Silent Spring — and Summer, Autumn and Winter

Illustration by Jessica Shepherd.
“Man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself.”
— Rachel Carson

New York, March 28, 2020

Dear Friend and Reader:

We who write about the environment invest a lot of energy into convincing people to care, or trying to. It’s not easy, it rarely works, and it’s a good way to make enemies (and not such a good way to get writing gigs). That’s because our job is to describe invisible threats that would be extremely inconvenient and expensive to respond to, and which most people seem willing to live with. Solving the problems is a threat to our way of life.

We have to talk about extremely unpleasant possibilities, like nuclear meltdowns near major metropolitan areas. We have to remind people they’re still imbibing bits of Chernobyl in their Turkish figs and dates. We know things that make eating tacos extremely unpleasant, and that would make you never want to go out for sushi again.

It’s easier not to care, and some would say that denial is an essential survival mechanism. Everyone who writes about environmental issues is confronted by this barrier. At some point (maybe usually), environmental writers feel like others perceive us as claiming that the sky is falling.

Deserted SoHo street in New York City. Photo by Mike Segar.

To do this work, one risks arrest, excommunication, being accused of anything whatsoever, having one’s brake line cut, and getting one’s house and documents burned down. Speak up about an environmental problem and you can be made into an enemy of the people.

The Streets Are Deserted

We’re now experiencing silent spring here in the Northern Hemisphere. The streets of major cities are deserted. The restaurants, cafés, parks, theaters and shopping centers, are all eerily quiet. Manhattan’s once-vexing 8th Ave. is now the perfect skateboard park.

Billions — yes, billions — of people have been told to stay home, stay inside, shelter in place and avoid contact with others. I’m still wrapping my mind around this. I am still flashing back to pictures of the gone world. All of this is due to an environmental incident.

Rachel Carson in the early 1960s wrote about a different silent spring, one where DDT wiped out all of the songbirds. At the time, and until the phase-out was complete in 1972 (after which it was repeatedly challenged in court), this pesticide was being sprayed from the sky, from trucks driving through neighborhoods, from tractors on farms, and from portable cans in private gardens and homes. The purpose was to kill mosquitoes, house flies, cockroaches, potato beetles and other insects. It was even being infused into wallpaper for use in children’s rooms. [Read my coverage of the 50th anniversary of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson.]

It was everywhere, and today, despite not being used most places, it’s lodged at measurable levels in in nearly everyone’s blood and fat tissue. Like many other chemicals, DDT bioaccumulates. Each dose adds to what’s already there, working in concert with other compounds that accumulate the same way.

Once in the body, DDT disrupts the hormones and induces cancer (which are related). Most significantly, like thousands of other chemicals, DDT is an immune system disruptor. Any extrinsic chemical (deodorants, food additives, the scent in your shampoo, everything — and many things naturally found in food) ingested by a person consumes immune resources and provokes a defense. With enough exposure to chemicals, the immune system cannot function, increasing the risk of cancer and other illnesses. Hold that thought: it’s related to my main point.

Planet Waves is sponsored by our Core Community.

Illustration by Jessica Shepherd.

Coronavirus: What Exactly Happened?

Here’s the official story. This is not an endorsement. Back in December, some people around the Huanan seafood market in the Jianghan district of Wuhan China, are said to have contracted a new kind of pneumonia, claimed to have originated in a bat. In less than three months, the virus that caused the disease spread to every corner of the globe.

(This simplistic version of events has been thrown into question by many conflicting facts. I am at the stage in my reporting where I do not accept any of it as materially true. For example, a study in The Lancet establishes that the earliest patient’s case predates the cluster at the Huanan seafood “wet market,” meaning it came from elsewhere and was imported to the market. Authorities are investigating possible early cases in Italy. Reports of a mystery respiratory illness in the United States keep coming in earlier in 2020, and even into 2019, such as this Virginia incident in July.)

What we do know is that a worldwide pandemic has been blamed on a virus. Due to lack of surge capacity in hospitals, and fear of more people contracting the virus and getting sick, the economy has been all but shut down, businesses closed, school and university systems shuttered. As of today, most of the United States and much of the world is under a stay-at-home order.

Stock markets have crashed repeatedly and lost a third of their value in one month. More than three million people filed for unemployment in one week — nearly five times the previous record. It’s a beautiful spring day here in Kingston, warm and sunny and inviting. A few people are out, and an occasional car rolls by. The only neighborhood business that’s open is a pizzeria, for takeout. Oh, and Dunkin’ Donuts, which has had all the seats removed.

A Too-Simple Story, and Problems with Tests and Data

People are getting sick, but why? If you were to watch MSNBC, Fox or CNN for 100 hours running, you would get one version of events: there is a virus, it came from the Wuhan wet market, and some people who get exposed get sick. Some people who get sick get very sick and require intensive care; some of them recover and some of them die. End of story.

There is a test for the virus, but it’s given to exceedingly few people, so the statistical meaning of the results is unreliable: we don’t even have real numbers. The tests themselves have had problems, such as false positives, negatives and changing results. There is no antibodies test available. The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test is considered so inaccurate by some as to be a work of fiction — and it’s nearly impossible to get.

There’s no solid information on the time after exposure until a positive result.

Nobody knows whether you can be infected twice. (As I write, a report from NPR came in, saying that people in China who had COVID-19, resolved and tested negative, are now testing positive. Either seroconversion to negative is not permanent, or one can be infected twice.)

There is no cure (unless one believes in witchcraft or sorcery, i.e., herbalism or homeopathy, both of which seem competent to handle the problem, and which are sidelined when we need them most).

Outside these arts, there is no preventive except not being exposed: wash your hands, social isolation, just like in 1918. We’re all supposed to stay six feet apart from one another, and not breathe the same air. That’s because this “thing” might be lingering there, not really alive, a little smidge of RNA, one-eighth of a micron wide.

Therefore, nearly everyone reading this article is sitting in their home, isolating themselves, as if they already had a disease. For how long? Till Easter? For two more months? Forever? Nobody seems to know.

Planet Waves is sponsored by our Core Community.

Illustration by Jessica Shepherd

A Full-On War Response

Governments have gone to war, as if against an invading alien army. We’ve all seen those images of moonsuit-clad soldiers, in legions, like DEVO with 1,000 members, spraying some kind of disinfectant all over Asia — we don’t know what, or how toxic, or how effective. The Army is building a hospital in the Javits Convention Center in New York City.

As of Friday, March 27, General Motors has been ordered to make respirators under war powers granted to the president by the Defense Protection Act. Today, in one day, the federal government authorized itself to spend more than $2 trillion — about half the total American cost of World War II, in today’s dollars.

But we don’t really know what this thing is, how it behaves, how it initially spread, or where it comes from. It is a true fact that China’s only coronavirus research facility is in the city of Wuhan. It is a true fact that their bat virus researcher initially questioned whether the virus may have escaped from the lab. It would not need to be “man-made” or weaponized for that to have happened.

Let’s take a break for a statistical reality check, for a sense of perspective. As of this writing on Friday, March 27, about 30,000 people are said to have died from this mystery illness.

Just under 600,000 are said to have been infected, including those who have recovered. Of the 431,000 currently said to be infected today, 408,000 (about 95%) are said to be in mild condition, while 22,087 are in critical condition — worldwide. So this whole fuss is over 52,000 very sick or dead people — and the fact that most hospital systems are now at maximum capacity. This all could have been planned for, and it was not, because corporations were squeezing every penny out of hospital budgets, most of which run on a profit model.

And For Contrast and Perspective

Now for contrast. So far, about 14 million people have died this year, from all causes. More than three million humans have died from communicable diseases, in 2020 alone. More than 22,000 people have died of hunger — today. Remember, more people will die of hunger than have ever died of the novel coronavirus so far, every 36 hours. Who actually cares?

Illustration by Jessica Shepherd

Death by starvation has a cause, which is malnutrition. Worldometer calculates that as of today, there are about 842 million undernourished people in the world.

About 400,000 people have died of AIDS this year. About 73,000 mothers have died in childbirth, so far this year alone. For contrast: 30,000 coronavirus deaths, 22,000 more in critical condition, in total, worldwide, so far.

I recognize there is the threat of of potentially exponential growth of infections. Yet we don’t even know that what we’re doing is going to have a beneficial effect, after having waited so long to take action. It would seem that the most effective way to contain the spread of this virus is to test everyone, or many, many more people; currently, it verges on impossible to get access to the test.

I don’t know about you, but this really makes me wonder what is going on. And it also makes me wonder why we don’t try to solve all those other, much worse problems. I imagine that $2 trillion could feed all of those hungry people for quite a while and save a lot more death and suffering, and the economy would still be chugging along. We could have funded the Green New Deal five times over and forgiven every penny of student loan debt.

If the kind of effort, concern and expense being put into this one little virus was put into the climate problem, or the hunger problem, we would get a result that would help everyone. But is there going to be action on those issues?

It would seem not; it verges on impossible to convey that there is a even a problem worth solving.

Of Figure and Ground: Coronabro Meets Roundup

In this discussion, the “novel” (meaning allegedly new, previously unknown) coronavirus is the figure. It’s the big star.

It’s the thing everyone is talking about, which is dancing around on the stage. We’ve seen many different electron microscope pictures of it, and scientific drawings, and my favorite personification, spring break Coronabro, by our cartoonist, Jen Sorensen. Note, she refers to him as Brovid-19.

Coronabro by Jen Sorensen.

(Coronabro was last seen roaming around during spring break in Ft. Lauderdale, with a bottle of Corona. By the way, those little spikes are the corona part, like rays of Florida sunshine.)

The novel coronavirus is seemingly this independent actor, emerging from nowhere. It has the agenda of taking over the world and the economy, the medical system and our bodies. All of which was supposedly just dandy and fine before it took us all by surprise with its rather grand entrance and whacked us and the stock market and grandpa and shut down every café, bar, restaurant, bookstore, music shop and nail salon from San Francisco to Kyiv. Just like that.

Now let’s consider the background, or the ground: the wider environment where this is all taking place. All illness depends on susceptibility: lowered immune response, hormone disruption, chemical overload, genetic breakdown, poor nutrition, prior injury — something, or some combination.

Let’s talk about Roundup (glyphosate), a Monsanto product which is the latest thing being broadcast sprayed onto the food we eat, and applied to nearly every “weed” growing out of the crack in every sidewalk, garden walk or parking lot.

Roundup, what many people have considered the most wholesome product in the world, causes cancer of the immune system (non-Hodgkins lymphoma). And it is in nearly every bite of genetically modified food and many others. But talk to someone about problems with GMO foods and most will tell you that you’re anti-progress, anti-capitalist and afraid of science.

Roundup also attacks gut flora, upon which a strong immune system is dependent; it kills probiotic bacteria like the weeds it was designed to annihilate. So with all this Roundup exposure, we all have weakened immune systems, which means that our defenses are down. (And it’s not just from food; burn corn oil as biodiesel and burned Roundup is being broadcast into the air, which may have been happening in northern Italy.)

Bring this up and nobody wants to hear about it. Only at this moment, we need our immune systems. We need a defense against this new virus. One reason coronavirus is so devastating is that our natural defenses are compromised.

Planet Waves is sponsored by our Core Community.

Body Burden of Forever Chemicals & EMFs

Let’s give chemicals one more paragraph — the Roundups of a previous era. We all, as in all of us, carry a body burden of dioxins, furans, PCBs, phthalates (plasticizers), and PFAS (the Teflon chemical — make French toast in a Teflon pan with a bird in the room and you will kill it. Nearly all restaurants cook in Teflon pans.)

This body burden, which is added to with nearly every bite of food and breath of air, weakens immunity, disrupts hormones and induces cancer. Dioxin-like compounds are teratogenic: they “make monsters.” These are all forever chemicals: they are extremely persistent and each dose adds to what is already there. (The only exceptions are certain phthalates, which process through, but which are refreshed every time you eat out of plastic.)

Illustration by Jessica Shepherd

The current body burden and levels in the environment are called the background level. When Coronabro strolled onto the world stage, that is where it arrived. The stage was already packed with a supporting cast and chorus.

Then there is the EMF issue — electromagnetic radiation, microwaves, radio waves and all related forms of invisible energy. If you spend five minutes reading about coronavirus on the internet, you will see that many people are concerned about a connection to the new 5G “communication” system. This is really a wide diversity of wavelengths, intensities and sources of microwave radiation that will allow us to have things like driverless cars.

EMF radiation makes people sick, or gets us ready by weakening us. We might adapt to existing varieties, and then new kinds are introduced. There is a long history to this. 5G is part of the radiation problem; we’re also getting it from 3G and 4G (the current cellular system) and 2GHz phones in our homes, and from wifi and Bluetooth, all the time, all at once. Checking my wifi options right now, I see 58 networks — and I live in a tiny little town. It is fair to say that without the various 5G systems being powered up, we are already overwhelmed by EMFs. 5G will push some people over the edge — perhaps many people.

Now let’s ask: is it really true that Wuhan was a 5G rollout city? Or that the nursing home in Seattle or those cruise ships were outfitted with it? Is it true that a 5G satellite system was activated earlier this year? I cannot nail down those facts, though 5G is happening, and it’s being added to every other G that is bathing us in invisible light, around the clock. And every other chemical.

Last Problem for the Day: Nutrition

While nearly a billion people are officially malnourished, that says nothing about the ones living on hormone-infused meat and Roundup-soaked corn. It says nothing about people who have no idea how to take care of themselves — no concept of what proper nutrition actually means, or what foods they should and should not be eating.

There are many people for whom the notion of proper nutrition verges on a total mystery. Heck, many people don’t even realize that nutrition has any impact on their health whatsoever — an idea that is strangely alien to the American medical model.

Keep in mind that most “wholesome” foods deliver the body burden of dioxins, PCBs, and plasticizers. Most of what we call food is also packed with immune-compromising hormones and additives. And most of that food has little nutritional value. So even most of the allegedly well nourished are taking this stuff in, in high concentrations.

Americans in particular are accustomed to cheap, abundant stuff to eat, and you can see this from looking at their bodies. You could deduce it scientifically through triglyceride levels and blood pressure.

Illustration by Jessica Shepherd

And it is into this toxic wasteland that the novel coronavirus has made its entrance. Every virologist in the world knew this was possible. It is not a surprise. Everything from government reports to science fiction novels to scientific research papers to my friend Ward Stone have all said the same thing: that what we are witnessing is an inevitability, not some haphazard accident.

Why no masks for our nurses and doctors and EMTs? Why the shortage of hospital beds and respirators?

Dismantling the Pandemic Team

True fact: Trump dismantled the pandemic response team of the National Security Council because he thought that the risk seemed theoretical. So now his administration is responding to a pandemic with its defenses down: without the proper federal organization in place — and this is considered a top-level national security issue. And they are making very bad decisions, we have no real numbers and we’re supposed to pack into churches on Easter Sunday — I guess for our Come To Jesus moment.

So, whatever is causing our current problem, the figure is one thing, and the background is the other. Said another way, the figure — Coronabro — is the distraction. It’s the rodeo clown. The background is where the real information is coming from, if anyone is listening.

Does anyone want to hear that this is not about coronavirus but about everything else? Once we declare the current emergency over, everything else will still be there, and the next coronavirus can come along and do the same thing again.

Seen in a wholly positive light, this is an invitation and an opportunity. First, we will get a little downtime; if you’re not one week away from eviction or one day away from having no food, you might appreciate that. (Please, ask everyone you meet if they have enough food.)

We can take this opportunity to learn how to take better care of ourselves, which includes gearing down the insane pace of our lives. If you can afford food, you are no doubt eating better, since pizza on the run is no longer an option. If this virus is what it took, so be it. The air is cleaner, and society is quieter. Great Lakes full of jet and car fuel are not being burned, finally slowing down global warming.

Many people are getting to know their children for the first time, now that they’re not out of the house 12 hours a day. In New York City, there is a shortage of cats and dogs to adopt.

Take the opportunity to help your neighbors, and give them whatever you may have that they may need. Call your friends and cousins; make sure everything is cool. Do what you can for them.

We may be standing at the dawn of a whole new world.

Let’s make it a better one.

With love,


Planet Waves is sponsored by our Core Community.

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