What do we do now? Disease in the 21st century

The question of what to do about global warming has always been a difficult one to answer. It’s a problem caused by a myriad of factors, many of which lie beyond the power of the average citizen to affect. Deliberate and accidental inaction to avoid destabilizing our climate have led us to the point where “What can we do?” is a simpler question to answer than it used to be.

When it comes to changing the chemical composition of the atmosphere, our options as individuals are still pretty limited, but we’re no longer facing a question of if the climate will warm. The climate is warming, and the evidence indicates that it will continue to do so for the rest of our lives. What, then, can we do about it?

When the warnings about global warming first came out, we had time to work to change our energy infrastructure, and to avoid destabilizing our climate. The same is true now, at a smaller level. For most of us, the worst effects of climate change aren’t here yet. They’re coming, and they’re coming soon, but we’ve got just a little breathing space. We can use that for preparation to reduce the harm to ourselves and to others when the shit really hits the fan.

2016, as an El Niño year, gave us a glimpse of one of the dangers waiting over the horizon. As temperatures rise, ecosystems all over the planet are creeping into new territories, and that includes changes in location and behavior of diseases. PNAS has just published a study from the University of Liverpool that concluded that the El Niño conditions of this past year played a key role in the Zika Virus outbreak:

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Happy thanksgiving y’all. I’ve got a new post coming soon, but in the meantime here’s something more important from Caine:

Today is a holiday for some. Not for me, not for most Natives, we don’t care to celebrate genocide. Today, we’re on the way back to the Oceti Sakowin camp (this post was set up last night, we have to do that whole crack o’ dawn thing), and we’ll be back when we’re back. I haven’t yet decided if I’m going to take the computer and all that crap with me. If you see posts in the next couple of days, then I did. If not, I didn’t. Marcus has most generously offered to be our back up if we are arrested, so don’t worry about that. If we are, we’ll make it back out eventually. We’ll have the van, because we’ll be hauling building wood and fire wood once more, and the need for firewood is severe. More, more, and more is needed, as it gets colder, and all the kitchens need it to keep feeding people. There are ways you can help on that score, and I’ll be including them. We’ll be staying at the Oglala camp, as usual.


Climate change, elections, and fear

I have a major problem when it comes to writing about climate change. I don’t like the notion that all I’ve got to offer is doom and gloom. What we know about climate change isn’t good for humanity, and the closest thing we get to good news from climate scientists is something along the lines of “this thing might provide a very, very minor mitigating factor, so it might not get as bad as we fear as quickly as we fear.” A good example would be this publication from 2011 talking about how icebergs that break off from rapidly melting ice sheets actually create a small increase in CO2 absorption. It’s nice that there are some negative feedback loops in play, however small, but it’s small comfort in the face of what’s going on. Likewise, there’s plenty happening in renewable energy around the world, and I do plan to write more about that, but the take-away is that it’s not enough yet. Not close to enough.

And so there’s this election. The best possible outcome tomorrow is that we’ll all be relieved that Trump was not elected, and that’s not nothing. The case has been made many times now that while Clinton might not be the candidate that many of us wanted, she will move the country in the right direction on a number of issues, that none of the third party candidates have presented a clear case to vote for them (if your personal moral system includes doing the most good and the least harm possible with the power you have), and that Trump is a weak-willed, insecure, Putin wannabe with no self control who could single-handedly plunge the world into generations of chaos.

I often find myself reminding people that context matters, and in this context, a Clinton win is something to celebrate without reservation. Backing away from the election of a bigoted demagogue is a major accomplishment that a number of nations around the world have failed to achieve. It’s something that humans do on a regular basis, and avoiding that course is no small feat.

But no matter the outcome of this election, we will be faced with yet another presidency that underestimates the scale, severity, and urgency of what is happening in our climate. In that context, it’s hard not to feel gloomy about what the rest of this century is going to look like. Droughts, floods, and lethal heat waves are coming, and with them will come starvation, disease, and unrest across the globe. From what I can tell, that is no longer avoidable.

And while there are some encouraging predictions about what will happen to global society and global energy sources in the next two decades, this election has served as a stark reminder that there are some people who fantasize about living in a Mad Max-style hellscape, because they think they’d do well in that situation, and they’d be “free”. These people are also generally heavily armed, and have spend a significant portion of their lives fantasizing about a world in which they can, or indeed must kill other people to survive. The problem with trying to maintain a somewhat ordered civilization is that it doesn’t actually require a majority of people to disrupt it and create chaos. There’s no question that the U.S. armed forces, even without bringing in the really heavy weaponry, could create an massive amount of chaos if they turned their weapons on this nation. They make up less than one percent of the population. I don’t know what percent of the nation is involved in the militia movement, the KKK, and other extremist groups, but the reality that as the climate conditions worsen in the coming years, my biggest fear is the damage that could be done by the people who have stockpiled weapons, ignorance, and paranoia.

I don’t have an answer. I don’t think anybody does, but I trust the scientific method, and the data I’ve seen indicate to me that the biggest threat to civilization will come from a combination of worsening conditions and some of the people who think it’s a good idea to hand over world-ending power to someone like Donald Trump.

Randall Munroe does it again

A while back, XKCD shared this excellent comic about climate change, proposing the “Ice Age Unit”, or IAU, defined as 4.5 degrees Celsius, and justified as follows:

Image is headed by the text,

“The good news is that according to the latest IPCC report, if we enact aggressive emissions limits now, we could hold the warming to 2°C. That’s only HALF an ice age unit, which is probably no big deal.”

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Ignorance and bigotry, no lube allowed

I spent a semester in Tanzania in the Fall of 2006, and it was an interesting experience for a number of reasons. One thing that added to it was the month I was lucky enough to spent in Kenya three years earlier, which gave me a limited ability to compare the two countries. In both trips, I spent some time as a paying guest in people’s homes, and some time in more tourist-oriented scenarios. My trip in 2003 was with my parents, as part of the work my mother was doing with Quakers in Kenya at the time, so I spent a lot more time in religious services there, and had the astonishing experience of seeing a Quaker church designed to seat thousands. For comparison, the largest Quaker meeting (church) in New England has somewhere between 300 and 400 members, last I checked, with closer to 100-200 attending any given meeting for worship. In Tanzania, I went to one Catholic service, and one Lutheran service. So it’s possible I missed out on some preached homophobia in Tanzania that would have matched what I saw in Kenya.

Kenya was my first experience with kind, thoughtful Quakers, who also preached fire and brimstone about homosexuality. It was a deeply uncomfortable experience, and I can only imagine what it is like for anybody who’s not cisgender and heterosexual to visit. In Tanzania, the subject basically never came up at all, at least in my experience, with one exception. In one of the homes I stayed in, the television was on non-stop. It was the home of an important figure in the local Lutheran church, and most of what was playing on TV was an endless succession of Christian music videos, most of which were pushing the prosperity gospel bullshit. Certainly, my host had profited from religion. There were also a number of movies with a heavily Christian theme. One in particular is on my mind today, in which a young woman, engaged to be married, turns out to have a relationship with another woman, who fits just about every shitty stereotype bigoted Christians have about lesbians. Basically, she ends up getting caught and rejected by everybody, the wedding is broken off, she is left miserable and alone, and we’re all supposed to feel good about this.

In that context, it’s disappointing, but not surprising to see that apparently someone in the government of Tanzania decided that banning lube was a good idea It’s also disappointing that gay sex (only between men) is punishable by life imprisonment in Tanzania. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t know that until today.

The claim is that this law is to combat the spread of HIV by halting homosexual sex. Aside from this being another example of bigoted morons thinking that gay men always have anal sex, and that straight people never have anal sex – and passing LAWS based on that delusion – I expect this law to cause an increase in infection, if anything. No lube doesn’t mean no sex, it means the sex that people do have is more likely to cause internal tearing, both in cases of anal sex, and in situations where women are forced to have “dry” sex. That means open wounds, potentially blood, and so increased risk of all sorts of infections. Unprotected anal, vaginal, and oral sex all carry a risk of HIV transmission, and anal seems to have a higher risk, but the solution to that is MORE lube, and condoms.

Getting rid of lube will make life better for precisely NOBODY, and will make life worse for a whole lot of people. I suppose this is a minor thing compared to life imprisonment for having sex, but it’s going to cause real harm all by itself, and it’s another example of how ignorance, bigotry, and stupidity drive people to do harm not only to those they hate, but to everyone else, just so they can twist the knife a little bit more.

For more information on the pros and cons of different types of lubes, I’ll turn you over to Laci Green:

For the vision/hearing impaired, there are a number of links to useful resources below the video.


Tobacco smoke and oil fumes, the lingering perfume of the 20th century

We live in a world that is so rife with conspiracy theories that it’s easy to forget that real conspiracies do, in fact, exist from time to time. More than that, some of them are a matter of public record, it’s just that because they’re ongoing, and they’re focused on misinformation, a lot of people remain unaware that they exist. Perhaps the most destructive of these, in the long term, is the multi-industry campaign of science denial that has been waged in support of nuclear, lead, fossil fuel, and tobacco industries. By now, most of you are probably aware of the ways in which the climate denial campaign has been influenced by the efforts of the tobacco lobby to mislead people about their product. If you’re not, here’s a short video from Yale Climate connections that will give you an idea what I’m talking about:

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On a more personal note…

There are a lot of reasons why I want action on climate change, but one very personal one is that I hate hot weather. When the temperature gets above 90F, I’m reduced to a puddle of sweat sitting in front of a fan. The prospect of longer, hotter heatwaves as I grow older may well be the grindstone that shapes me into a bitter old man a few decades in the future.