Sunday, August 11, 2019

When The Ignorant Hold Power

                                                                                                 written 4 August 2019
                                                                                           published 11 August 2019
            Ebola, a hemorrhagic fever virus, was first identified in 1976 in Central African. The current outbreak began in rural Democratic Republic of Congo last year, and is now the largest ever, with more than 2,500 infected, and 1,700 dead.  Though the outbreak grew slowly while in the rural areas, it reached the city of Goma last month, population one million, with international air connections.  
            Ebola is transmitted through contact with contaminated body fluids, but infected people can be symptom free for weeks before becoming contagious.  Ebola can be contained by isolating infected individuals and all their contacts.  Trial vaccines seem effective when given in a timely manner.  Disposal of the dead must insure no further contact with healthy individuals.  Unfortunately, these measures are compromised by ongoing regional wars and widespread criminal activity displacing large populations in an area with limited access and high poverty.  Systems for monitoring and housing sick people are underfunded and understaffed, thus easily overwhelmed.  The outbreak in 2016 ended because of massive international aid.  The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the current outbreak a "public health emergency of international concern".
            Myths about Ebola, based on ignorance and superstition, are spread for local political and cultural advantage.  "Ebola is not real, but fake news made up by the government to keep people from voting".  "Ebola is spread by NGO's and health workers for financial gain".  "Governments made up Ebola to deflect attention from scandals or to depopulate regions". None of these anti-science myths are true, but people believe them, making treatment harder, increasing the likelihood the disease will expand. Ebola doesn't care what you believe.
            It is easy to discount the Ebola outbreak.  It's happening a long way from here, the impact seems fairly small, and the myths and superstitions sound foolish.  But we have the same dynamic happening with the growing climate crisis. 
            It seems far away, decades in the future, if anything happens at all.  Sea level rise and temperature increases are pretty small so far, a matter of a few inches, and a little over 1°C.  Even the myths are the same.  "Climate change is a hoax, fake news".  "It is the product of scientists looking to keep their grant money flowing".  "Climate change is used to destroy working class jobs".  "Renewable energy is un-American and will kill the economy".   This anti-science ignorance dominates the Republican party, delaying efforts to respond, increasing the cost of response, and risking near term human extinction. The climate doesn't care what you believe.  
            As the WHO declared a health emergency, the IPCC and scientists around the world are declaring a climate emergency.  Last week Professor José Javier Hernández Ayala, Director of the Climate Research Center at Sonoma State University wrote an open letter to state and local leaders, excerpted here.
            "If we don’t want to witness the end of organized civilization as we know it, we must act now.  I urge local, state and federal/national policymakers to accept the scientific consensus and the empirical reality that climate change is impacting us now.  I ask policymakers at all levels to issue official climate disaster state of emergency executive orders to make all resources available to deal with the climate change crisis."
            "I urge our governments to develop emergency measures that would allow us to prepare all of the infrastructure and essential sustaining systems in our communities for the impacts of climate change.  If we take bold action now, we can employ every able person in our communities in the 100% renewable energy transformation, infrastructure resiliency efforts and environmental restoration measures that would allow us to be better prepared to cope with climate change impacts."
            "In order for all of this to happen, policymakers need to accept one very important fact, we cannot continue with our current unsustainable economic activities that view the Earth as merely a collection of resources to be exploited in eternity for the sake of never-ending economic growth and wealth accumulation.  If we want to avoid the worst of the very likely climate apocalypse on our horizon, we must act now."
            Just because those in power are ignorant doesn't mean we have to be ignorant.  If our leaders refuse to lead, we must replace them.  We owe this to our grandchildren.