Saturday was another busy day in our ongoing limited isolation.
Breakfast was depressing. Our granola and coffee were excellent and the eating of them a luxury afforded more by ongoing luck than planning.
It was the continuing bad news of the devastation and the absence of leadership in Beirut that was upsetting. It was like watching a rerun of the clean-up after Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana. That was another disaster accompanied by excellent meals for remote observers. Unless I’m wrong to believe that many of us consume our news at meal times.
So it was nice to have an early morning coastal walk in a harbour very much intact. A place where church spires and yacht masts dominate the skylines. Pray and play. Along a pier that ends at a lighthouse that was built as a battery to contain canons that never needed to be fired in defence. There was a chance, brief meeting with friends whose social distance was reduced from 800 km to just 5 metres for a five minute conversation.
Then we spent several hours in the garden levelling a stretch of hedge that can only be accessed from a roof. Our 15 minutes of clipping fame had expanded to two hours by the time we had collected, shredded and binned all of the cuttings.
Lunch incorporated a discussion about the despotism of cycle lanes. The news tells us that special powers have been given to the Dublin City Manager and he has taken affirmative but independent action. Cycle lanes are being created at his sole discretion. One assumes this is to encourage people of cycling age to get out and about by bike. Coastal carriage-ways are being halved in their capacity for motorised transport. And that halving necessitates the creation of one-way systems. This is all being done without consultation under emergency powers invoked by the national government to help manage the contagion. Temporary is the cover word being used for cycle route expansion. So it’s a social experiment, dare I presume?
It’s a regressive move that favours those who can afford an excess of lycra. This at a time when the vulnerable in society are struggling with issues that are not being addressed. Access to public transport is reduced by fear of contagion. Thus access to shops is reduced. At a time when the traffic flow to shops needs a boost, our city and town planners are adding restrictions based on carbon reduction aspirations. Looks like a ‘Let them eat cake’ moment to me.
Since livestock are responsible for nearly 20 per cent of all global greenhouse gases, why not metricate carbon emissions by cattle facts. I’ve read that the minimum cost a for a litre of milk is about one kilogram of burped greenhouse gas. The emissions could be six times higher in some regions such as the Sahel. For the same Sahelian six kilograms of CO2 or one litre of milk, we could drive a fully occupied bus some 60 kilometres.
So why build more cycle lanes? Isn’t the CO2 problem as simple as a weight loss mantra with one word changed? No so much ‘Move more, eat less’ as ‘Move more, burp less’. Isn’t the answer to add more public transport. Lots more buses. Electric buses that run 24/7 on routes that maximise access for all including the vulnerable. Use the emergency powers to build bus shelters that protect the vulnerable from the winter wind and rain.
We visited The Gutter Bookshop in Dalkey in the mid-afternoon. The primary mission was to cover a seventh birthday that’s coming up this week. Some adventures by David Walliams will do nicely.
A secondary benefit was the impromptu purchase of the essay How Contagion Works by Paolo Giordano. I read it cover to cover on a bench under a fading yet bee buzzing Calistemon bottle-brush, a spent Syringa lilac and a pleasant infestation of Montbretia Copper Tips.
In the opening chapter, Grounded, Giordano writes that ‘Once the emergency is over, any temporary awareness will also disappear – that is the nature of illness.’ I was immediately reminded of the Anais Nin comment that ‘We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.’ I was reading this in the moment but finding nothing in retrospect that was much wrong. My early contagion conversations and predictions were not dissimilar to the eloquent essay that Giordano wrote in a few days starting on February 29th.
A few reminders are useful. ‘If R0 is higher than 1, even slightly, we have an epidemic on our hands.’ Today, R0 in Ireland is creeping back up towards two but the official watch is on ‘the increase in cases and their clustering, rather than’ R0.
R0 still matters because as Giordano reminds us ‘Nature is, by its own nature, non-linear’. He adds that ‘Lowering R0 is the mathematical reason behind our self-sacrifice’.
He describes three phases as growth, suppression and patience. It seems we are failing to be patient. As he says ‘our only vaccine right now is an uncomfortable form of cautiousness.’
I strongly agreed and feel aggrieved that global leaders don’t see that ‘during a contagion, the lack of solidarity is first of all a failure of imagination.’
I also liked his description of an ultrasusceptible category that includes millions who have social and financial vulnerabilities. The recent meat-packing clusters in Ireland have exposed sharp practices among employers. They have instructed zero-hours employees to self-dose with anti-pyretics so that they pass the temperature screenings (among other outrageous employment abuses).
Like Giordano, I expect that contagion will happen again and again because the ‘contagion is just a symptom. The infection is in our ecosystem.’
He’s surely not wrong when he writes ‘Our civilisation can afford anything except slowing down.’ To my mind, there’s a clue in that sentence as to how we reduce the damage. We can and must afford to pay people to keep spending. Equality depends on money being in circulation. I believe that society will regress in proportion to the reduction in equality.
We need to learn the lessons from pandemic for the next one. He closes: ‘Gain a heart of wisdom. Don’t allow all of this suffering to be in vain.’