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.
Listen to or download this Radio Ecoshock show in CD Quality (57 MB) or Lo-Fi (14 MB)
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.
Coronavirus could trigger biggest fall in carbon emissions since World War Two
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.
The Great Barrier Reef Just Suffered Another Bleaching Event. Scientists Fear It Won’t Recover
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.
Listen to or download this 20 minute Radio Ecoshock interview with Malik Yakini in CD Quality or Lo-Fi
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.
Lightfoot On Chicago COVID-19 Deaths: More Than Half Were African American
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
Listen to or download this 33 minute Radio Ecoshock interview with David Spratt in CD Quality or Lo-Fi
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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The above two links are first to a podcast of an interview of John C. Umhau, MD about the role of vitamin D in our health; the second is a summary by John C. Umhau, MD of the role of vitamin d in health and of those most vulnerable to seasonal viral colds and flu.
The podcast has a lot more information.
Lastly here is a link to an opinion piece by Dr. Tom Frieden, head of the CDC during the OBama year. It is about the role of vitamin D in respiratory viral infections.
Yeah, here in Germany, the official recommendation is to take vitamin D supplements from September to May (all year round for people of color) – there just isn’t enough sunshine at this latitude (same as southern Canada), especially during the constantly overcast North-German winter, to produce enough of your own vitamin D, even if you weren’t covering up almost all of your skin all winter.
I take vitamin D supplements every day, all year round because I have chronic defficiency from not getting out enough. (I have to work indoors, often nights; but the same extra need would really be true for any office worker, since windows absorb most of the light energy, even if it looks just as bright to our poor human eyes – for the same reason, your seedlings don’t grow well on a window sill and try to stretch to get more light.) In the current situation, I switched from the basic dose they sell in the drugstore as part of multi-vitamin pills, to over-the-counter medication from the pharmacy that has about 5 times the dose as the drugstore stuff. My mother (a retired pharmacist) insisted.
I also take a daily dose of zinc (necessary to form some immune-system-related enzymes, and our local soils are sandy and therefore mineral-deficient, so the vegetables we grow in that soil lack micro-nutrients as well – for the same reason, iodine deficiency is so widespread here that bread and processed foods have to use salt with iodine by law) as well as lots of extra vitamin C. (Unfortunately, I don’t get the recommended 5 fruit/veg a day; sometimes not even 1 – usually due to my frequent bouts of indigestion / IBS, but right now because I don’t want to go grocery shopping that often and so increase my risk to pick up the virus and infect my elderly mother.) There is some argument in scientific circles about whether vitamin C really helps beyond the minimum you do need for normal immune system functionality (100 mg), but in my personal experience, taking a large dose (1000 mg) for a few days, starting right after you got into a situation that usually gives you a cold, can nip a beginning cold in the bud or at least prevent it from getting so bad that you have to stay in bed. Also, since it’s not fat-soluble and so whatever the body doesn’t need is excreted through urine, you can’t really overdose on vitamin C, and it’s not like the stuff is expensive if you buy it as a jar full of powder. (It is one of the most widely used food preservation additives, after all – called “ascorbic acid” or “sodium ascorbate” or “E301” in that case. So there are economies of scale involved.)
You know, this makes me wonder if chronic vitamin D deficiency maybe has something to do with the fact that so many more African-Americans are dying from the Covid-19 virus than in other population groups. I mean, I don’t doubt that poverty, lack of health insurance and this food desert issue have a lot of influence on this. But the fact remains that their ancestors were kidnapped and dragged to more northern latitudes, to were the sunlight is weaker than what they are biologically adapted to deal with. (Lighter skin than that of Sub-Saharan Africans only evolved due to a trade-off between the lower risk of skin cancer as humans moved out of Africa and into higher latitudes, and the much higher risk of stunted growth and rickets due to dark skin not being able to let through enough of the weaker light for the lower layers of the skin to still produce enough vitamin D.) And then some of them moved even further north to cities like Detroit, to get away from Jim Crow laws and lynchings. Obviously, they do still get the basic minimum of vitamin D – I’ve never read about any sort of rickets epidemic among African-Americans like there existed in the industrial towns of late 19th / early 20th century Europe. (Due to the smog, sooty windows and lack of milk / fish in poor people’s diets – as late as the 1920s, a staggering 70% of working class kids in Northern Britain had severe vitamin D deficiency and they were an average of 20 cm shorter than kids of the same age today, which is why they instituted mandatory dosing with cod liver oil at school at the time.) But maybe a chronic low-grade vitamin D deficiency still makes a lot of African-Americans more vulnerable to infectious diseases? I doubt people working low-wage jobs and barely being able to afford rent are spending extra on daily vitamin supplements, if they even know they need them. Is there even any such official recommendation for people of color from the US government or health organizations?
Maybe you just answered why Germany’s death rate from COVID-19 is lower than in other European countries: people are encouraged to take vitamin D year round.
Both doctors Frieden and Umhau point out that vitamin D levels are lower in African-Americans than in the surrounding white population regardless of socio-economic status. Another researcher that I read looked for the “optimal vitamin D blood level. He chose the birth place of Homo sapiens, reasoning that we would not have made it out of Africa without all systems working. H found that in native sub-saharan Africans the average blood level was 40 ng/ml. He decided to compare that to the neighboring people of european descent. The europeans averaged 50 ng/ml in the same environment and wearing similar dress and lifestyle and neither group was taking vitamin D supplement.
In another paper I learned that people with dark skin need up to 6 times longer sun exposure to make the same amount of vitamin D as light skinned people.
On the topic of why dark skin in the tropics and light skin north of 38 degrees latitude one cannot make vitamin D all year. The further north the worse it gets.
On the other hand vitamin B-9 is destroyed by sunlight. Low vitamin B-9 levels in pregnant women result in babies with neurological defects, spina bifida being a classic one.
Please read the two short papers I posted links to and listen to the podcast of the interview of Dr. Umhau.
Why would it even be the same companies producing / selling seed to home-owners and to professional farmers? You need completely different plant varieties for those different growing circumstances. (Though I remember reading in former industry-insider Steve Solomon’s book “Gardening When It Counts – Growing Food In Hard Times” that in the US, the seed sold to home gardeners is basically just the “floor sweepings” and low-germination stuff they can’t sell to professionals, because the professionals will complain about problems with the seed, while home growers will think they did something wrong.themselves. That book also has some information on seed-saving, by the way. Specifically, for which vegetables it makes sense to do so on a gardening scale, and which would quickly suffer from inbreeding due to far too low population numbers or from loss of the attributes that they were bred for, due to uncontrolled mixing with related species, such as with the brassica family.)
Meanwhile, seeds are also “tied up” on supermarket shelves, since they were mostly already derlivered. I’ve read comments over at Resilience.org that say that the Walmart in Vermont isn’t allowed to sell the seeds they have on the shelves, because someone decreed that garden supplies are not “essential business” and this decree is applied to an insane degree (i.e. even to stores that are open anyway because they also sell food). I don’t know how this is handled in other US states, but considering that Vermont is where old hippies go to retire and where Bernie Sanders got elected as senator for years or even decades, I don’t expect that the rules are more sane in any other US state…
And apparently in the UK they are now overreacting after first refusing to implement social distancing rules, so they’re now considering closing down allotment gardens.
I’m so glad that Germany considers gardening centers and DIY stores “essential business”, especially since most of my neighbors seem to be using the lockdown “vacation” and the unseasonably warm and dry weather for home improvement projects. (Though of course the farmers worry about the lack of rain, as most of Germany’s agriculture is rain-irrigated and the ground is already too low on moisture after two heat-wave / drought summers in a row.)
Also, while I still haven’t made it into the shops that will still carry seeds right now (the few weeks when any supermarket sells them are already over), I’m glad that I still have leftovers from previous years and because I tend to buy some in autumn in advance. (Making use of discounted sales to clear the shelves and because I have in the past had years when the particular hybrid tomato seed that was bred specifically for my area wasn’t in the shops until April or May, due to some weather-related production problem or some such. And if I don’t have the tomato seeds in the soil by the beginning of April, it’s too late for that year. So now I make sure I always have a new-ish seed pack of everthing important on hand for the next year.)
By the way, from reading North American gardening blogs, I get the impression that your seed producers don’t write on the package when the seed was collected and until when the seed is ‘guarateed’ to have good germination rates. (I have had packs that wouldn’t germinate at all, even within the guaranteed time frame. Usually those are even the more expensive seed companies, so it’s not matter of “don’t skimp if you want quality”. I can only guess that the shops are storing the seed in ways that are less than ideal, e.g. in the heat directly behind a window.) Anyway, I’d like to point out that most vegetable seeds are viable for 3-5 years, even if you didn’t store them perfectly at your home. (Though heat and moisture are bad – but I don’t bother to keep mine in the fridge, just in a dry storage chamber in the cellar that’s dark-ish and about 18-19°C all year round. A bit cooler would be better, though.) The rule of thumb is generally: “The larger the seed, the longer it can hold on.” I’ve once had some at least 15-years-old squash seed that still had a germination rate of 30 %. (Not high enough, usually. But with squash you really only need 2 plants of the same variety to get lots of new seed.) So, you don’t need to buy all new seed every year. (Except maybe with onions and peppers, which seem to have an extremely low shelf-life. My self-collected bell peppers have to grow every year just because I can’t leave the seed on the shelf for 2 years. And the hybrid pepper seeds that I bought last spring and wanted to use up this year, because they don’t taste great but yield much more than the standard supermarket bell pepper variety in our short summer climate, have so far completely failed to germinate, despite still being within the germination time window according to the producer. And onion seed is notoriously difficult to germinate – hence the existence of onion sets.) If you’re not sure how old the seed was before you even bought it, then do a germination test and/or sow 2-4 in any place you want 1 plant.
Also, here in Germany, the supply seems to have mostly caught up with demand again, after 3 weeks when you couln’t find some specic shelf-stable foods in the supermarkets and the online delivery services were so swampe that they just told us they couldn’t serve your order until May. (At all, not just specific things.)
I was out on my usual once-every-3-weeks grocery trip on March 23rd and couldn’t get toilet paper, yeast, non-refrigerated milk, the cheap store-brand oatmeal, wholewheat flour, loose rice (as opposed to cook-in-the-bag rice), some cheap dairy products like cottage cheese, and they were getting low on a few other things – though possibly they just hadn’t gotten around to re-stocking yet, since I was there Monday before noon. But weirdly, the canned vegetables didn’t look like they were touched much at all, and they were selling eggs two packs for the price of one, which seems odd since there was apparently an egg shortage aroun the same time in the UK. (Possibly the glut in German shops was because of a too-large delivery in advance of Easter, because egg-painting is a tradition here, but people had other things to worry about this year. In any case, the eggs usually come from German or maybe Dutch producers, so it’s not the same suppliers as for the UK, I think.)
Thankfully, I had been making the effort last November to accummulate a few months worth of shelf-stable dried goods, canned veggies/fruit/sausages, and several kilos of plain flour to bake bread rolls, in anticipation of a nasty winter (meaning ice on the ground or constant rain, so I would have to walk to the shop and thus wouldn’t be able to carry more than the basic set of perishable foods) and perhaps a case of the real influenza or a simple cold worsening into bronchitis, which in my experience would leave me unable to leave the house for at least a month. But since neither serious winter weather nor serious illness happened to my family this year in January/February, we actually hadn’t used up much from the pantry and I had been able to do my usual shopping trip by bicycle to replace most of what we did use. My mother thought I was a bit crazy to spend so much on food in just one month.Well, look who’s laughing now… Thanks to my foresight, we didn’t suffer any real hardship these last few weeks.
Anyway, we’ve mostly run out of the fresh fruit, veg and meat that I bought during that last trip – I do have some frozen stuff that I want to use up and we could hold on a couple more weeks with regards to flour, yeast, condensed milk and various tasty vegan bread-spreads that I make from dried chickpeas and basic condiments/spices when we run out of butter and/or deli meats and cheese – but I had to go out anyway to get some things from the pharmacy for my cold (really just a cold – it started well after I spent the entire possible incubation period of Covid-19 with no outside contact). So I made another grocery run today. They didn’t have any plain flour, dried lentils or oatmeal at all (like, not even a space where it’s missing, so they clearly aren’t expecting any deliveries soon), but apparently I was the only one who found the only few bags of organic flour they ever keep on the shelf (they had reorganized the store and put the organic dried goods shelf in a very counter-intuitive place right at the door) and everything else was back in stock, at least in one variety. (I.e. they only had the expensive brand yeast, not the basic store brand; they ddn’t have the cheap basic canola oil, but they did have sunflower; they din’t have their usual 3 different kinds of toilet paper, but they did have one type.) Also, rather large quantities of canned peas and tomatoes that they apparently ordered extra an now can’t shift.
I noticed that they supermarket was at least trying to implement social distancing measures – plastic shields to protect the cashout personell from sneezing customers, as well as large bottles of hand sanitizer for the personnel, and lines on the ground to space out waiting lines. People were taking the spacing rules seriously (though of course you have to pass closer than that in the aisles), but only a handful of older men were wearing masks. Still, I didn’t get any strange looks for wearing my scarf as a makeshift mask (to protect others from my cold and warn them to maintain their distance; as well as to keep myself from touching my runny, itchy nose) nor for offering the sales personel a squeeze from my bottle of hand sanitizer after they were done with the goods I had touched. A couple of weeks ago, people who actually wore masks said online that people looked at them as if they were crazy, even in much more virus-affected Berlin. (I live in a suburb that only had a couple dozen people hospitalized.)
Getting a new bottle of hand sanitizer and disinfectant whipes in the pharmacy also wouldn’t have been a problem (they were prominently displayed right beside the cough candy – even in a place where someone could easily pocket one while the pharmacist isn’t looking), so apparently there is no shortage anymore. I didn’t see masks, though, so those are probably still rationed for hospital workers. Which is sensible, since they don’t really help much to protect a healthy person in normal everyday encounters, but people might hoard them anyway. Germany normally doesn’t have the kind of culture they have in Asia, where you wear a mask in public to be polite and protect others if you have any kind of disease symptoms, even if it’s just the sniffles. So Germans generally don’t have masks at home. And the only reason I have disposable gloves is that I react allergic to certain kind of glue. And the hand sanitizer is partly leftovers from my father’s GP office (closed 20 years ago – but it’s not like the stuff can spoil) and partly because I very easily pick up stomach bugs while shopping for groceries, so I bought a little carry-in-your-pocket bottle of alcohol gel to disinfect my hands if I want to eat something between coming out of the shop and getting home. My guess is that the vast majority of the population never disinfects anything and thus had to go out and buy the supplies in a hurry. (Cleaning your house with bleach is not a thing in Germany – possibly because of the risk that easily available bleach could be used to make poison gas; and borax isn’t sold because it’s carcinogenic; we usually clean with vinegar-based detergents and use oxygen-based bleaching agents for clothes instead of chlorine bleach.)
I leave you with this reggae/hip hop song from Berlin-based band Seeed (not a typo), which never fails to cheer me up because of the sunny, catchy tune. And despite the fact that it was written in 2003, the lyrics are quite appropriate for the current situation… The singer may have been referring to worries about the SARS outbreak back in 2003/2004, though that ended up getting nipped in the bud and didn’t really affect Western/Central Europe. And the last major influenza epidemic in Germany happened in the winter 2004/2005, so just after this song was released.
[About 6 million sick and 20.000 dead just in this one country. Same thing happened in 1994/95, except with 8 million sick and 30.000 dead. An influenza epidemic on that scale happens about once a decade, not that anybody but the health professionals really takes notice. The normal winter-season influenza kills about half a million elderly and immune-suppressed people around the world every year. And there is no such thing as “a little flu” – if you’re not bedridden with high fever for 2-4 weeks and seriously worrying about developing pneumonia, then it’s not the flu, but just a cold (caused by a completely different virus). Still, at least the current situation shows up the inherent faults with just-in-time economics and for-profit healthcare systems, so maybe, just maybe, there will be some re-thinking and better preparation before we’re faced with a highly infectious disease that REALLY comes with a fatality rate high enough to be a genuine threat to civilization (i.e. not just 2-5% of all infections leading to death, but the kind of high double-digit death rate that the MERS-coronavirus or the “bird flu” H5N1-influenza have). …I mean, other than the ongoing AIDS pandemic that most people in rich countries think is long over – that’s currently about 40 million dead and counting, at a rate of about 1 million dying each year; with about 40 million more infected and depending on constant medication to survive, mostly among poor African women and children. So basically this is just as bad as the Spanish Flu pandemic with its estimated 25-50 million dead worldwide, when the colonized-but-poor Asian and African countries were also much worse affected than Europe and North America. But at least AIDS doesn’t spread as fast and easily as influenza and other respiratory diseases, and it can be kept under control in countries that have basic pregnancy-related healthcare and no ongoing wars and thus relatively low rates of sexual assault.]
Anyway, if you’re wondering about the seemingly very un-German video – I think the song was originally written for Berlin’s “Carnival of Cultures”, which is scheduled right when the gray, rainy, miserable Berlin winter is really, truly over (Pentecost) and which features a parade and 4-day festival where for the last couple of decades, Berlin’s immigrant groups from around the world get to show off their music, dance and theatre traditions, in the name of tolerance and cultural appreciation. (Kind of like Pride week, but for ethnic minorities.) It’s a very popular festival, but of course it’s been cancelled this year.
Since the band chose to sing this song in Jamaican patois, you’ll probably need the lyrics:
(It’s really not sexist, despite the hip hop genre and the skimpy Carnival-of-Rio-inspired costumes on a couple of the female dancers in the video. They’re singing “this bridge is done”, not “this bitch is done.” I would normally doubt the official lyrics on this point, given that this is an all-male band working in a music genre where macho grandstanding and female objectification are normal, but I haven’t found a single song by this band where they use any term for women that is more derogatory than the German equivalent of “chick” – and that was in a song told from the perspective of a loser who wants to cheat on his wife with a random woman he met at a bar, but then gets so nervous and scared of the very self-confident lady that he drinks himself into unconsciousness.)
Re: David Spratt interview
I really have to disagree with folks like Spratt that are pointing to the COVID-19 response as proof that governments CAN address climate change. For one COVID-19 is right here right now, a direct threat to everyone, particularly the jet-setting elites that sit on so many of the boards of multinational corporations. They obviously didn’t want to pull the pull on their giant money spinner; it was a matter of self-preservation. Climate change on the other hand while already detectable has yet to show it’s full potential for disrupting the global industrial civilization. That someone like Nordhaus gets the Nobel prize while espousing nonsense like a 4 degree C increase being of only moderate concern should be considered proof that nothing substantive will ever be done to engineer a “soft landing” and avert a full collapse of global industrial civilization. Full collapse may very well be unavoidable given the nearly 8 billion living humans, many completely dependent on the very system that is hurdling them towards catastrophe. This thing we’re calling “civilization” that so many claim they want to save is a never finished house of cards, growing ever larger and more complex. Could you really start removing cards without triggering the very collapse one is trying to avoid?