Even as pandemic deaths in Europe and the United State appear to be cresting, we are already seeing extreme weather. Australian researcher David Spratt, author of Code Red, explains threats from simultaneous pandemic and climate change. From Detroit, food organizer Malik Yakini reports from an African American community in grief, hope, and a wave of new interest in local food.
On any other day, on any other planet, David Spratt would be my first guest. Even as the financial system teeters toward the precipice of our Great Depression – David’s new report shows how the old economy was a deadly threat to civilization, to our continued existence here.
Two or three weeks ago I told Radio Ecoshock listeners to buy seeds. This week, Johnnies (one of the largest in the U.S.) and Stokes (the biggest in Canada) both posted notices on their web sites that they no longer sell seed to the public. All remaining seed, they say, must go to commercial growers to ensure the food supply. There was a sudden rash of would-be home growers buying seeds, uneasy about the food supply. Like the grocery stores, the unexpected wave of consumer demand for basics cleaned out the system, except for commercial buyers. Our guest Malik Yakini runs the biggest urban farm in Detroit. Calls from residents wanting help have flooded foodfirst.org.
I went to buy the best-selling authoritative book on saving seeds, because I may need to – but that is sold out in Amazon in both the U.S. and Canada. Although over a decade old, there are no copies left in the used books listings I know about. Very reluctantly, I bought the Kindle version. If the power goes out, I won’t know enough.
Meanwhile, Rob Jackson, the scientist who chairs the Global Carbon Project expects the biggest fall in carbon emissions since World War Two. We may cut emissions by 5% due to the shutdown of most industrial countries, for a few months at least.
A wave of U.S. oil and gas companies are heading for bankruptcy, due to the international price war, a glut of oil, and rapidly falling demand. Environmentalists said the fossil fuel industry was bankrupt long ago and a danger to our future. Even in Australia, the big company Santos has delayed fracking in northern Australia for at least a year. That gives more time for increased awareness and action to prevent dangerous fracking for carbon we can’t afford to burn.
The Pandemic has also driven a global reduction in air pollution, no doubt with benefits to billions. People in Northern India are seeing the distant Himalaya mountains for the first time in decades. It is like a billion people stopped smoking.
Buried in pandemic news, The Great Barrier Reef, one of the wonders of the natural world, is going through the worst bleaching, the worst coral-killing, ever seen. We already covered the dying reefs last year, and the year before, with expert Charlie Veron. Now it’s the whole reef, north to south, being killed in vast stretches by ocean water far too hot. It’s climate change mate, and up to 20% of all edible sea food products spend at least part of their lives in the great reef. We are losing something beyond value, as David Spratt explains.
Back in the United States, forget the supermarkets. The rest of America eats through food banks, charity pantries, shelters and school meals. With 17 million newly unemployed, demand at food banks is astounding. It’s like a war zone, where those volunteers work almost as long as the nurses, stuffing boxes for the lineups outside. As Nina Lakhani reports in the Guardian
“In Amherst, home to the University of Massachusetts’ largest campus, the pantry distributed 849% more food in March compared with the previous year. The second-largest increase in western Massachusetts was 748% at the Pittsfield Salvation Army pantry.
The Grace Klein community food pantry in Jefferson county, which has the largest number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Alabama, provided 5,076 individuals with food boxes last week – a 90% increase on the previous week.”
In some places, food is being thrown out. The southern farmers who sold to companies supplying restaurants, jails, and other institutions – don’t have any way to repackage and reach the market. They are dumping fruits and vegetables as they rot.
What was formerly “waste” at supermarkets is now sold, with everything going before the best before dates. In some cases, supermarkets are bidding for food against food banks, raising the prices for food banks or making some things unaffordable. The National Guard and Police are helping handle and distribute food. Food bank workers are getting sick with COVID-19, or may be afraid to come to work, or to volunteer at they used to, now staying in place at home. Donations are down, as so many fear for their own livelihood, so many now unemployed. Line-ups of cars in multiple U.S. cities extend for miles, looking for a drive-through food bank box…. This is another sign of the hidden collapse.
Here in Canada, grain mills are operating at full production from our ample stores of wheat, but still can’t keep any flour on supermarket shelves. Forget about finding any yeast. Otherwise, the food trucks are still coming, with some products unavailable.
Looking at the pandemic in India, we find yet another example where religious groups feel they are above the laws of nature. Across the Middle East, but particularly in Southeast Asia, we find the fundamentalist group Tablighi Jamaat. In March, thousands traveled to New Delhi for mass prayer. They became super-spreaders, at one point creating about a third of all cases in India. Of course the endemic religious hatred was stimulated, leading to more persecution of Muslims there. This disease sets loose whatever sickness of hate is brewing in a country.
Another prayer meeting in March set off a series of infections in Malaysia and Indonesia. Be ready to hear more about Indonesia, which hardly has a health system for over 100 million people living in close quarters on the relatively small island of Java.
A few American fundamentalist churches have continued to meet despite official warnings. In just one example, a Kentucky revival meeting led to an outbreak there, including inside the General Electric Aviation plant in Madisonville. We have the South Korean church example, where thousands became infected, after concealing travel to Wuhan in China. We see the result of denying that microorganisms are real, that science is real, and belief cannot change the basic operations of nature. Now that we see where that leads, maybe we can handle the pandemic and climate change as the greatest emergency humans face.
Our theme song for this show: Weird Al Yankovic’s “Germs” recorded live in 1999 in San Rafael, California.
MALIK YAKINI – DETROIT, FOOD, AND PANDEMIC
As African Americans die in extraordinary numbers during the Corona virus pandemic, we can find food at the root of this tragedy. Complications from food-related illness like diabetes, heart conditions and obesity are a pandemic already inside the black community. Malik Yakini is working to change that deadly system, bringing control and empowerment back to the community in Detroit. Formerly a school principal, Malik helps run D-Town Farm. He is co-founder and Executive Director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, and a member of the National Black Food and Justice Alliance.
We begin looking at why COVID-19 deaths in Detroit and Chicago are overwhelmingly African Americans, far above their share of overall population. According to Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, over half of the people who died of COVID-19 were African Americans.
There are several factors, none of them good. First, (I think) are the co-mordibity factors in so many African Americans: high rates of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. People with those risk factors are several times more likely to die of the new Coronavirus that without them.
You may notice that all three of those diseases can be linked to poor diet. It’s no secret that inner city African Americans have far fewer food choices than white people in the suburbs. Malik tells us there is not a single national chain supermarket in Detroit. They all left with white flight to the suburbs years ago. Since about 40% of African Americans in Detroit do not have cars – they generally find only “convenience stores” or “party stores” within walking distance. Those stores mainly sell lottery tickets, booze, cigarettes, chips, and unhealthy snack foods. With low budgets, and now highly unemployed, whole families are eating the worst sort of calories.
As we discuss, First Lady Michelle Obama made some progress as she announced Walmart agreed to put fresh foods into Walmart stores. That did help those nearby, and people with cars.
Of course, the other factor leading to high death rates is a lack of socialized health care, a service taken for granted in most other Western countries. Those African Americans with low income absolutely fear a visit to a doctor, much less a hospital. That could mean thousands of dollars of debt. So African Americans tend to wait until COVID-19 is very serious, going straight to Emergency, to the Intensive Care Unit if a bed is available, and too often death.
From what I can see, the mainstream media in America picked up this tragic story way too late (they hardly ever report on African Americans or the millions in poverty). While the Governor of Michigan is progressive and active, the Federal government has done little to nothing to mount a campaign to cut down the African American death rate in Detroit, Chicago, or anywhere else. It’s a scandal.
FOOD FOR AND BY THE PEOPLE
Malik Yakini is not a lone free radical, but a member of the collective, 110 members and staff, but they are in a financial crunch right now. The group is also seeking to build the “Detroit Food Commons” – a food co-op for the city in a prominent location. Plans and fundraising are underway. The Detroit Food Commons is a $1.5 million project. But they can’t borrow it without assets worth that much, according to the bank. Those who have an get more, those who have less are not “capital ready”.
Malik was a school principal for 22 years when he visited Growing Power in 2006, inspired by Will and Erica Allen, and now their children. Their intention was to build an alternative food system that could be controlled by local people. They wrote a food security policy for the City of Detroit, that was passed unanimously in 2008. It created the Detroit Food Policy Council, Malik was elected as the first Chair. It was supposed to advise the Mayor and Council, but that did not go so well. The Council did not really listen. He helped
Malik helps run D-Town Farm, inspired by Growing Power. They grow about 40 crops, sold at Farmer’s Market, they help train new farmers and teach food sovereignty. They have the Food Warriors Development Program, a youth development program. They also have a lecture series, with Rev. Heber Brown of Baltimore, a black church food security leader. Black Food Security Network.
They are developing cooperatives, including a co-operative food store. Grocery stores are generally owned by multinational corporations. Malik doesn’t use the term “food deserts” – but there is a lack of access to good quality clean food in African American communities. Detroit is the blackest city in America, by the percentage of the population. 80% are black, but most food stores are owned by Iraqi immigrants. It is an extractive food economy. There are no black owners of grocery stores there.
Malik says we have the right to access quality food, as we have the right to clean water. He mentions the Heal Food Alliance. He seeks more radical food movement, not just incremental reforms. The primary reason for food insecurity in the United States he says is poverty. One solution he thinks is reparations. Food struggle needs to be linked to criminal justice abuse, the environment, many things.
According to Yalindi, Capitalism is not a good system for people or the planet: the idea of private ownership of land is part of settler colonists. He thinks it a destructive idea concentrating land ownership in the future.
Listen to this fine speech by Malik Yakini recorded at the Feb. 2020 Chicago Food Policy Summit by Dale Lehman. My thanks to Dale, who on last week’s Radio Ecoshock show recommended I get in touch with Malik. The title of that talk recorded in Chicago is: “Collective Power – Envisioning our Food Future Together”. At this radio4all.net site, hit the red arrow to download this talk. And browse radio4all while you are there. Everything is free, no sign up required, with lots of alternative music and subversive news.
DAVID SPRATT: COVID AND CLIMATE TOGETHER
Probably the single greatest threat of COVID-19 is that by the time we see symptoms, by the time we get really sick – that person has already been spreading the disease unknown for a week or more. Some people never get symptoms but have and spread the disease. Surely climate change is hard for the same reason: by the time cities flood and the landscape burns, it is way too late.
David Spratt is the author of the book and blog “Climate Code Red“. He is a senior researcher at the Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration. David and co-author Ian Dunlop published their devastating critique of climate science called “What Lies Beneath: The inside story of political failure and scientific reticence on climate change’s existential risks.” Now they have a new report out “Fatal Calculations”, just in time for the global pandemic. Do we have time for climate change anymore?
David Spratt, Breakthrough Centre, Australia
The new report, written with Alia Armistead is called “FATAL CALCULATIONS – How Economics Has Underestimated Climate Damage and Encouraged Inaction”.
The UN Climate Change conference, COP 26 in Scotland, has been delayed for a year. Given three decades of failure to address climate change, while emissions rose and rose, I’m not sure that matters anyway. We get David’s opinion, after he helped write a thorough report on IPCC failures.
The UN has also said they are suspending any work on climate change while the pandemic is on. Big governments are not working on it either – in fact America, Australia, and Canada are making it easier for fossil fuel companies to pollute even more. We are slashing regulations meant to protect society and nature, while doling out billions in emergency aid to the wealthiest companies in the world. Are we going backward toward the precipice?
On the same theme, Vanuatu just experienced Typhoon Harald, the second strongest ever recorded there. The strongest was just 5 years ago, in 2015. Right now New Orleans is suffering the fastest growing death rate on the planet. Right now, the waters in the Gulf of Mexico are really hot, way above average. Imagine a major hurricane striking Texas and Louisiana again, another Katrina. I don’t know how humans are going to cope with these double-punches as they come.
In David’s new report we find: “...former Prime Minister John Howard on 5 February 2007, who told the ABC’s Lateline that it would be ’less comfortable for some than it is now’ if average global temperatures rose 4-6°C by the end of the century [Hansard 2007].” Just like Trump and the pandemic, they just can’t imagine the reality, the well-documented reality. Australia backpedalled on the COVID-19 crisis, using the same language and people as they do so regularly for denial of climate action – which continues even after the historic fires that damaged Australia and stunned the world. Read this article ”Scott Morrison’s duty is to protect the Australian people. There is no greater threat than climate disruption” – published in the Guardian February 28, by Ian Dunlop and David Spratt.
I think part of the problem is people hear 3 degrees C, or say 7 Fahrenheit, and add that to their picture of an average day. So it’s a few degrees warmer – we can handle that… just crank up the AC. They don’t know land will warm much more than the massive global ocean; they don’t understand natural feedback loops, exponential math, they just can’t picture abrupt climate change. It seems no amount of science or rational explanation can reach the masses.
David tells us about the National Climate Emergency Summit in Melbourne in the middle of February. It was huge, with hundreds of presenters – and maybe the last big climate conference in person for the foreseeable future. All 16 fascinating videos from that meeting are available on YouTube here. Check them out if your have time in self isolation – there is a lot of future in those talks.
My previous interview with David Spratt was on June 19, 2019. Strange as it seems we talked about the coming crash of civilization!
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