Eugene Linden
home   |   contact info   |   biography   |   publications   |   radio/tv   |   musings   |   short takes   

Latest Musing

Imagining a Post Pandemic World

How might a post-pandemic world look and feel? Let’s imagine a creative team at a New York City advertising agency pitching a campaign in 2050 for a new perfume (more than most products, perfumes are sold by attaching to the dreams and aspirations of their times).  The Big Apple, ...

continue

Latest Book

Deep Past
Buy from Amazon

more info

Articles by Category
endangered animals
rapid climate change
global deforestation
fragging

Books

Winds of Change
Buy from Amazon

more info
Afterword to the softbound edition.


The Octopus and the Orangutan
more info


The Future In Plain Sight
more info


The Parrot's Lament
more info


Silent Partners
more info


Affluence and Discontent
more info


The Alms Race
more info


Apes, Men, & Language
more info

EDITORIAL MISCHIEF


Saturday October 19, 2013

Every now and then, the editors of The Wall Street Journal take flight to remind us of the meaning of the word casuistry. One such day was Oct. 1, the lead editorial jumped all over the latest IPCC report (a massive consensus document on climate change compiled from the work of more than a thousand scientists and policymakers from around the globe) because the report seemed to modulate its expectations of future warming. Here’s a couple of my favorite sentences from the editorial: “If emitting CO2 into the atmosphere causes global warming, why hasn’t the globe been warming?” and then, “Translation: Temperatures have been flat for 15 years…”

Except that they haven’t. The World Meteorological Association documents that the first decade of the new millennium was the warmest on record, breaking the record established by the previous decade, which in turn broke the record that was established during the one prior. The trend continues as every year seems to be in the top ten warmest.

Most sophistry builds upon something that looks factual, and denialists have seized on distortions introduced by the extremely hot year of 1998, where warming was supercharged by one of the strongest El Ninos in 200,000 years. The 1998 record  skewed subsequent trend lines. It was so warm that 1998 wasn’t bumped from the number one spot until 2005 (which in turn was displaced by 2010). Some flattening!

Focusing on temperature obscures the derivative impacts of global warming. For instance, the editors neglect to mention that the same report significantly revised upwards its estimates of sea level rise.  They also might have asked themselves: why, if the report implies global warming has halted, its assessment would be raising estimates of sea level rise.

There’s barely a sentence in the editorial that holds up under scrutiny. In the Orwellian world of the editorial it’s the climate scientists who are “bullies,” which is stammer-inducing when one thinks of the vitriol visited on Michael Mann, a leading climate scientist who has been hounded and even physically threatened by deniers for sticking to his assertion that recent temperatures have risen so fast recently that a graph of the record looks like a hockey stick. As attorney general of Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli (now candidate for governor) pursued a Joe McCarthy-like campaign of intimidation of Mann that basically drove the distinguished scientist out of the state.

Of course, none of this is news to anyone who knows anything the role of the deniers in forestalling action on climate change. The enduring question is why? I’ve no doubt the editors are smart. They know that cherry-picking is a bogus form of argument. I’m sure they can see the economic damage of out-of-season extreme storms, droughts, wildfires, floods, and other byproducts of changing climate. My guess is that this obstinate blindness is something visceral rather than intellectual: with an acute dislike of the other side feeding on a combination of ideology and economic self-interest. 

contact Eugene Linden

Short Take

Relaxing COVID-19 Restrictions will Kill, not Save, the Economy


 

[This is a more developed version of the previous Short Take}

Those who want to relax mandates on self-isolation and social distancing to save the economy have got it exactly backwards. Reopen society too soon, and we risk destroying the economy as well as public order and our shaky democratic institutions. The reason comes down to two words: supply lines.

 Supply lines for necessities such as food are already under stress. Those going to grocery stories encounter random instances of empty shelves and vegetable bins. Smithfield Farms shut down a South Dakota plant that supplies roughly 4% of the pork in the nation after over 500 of its workers tested positive for the coronavirus. Other giant meat processors such as Tyson have also shut down plants for similar reasons. Farmers in the West are having trouble finding workers to harvest the crops now reaching maturity in the fields. And even if they manage to get the crops picked, farmers are out of luck if the truckers fail to show up, or the flow of packaging for their products get interrupted. 

Right now, these disruptions are episodic, but that should be concerning because we haven’t even seen the end of the first wave. What we have seen is that vital front-line workers such as nurses, doctors, EMT’s, and other first responders have had trouble finding protective equipment and maintaining morale. Some have staged walkouts over the dangerous conditions, and these are workers with a sense of mission.

By contrast, for most of the hourly-paid workers who keep supplies made, distributed, and sold, their work is a job that pays the bills. It would be appropriate if society recognized that they played a vital role, but mostly these workers encounter demanding bosses, monotony, and surly customers. If sick, they are not going to work – nor would we want them too. And they are not likely to risk their lives if going to work exposes them to contagion.

Disruption of one link, e.g. the trucker that delivers food the last mile, could halt a supply chain. COVID-19 is a threat to every link. Should a second wave hit before there is a readily available, cheap and effective treatment, it’s a very high probability that many supply lines will be disrupted and filling the gaps could easily overwhelm the nation’s businesses. 

Even today, on the evening news, we see images of vast caravans of cars lined up to get supplies from food banks. Imagine two weeks of empty shelves in the stores that feed our cities. How likely is it that civil order could be maintained in that situation? Will people suffer in silence if they realize that they can’t buy food for their kids because our leaders reopened the economy before a treatment was available because they wanted to prop up the stock market (which is how it will be portrayed)? If we want to look analogues for what life is like once supply chains break down, they’re readily available today in cities like Mogadishu, Kinshasa, and Port au Prince. 

 Thus far, the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic seems to be a mélange of Boss Tweed, Don Corleone and Inspector Clouseau. For the next act, the administration has a choice: Churchill, who bolstered British morale during the London Blitz, or Pol Pot, who sacrificed millions of his countrymen for a bad idea. Let’s hope those around Trump can convince him that the cure for the disease is the cure for the economy.
 



read more
  designed and maintained by g r a v i t y s w i t c h , i n c .
© Eugene Linden. all rights reserved.