Can We Learn From This?

Pandemic Diary Day 15

April 8, 2020

It appears that Mother Nature is trying to hit the reset button. Can we take a more serious look at how we are destroying her and maybe do things just a bit different when this is all over?

The first sign that our shelter in place was helping was when people started writing about the dolphins returning to the canals of Venice. Alas, these were all debunked as doctored photographs. The canals are getting cleaner, but that is because no boats are churning up the muck at the bottom of the canals right now.

While the water may not be teeming with fish as though the city had instantly cleaned up its canals, the air is less polluted as there are less vaporetti and boat traffic than usual.

NASA recorded a sustained drop in the levels of noxious nitrogen dioxide in China after their lockdown. Even India is experiencing blue skies, something they haven’t had for decades, as I mentioned in my diary entry about privilege. This cleaner air phenomenon appears to be happening throughout the world.

Saly, this is a short term benefit, limiting travel has led to a reduction in vehicle emissions just as cutting industrial activity has led to a drop in the number of harmful particulates in the air.

Another part of this is the lack of city noise which I discussed in this diary entry. I hear more birds in the morning than ever before and am loving it. However, there is so much more to city noises than I knew.

From ‘The Pandemic Is Turning the Natural World Upside Down,’ an article in the Atlantic talked about the damaging effect of traffic noise:

Scientists have known for decades that noise — even at the seemingly innocuous volume of car traffic — is bad for us. “Calling noise a nuisance is like calling smog an inconvenience,” former U.S. Surgeon General William Stewart said in 1978. In the years since, numerous studies have only underscored his assertion that noise “must be considered a hazard to the health of people everywhere.” Say you’re trying to fall asleep. You may think you’ve tuned out the grumble of trucks downshifting outside, but your body has not: Your adrenal glands are pumping stress hormones, your blood pressure and heart rate are rising, your digestion is slowing down. Your brain continues to process sounds while you snooze, and your blood pressure spikes in response to clatter as low as 33 decibels — slightly louder than a purring cat.

It is a sad state that a world pandemic has brought us to a place with less noise, cleaner air and cleaner water. Sadly, those signs of human civilization will be right back where we started when the engines of the economy ramp back up, and very well may get worse when people crank up to their highest production to make up for lost time. When this begins to wind down we will also most likely be confronted with such low gasoline rates that people will take to the road more frequently.

None of what we are experiencing now is lowering the CO2 levels in the air, which is how we measure global warming, but it is a small glimpse into a better way to go forward.

Maybe those who have found that a one hour commute to and from the office is no longer necessary thanks to what they have learned working from home. Hopefully companies will recognize this. While they have built these giant campuses with food and entertainment for their employees, these status symbols should become a thing of the past. The concept of working from home may become more nuanced as we go forward, but maybe the concept of 9 to 5 seven days a week at a large carbon foot print work space isn’t the future we need.

The airline industry has been tasked by many people to figure out a less polluting fuel for their industry. Maybe this is the time to pour some of the bailout money they are receiving to dig deeper into this problem.

Many people in San Francisco are calling for utilizing this time to create more bike lanes, easy to do with so few cars on the streets. I would add, let’s find more ways to make walking in the city safe as well.

If history tells us anything, it indicates to me that we will learn nothing and therefore do nothing. In 1905 the City of San Francisco hired Chicago architect Daniel Burnham to create a grand plan for downtown. Burnham had proposed a neoclassical outlay with wide boulevards and avenues that radiated outward with large parks and monuments sited throughout. Then in just a few months San Francisco was hit with the 1906 earthquake and fire that destroyed more than 514 blocks of downtown.

In a rush to get businesses up and running as fast as possible the city sacked the grand plan and businesses started rebuilding within their existing property lines with no rhyme nor reason to city planning.

This shows me that inevitably we will not learn from this on a grand scale, but maybe we can take it to heart in our own small sphere of existence and in our own homes.

Trivial Things

My Horoscope for today: You can dish out criticism, but can you take it? It’s a question worth asking when the shoe’s on the other foot.

The NYT Crossword Puzzle: a tad tough for a Wednesday, with my favorite answer being ravel.

San Francisco weather: 56 degrees, mostly cloudy

NYSE DOW opened at: 22893

Italian word of the day: forzato (implorable)

Spanish word of the day: ambient (environmental)

OED word of the day: Simon pure

Days under Shelter In Place: 26

Reading: Why Does the World Exist by Jim Holt

Reading Canto XI of Dante’s Inferno

A Special Something: a fun picture from the internet

My Black and White Picture of the Day

Downtown San Francisco is boarded up for the duration of Shelter in Place

Funny Covid-19 Lines making the rounds on the internet: Half of us are going to come out of this quarantine as amazing cooks. The other half will come out with a drinking problem.



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