We have moved out of the Holocene Age that began 10,000 years ago at the end of the Pleistocene. It comes from the greek words “holos” (whole) and “kainos” (new). This age provided the stable climate which gave us the conditions for our culture and material evolution as a human species.
Scientists are now saying we have entered a new age, the Anthropocene age, the age in which our species, the human, is becoming the most significant force on the planet. Current climate change and species extinction are driven by human activities and the very large ecological footprint of our species.
Climate catastrophes and extreme climate events are already taking lives—the floods in Thailand in 2011, in Pakistan and Ladakh in 2010, the forest fires in Russia, more frequent and intense cyclones and hurricanes, severe droughts and intense flooding are examples of how humans have destabilized the climate system of our self-regulated planet which has given us a stable climate for the past 10000 years. Humans have pushed 75 percent agricultural biodiversity to extinction because of industrial farming. Between 3 to 300 species are being pushed to extinction every day.
How the planet and human beings evolve into the future will depend on how we understand the human impact on the planet.
If we continue to understand our role in the old paradigm of capitalist patriarchy based on a mechanistic world view, an industrial, capital centered competitive economy, and a culture of dominance, violence, and war and ecological and human irresponsibility, we will witness the rapid unfolding of increasing climate catastrophe, species extinction economic collapse, and human injustice and inequality. This is the destructive Anthropocene of human arrogance and hubris. It is displayed in the attempt of scientists to do geo-engineering, genetic engineering and synthetic biology as technological fixes to climate crisis, the food crisis and the energy crisis. However, they will aggravate old problems and create new ones.
We have already seen this with genetic engineering which was supposed to increase food production but has failed to increase crop yields. It was supposed to reduce chemical use but has increased use of pesticides and herbicides. It was supposed to control weeds and pests, and it has instead created super weeds and super pests.
We are in the midst of an epic contest—the contest between the rights of Mother Earth, and rights of corporations and militarized states using obsolete world views and paradigms to accelerate the war against the planet and people.
This contest is between the laws of Gaia, and the laws of the market and warfare. It is a contest between wars against Planet Earth and peace with Earth.
There are planetary wars taking place with geo-engineering—creating artificial volcanoes, fertilizing the oceans with iron filings, putting reflectors in the sky to stop the sun from shining on the Earth, as if the sun was the problem, not man’s violence against the earth, and the arrogant ignorance in dealing with it.
In 1997, Edward Teller co-authored a white paper Prospects for Physics—based modulation of global change where he advocated the large scale introduction of metal particulates into the upper atmosphere to apply an effective “sunscreen.”
The Pentagon is looking to breed immortal synthetic organisms with the goal of eliminating “the randomness of natural evolutionary advancement.” What is being done with the climate is being done with the evolutionary code of the universe, with total indifference for the consequences.
Synthetic biology is an industry that creates “designer organisms to act as living factories.”
“With synthetic biology, hopes are that by building biological systems from the ground up, they can create biological systems that will function like computers or factories.”
The goal is to make biology easier to engineer using “bio bricks”—“Use of standardized parts, following a formalized design process, the engineers approach to biology, makes biology an engineering discipline, requiring the reduction of biological complexity. An engineering approach to biology based on the principles of standardization, decompiling and abstraction an a heavy reliance on information technologies.”
However, “engineering” plants and ecosystems has undesired and unpredictable ecological impacts. For example, the green revolution destroyed biodiversity, water resources, soil fertility, and even the atmosphere with 40 percent greenhouse gases coming from industrialized, globalised agriculture.
The second green revolution has led to emergence of super pests and super weeds, and increased use of herbicides and pesticides.
Synthetic biology as the third Green Revolution will appropriate the biomass of the poor, even while selling “artificial life.” There is an intense scramble for the earth’s resources and ownership of nature. Big oil, big pharma, big food, big seed companies are joining hands to appropriate biodiversity and biomass—the living carbon—to extend the age of fossil fuel and dead carbon. Corporations view the 75 percent biomass used by nature and local communities as “wasted.” They would like to appropriate the living wealth of the planet for making biofuels, chemicals, plastics. This will dispossess the poor of the very sources of their lives and livelihoods. The instruments for the new dispossession are technological tools of genetic engineering and synthetic biology and intellectual property rights.
Turning the living wealth of the planet into the property of corporations through patents is a recipe for deepening the poverty and ecological crisis. Biodiversity is our living commons—the basis of life and commons. We are part of nature, not her masters and owners. Intellectual Property Rights on life forms, living resources and living processes is an ethical, ecological and economic perversion. We need to recognize the rights of Mother Earth and therefore the intrinsic value of all her species and living processes.
The destructive Anthropocene is not the only future. We can have a shift in paradigm. A change in consciousness is already taking place across the world. We can look at the destructive impact our species has had on the planets biodiversity, ecosystems and climate systems and make a shift.
The ecological shift involves not seeing ourselves as outside the ecological web of life, as masters, conquerors and owners of the earths resources. It means seeing ourselves as members of the earth family, with responsibility to care for other species and life on earth in all its diversity, from the tiniest microbe to the largest mammal. It creates the imperative to live, produce and consume within ecological limits and within our share of ecological space, without encroaching on the rights of other species and other people.
It is a shift that recognizes that science has already made—a paradigm shift from separation to non-separability and interconnectedness, from the mechanistic and reductionist to the relational and holistic.
At the economic level it involves going beyond the artificial and even false categories of perpetual economic growth, so called free trade, consumerism and competitiveness. It means shifting to a focus on planetary and human well being, to living economies, to living well, not having more, to valuing cooperation rather than competitiveness. These are the shifts being made by indigenous communities, peasants, women and young people in the new movements like the Indignants in Europe and the Occupy Wall Street in the U.S.
This involves working as co-creators and co-producers with the earth. This demands using our intelligence to conserve and heal, not conquer and wound. This is the creative and constructive Anthropocene of Earth Democracy, based on ecological humility in place of arrogance, and ecological responsibility in place of careless and blind exercise of power, control and violence. For humans to protect life on earth and their own future we need to become deeply conscious of the Rights of Mother Earth, our duties towards her, our compassion for all her beings. Our world has been structured by capitalist patriarchy around fictions and abstractions like “capital,” “corporations,” “growth” which have allowed the unleashing of the negative forces of the destructive Anthropocene. We need to get grounded again—in the earth, her diversity, her living processes and now unleash the positive forces of a creative Anthropocene.
We will either make peace with the earth or face extinction as humans even while we push millions of other species to extinction. Continuing the war against the earth is not an intelligent option.
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To Have a Second Wave, the First Wave Needs to End.<p>A wave of an infection describes a large rise and fall in the number of cases. There isn't a precise epidemiological definition of when a wave begins or ends.</p><p>But with talk of a <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/27/new-covid-19-clusters-across-world-spark-fear-of-second-wave" target="_blank">second wave in the news</a>, as an <a href="https://www.american.edu/cas/faculty/mhawkins.cfm" target="_blank">epidemiologist and public health researcher</a>, I think there are two necessary factors that must be met before we can colloquially declare a second wave.</p><p>First, the virus would have to be controlled and transmission brought down to a very low level. That would be the end of the first wave. Then, the virus would need to reappear and result in a large increase in cases and hospitalizations.</p><p>Many countries in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-020-0908-8" target="_blank">Europe and Asia have successfully ended the first wave</a>. <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/08/new-zealand-abandons-covid-19-restrictions-after-nation-declared-no-cases" target="_blank">New Zealand</a> and <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/06/08/how-iceland-beat-the-coronavirus" target="_blank">Iceland</a> have also made it through their first waves and are now essentially coronavirus-free, with very low levels of community transmission and only a handful of active cases currently.</p>
Different States, Different Trends<p>Looking at U.S. numbers as a whole hides what is really going on. Different states are in <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html" target="_blank">vastly different situations right now</a> and when you look at states individually, four major categories emerge.</p><ol><li>Places where the first wave is ending: States in the Northeast and a few scattered elsewhere experienced large initial spikes but were able to mostly contain the virus and substantially brought down new infections. <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/new-york-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">New York</a> is a good example of this.</li><li>Places still in the first wave: Several states in the South and West – see <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/texas-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Texas</a> and <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/california-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">California</a> – had some cases early on, but are now seeing massive surges with no sign of slowing down.</li><li>Places in between: Many states were hit early in the first wave, managed to slow it down, but are either at a plateau – like <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/north-dakota-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">North Dakota</a> – or are now seeing steep increases – like <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/oklahoma-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Oklahoma</a>.</li><li>Places experiencing local second waves: Looking only at a state level, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/hawaii-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Hawaii</a>, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/montana-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Montana</a> and <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/alaska-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Alaska</a> could be said to be experiencing second waves. Each state experienced relatively small initial outbreaks and was able to reduce spread to single digits of daily new confirmed cases, but are now all seeing spikes again.</li></ol><p>The trends aren't surprising based on how states have been dealing with reopening. The virus will go wherever there are susceptible people and until the U.S. stops community spread across the entire country, the first wave isn't over.</p>
What Could a Second Wave Look Like?<p>It is possible – though at this point it seems unlikely – that the U.S. could control the virus before a vaccine is developed. If that happens, it would be time to start thinking about a second wave. The question of what it might look like depends in large part on everyone's actions.</p><p>The <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1086%2F592454" target="_blank">1918 flu pandemic</a> was characterized by a mild first wave in the winter of 1917-1918 that went away in summer. After restrictions were lifted, people very quickly went back to pre-pandemic life. But a second, deadlier strain came back in fall of 1918 and third in spring of 1919. In total, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-commemoration/1918-pandemic-history.htm" target="_blank">more than 500 million people were infected</a> worldwide and upwards of <a href="https://theconversation.com/compare-the-flu-pandemic-of-1918-and-covid-19-with-caution-the-past-is-not-a-prediction-138895" target="_blank">50 million died</a> over the course of three waves.</p><p>It was the combination of a quick return to normal life and a mutation in the flu's genome that made it more deadly that led to the horrific second and third waves.</p><p>Thankfully, the coronavirus appears to be much more <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.meegid.2020.104351" target="_blank">genetically stable</a> than the influenza virus, and thus less likely to mutate into a more deadly variant. That leaves human behavior as the main risk factor.</p><p>Until a <a href="https://theconversation.com/what-needs-to-go-right-to-get-a-coronavirus-vaccine-in-12-18-months-136816" target="_blank">vaccine or effective treatment is developed</a>, the tried-and-true public health measures of the last months – <a href="https://theconversation.com/this-simple-model-shows-the-importance-of-wearing-masks-and-social-distancing-140423" target="_blank">social distancing,</a> <a href="https://theconversation.com/masks-help-stop-the-spread-of-coronavirus-the-science-is-simple-and-im-one-of-100-experts-urging-governors-to-require-public-mask-wearing-138507" target="_blank">universal mask wearing</a>, frequent hand-washing and avoiding crowded indoor spaces – are the ways to stop the first wave and thwart a second one. And when there are surges like what is happening now in the U.S., further reopening plans need to be put on hold.</p>
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Gluts of food left to rot as a consequence of coronavirus aren't just wasteful – they're also likely to damage the environment.
Methane on the Rise<p>Not only is this a tragic waste of food at a time when many are going hungry, it is also an <a href="https://donatedontdump.net/2014/07/07/the-effects-of-food-waste-on-the-environment-by-junemy-pantig/" target="_blank">environmental hazard</a> and could contribute to global warming. Landfill gas – <a href="https://www.epa.gov/lmop/basic-information-about-landfill-gas" target="_blank">roughly half methane and half carbon dioxide (CO2)</a> – is a natural byproduct of the decomposition of organic material.</p>
Food decay leads to production of greenhouse gases, methane and carbon dioxide. EPA<p>Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, 28 to <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/02/SYR_AR5_FINAL_full.pdf" target="_blank">36 times more effective than CO2 at trapping heat</a> in the atmosphere over a 100-year period, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.</p><p>"Many export-oriented producers produce volumes far too large for output to be absorbed in local markets, and thus <a href="https://unctad.org/en/pages/newsdetails.aspx?OriginalVersionID=2333" target="_blank">organic waste levels have mounted substantially</a>," says Robert Hamwey, Economic Affairs Officer at UN agency UNCTAD. "Because this waste is left to decay, levels of methane emissions, a greenhouse gas, from decaying produce are expected to rise sharply in the crisis and immediate post-crisis months."</p>
Food supply chains are easily disrupted. UN FAO<p>Dumping food was already a problem before the crisis. In America alone, <a href="https://www.refed.com/?sort=economic-value-per-ton" target="_blank">$218 billion is spent growing, processing, transporting</a> and disposing of food that is never eaten, estimates ReFED, a collection of business, non-profit and government leaders committed to reducing food waste. That's equivalent to around 1.3% of GDP.</p><p>Since the pandemic took hold, <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-52267943" target="_blank">farmers are dumping 14 million liters</a> of milk each day because of disrupted supply routes, estimates Dairy Farmers of America. A chicken processor was forced to <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/11/business/coronavirus-destroying-food.html" target="_blank">destroy 750,000 unhatched eggs a week</a>, according to the New York Times, which also cited an onion farmer letting most of his harvest decompose because he couldn't distribute or store them.</p>
Food Prices Collapsing<p>The excess has also seen prices collapse. The <a href="http://www.fao.org/worldfoodsituation/foodpricesindex/en/" target="_blank">FAO Food Price Index</a> (FFPI) averaged 162.5 points in May 2020, down 3.1 points from April and reaching the lowest monthly average since December 2018. The gauge has dropped for four consecutive months, and the latest decline reflects falling values of all the food commodities – dairy, meat, cereal, vegetable – except sugar, which rose for the first time in three months.</p><p>All this while the pandemic is exacerbating other global food trends.</p><p>"This year, some 49 million extra people may fall into extreme poverty due to the COVID-19 crisis," said António Guterres, Secretary-General of the UN. "The number of people who are acutely food or nutrition insecure will rapidly expand. <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fGhLKAbNDiY&feature=youtu.be" target="_blank">Even in countries with abundant food, we see risks of disruptions in the food supply chain</a>."</p>
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