, long before that point there will be increasingly frequent flooding from storm surges and high tides. To deal with that, low-lying areas are being turned into public parks that will be useful as recreational areas when they’re dry, and that can be safely allowed to flood when the need arises. EDIT: I had originally said they’re not going far enough with their predictions. That is because I misunderstood and didn’t read thoroughly enough. They are planning for 21″ (53.3cm) of sea level rise by 2050. Good for them!

The image shows a drought-stricken corn field. The soil is cracked and parched looking, the sky is cloudy, but empty of rain, with blue showing behind the white clouds. The corn stocks are brown, bent, and dead. The only green is from a couple hardy weeds and grasses nearby. You can almost feel the heat looking at the silent scene.

Photo by Tom Castelazo

Just as sea level rise is now being accepted as an inevitable problem that coastal regions are going to have to deal with, other areas are also facing near-certain changes that they need to plan for. Some regions, like the American northeast, are likely to see a shift in the direction of a monsoon-like pattern, with more annual precipitation in fewer, larger events, with dry spells between.

What the western US is facing is, in some ways, more straightforward – it’s going to dry out.

With the western United States and northern Mexico suffering an ever-lengthening string of dry years starting in 2000, scientists have been warning for some time that climate change may be pushing the region toward an extreme long-term drought worse than any in recorded history. A new study says the time has arrived: a megadrought as bad or worse than anything even from known prehistory is very likely in progress, and warming climate is playing a key role. The study, based on modern weather observations, 1,200 years of tree-ring data and dozens of climate models, appears this week in the leading journal Science.

“Earlier studies were largely model projections of the future,” said lead author Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “We’re no longer looking at projections, but at where we are now. We now have enough observations of current drought and tree-ring records of past drought to say that we’re on the same trajectory as the worst prehistoric droughts.”

Reliable modern observations date only to about 1900, but tree rings have allowed scientists to infer yearly soil moisture for centuries before humans began influencing climate. Among other things, previous research has tied catastrophic naturally driven droughts recorded in tree rings to upheavals among indigenous Medieval-era civilizations in the Southwest. The new study is the most up-to-date and comprehensive long-term analysis. It covers an area stretching across nine U.S. states from Oregon and Montana down through California and New Mexico, and part of northern Mexico.

Using rings from many thousands of trees, the researchers charted dozens of droughts across the region, starting in 800 AD. Four stand out as so-called megadroughts, with extreme aridity lasting decades: the late 800s, mid-1100s, the 1200s, and the late 1500s. After 1600, there were other droughts, but none on this scale.

The team then compared the ancient megadroughts to soil moisture records calculated from observed weather in the 19 years from 2000 to 2018. Their conclusion: as measured against the worst 19-year increments within the previous episodes, the current drought is already outdoing the three earliest ones. The fourth, which spanned 1575 to 1603, may have been the worst of all — but the difference is slight enough to be within the range of uncertainty. Furthermore, the current drought is affecting wider areas more consistently than any of the earlier ones — a fingerprint of global warming, say the researchers. All of the ancient droughts lasted longer than 19 years — the one that started in the 1200s ran nearly a century — but all began on a similar path to to what is showing up now, they say.

Nature drove the ancient droughts, and still plays a strong role today. A study last year led by Lamont’s Nathan Steiger showed that among other things, unusually cool periodic conditions over the tropical Pacific Ocean (commonly called La Niña) during the previous megadroughts pushed storm tracks further north, and starved the region of precipitation. Such conditions, and possibly other natural factors, appear to have also cut precipitation in recent years. However, with global warming proceeding, the authors say that average temperatures since 2000 have been pushed 1.2 degrees C (2.2 F) above what they would have been otherwise. Because hotter air tends to hold more moisture, that moisture is being pulled from the ground. This has intensified drying of soils already starved of precipitation.

All told, the researchers say that rising temperatures are responsible for about half the pace and severity of the current drought. If this overall warming were subtracted from the equation, the current drought would rank as the 11th worst detected — bad, but nowhere near what it has developed into.

“It doesn’t matter if this is exactly the worst drought ever,” said coauthor Benjamin Cook, who is affiliated with Lamont and the Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “What matters is that it has been made much worse than it would have been because of climate change.” Since temperatures are projected to keep rising, it is likely the drought will continue for the foreseeable future; or fade briefly only to return, say the researchers.

“Because the background is getting warmer, the dice are increasingly loaded toward longer and more severe droughts,” said Williams. “We may get lucky, and natural variability will bring more precipitation for a while. But going forward, we’ll need more and more good luck to break out of drought, and less and less bad luck to go back into drought.” Williams said it is conceivable the region could stay arid for centuries. “That’s not my prediction right now, but it’s possible,” he said.

Lamont climatologist Richard Seager was one of the first to predict, in a 2007 paper, that climate change might eventually push the region into a more arid climate during the 21st century; he speculated at the time that the process might already be underway. By 2015, when 11 of the past 14 years had seen drought, Benjamin Cook led a followup study projecting that warming climate would cause the catastrophic natural droughts of prehistory to be repeated by the latter 21st century. A 2016 study coauthored by several Lamont scientist reinforced those findings. Now, says Cook, it looks like they may have underestimated. “It’s already happening,” he said.

The effects are palpable. The mighty reservoirs of Lake Mead and Lake Powell along the Colorado River, which supply agriculture around the region, have shrunk dramatically. Insect outbreaks are ravaging dried-out forests. Wildfires in California and across wider areas of the U.S. West are growing in area. While 2019 was a relatively wet year, leading to hope that things might be easing up, early indications show that 2020 is already on a track for resumed aridity.

“There is no reason to believe that the sort of natural variability documented in the paleoclimatic record will not continue into the future, but the difference is that droughts will occur under warmer temperatures,” said Connie Woodhouse, a climate scientist at the University of Arizona who was not involved in the study. “These warmer conditions will exacerbate droughts, making them more severe, longer, and more widespread than they would have been otherwise.”

Angeline Pendergrass, a staff scientist at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, said that she thinks it is too early to say whether the region is at the cusp of a true megadrought, because the study confirms that natural weather swings are still playing a strong role. That said, “even though natural variability will always play a large role in drought, climate change makes it worse,” she said.

Tucked into the researchers’ data: the 20th century was the wettest century in the entire 1200-year record. It was during that time that population boomed, and that has continued. “The 20th century gave us an overly optimistic view of how much water is potentially available,” said Cook. “It goes to show that studies like this are not just about ancient history. They’re about problems that are already here.”

Because we know this is coming, we have the ability to act on it, and to reduce the impact it will have. Increasing water storage and water conservation measures now will make it easier to cope with future droughts. Lawns can be replaced with drought-tolerant alternatives to grass, and/or with region-appropriate food gardens. Sewer systems can be re-designed to recycle water. Agriculture will have to either change crops, or move indoors to seek shelter from increasingly harsh conditions. And regardless of what approaches are taken, priority has to be given to protecting existing water supplies from contamination. Industrial contamination of all kinds needs to be controlled. It should be no surprise to my readers that I believe the best way to do this is a combination of research, regulation, and replacing the existing corporate model with democratically operated, worker-owned cooperatives, so that the people running operations that might pollute local water supplies are also the people who have to drink from them.

Likewise, many industries use a huge amount of water, and it’s essential that that be made more efficient where possible, and recycled and re-used where necessary.

As with desalination, this will generate a great deal of more concentrated toxic waste that will, in turn, need to be dealt with. This is true for a number of things. It has already been reported many times that the natural gas industry has, in addition beyond the water used, been generating vast quantities of radioactive waste, which is currently being handled with predictable irresponsibility. That needs to change. Fracking needs to stop, and the existing waste needs to be managed responsibly. Likewise, nuclear waste from fission plants needs to be dealt with based on the requirements of its storage and containment, and not based on what’s profitable for corporations generating that waste. It’s likely that in the coming decades, there will be an increase in nuclear power. I have mixed feelings about this, but if it’s going to happen, then plants must be designed to do without water for extended periods of time, ideally indefinitely. Waste needs to be stored in a manner that does not rely on a constantly replenished supply of water, through dry-cask storage, or better yet used in generators designed to run on radioactive waste while containing and consuming it.

The list of challenges that need to be overcome, in facing the conversion of the western US into a desert, is as long as the list of ways in which we use water. Because we have a solid idea of what changes are coming for different regions, we have the ability to plan ahead even as we work to reduce the speed of those changes by cutting back on fossil fuels.

Just as America missed the opportunity to slow and contain COVID-19 before it could spread out of control, the world has missed the opportunity to avoid a devastating, rapid rise in global temperature. We can – and must – slow that rise, and work to reverse it if possible, but in the meantime, every step we take to adapt to the changes we can no longer avoid will both reduce the suffering caused by those changes, and make it easier for us to continue reducing our emissions, and pulling carbon out of the atmosphere.

The more we plan and act in advance, the less time, resources, and life we will waste on disasters that didn’t need to be as big as they became. The logic of capitalism, with its just-in-time production, its profit-obsessed notions of efficiency, and its focus on greed as an engine for society, has never been valid. That said, we’re entering an era in which it will shift from lethal dysfunctionality to insanity. If you look at any society existing in harsh conditions, you will find that its success and resilience depend on its ability to act and plan collectively, for the good of all. We’re facing a new era in which our technology and medicine can no longer shield us from the dangers of the planet we live on as they have done for many of us – we must adapt to our surroundings as they change, and we can no longer afford to hand over most of our resources into to a tiny number of people to do with as they please.

In reality, we could never afford that, and the current environmental crisis is that bill coming due. Now we have to pay up, and if it’s not dealt with through collective action and through socialism, then I fear it will be through mass death, and or even extinction.

There’s a degree to which I feel like I’m repeating myself with these pieces, and that’s because while some of this work is –finally– beginning to be done, the amount that still remains before we can say we’re really dealing with the problem is… a lot. There’s a lot of work to do, and for much of it, we’ve known it needs doing since before I was born. Just as we knew about the dangers of climate change early enough to do something about it, had we taken action, so to have we known a lot about how to mitigate and adapt to those dangers for long enough that we could have been well on our way to building a more resilient society by now, that could ride out the coming chaos while improving life for everyone. It may be too late to stop the planet from warming for the rest of my lifetime, but it’s not too late, at least in theory, to prevent that warming from causing an unimaginable level of death and misery.

I think the transition town movement has it right – each town, and each region is going to have different needs, based on different sub-climates and different starting points. The role of society as a whole is to maintain a global network of distribution and mutual aid that can help those short on resources to meet their needs, so that when drought, flooding, heatwaves, or disease come for other areas, everyone who’s doing better has the resources to help.

A rising tide can lift all boats, if we make sure that no boats are held down by anchor chains that aren’t long enough. Sailors, you have nothing to lengthen but your chains!

Unfortunately, life costs money, and my income from this blog has yet to meet minimum wage for the time I put into it. If you can afford to, please consider pledging a couple dollars per month or so through my Patreon. This will help me continue creating and improving this blog by keeping a roof over my head, and food in my carnivorous pets so they don’t eat me. Crowdfunding requires a crowd, so if you can pitch in a little, it would help a great deal!

Climate change, disease, solidarity, and learning from from the Global South

Climate change can often be annoying to talk about because of the scope of the problem. Literally the entire surface of this planet is changing, which means everything about our lives is being affected in some way. There are direct effects on our bodies, changes to the behavior and location of the fish we eat, to the weather events we deal with, and to the lands where we grow crops.

One of the changes that has long been predicted is a shift in the ranges of various diseases. Just as scientists were warning us for decades about the danger of a global pandemic like the current COVID-19 outbreak, they have also been warning that as the climate warms, we’re going to start seeing diseases that used to be confined to regions like the tropics, spreading to new areas as the temperature becomes more hospitable to the diseases themselves, or to the vectors – like mosquitoes – that transmit them.

An example often given is malaria, the spread of which is generally limited by where the Anopheles mosquitoes can easily survive. That has meant that historically, cities like Nairobi, Kenya, have had little problem with malaria, despite the prevalence of that disease throughout the country at large. Nairobi has a pretty high elevation, and consequently low temperatures, and the mosquitoes that spread malaria don’t do well in lower temperatures. As the climate has warmed, the highlands of east Africa have started to see an increase in malaria.

A word of caution here – it’s easy to assume that current disease ranges are the result of natural factors, but it’s often more complicated than that. When Europeans first began colonizing the Americas, there was malaria in Boston, MA. The current absence of that disease in the United States has far more to do with a mass poisoning campaign than with the protection of a cooler climate, and that obviously applies to regions further south as well. If malaria spreads up into the United States again, it may be aided by changes in weather patterns helping the mosquitoes spread, but that will be a return to their historical territories.

That said, climate change forecasts are about probability and general trends. All the data seem to point in the same direction – warmer global weather will mean a broader array of diseases threatening the population of the global north. While that concern hasn’t been totally ignored, I’d say it has been addressed with slightly less urgency than the threat of a global pandemic was, and I think we can see the degree to which that has been a problem. As with all the other dangers of climate change, this is one that we can predict, and that we can prepare for. It is sometimes said that diversity is our strength, and this is one example of how that can manifest.

Countries in Africa, Latin America, and south Asia have long experience in wrestling with the challenges of living along side disease, and many have done it with few resources, and under economic and/or military attack from colonial countries like the United States. When it comes to dealing with widespread infection as a factor in daily life, there’s a lot we in the north could learn from people who have been dealing with high temperatures for their entire history.

As we work toward greater solidarity as a species, that knowledge and experience is something that we should be valuing highly, and paying for.

There’s a great deal of concern right now about how the COVID-19 outbreak is going to affect Africa, primarily because of the lack of resources suffered by most countries on that continent due to ongoing exploitation. It’s a valid concern. At the same time, that manufactured poverty has forced Africans to cope with a variety of persistent diseases under difficult conditions.

For one thing, a for-profit system that shuts people out of health care for lack of money, like the one used by the United States, will not be sustainable as new diseases crop up. Without treatment being available based on need, the working population will have high death rates and constant loss of work time as people are infected, re-infected, or insufficiently treated. For those diseases – like malaria – that can be cured, taking a partial course of medication to save money will not only result in a relapse, it will also accelerate the rate at which the organism causing the illness evolves a resistance to the treatment.

It will also mean that those who can’t get treatment will become reservoirs for disease, re-infecting other portions of the population as they try to go about their lives, or seek emergency room care. America is already crippled by its healthcare system, all for the benefit of a few rich ghouls, but that will get far, far worse as the climate warms, diseases spread, and new diseases arise. I owe my life to the socialized medical system of Tanzania, and the thought of facing a dual diagnosis of malaria and typhoid in the United States is frankly horrifying.

Senegal has been making some ripples in western media in the last few days for their rapid development of a cheap COVID-19 test kit, using facilities designed around dealing with HIV and Ebola, and for their ambitious and comprehensive approach to dealing with the outbreak at a population-wide level, using many of the tactics being advocated by experts around the globe – social distancing, widespread testing, quarantine, and financial/material aid to ensure that those who need to be in isolation can afford it.

Macky Sall, the current president of Senegal, offers an important message:

Returning to COVID-19, it should be remembered that we are confronted with a pandemic, i.e. a worldwide epidemic. Efforts made so far in the four corners of the world have not yet revealed all the secrets of this great unknown, which has exposed the limits of all national systems, even the most sophisticated ones. All countries, taken by surprise and overwhelmed, found themselves in a kind of rescue situation, revealing the each other’s shortcomings on a daily basis.

The first lesson to be learned from this major crisis – where the infinitely small shakes the whole world – is that in the face of cross-border threats, big or small, rich or poor, we are all vulnerable.

The new world order that I am calling for requires mutual trust and a sincere willingness to cooperate on issues of common interest and shared values, while respecting our differences and diversities.

The second lesson is that COVID-19 reminds the world of its own contradictions. We are indeed living in an era of paradoxes. The earth is certainly round, but something, somewhere, is not right.

Humankind is constantly making progress in all directions, pushing back the limits of science and technology every day, including the conquest of space. Meanwhile, on earth, there is a shortage of masks, test kits, personal protective equipment, beds, ventilators; so many products, materials and equipment that are crucial for the treatment of patients and protection of health workers, true heroes engaged in a risky and potentially fatal struggle against an enemy invisible to the naked eye. It is therefore time to come back down to earth!

And thirdly, without being exhaustive, the COVID-19 pandemic, just like the threats to the environment and the scourge of terrorism, confirms the objective limits of the nation-state in responding to cross-border threats.

Let us come down to earth and return to the wisdom of the elders, as invited by our compatriot Cheikh Hamidou Kane, who, in his best-selling novel L’Aventure Ambiguë, published 59 years ago, delivered this premonitory message: “We did not have the same past … but we will have the same future, strictly speaking … the time of singular destinies is over … no one can live on self-preservation alone.” (L’Aventure Ambiguë, page 92).

This means that any nation-state, whatever its power and means, can no longer be self-sufficient. In the face of global challenges, we all need one another, especially when our common vulnerabilities are added to our individual frailties.

So the time has come to learn from our mistakes and our limitations, to redefine the order of priorities, to give full meaning to the real economy, by investing more in agriculture, sustainable energy, infrastructure, health, education and training, in order to achieve a development that cares for the well-being of all of humanity.

The time has come to work together so as to bring about a world order that puts human beings and humanity at the centre of international relations.

Africa, as the cradle of humanity and a land of old civilisation, is not a no-man’s land. Nor can it offer itself as a land of guinea pigs. Gone are also the doom scenarios that try to draw an apocalyptic future for the continent. This continent has undergone far more perilous and crueller trials. It has remained resilient and is standing stronger than ever!

The time has come to consider public health issues on equal footing with peace, security, the environment and the fight against terrorism, and other cross-border crimes.

The new world order that I am calling for requires mutual trust and a sincere willingness to cooperate on issues of common interest and shared values, while respecting our differences and diversities.

Above all, it demands a new mindset that recognises that all cultures, all civilisations, are of equal dignity; and that there can be no superior civilisational centre that dictates to others how to behave and how to act.

As a wise old African saying has it: “The rainbow owes its beauty to the varied shades of its colours.”

With respect to global public health issues, this new world order will have to exclude all forms of discrimination, stigmatisation and prejudice, especially towards our continent.

What is important today is to learn the lessons from the crisis and to pool our resources and our intelligence in order to confront, in the same spirit of human solidarity, our common enemy: a silent killer which scoffs at borders, ideologies and differences between developed and developing countries.

Though lagging in development, Africa abounds in quality human resources, including eminent experts, practitioners and competent researchers, who contribute daily to the progress of medicine.

With the establishment of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, which works in conjunction with relevant national agencies and qualified laboratories such as Institut Pasteur in Dakar, whose origins date back to 1896, the continent has a qualified scientific network connected to the global alert and management mechanisms for international health crises.

The leadership of the World Health Organisation is also to be commended. It would be more effective in fulfilling its mission with an increased mobilisation of resources in its favour, better support for its Global Alert and Response System, and greater support for national public health systems.

[…] (See the link above for Sall’s full remarks and more news and information from The Africa Report)

Every major challenge shows the same pattern – while some people will always seek to exploit others for personal gain, humanity, as a group pulls together and works together to face challenges. It’s how we’ve survived, and reached our current level of scientific understanding. If we are to truly deal with this pandemic, it will require global cooperation, despite historical, economic, and political disputes. We will have to work together, and adjust our societies to account for the fact that we are a global species. Nobody is exempt from this disease.

And future outbreaks will come. It really is a question of when, not if. As changes in climate force animals to seek out new territories, and as habitat destruction drives them out of old territories, they will come into greater contact with humanity, and with that will come diseases we’ve not seen before. Global solidarity and a society designed to work for all of humanity, not just a handful of monarchs and aristocrats, will be essential to our survival as a species, as we learn to cope with a planet that is increasingly unlike the one on which we evolved.

Unfortunately, life costs money, and my income from this blog has yet to meet minimum wage for the time I put into it. If you can afford to, please consider pledging a couple dollars per month or so through my Patreon. This will help me continue creating and improving this blog by keeping a roof over my head, and food in my carnivorous pets so they don’t eat me. Crowdfunding requires a crowd, so if you can pitch in a little, it would help a great deal!

Animal crossing, and confronting mental health in the face of DOOM

There’s a lot to be said about dealing with mental health as a leftist sort of person in the 20th century, particularly during this pandemic. Many articles have been written already, and I might even write about it a bit more in the future myself.

An important part of that has always been the various forms of recreation we engage in both by ourselves and collectively. As a species, we seem to have a need to do activities that have little purpose beyond the joy of doing them, and I think that’s a good thing. Insofar as human life has a purpose, I believe happiness plays a big role in that purpose, which makes the dizzying variety of ways in which we seek that happiness vitally important.

Video games have long been a major feature in my own entertainment landscape, sometimes to the point where they’ve crowded out other stuff I needed or wanted to be doing. As with anything, proportion is always key.

During the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a great many people have been turning to video games to help pass the time, and to interact with friends, families, and strangers. At the same time, many of us are also fighting to grapple with the massive, systemic problems, and the hugely powerful people and organizations who seem hell-bent on turning the surface of this beautiful planet into, well, a hellscape.

It’s important to fight the forces of evil, and it’s also important to take some time to do things like putter around, interact with animals, and seek peace.

I feel this video is a useful effort to find that balance:

Unfortunately, life costs money, and my income from this blog has yet to meet minimum wage for the time I put into it. If you can afford to, please consider pledging a couple dollars per month or so through my Patreon. This will help me continue creating and improving this blog by keeping a roof over my head, and food in my carnivorous pets so they don’t eat me. Crowdfunding requires a crowd, so if you can pitch in a little, it would help a great deal!

You should read this book, and the audio version is free.

Content warning: Descriptions of torture re: CIA, MkUltra, Cold War torture programs, and so on.

I’ve made this pitch before, but I’m making it again, and I’m going to keep making it. The audiobook for Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine is youtube, and EVERYONE should listen to it, or read a paper or e-book copy. It provides historical context for a lot of what has happened in the world since the 1970s, for what’s happening right now, and for what we can expect from the current COVID-19 crisis, and from the crises we will be seeing from climate change in the coming years. If you believe that healthcare should be available to all, or that everyone should be free to pursue happiness in their own way, then understanding what’s in this book is essential. People with an unimaginable amount of power continue to carry out the tactics described here, and resisting their efforts will require us to be able to understand what’s going on as it’s being done to us. This book is probably the best way to get that understanding.

Unfortunately, life costs money, and my income from this blog has yet to meet minimum wage for the time I put into it. If you can afford to, please consider pledging a couple dollars per month or so through my Patreon. This will help me continue creating and improving this blog by keeping a roof over my head, and food in my carnivorous pets so they don’t eat me. Crowdfunding requires a crowd, so if you can pitch in a little, it would help a great deal!

How much do you know about May Day and the Labor Movement?

If you live in the U.S.A., (and Canada, apparently), you might not know why the first of May called Labour Day in some parts of the world, or why it’s not called that in those two countries.

Fortunately, Thoughtslime is here with an important – and very relevant – history lesson, and a bit of info about the movement for a general strike.

You should watch this video, check out the sources in its description, and consider supporting Thoughtslime on Patreon.

Unfortunately, life costs money, and my income from this blog has yet to meet minimum wage for the time I put into it. If you can afford to, please consider pledging a couple dollars per month or so through my Patreon. This will help me continue creating and improving this blog by keeping a roof over my head, and food in my carnivorous pets so they don’t eat me. Crowdfunding requires a crowd, so if you can pitch in a little, it would help a great deal!