Lunch lecture on the relationship between climate and viruses by environmental philosopher and public health scientist Yogi Hale Hendlin.
The impact of the Covid-19 crisis on climate is contradictory, to say the least: besides positive effects like reduction of CO2 emissions from fewer airplanes in the sky and cars on roads, the negative effects include “ghost flights” and tens of millions of littered face masks daily. Corona and climate-change both are global “wicked” problems without current solutions. With the idea of ‘never waste a good crisis’ in the back of our heads, we investigate what lessons we can learn from eco-philosophy?
Environmental philosopher and public health scientist Yogi Hale Hendlin will discuss the relationship between climate and viruses during this webinar and argues for a drastic change in behavior instead of treating symptoms. Is our relationship to flora and fauna not partly to blame for the current crisis? Which insights from climate research offer a perspective for the corona crisis, and vice versa? And how these two pandemics – one infectious, the other chronic – intertwined?
Dr. Yogi Hale Hendlin is an assistant professor in the Erasmus School of Philosophy and core member of the Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity Initiative at Erasmus University Rotterdam. At the University of California, San Francisco, Hendlin is a research associate in the Environmental Health Initiative, working on the Chemical Industry Documents and Fossil Fuel Industry Documents. Hendlin has published in journals such as BMJ, Plos Medicine, Annals of Internal Medicine, MMWR and AJPH.
From Erasmus Magazine’s misrepresentative title “Smoke-free campus: responsible decision or counter-productive?” for the very pro smokefree campus comments from students actually interviewed in the article to the irresponsible and juvenile “Free to Smoke Zone” cartoon, it appears that more than sentiments of staff or students, it is Erasmus Magazine itself which is against the inevitable. A national law prohibiting smoking on the campuses of all institutions of learning countrywide, EM’s attempt to foment controversy where there is little, is either just clickbait or jousting at windmills.
Granted, EUR could have done better at communicating the law and what that means for students. This would have happened normally, but we are not in normal times.
Furthermore, there are a number of structural issues preventing a smooth transition to the current regulations. For example, at EUR there are no experts on tobacco control in the Smokefree Working Group. Only recently did the university form a “think tank” as an afterthought to address this oversight. In not putting the science of going smokefree on campuses first and foremost, the university has abdicated its responsibility to be science-based in its policy making. Instead, in shying away from actually affective, clear, and unambiguous actions, it is setting itself up to fail on every dimension. Lack of clear communication of the new rules and support for smokers is bound to make some smokers angry because they won’t know the details, and it won’t be clear what the rules or penalties are. EUR’s delay on this issue will also make nonsmokers upset because the national law says that people can’t smoke on campuses of educational institutions but EUR has not yet effective achieved, based on a cowardliness to stand behind clear and fair preventative measures and penalties. And EUR may even fail to comply with the national law, which could cost our university fines from the government, bleeding our university unnecessarily, when we have already suffered budget cuts. Plus, EUR’s potential failure to comply with laws sours our reputation versus business and governmental partners with whom we might pursue future contact.
Especially in times of corona, which is a respiratory disease, smoking will only make it worse. If we have social distancing on campus, lowering the quality of education and costing faculties untold hours of suffering in adjusting to the double responsibility of hybrid education, then we must certainly do our due diligence in not creating more disease vectors on campus. If we’re wearing masks to prevent viruses from entering our nasal passages, it makes only sense to get rid of non-essential pollution sources that weaken our immune system and predispose us to sickness.
An short article I wrote zooming out on the Black Lives Matter movement – “Decolonization Matters” – has just appeared in the journal Kosmos: Journal for Global Transformation.
There I write
The “white fragility” fear that the oppressed will become the new oppressors turns out to be a self-serving myth. Matriarchy isn’t a mirror reflection of patriarchy; Black Power doesn’t mean reproducing a black version of white supremacy. Rather, these alternative approaches signal the transformation and reconciliation of categories, not reproducing them merely with a different set of people at the helm.
The same Autumn 2020 issue of the journal also has many other highly relevant contributions from scholars in decolonization of thought I admire such as Alnoor Ladha, Vandana Shiva, Charles Eisenstein, and David Abram. If you look up the #curadaterra hashtag, you’ll find contributions like mine discussing how to decolonize matter – that is existence in all of it’s physical and energetic forms.
While you have to register to view the article, it’s free, and Kosmos really is full of thoughtful insights on our contemporary dynamics moving from domination to partnership.
It’s a thing. Like greenwashing, whitewashing, or astroturfing. Bee-washing is big business. It’s how companies fool us into consuming more: by appeasing our sense of guilt beforehand. It’s almost like they tried to reverse engineer our resistant points against buying things we don’t need and which hurt the environment, and then systematically distracting and deluding our conscious mind so that we’ll buy their crap anyhow.
Don’t believe me? Listen to Adam Conover explain it:
From Tom’s Shoes to Burt’s Bees, to BodyShop and all the other fake do-gooder companies that attempt to make their billion dollar businesses into “aw shucks” 501(c)3s on the outside while replicating the same corporate structure as ExxonMobil, the myth of doing good through consumption is especially coopted for groups leaning on the environment.
Here are just a few beewashing advertisements I’ve recently come across:
noun /bēwäSHiNG/ 1. a form of greenwashing where a product, service, or organization is advertised as being more “bee-friendly” than it actually is
These major corporations and their support of unsustainable agriculture practices are here figured both as cause of colony collapse disorder and savior of the bees. They use their bee-washing to smokescreen their complicity in CCD.
Bees have become little more than a branding tool for most of the corporations that mention them. And some academic might potentially do an overview of all the mentions of bees by food and personal care product companies, and see how much of it would be considered bee-washing (my guess, upwards of 90%).
Here, I can only reiterate what I have stated (and will continue to state) elsewhere:
Companies should be outlawed and fined for using images of nature (whether bees, pandas, beautiful trees, sunsets, etc) until they can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are actually not destroying the material conditions for these beings and phenomena to flourish.
Short of this, we fall into necrophilic symbols, a cannibalism of the real by memes. This is just the sort of simulacra replacing life and living systems that Baudrillard warned us about.
I’m a jazz fan and player, and during the corona quarantine I started reaching beyond my normal playlist, and found the amazing work of Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah after stumbling across his stunning NPR Tiny Desk Concert. (If you don’t know this pioneering *stretch* jazz trumpeter and composer, look him up)
The flautist in his band, Elena Pinderhughes, he introduced as being only 20 in the 2015 recording, which is impressive in of itself. Upon looking her up, she has performed multiple times at the Obama White House, at Carnegie Hall, etc. So, it turns out she is a child prodigy.
Pinderhughes also sings. Her phrasing and swung rhythm is quite impressive, especially for a young person. For example in this 2013 video, where she must have been in junior high or high school, the push and pull against the beat, both in her singing and her flute playing (back to back, no less), creates the jazz flavor of suspension of time, eloquently.
As I found out that she is originally from Berkeley, California, my alma mater and home for many years, I became interested in her current work – whether perhaps I had seen her play out once at the Starry Plow, La Peña, Ashkanaz, or the Freight and Salvage, all venues I frequented.
Despite the fact that Christian Scott’s album titled by the same type of hip-hop and beyond jazz blend called “stretch jazz” featured Pinderhughes in the title – Stretch Music (Introducing Elena Pinderhughes) – Pinderhughes has not yet released a solo album in the last 5 years surprisingly.
She has played at so many high profile concerts, and recently accompanied funk jazz legend Herbie Hancock. Here’s an amazing solo she did at the Obama White House with Common, the famous hip-hop artist.
I’m not sure if they’re siblings, but here’s Samora Pinderhughes rapping accompanying Common at another Tiny Desk concert by the group August Greene.
On several write-ups and bios on Elena in 2015, there’s the following text:
“In 2015 Ms. Pinderhughes signed with SRP Music Group — responsible for signing Rihanna, among others — and began her journey as a solo artist. She is working on her debut project, which will showcase her voice and songwriting, and bring together her musicality, harmony, rhythm, and culture to create a specific sound all her own.”
This made no sense: she signed to a prestigious label, and 5 years later no album and hardly any social media presence? It was an enigma.
Upon looking on my usual music services, I found that Elena Pinderhughes had been reincarnated (most likely by SRP Music Group) as “Elena Ayodele.”
Such reincarnations are not uncommon in the music “industry” where artists become commodities, and one has to perform according to a contractual role.
I was a bit surprised though that SRP had both achieved constraining Elena’s output (for example, her sparse YouTube videos in the past 5 years) without producing the debut album. The only video they made, a trailer for the song “Roses,” released in 2017, has a scant few thousand views. Such an artist deserves better than that. But the literal suffocation with roses makes one think if Pinderhughes hasn’t also been suffocated under her contract.
The full version of the song can be heard here on Soundcloud.
The song itself is not bad, it has a nice complex melody, but the flue isn’t nearly as integrated as I’m sure many fans hoped. It’s much more trap than jazz, perhaps a little too stretch for many jazz fans.
As I got watching her rather bizarre, mock-epic, overblown production video, and saw the immense waste of roses – and of her talent, signed away and locked up with some mega shadow record label (thinking of Prince here) – I couldn’t but help remember an article during the early days about the corona flower industry crash.
Living in Holland, the world emporium for cut flowers, the images of empty auction houses struck a cord – the global commodity chains seem overwhelming. Roses were down 70% from last year.
To have such markets for life – performers or flowers – everything a means without an end, without a value in of itself, without any final pleasure or good or truth, but just to be consumed – the connections between Pinderhughes/Ayodele and the global flower market under corona times somehow dovetailed as tragedies with common sources.
Bloomburg writes: “The blooms are sold under the traditional Dutch auction system, in which prices start high then tick lower as a clock counts down. The first buyer to pounce wins. As the lots are bought, electric tractors pull long trains of wagons loaded with blooms from one side of the warehouse to the other. The average day sees more than 100,000 transactions. Most of the flowers end up elsewhere in Europe, in under 12 hours.”
Just as the global flows of flowers is tightly controlled by an artificial system of supply and demand, killing off interest in local flowers for the pruned porno version of flowers, I wondered about the health of Pinderhughes under her contract. Was she yet another artist being strangled by a thanatogical system? What would have been her creativity in these past 5 years if she had been enabled rather than constrained. If she could have been free to be all the different versions of herself, and stumble and evolve along the way?
As Bloomburg reported: “The crash of the $8.5 billion global trade in cut flowers shows how quickly and distinctively the new coronavirus is disrupting supply chains, even in places where it isn’t yet pervasive.” People lost their professions and tens of thousands lost their jobs in Africa, because of a pandemic that had yet to hit them. This is how global capitalism works – it takes away home markets and instead of creating interdependence, creates global fragility, where the poor are contingent upon the whims of the rich and there is no more self-sufficient local economy. It’s like dating: if you have nothing to offer, you’re going to look for your second half because you’re not complete. And no person can ever complete an incomplete person. That’s why the sacred marriage spoken of in alchemy has to do with self-sufficiency, becoming both man and woman to oneself, to not have to need the other. Only then does interdependence actually exist. Because then you can depend on each other; otherwise, its co-dependency.
A different example of a child prodigy which has worked is that of Jacob Collier. He turned town controlling contracts, even by Quincy Jones, and instead handled things on his terms, getting the best of both world. Perhaps with Pinderhughes her being a woman has played into the traditional misogyny of the music industry, the idea of women being “managed” by music firms, as the pressure for women in our society to present in particularly sexualized and stereotyped ways is far greater than men. As a fan of her work, I can only wish her freedom, creative license, and the respect of all those who she works with – because she deserves it.
I’ll be giving a webinar lecture Friday May 8th for the International Federation of Medical Students’ Association – the Netherlands as part of their Youth Delegate Programme masterclass series in collaboration with the Dutch ministry of Health, Welfare and Sports (VWS), and the Ministry of International Affairs (BuZa).
I’m excited to share my research in their series on Global Health amidst the COVID-19 crisis.
We’re sheltering in place. We’re not going out. In some places in the world, like India, Italy, and China, their quarantines were so effective that for the first time in remembrance, one could see the Himalayas from 200 kilometers away, the canals of Venice were crystal clear, and the pollution cleared over Beijing (saving an estimated 70,000+ lives in China alone).
But not in the Netherlands. Home of capitalism and embracers of neoliberalism, why would residents here feel put out to change their patterns, to inconvenience themselves, to take this moment to reflect, rather than get things done and seize the business opportunity? We’re not a Catholic nation, so sacrifice for the community doesn’t come naturally.
And yet, as a philosopher, I sit at home, trying to get something done, while neighbors on every side of my apartment drill and cut, chisel and screw. The incessant high-pitched whiz of machines echo around the binnenplaats of our neighborhood more than ever with hammering and sawing like never before. The machines of building, rebuilding, and renovating are heavy at work in this corona quarantine. Quarantine in Dutch could be translated as ‘take advantage of this opportunity to get as much done as possible.’ All those side-project, delayed repairs, or prospective sells, are too juicy to pass up this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Do the local inspectors inspect? Or does building just go on as fast as possible in this interim? It seems as if the construction business is booming, as eager capitalists wish to flip houses left and right. Buy low, fix up a dumpy place with bourgeois aesthetics and name-brand stoves and refrigerators, expand that kitchen by knocking out the dividing wall, et voilà! sell the house for twice as much as you bought it just a couple years back. I know this is business as usual, but during the quarantine, sometimes it seems even more cynical than usual.
I’ve also heard more low-flying propeller planes (the type that have no purpose but for ‘fun’ and polluting the atmosphere) flying overhead than ever before. While Schiphol might have reduced its daily flights, the amount of air traffic around Rotterdam, at least, seems to have barely dipped if at all.
The noise makes it hard to do my online teaching and calls at home, to do my quiet work at my improvised home office. I’m lucky to have a job that requires few supplied, and makes little noise. But part of public health as it intersects with public infrastructure is finding out how to better share our inconveniences, share our suffering more. Those working in logistics, food production, service work, and transportation, need our support in myriad ways. As in a war effort, there is much to be done to work together to support each other. Those who see this coronavirus quarantine as merely a holiday have an ethical duty to reduce their travel and externalities, and simplify their lives. Since coronavirus is a respiratory virus that affects the lungs, clean air as good medicine. We should maintain that we don’t pollute our neighbors’ lungs with sawdust for our own gain.
I propose that the Mad Max building explosion isn’t the only way to do a quarantine (and perhaps isn’t the most effective for public health, either). Instead of this building craze, doing all the obnoxious things that one would have done had time otherwise permitted, I offer a different tack. To deal with the particulate matter pollution, the noise pollution, and the general disturbance and unrest of motors, cement mixers, falling lumber, skill saws, power drills and other implements of machine-driven building, I propose that during this quarantine period that all building stores could also close, and people take a rest. Allowing ourselves to take a collective breath, might open space for reflecting on the purpose of our pursuits, if only for a month. This would provide a much needed exhalation from the Protestant Work Ethic that Max Weber so articulately burlesqued.
The compulsion to stay busy in many ways is a (mostly) healthy coping mechanism. In times of crisis, with loss of routine, throwing oneself into a new project – especially a physically demanding or potentially lucrative one – seems like a good solution. The stoics, however, cautioned otherwise. There’s a reason why most religions have a Sabbath of one sort of another, a regular, cyclical holy day on which all activity stops, and we rest from the dynamo of constant work and preoccupation that puts food on the table, shelters us, and makes the world go around. Because unless we take regular periods of reflection – conscious stops to our business – we might be mistaken into assuming that being busy is an end unto itself; that the constant activity is the purpose of life, instead of the play, reflection, connection to one’s family, friends, and nature that are the fruits of our labor.
We could see this corona quarantine as an extended Sabbath. As a moment when the headstrong resentful frustrated young men give up on their aggressive urges to gun their motors on their motorcycles to beat their chests in antiquated displays of male dominance. When we reduce our grocery shopping to once a week, and take up other, more reflective projects. When we visit those places which bring us joy and renewal, and linger a while, without the pressures of returning to meet stringent schedules. And that we put our ambitious projects on pause for a moment – especially if these create dust and mess (aural, visual, kinetic, or otherwise) that negatively affect our neighbors and community.
Precisely this return to community is the paradoxical opportunity here in this crisis. In every state of exception, we can either barrel on with business as usual, seeing everything as a nail because all we have is a hammer; or choose wisely to reflect on the ends of our society and our role in it. The government of Amsterdam has recently chosen to do the latter, adopting a donut economics model of providing a social floor and acknowledging the ecological ceiling of human activity. This is a laudable model for other cities and countries to follow. Infrastructural violence contributes to social injustices stemming from pandemics hitting the poor and marginalized the most, but also climate crisis and gentrification present asymmetrical harms due to the same underlying mechanisms. Realizing the moral truth that it is non-optional to take care of those in our community most vulnerable, as well as belatedly honoring the limits to growth, offers hope that humans don’t end up just doing the same damn thing after another, unreflectively, to paraphrase Arnold Toynbee. Adopting measures going to the origins and not just the symptoms of emergencies allows humanity to break free from deterministic loops which playing back the same mistakes generation after generation.
I work at night now, to enjoy the relative silence. The main streets still roar, but at least the buzz saws desist. As I pause, I wonder what it would be like for silence to reign. What would we feel in our urban environments? What feelings are we pushing away by compulsively motoring on? How majestic would our cities feel, if for once, if for only a moment, we allowed the stillness and silence to work on us?
I have a new blog post over at the Erasmus University Rotterdam initiative I’m a part of, the Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity. This interdisciplinary research team from law, business, and philosophy brings together mavericks who work across disciplines, and are both cognitively and operationally open to working with and between traditionally-siloed faculties.
My latest contribution, Interspecies Prosperity: What it is and why it matters, deals with the paradox of health. As long as we’re preoccupied with our own health and well-being, if we are so to the detriment of our surrounding ecosystem, we end up getting sick, as we are of course permeable membranes to our environments. Hurting others to get ahead ipso facto produces the types of results in public health that we’re seeing today in the US, for example: 4 years straight of decreasing life expectancy. We’ve sunk all the carbon sinks, and compounded the growth on a finite space. Increasingly, in medicine, major institutions as well as rank and file physicians realize that we have to tackle environmental degradation and the climate crisis if we care about health, both at the individual and collective levels. This shift in priorities in medicine of course clashes both with personalized medicine and other expensive and pay-to-play forms of care. Unless we take care of our commons, our medical outcomes are going to be stochastically worse. Even it it’s not me or you, our chances of thriving and surviving go down significantly when we’re breathing contaminated air, have microplastics in our food and water, and toxins in everything we come in contact with. So, we have to learn the hard work of care for our environment, caring for our locality, and also the extension of commodity chains that like lashes connected to our every movement reverberate around the world in their ramifications. We have to learn to work together to take responsibility to clean up this mess. That will be the best medical insurance we can buy.
Working at the CTCRE at UCSF allowed me to meet all sorts of medical practitioners aware of the influence of industry on the health of their patients.
One of those people I happened to meet, was Eleni Linos (now at Stanford), a dermatologist who had noticed throughout the years the influence of the tanning industry on spreading disinformation to the public on the health harms of tanning.
Jerod Stapleton also published for the British Journal of Medicine an editorial on our article, concluding that “We must challenge industry attempts to change the conversation about tanning.” Stapleton is no stranger to the harms of tanning, having conducted significant research on the health outcomes, as well as leading a paper in JAMA Pediatrics titled “The American Suntanning Association: a “science-first organization” with a biased scientific agenda.” Indeed, according to the tanning industry’s January 2015 issue of Smart Tan, the ASA succeeded in convincing (bullying?) the CDC to remove claims of a 75% increase in melanoma risk from sunbed use that had previously been displayed on the CDC website.
The conference is free of charge, but registration must be completed beforehand.
This international conference will cover topics of enduring relevance and growing importance concerning (the reach of) positive state obligations in relation to prejudice and discrimination; and will address these from a multidisciplinary perspective.
While it stems from a legal perspective, the contributions go far beyond traditional definitions of the law to reach into the societal movements and norms that create and influence law.
As an academic, I crave silence. In fact, without silence, I can’t think. And since thinking is my job, in our current media blitz steal-your-attention economy, I’m often miserable. When I don’t wish to work from home or my office, or am on the road, there are scant places where I can simply walk in, sit down, open my computer, journal, or book, and get to work. It’s a tyranny of noise. Or in the words of Grand Master Flash in “The Message”: “It’s like a jungle sometimes It makes me wonder how I keep from going under.”
The noise, the stress of noise, the violence of noise, is one of the elements that push us close to the edge.
As I study harmony inside and outside, among humans and between humans and nature, silence – or the science of listening – plays major. If we wish to cultivate a harmonious society, where we can invest our resources in art and movement and beauty and biomimcy and regeneration, then we need to create the conditions where we no longer have to contend with broken social norms; where crime is low to nonexistent; where hunger is nonexistent. Where we’re not polluting our air and our pure water is sacred. Where we respect silence and freedom of movement enough to create large carfree swaths of our cities. Where we find better ways to deliver goods like rail and cargo bike. Where we plant trees for shade and beauty.
People always lament: how do we get from here to there?
I always answer: queerly. Asymmetrically. In fits and starts. Non-linearly. Start with where you are. Don’t wait for a new city. Transform what you’ve got.
Buckminster Fuller always said that it’s easier to create alternatives and magnetize the world to the new innovation than to battle antiquated ideas. We have to actively make the old ideas obsolete by making the new ones simply more sexy.
But how do we make silence sexy? How do we make the tao sexy? How do we make sitting around and doing nothing (meditation) sexy? How do we make things sexy without the manipulative strobe-light grab you by the eyeballs and ears approach of hype-media that has come to be the dominant carnie form in late capitalism?
We do this by fairyrings of trees, solidarity circles of silence, nested neighborhoods of stillness. Dedicated communities upon communities showing the shades and nuances and varieties of silence, stillness, quietude, tranquility. We show the 1001 ways of doing silence. The abundant variety of nuance. We help people downregulate from numb dumb shouting blaring beeping to listening to jazz, then classical, then kora and koto, then the water in the river, the wind in the leaves, their own breath. We take people down in stages. We titrate with waves of in and out, so it doesn’t have to be all or nothing, so severe. But it does become all-encompassing in a non-cloying, non-forced way. Like the unforced force of the better argument – which only works under the auspicious conditions of listening and self-reflection and openness – silence can be won. It can be wooed.
For if we don’t have places to think, what good are our cities? Without silence, how do we think? How do we enter conversation, if not from a place of knowing our own thoughts? How can we truly join a crowd or a team if we don’t already know the beautiful solitude of trusting our senses, by living in places of beauty and the song of the elements?
Si estén en Santiago de Chile, porfa venga a esta charla que voy a dar en ingles martes, el 17 de diciembre.
El Instituto de Ciencia Política, invita a la charla “The Promise and Perils of Carbon Taxes for Inclusive Prosperity”, presentada por el profesor Yogi Hendlin, Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity Initiative, Erasmus University Rotterdam, el martes 17 de diciembre, a las 11:00 horas, en la sala de Consejo del Instituto, 2do piso de la Facultad.
I recently read – from afar – the sorry state of the UNFCCC #COP25 in Madrid. According to 350.org, instead of barring fossil fuel companies from engineering the COP, the security guards at the UNFCCC forcibly removed hundred of activists and scientists who aimed to bring gravitas to an otherwise hypocritical and superficial discussion.
The de-badging of climate activists, who refused half-measures and rhetoric as adequate given the current hundreds of billions if not trillions of dollars of damages each year due to corporate- and government-induced climate chaos and decades of enforced ignorance, is not surprising–but it is the first time this has occurred on this scale at the UNFCCC.
In response to the attention she was receiving for her vocal objections to international leaders’ refusal to address global warming, critics in the 2030s asked why teen climate activist Elisa Garcia-Reilly wasn’t in an abandoned school bailing water and shooting enemy foragers. “Instead of constantly screeching about how all our policies are selling out her generation and dooming them to unavoidable suffering, maybe this little hussy ought to spend more time in the remains of what was once a high school choosing which infants to save and defending her family’s food cache from scavengers,” said television pundit Caden Williams of the 16-year-old climate activist, voicing the sentiments of critics who declared that she had no clue what she was talking about and was trying to catastrophize being constantly starving and up to her waist in water.
Having myself attended the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2002, in an action with AdBusters, I too was de-badged as US representative to the meeting Colin Powell obfuscated effective action. That was 17 years ago. Things have gotten even worse since then, and now climate chaos is felt in every part of the world.
The question remains: what will it take before we prioritize life over profit?
Will the currents have to stop? Massive crop failures from extreme weather events? Heat waves that kill millions? Dikes cracking from prolonged droughts? Wild fires destroying trillions of dollars of real estate? The end of business as usual as commodity chains break down?
The problem is, in our current system, there simply is no circuit breaker. There is nothing that could happen – within our current dominant mindset – that would force action. It’s like the person bleeding profusely who swears they’re healthy until they fall over and die, instead of getting the help they need and interceding on the “inevitable.”
Climate chaos is a spectrum. The more we double down with ignorance and denialism, the worse it gets. The sooner we clean up our act, the less possibility that doomerism will be correct. The irony of deterministic ideas such as “Well, we destroyed the climate, so might as well enjoy the luxuries before they’re all gone,” is that the path is made by walking. Yes, we have created since the industrial revolution, a tremendous amount of path dependency, creating ozone holes, the 6th great extinction, and making life on earth very difficult for the next hundred (or thousand – our choice) years.
But, what we do now crucially influences whether we get to keep some of the goods of human civilizations while jettisoning as soon as possible the bads; or, if we take out the majority of complex life on earth out with our species. It’s our choice. But it requires completely reorganizing society according to our interspecies interdependence, and revere the processes of nature which human artifice and systems of control and domination have swerved into dysfunctional and perverse fragmentation.
Today I gave a talk at the Stanford History of Science and Technology Workshop on Industrial Epidemics. It was a pleasure to discuss the ins and outs of public health, corporate malfeasance, and glyphosate in particular with the students and professorate of the History of Science and Technology Program. Especially rich were the insights of Robert Proctor, the coiner of the term agnotology, who has been a great inspiration for my own work.
Here’s the Abstract:
Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) have turned out to be quite communicable; the disease vector isn’t some virus or pest, but instead the very bulwark of industrial civilization. While NCDs have always been with us as a species, their normalcy and multiplication is novel. The very system of corporate science, muscle, and capital that helped eradicate harrowing infectious diseases that threatened generations in the 20th century have left in their wake a new epidemic of chronic disease above and beyond background levels for the 21st century to clean up. The rise of chronic disease tracks directly with the rise in environmental exploitation and industrial pollutants. By virtue of epidemiology and randomized control trials, we know that certain classes of people (such as smokers, obese people, chemical manufacturing workers, farmers using pesticides) have inordinately more chronic disease than people without those exposures. Many people, especially as they age, incur multiple chronic diseases, causing them much suffering, and costing them and society extensive financial resources. Merrill Singer ( 2009, xiv) describes how syndemics represent “a set of enmeshed and mutually enhancing health problems that, working together in a context of noxious social and physical conditions, can significantly affect the overall disease burden and health status of a population.” Adopting the public health descriptor of epidemics associated with infectious disease for chronic disease conditions, framing the rise of chronic disease first in developed countries and now worldwide in terms of an epidemic caused by industrial processes, scrutinizes how corporate behavior socially determines the health of populations. This paper focuses on how these mechanisms have manifested in the agrochemical and petrochemical industries.
And my bio:
Yogi Hale Hendlin is an assistant professor in the Erasmus School of Philosophy and core faculty of the Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity Initiative at Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands, as well as a research associate in the Environmental Health Initiative at UCSF. Yogi has been working at the intersection of public health and environmental political philosophy for 15 years and has published in journals such as MMWR, BMJ, Ambio, PLoS Medicine, The American Journal of Public Health, Tobacco Control, Environmental Philosophy, Environmental Ethics, and the Annals of Internal Medicine. Yogi’s work has been taken up in popular media outlets such as Time, National Geographic, The Guardian, BMJ, CNN, Fox, Salon, Reuters, Gizmodo, Bloomberg, Nautilus, The Revelator, and Science Daily. Yogi is currently writing a monograph titled Industrial Epidemics: Chronic Disease and the Corporate Determinants of Health.
In the flurry of the semester starting, I’ve been remiss in updating this blog with a couple important articles that have come out in the press discussing the environmental harms of electronic cigarette (ecig) electronic waste (ewaste).
Both The Guardian and National Geographic did excellent jobs surveying the topic and getting across the complexities as well as most important points. And I’m grateful to through interviews have been able to contribute to these articles.
I think the most important point I made in The Guardian article is the need for Extended Producer Responsibility, and how it practically works:
Hendlin said he and other environmental advocates have endorsed an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) model for e-cigarettes – one JUUL is considering. This would include charging users an extra deposit (ie $1.00 per pod, $5.00 per vape unit) that consumers get back when they return them, practices like returning old packaging to JUUL after receiving new pods each month, and refunding or giving credits for returned pods/vapes.
What made me want to puke however, is just before I was settling down with my popcorn to watch the (excellent!) National Geographic video they made on the effects of e-cig waste, I was subject to a 15-second propaganda piece by the grandmasters of waste and treachery themselves, Nestle. Especially as in my piece in The Conversation, I write
The two largest global brands of capsule coffee, Nespresso and Keurig, are regarded by many as environmental nightmares. Billions of the throwaway nonrecyclable plastic products currently clutter waste dumps, waterways and city streets. Both inventor of the “K-cups” John Sylvan and former Nespresso CEO Jean-Paul Gaillard have publicly bemoaned the environmental consequences of the products they once championed. Sylvan has stated that the disposable (but not biodegradable) coffee capsule is “like a cigarette for coffee, a single-serve delivery mechanism for an addictive substance.”
The comparison between cigarette butts and capsule coffee is surprisingly fitting. Both butts and capsules are intentionally designed to be convenient, single-use products. Both are also nonbiodegradable and unrecyclable. As pervasive and polluting as cigarette butts are, however, the e-waste from e-cigarettes presents an even more apt comparison.
You can imagine how I felt then, when Nestle pimps this feel-good (Spanish language!) advertisement at me, never mentioning the billions and billions and billions of plastic-metal-paper non-recyclable single-use bad-tasting coffee hits it blights the planet with each year.
Who is fueling the Alice in Wonderland media world which slowly is infecting and deceiving people around the world, spreading the ignorance virus?
Let’s take the way that Trump wanted to roll back the Obama-era federal fuel emission standards as an example. While Trump and the oil companies thought this would be a marvelous idea, to stick it to the liberals, so that we’d waste more oil, astonishingly the four biggest auto manufacturers were opposed to this, as they had already begun producing cleaner cars, and other big markets like Europe have similar fuel and pollution auto standards, so going Neanderthal in vehicle fuel and emissions standards didn’t make sense. It was a big surprise to the White House, apparently, that creating more pollution and costing individuals more to fill up their tank didn’t work, even with auto manufacturers. What a surprise for Trump and Co. to realize that even pandering to the worst possible arguments didn’t work. Then 4 of the largest automakers and the state of California made a pact that they would uphold the previous Obama-era emissions standards and fuel targets. Because it made good business sense. (Nevermind the fact that it saves consumers hundreds of billions of dollars and reduces pollution).
The New York Times somehow thought it fitting to ask the Trump Whitehouse to weigh in.
“Unfortunately, California is trying to impose its failed policies on the rest of the country by making new cars significantly more expensive for American consumers and less safe,” said Russ Vought, the acting director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, in an emailed statement. “Even worse for Americans on the road, a handful of irresponsible automakers are aiding California’s radical agenda that will hurt every one of us.”
This completely up-is-down-and-down-is-up response, which is about as far away from reality you can get unless some giant loaded you in one of those dog ball-throwing launchers and whipped you into a few galaxies down the lane, not only reaffirms that US Government has become a premier propaganda machine, in their attempts to rival North Korea and China, but also shows how the New York Times is working for the same corporate masters. Why? Two reasons.
First of all, the dumb idea to force California to not enforce it’s laws is a non-starter. What ever happened to states’ rights? Oh yeah, that was only a corporate tool, and to gain libertarian votes and then give them the finger. Classy, tea partiers and Koch Co.
Second, there’s the fact that California will not comply with unreasonable federal the-sky-is-falling threats. Sorry, California is the world’s 5th largest GDP, you can’t push it around like that. We control your freaking internet ;) But why is the NYT giving more platform to the Competative Enterprise Institute, a well-known rabid racist, misogynist, and overall ahistorically-inclined corporate front-group? There are a million intelligent people to interview about how laughable this proposal is, how the Trump administration will never achieve this, and that it’s just shirtcocking posturing from Mr. smallfingers. But no, the NYT goes for its one interview with the humpback goon of Trump. Great balanced reporting, right there.
“The Obama-era tailpipe pollution rules that the administration hopes to weaken would require automakers to build vehicles that achieve an average fuel economy of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, cutting about six billion tons of carbon dioxide pollution over the lifetimes of those vehicles. The proposed Trump rule would lower the requirement to about 37 miles per gallon, allowing for most of that pollution to be emitted.”
“Xavier Becerra, the California attorney general, restated his intention to sue over any attempt to undermine his state’s legal authority to set its own pollution standards. “California will continue its advance toward a cleaner future,” he wrote in an email.”
The ISEE, or the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology, is an organization that one would expect to walk its talk. After all, it has been around for 31 years with its annual conferences, and is one of the most sophisticated and cutting edge of the biological medical sciences. Environmental epidemiology’s ability to aggregate data across many different scientific domains in a meaningful way, to build off of findings in genetics, population biology, medicine, and public health, is truly extraordinary. Furthermore, the field has demonstrated a commitment to addressing questions of environmental racism, classicism, and gender inequality, and is actively diverse.
Why then, at my first ISEE conference, in Utrecht, which was a 30 minute train ride from my home in Rotterdam, am I bombarded with 1960s style catering?
I know, I know. Why pick on such a minor detail? After all, the content of the meeting is driving policies far more important than some PC peccadillo having to do with food, right?
I do not dispute the good of bringing people together here. I do not dispute the good of the research, the necessity of the work. But I do object to the weak argument that because of all the other good being done, that we can ignore our own personal emissions and harms, that we can refuse responsibility to do our part, to do better, to be the change we wish to see in the world.
The metaphor is how discredited Al Gore has been for flying all around the world on his private jet to promote sustainability. It doesn’t pass the smell test. How can we say, “Do as I say, not as I do?” It’s this sort of elitist thinking that got us into this quandary in the first place.
Example A. In a Symposium session today on “A World less dependent on fossil fuels — scientific evidence and corporate influence,” a presenter brought up the fact that the way academic conferences are organized are going to have to change. But, the presenter said the AMA (American Medical Association) has to change, but immediately addended his comment with, “But not the ISEE.” I and a few others blurted out “Why not?” Why is our precious little conference exonerated? How are we any different, except for our smaller size? People still are arriving from all over the globe via airplanes to spend 3 days presenting a 10 minute paper and then hanging around nervously at the peripheries hardly communicating with people they didn’t already know.
Which leads me to the point of my post.
I have been to APHA and many other larger and smaller conferences, in Europe and the US, and I am sorry to say that this is the least environmentally sustainable conference I have ever been to. The fact that hundreds of thousands of pieces of single-use plastic are being used every day for this conference should be sobering to us all.
And the fact the majority of the food is meat and animal-based shows the height of hypocrisy on environmental issues—not leadership.
Therefore, I propose that the ISEE adopt the following two binding resolutions, effective immediately, and for all future conferences:
(1) Conference organizers and any other contracted companies and caterers shall only use reusable forks, knives, spoons, plates, bowls, cups, and other food ware items. This includes no longer relying on single-use creamers, sugars, etc.
(If the ISEE and its conference organizers are still addicted to disposables, at least have them be PLA (compostable bioplastics), which is a far second-best to washing actual silverware and dishes, but is still better than sucking down more on the plastic-petrol pipeline.)
(2) In light of the well-documented harmful effects to personal and planetary health, ISEE conferences and gatherings shall only serve vegetarian meals, with a minimum of 50% of all meal items being vegan (and clearly labeled). This is consistent with the evidence base and ISEE’s leadership in walking our talk on health and climate change. Please forward these resolutions to the authorizing boards, and let me know the outcome of the vote.
I see this as a beginning, not a destination. Complacency on these issues will just make the ISEE less relevant. For example, the name badges are oversized non-recyclable hard plastics. A huge amount of waste. And instead of giving steel water bottles out at every conference, just start selling them, and advertise in large font “BRING YOUR OWN REUSABLE WATER BOTTLE.” A little prevention goes a long way. But we, more than anyone, environmental epidemiologists, already knew that.
It turns out, that in the ISEE’s 2018 meeting in Ottowa, Canada, a country quickly becoming synonymous with oil power obliterating public health, that affiliated societies part of the ISES-ISEE joint conference received financial sponsorship by ExxonMobil — a huge conflict of interest! That the ISEE, and its local organizers let this one “slip past them,” is a huge cognitive-ethical bungle. How can public health researchers be credible in evaluating the science of pollution when they are lining their pockets and funding their meetings with those very same polluters’ dollars?
In the Introduction to the symposium on “A world less dependent on fossil fuels – scientific evidence and corporate influence” Prof. Dr. Manolis Kogevinas, Research Professor of the NCDs Program at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, gave a talk on August 26th, 2019 that included the following abstract:
The Symposium organised by the Policy Committee of ISEE originated following the widespread surprise and annoyance of our members from the sponsorship of the 2018 ISES-ISEE joint conference in Ottawa by ExxonMobil. ISEE did not directly accept these funds but other societies are more willing to accept them. We will argue that organizations representing health researchers should not accept support from the fossil fuel extraction companies. Banning health research funded by the tobacco industry helped bring major public health gains; we will argue that we should do the same with BigOil. We further argue that ISEE should become more vocal on this issue and promote measures such as divestment from these industries. There are three main reasons for taking this position: (i) The most important is that fossil fuel industries are major determinants of human disease and environmental deterioration; (ii) The second is that they knew! Like the tobacco industry, Big Oil knew for decades that their products could make the planet uninhabitable, and intentionally buried the evidence; (iii) The third reason is that like our stand against the tobacco industry that resulted to significant public health advances, we should take a categorical, effective and clear-cut position against the products and actions of these harmful industries. The science is more than adequate to warrant action. Unless we do this, we will not be able to effectively convince the lay public and our politicians of the urgency with which we must mobilise. The proposed Symposium will illustrate major aspects of health consequences of fossil fuel combustion and the reactions of the industry trying to influence epidemiological research. We will discuss on the way epidemiologists should continue providing essential support to health policies avoiding corporate interests while encouraging industry and other stakeholder involvement as a part of the solution to the problem.
Many colleagues and students ask me what books or authors I would recommend. So, I’ve decided to start an archive of the best tools on the web, and the most impactful books I know of for social and personal evolution.
(this is a work in progress, that I will be iteratively updating)
Having lived for the better part of my life in the San Francisco Bay Area, I have put in my time on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system. From it’s loud, overcrowded, clunky, and infrequent trains, to the spate of BART police shootings of young men of color, this privatized (militarized?) operation has a monopoly on public transport, and unashamedly has its will with the region with little grace.
The latest offense is the instillation of “skull crusher” “inverted guillotine” pop-up spring-loaded barriers, that could hurt or maim (it’s just a lawsuit waiting to happen).
Instead of pouring money into education, or helping the homeless, the Bay Area has now apparently prioritized metal spikes shooting up from their BART turnstiles. Way to go, gentrification!
The fact that “fare jumping” is solved by violence is telling. Instead of maybe just making the BART – a public service – into a public company, free for all riders, payed by a corporate property tax (or some other public funding in the insanely overpriced Bay), as many other localities such as Tallinn in Estonia have done, doubling down on menacing design elements further marginalizes the marginalized. BART really doesn’t lose much money at all on fare jumpers. Their financial mismanagement is sui generis. Yet, like all administrative classes, the propensity to pay themselves more to harm the poor is too tempting; it exculpates their responsibility for mismanagement (and points to the need for the region to re-buy the service to run it correctly), and instead finger-wags at “scofflaws” for being bad people, when all they really are doing is what is necessary to get around their own town when they haven’t benefited from the Silicon Valley boom.
The book Unpleasant Design discusses the epidemic of public infrastructure that makes being in public an injurious experience for those worst off. From bus benches in shelters that slope so you can’t sleep on them (you’d fall off), to “anti-homeless spikes,” sonic warfare (projecting odious or repetitive noises, like that corporately-engineered “hit” “Baby Shark“), ordinances against “sitting” or lying in public spaces for too long — rich countries, especially English-speaking ones, have declared war on public space.
Unpleasant design takes what little of the commons are left – the nooks and the crannies – and puts money into destroying them to keep out “undesirables.” This racist and classiest action is often the result of gentrification; justified to keep the zoos of the rich free of those who can’t pay their entry fee.
The psychological warfare of guillotine turnstiles makes the entire experience of public transportation less comfortable for everyone. Instead of dealing with the 80-20 principle that 80% or 90% of riders will pay no problem, and that there will always be a remainder of the population that for what ever (often very legitimate) reason cannot or will not pay, BART has chosen to harm the public, pushing more people into their polluting cars.
I’m sure before long, people will be defacing these violent turnstiles. And it is likely that the accumulated rage against BART will reduce paying ridership (despite their monopoly), actually bringing them less money than they had before–the exact opposite result than they profess to so-desperately and so-forcefully want.
The public outrage on Twitter is already loud and clear against BART’s weaponization of its service. Such aggrandizement activities miss the point of their charge: they are in the business in providing a public service, and some people can pay more, some less, and not at all. Perhaps peg BART tickets to income. Then the rich might pay $100 per ride, the poor the normal $3.40 trip, and the very poor nothing. That would be a fair approach. Our society is far from that enlightened thinking, sadly, even in that hotbed of *potential* San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, and environs.
But let’s not deceive ourselves. There’s a reason why you can’t take the BART to Marin County: racism. Back in the 1950’s there was a plan in place to extend the San Francisco BART to Marin (North Bay), but because of vocal refusal by residents, it failed. And now, no easy public transportation (besides the ferries) go to Marin. The Bay Area is disconnected by design, an open gated community in a natural and cultural paradise predicated on class, race, and exclusion.
Have we not evolved as a city in 70 years? Are we still just as violent towards those less fortunate than us. San Francisco is a mess because of its wealth. But at least on this case of BART structural violence, the people are having their day of reckoning.
About a decade ago, the “American Vaping Association” railed against RJReynolds (later RAI, now part of British American Tobacco (BAT)) for attempting to persuade the FDA to “ban the sale of open-system e-cigarettes, including all component parts.” Now that pretty much all of the e-cigarette companies are tobacco companies, from Altria’s 35% stake in JUUL to RAI’s Vuse being #2 in the US, the question is moot. Big Tobacco won. Open systems are on the fringe, for people like Leonardo di Caprio.
Reynolds’ play to racism and prejudice by equating Chinese manufacture with poor quality is telling. Their own products are manufactured in China. But in order to try to dissuade the FDA from allowing open tank vape systems, it plays the China card. We need to educate people to stop doing this, as 99% of the time they are being hypocritical anyways (their own products are being made in China); and also, American manufacture now is mainly robot-run anyhow. Few quality American manufacturing jobs exist, compared to the 1970’s, for example.
What remains to be seen in the indefinite postponement of the E-cigarette regulations by the FDA is whether Big Tobacco got their way; or if public health will see their day.
For the last 8 summers, Switzerland has been wrapping glaciers in blankets to stop them melting. These desperate strategies are increasingly becoming more common as our ecosystems unravel, ecotourism becomes threatened, and local people’s semiotic world falls apart. The Estonian philosopher Ivar Puura has coined the term “semiocide” to describe what happens to our familiar environmental scaffolding falls away. The violence of climate change is precisely that of diaspora, it is a destruction of continuity, of community, of memory, of what James Gibson calls our “affordances.”
Realism in climate change has always taken a back seat to sustaining the unsustainable, as Ingolfür Bluhdorn has pointed out. We have neglected taking action because we have failed to realize how delicately and intimately our fundamental humanness is tied up with this fluke of stable predictable climate and biodiversity. The industrialized western mind too quickly found it plausible to remain human while dehumanizing our historical environments. The pipe dream of infinite fungibility, attempting to conquer the irreversible arrow of time, has left us with no more capital in our pockets. We have converted life into digital bits, and our digital bits can never buy back life.
The modelling of exchange has dominated our miscalculations. Discounting has reigned as the controlling paradigm, when the few metrics ill-fitted for values beyond exchange monetary value have even entered the accounting process.
Thus, we find ourselves covering glaciers with blankets instead of simplifying life. The quixotic act serves only to further burlesque the limpness of international governance of runaway corporate fossil fuels industries.
There is not enough blankets in the world to cover the glaciers that will need covering. We now engage in these ridiculous fake-care situations, that are feel good, not efficacious. If those same Swiss citizens engaged in direct action to stop flying and driving, and returned Switzerland to a local, pre-fossil fuels economy, they would be much more effective in saving their charismatic glaciers than by these overdramatized overtures of love and dedication.
While covering glaciers may make for good Extinction Rebellion entertainment, the energy used to pop the popcorn to watch such a spectacle is not even worth the future warming to even enjoy anymore the stale popcorn.
We need to wake up to the elephants in the room – and stop immediately oil, coal, and gas drilling, for the rest of eternity.
After a successful 2019 Biosemiotics Gathering in Moscow, I’m happy to be sharing a deeper look at my project at the University of Tartu, in Estonia, giving a talk on Multi-level semiosis – and the impact of supernormal stimuli in the human superorganism and holobiont.
This is as part of the Berkeley-Tartu biosemiotic summer seminar in Tartu.
Part I: June 26, with Jeremy Sherman
Part II, July 11, with Yogi Hendlin
Part III: July 15, with Terrence Deacon.
Here is information about the part II.
On Thursday, July 11, at 14.15, Jakobi 2–336, Yogi H. Hendlin (University of California and Erasmus University of Rotterdam) will give a talk
Multi-level semiosis – and the impact of supernormal stimuli in the human superorganism and holobiont
Abstract. This talk draws on classic ethology and insights for humans as superorganisms living in artificial environments. It first describes the case for seeing the human body, and not just cultures, as itself a superorganism, but through the unconventional form of defining superorganism not as cells or individuals only of one species, but as inherently an interspecies phenomenon. Second, I describe how the holobiont view of the human organism helps make sense of this definition of the superorganism as interspecies. Finally, I’ll look at both classical and cognitive ethology to examine how even individuated human cells or other endosemiotic symbionts can also become affected by unfamiliar stimuli stronger than those their evolutionarily-geared heuristics are geared for. This overflow or flood of response to certain stimuli I see as a relevant form of supernormal stimuli, as Niko Tinbergen described this condition, even as I extend it to endosymbionts, beyond Tinbergen’s use of the concept specifically on the individual animal.
After a break, the meeting will continue at 6 p.m. at Vikerkaare 7–8.
We also expect to discuss some new ideas from the recent Gathering in Biosemiotics that took place in Moscow.
I gave a talk a few weeks ago for the Erasmus Sustainability Hub which is now online. I had a great time being interviewed by Wallerand Bazin. They did a great job too in assembling a set of links to some of the major themes I covered. I hope you’ll check out their blog series and support this new podcast.