Face Mask People

Post Pandemic: Winners and Losers


The Post Pandemic Economy

There is no question in anyone’s mind that the coronavirus (COVID-19) has had a significant impact on the global economy and the lives of so many people.

The daily discussion in the world of politics and media focuses on social and economic impacts, and too often ranges from fear to anger.  The voices we hear from our global leaders to Wall Street to the titans of industry are missing the lesson and opportunity that COVID-19 offers humankind.

These so-called leaders fail to grasp the opportunity that COVID-19 has created  for the transformation of a global economy no longer sustainable by any honest metrics, and one that is so destructive to the delicate and planetary environmental balance on which we also all depend, it represents an even larger end game than the present pandemic.

Prior to COVID-19’s arrival, we humans entered the 21st century full speed ahead, blindly confident our consumption of resources, burning of fossil fuels, and increasing social and economic imbalance within the world’s growing human population, could, and in fact would, continue unabated and without consequences.

Scientists estimate that at least six out of every 10 known infectious diseases in people have spread from animals. More importantly, three out of every four new or emerging infectious diseases affecting humans come from animals. Zoonosis has its roots in elements from our current model of development, particularly in agriculture and mining, and in the way we develop roads and plan urban growth.

Vast changes in land use and the loss of habitat from these practices have put people and livestock into closer contact with wild species. They have exposed our societies to diseases for which no immunity has yet developed.

More than 70% of the ice-free land surface has been altered significantly already. By 2050, land-use change will affect 90% of the Earth’s land systems if we continue with business as usual, according to the Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. If we carry on the same path, a future pandemic could be even more deadly and costly in terms of lives and livelihoods.

Economic Indicators

Many Americans came into the nationwide lockdown with limited savings, despite gains made over the course of a record-long economic expansion. At the end of 2019, three in 10 adults said they could not cover three months’ worth of expenses with savings or borrowing in the case of a job loss, “indicating that they were not prepared for the current financial challenges,” according to  a central bank spokesperson.

Economic wellness measurements, like daily stock indices, financial arbitrage outcomes, hedge fund priorities, or the price of oil offer little insight into the health of the patient, the economy, which may hold a hidden and growing cancer about to blossom into many adverse effects.

Fortune 500 corporate priorities set the stage for corporate subsidies (taxpayer funded), and drive global government policies too often designed to serve the interests of corporations (who are not people, as defined in Citizens United vs. United States), and which inevitably leads to various forms of wealth extraction from the consumer class to the poorest of the world’s citizens.

A present day example, the current Administration’s die hard effort to preserve coal profits at the expense of clean energy jobs — policy and regulatory changes that created unnecessary public health costs, enabled higher dirty energy costs and environmental destruction, and has accelerated climate costs. All of which has left the American public to pick-up the tab for coal profits benefiting a few at the expense of the many.  — BeyondKona previously reported on the link between coal-fired power plant emissions and enabling the spread of coronavirus, COVID-19: https://www.beyondkona.com/editorial-pandemics-pollution-and-politics/

Even after COVID-19’s painful, but obvious lesson: business-as-usual is no longer sustainable, global leaders and financial markets are operating with the assumption we can continued to consume our deficit-spending of the planet’s natural wealth (against all science and common sense) without consequences to them, because someone will always bail them out come the next financial crash.

As if there was no tomorrow, tomorrow has finally arrived, and rather unexpectedly in the form of a global pandemic touching the daily lives of all people, regardless of their wealth or position.

Whatever our expectations, the fact is, business as usual is done — we humans must now adapt or go the way of the dinosaurs.

Beyond the Present — Projected Social & Economic Consequences

Winner & Losers 3

                                                        The above graph offers an incomplete sampling of possible economic and social changes ahead, and is based on a current trend analysis.  An increased emphasis on science and research and development are implicit in all aspects of any transformation going forward.


With infections surging, cities in lockdown, businesses shuttered, travel mostly on ice, layoffs mushrooming, there is little expectation that society will just return to the state it was before COVID-19’s arrival.  The number of Americans filing unemployment benefit claims hit a record of more than 36 million over a two month period ending mid May.

 

Jobless Claims

 

The global economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic will be with us for several years to come.  It will also present many opportunities for change and improvements in the human condition, beginning with a economy based on sustainable business priorities and the global transformation to an equitable and clean energy economy.

We have only begun to scrape the surface of technological advancements of the last 20 years, and apply those opportunities to betterment of humankind.

COVID-19 is not the end game for humanity. Rather it is the beginning of a new and transformative period in human history, much in the way the 14th century plague that sweep Europe finally led to Renaissance.

Now is the time for policy makers and all of humankind to rethink traditional assumptions and unsustainable business models, and to act on social and economic changes aligned with the realities and opportunities of a post-pandemic global economy.


Twitter, a case in point

The coronavirus pandemic forced millions of U.S. workers to abruptly transition from office life to working from home. With no end to the outbreak in sight, companies and their employees are preparing for several more months of remote work. The prolonged absence from the office has raised the question of whether some workers will ever go back.

Though the technology for large-scale remote work has existed for years, less than 4 percent of the U.S. workforce did their jobs from home before the pandemic. In a matter of weeks, that number grew to include roughly a third of all workers in the country.

A number of large companies, especially in the tech sector, have extended their work-from-home periods until the end of the year. On Tuesday, Twitter became the first major firm to allow employees to do their jobs away from the office permanently, if they choose.

The sudden mass migration of the white-collar workforce into home offices has been so transformative that a significant portion of workers will never come back, many industry experts say. The most important reason the change may become permanent is it seems to offer benefits to everyone involved. Employees are spared the time and expense of commuting and have more opportunities to see their families. Many report they have been more productive at home than in the office.

Companies could see major financial benefits from cutting their spending on expensive real estate and reducing the cost of maintaining office space — especially with the extra safety measures that will likely need to be implemented.

Employers that had been reluctant to allow remote work have seen that many concerns about lost productivity and harm to company culture are unfounded, labor analysts say. The pandemic also forced companies to tackle the expense and logistical challenges that may have been barriers to broad work-from-home policies.

“Given the choice between retrofitting their offices with expensive safety features, or allowing employees to work from home, it’s a good bet that many companies will choose the latter. But if working at home does become the norm, it will effectively shift the cost of maintaining and renting office space from the company to the employees.” — Inga Saffron, Philadelphia Inquirer

Covid 19 Breaks Apart

COVID-19 END GAME

The VIRUS

Here is what we don’t know

No one knows how and when the COVID-19 pandemic will end, including Donald J. Trump.

Here is what we do know — 

This coronavirus is unprecedented in the combination of being easily transmitted from one person to another, and COVID-19 exhibits a wide a range of symptoms (going from none to deadly).  It has disrupted a world with 21st century science and technology at its disposal, but in an environment of unprecedented global political division.

Viruses are constantly mutating. Those that trigger pandemics have enough novelty that the human immune system does not quickly recognize them as dangerous invaders.

They force the body to create a brand-new defense, involving new antibodies and other immune system components that can react to and attack the foe.

Large numbers of people get sick in the short term, and social factors such as crowding and the unavailability of medicine can drive those numbers even higher. Ultimately, in most cases, antibodies developed by the immune system to fight off the invader linger in enough of the affected population to confer longer-term immunity and limit person-to-person viral transmission. But that can take several years, and before it happens, havoc reigns.

What can we do?

Some of the world’s best scientific minds, and lesser minds in the political arena, are trying to figure out the end game of living with COVID-19, and into the foreseeable future.

The question as to how the pandemic will play out is part science, part social, and part political. The percentage of effort we give these 3 elements of COVID-19 decision making and policy will determine the degree of humanity’s success or failure in a battle to the death with this killer virus.

At best, present projections about how COVID-19 will play out are speculative.  The end game will most likely involve a mix of everything that checked past pandemics:

  1. Continued social-control measures to buy time,
  2. new antiviral medications to ease symptoms, and
  3. the Holy Grail — a vaccine.

If any of the several antiviral medications currently in development prove effective, they will improve treatment options and lower the numbers who get seriously ill or die. A technique to screen for SARS-CoV-2 neutralizing antibodies, an indicator of immunity in recovered patients, could also prove very useful.  Previously used only in local epidemics, these new serological assays won’t end the pandemic, but they could make it possible to spot and use antibody-rich blood as a treatment for critically ill patients; more certainly, the tests will also get people back to work faster if those who fought off the virus and are immune can be identified.

Unless a vaccine is administered to all of the world’s eight billion inhabitants who are not currently sick or recovered, COVID-19 is likely to become endemic. It will circulate and make people sick seasonally—sometimes very sick.  It is not clear whether a vaccine will confer long-term immunity as with measles or short-term immunity as with flu shots. But “any vaccine at all would be helpful at this point,” says epidemiologist Aubree Gordon of the University of Michigan.

But if the virus stays in the human population long enough, it will start to infect children when they are young. Those cases are typically, though not always, quite mild, and so far the children appear less likely to develop severe disease if they get reinfected as adults. The combination of vaccination and natural immunity will protect many of us.

The coronavirus, like most viruses, will live on—but not as a planetary plague. 

The Public, Political Reaction

As ‘quarantine fatigue’ spreads, Dr. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says second wave of coronavirus is ‘inevitable’ in the United States, which has recorded more than 1.3 million confirmed cases — nearly one-third of the global total.

Fauci also warned that “we could be in for a bad fall and a bad winter” if the right countermeasures aren’t put in place

A small minority of Americans are showing growing signs of “quarantine fatigue” and officials face pressure to ease coronavirus restrictions, factories, malls and state governments in many parts of the country are taking steps toward reopening.

A recent Monmouth University poll found 81% of Americans believe the outbreak measures taken by their state government have either been appropriate or not gone far enough. Therefore, protest coverage should include data showing real views of the public.

Given the size and composition of rallies’ focused on overturning public health measures designed for virus mitigation  it is unsurprising that many protesters neither practiced social distancing nor wore masks as shown by the media coverage.  Protesters wave signs and flags with a common theme objection to stay-at-home orders, including a mix of anti-vaccine and pro-gun rights activists, COVID-19 pandemic denialists, and conspiracy theorists.

Hawaii’s record of stay-at-home compliance has been a good one, and chiefly responsible (island-by-island) for state’s “momentary” success in mostly containing the COVID-19 outbreak.

What Can Hawaii Learn from this island prefecture?

Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido offers a grim lesson in the next phase of the battle against COVID-19. It acted quickly and contained an early outbreak of the coronavirus with a 3-week lockdown. But, when the governor lifted restrictions, a second wave of infections hit even harder. Twenty-six days later, the island was forced back into lockdown.

Hokkaido’s story is a sobering reality check for Hawaii and leaders across the world as they consider easing coronavirus lockdowns.

Experts say restrictions were lifted too quickly and too soon because of pressure from local businesses, coupled with a false sense of security in its declining infection rate.

The Japanese prefecture of 5.3 million people, known for its rugged mountain beauty and long history of farming and fishing, and was the first area of Japan to see a major coronavirus outbreak. It’s very different from Japan’s main island, Honshu, with its frenetic sprawling cities.

Hokkaido’s leaders acted early and decisively, even as the national government was criticized for moving too slowly to stop the spread elsewhere. Japan still has relatively few confirmed COVID-19 cases compared to other countries—12,400—but the numbers have more than doubled in the last two weeks.

Hokkaido doctors saw their first coronavirus patient, a tourist from Wuhan, China.

By mid-March, the health crisis was stabilizing—new cases were in the low single digits and even zero on some days—but complaints from businesses were increasing. Hokkaido’s two main industries—agriculture and tourism—had been devastated.

“Hokkaido’s business sector was opposed to the state of emergency, but the governor also wanted Hokkaido to be an example to the rest of Japan for how to control the virus,” says Aya Hasegawa, a reporter for the Hokkaido Shimbun newspaper.  Three weeks after Hokkaido successfully initiated CVOID-19 containment measures, the island was re-opened for business.  With the state of emergency lifted, and only residents who “feel unwell” were asked to stay at home, the rest of island engaged in limited social interactions in an attempt to find some kind of functional “normal”.

Large Japanese companies, after the state of emergency was lifted, began sending a fresh crop of workers from Tokyo and Osaka to Hokkaido.  That likely seeded even more infections and soon the second outbreak was in full bloom.

By April 9—exactly three weeks after the lockdown was lifted—there was a record number of new cases: 18 in one day. “Officials thought about people coming from overseas but never considered that domestic migration could bring the virus back,” said Hironori Sasada, professor of Japanese politics at Hokkaido University.

With a second lock down now in place in Hokkaido, businesses are now preparing for the long haul. Tetsuya Fujiawara, CEO of Smile Sol, a group of ten pub restaurants in Hokkaido, says even though sales are down 60%, he’d rather a strong, consistent lockdown than “lukewarm measures” that would only perpetuate the another cycle of restrictions being lifted and then reinstated as infections surge – again.

Living With COVID-19

Looking to recent history for clues on how best to live (not die) with COVID-19, the H1N1 influenza outbreak of 1918–1919 provides some useful guidance, even 100 years later.

Doctors and public health officials had far fewer weapons than they do today, and the effectiveness of control measures such as school closures depended on how early and decisively they were implemented.Covid 19 Breaks Apart

Over two years and three waves, the pandemic infected 500 million and killed between 50 million and 100 million.

It only ended as natural infections conferred immunity on those who recovered.

The H1N1 strain became endemic, an infectious disease that was constantly with us at less severe levels, circulating for another 40 years as a seasonal virus.

It took another pandemic—H2N2 in 1957—to extinguish most of the 1918 strain. One flu virus kicked out another one, essentially, and scientists don’t really know how. Human efforts to do the same have failed. “Nature can do what we cannot,” says virologist Florian Krammer of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.

Ultimately, in most cases, antibodies developed by the immune system to fight off the invader may linger long enough that the affected population will confer longer-term immunity to broader population and limit person-to-person viral transmission. But that can take several years, and after that happens, we will be judged by future generations on how well we succeeded or failed to address an unseen threat.

Editorial — Pandemics, Pollution, and Politics

Pandemics

Three-quarters of new or emerging diseases that infect humans originate in animals, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but it is human activity that multiplies the risks of contagion.

Humanity’s “promiscuous treatment of nature” needs to change or there will be more deadly pandemics such as Covid-19, warn scientists who have analysed the link between viruses, wildlife and habitat destruction.

Deforestation and other forms of land conversion are driving exotic species out of their evolutionary niches and into manmade environments, where they interact and breed new strains of disease, the experts say.

Roger Frutos, a specialist in infectious diseases at the University of Montpellier, said multiple studies have confirmed the density and variety of bat-borne viruses is higher near human habitation.

“Humans destroy the bats’ natural environment and then we offer them alternatives. Some adapt to an anthropomorphised environment, in which different species cross that would not cross in the wild,” he said.

Habitat destruction is an essential condition for the proliferation of a new virus, he added, but it is only one of several factors. Bats also need to pass the disease on to humans. There is no evidence of this being done directly for coronaviruses. Until now there has been an intermediary – either a domesticated animal or a wild animal which humans came into contact with for food, trade, pets or medicine.

In the 2003 Sars outbreak in China, it was a civet cat. In the Mers outbreak in the Middle East in 2012, it was a camel. Scientists have detected about 3,200 different strains of coronavirus in bats. Most are harmless to humans, but two very closely related sarbe-coviruses found in east Asia were responsible for Sars and Covid-19. The paper says future sarbecovirus emergence will certainly take place in east Asia, but epidemics of other new diseases could be triggered elsewhere.

South America is a key area of concern due to the rapid clearance of the Amazon and other forests. Scientists in Brazil have found viral prevalence was 9.3% among bats near deforested sites, compared to 3.7% in pristine woodland. “With deforestation and land-use change, you open a door,” said Alessandra Nava, of the Manaus-based Biobank research centre.

Pollution

A Harvard University study has linked dirty and polluted air to the worst coronavirus outcomes, and it has quickly become a political football in Washington.  Presidential candidates, agency regulators, oil lobbyists and members of Congress from both parties are using the preliminary research to advance their own political priorities — well before it has a chance to be peer-reviewed.

The stakes are high because the study’s tentative findings could prove enormously consequential for both the pandemic’s impact and the global debate over curbing air pollution. The researchers found that pollution emanating from everything from industrial smokestacks to household chimneys is making the worst pandemic in a century even more deadly.

The consequences and public health costs of Air Pollution before COVID-19, associated with elevated exposure to NO2 …

  • Hypertension,
  • Heart and cardiovascular diseases,
  • Increased rate of hospitalization,
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD),
  • Significant deficits in growth of lung function in children,
  • Poor lung function in adults or lung injury and
  • Diabetes

A second and collaborating European study published in the journal Science of the Total Environment has found that long-term exposure to air pollution may be “one of the most important contributors to fatality caused by the COVID-19 virus” around the world.

The study looked at COVID-19 fatalities in four of the countries that have been hit hardest by the virus – Germany, France, Italy and Spain. It found that 78% of deaths had occurred in just five regions in northern Italy and Spain.

These regions, the report notes, have the highest concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a pollutant harmful to human respiratory systems, while their geography means these areas also suffer from downward air pressure, which can prevent the dispersal of airborne pollutants.

Trump administrations environmental rollbacks will significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions and lead to thousands of extra deaths from poor air quality each year, according to energy and legal analysts.

As economies across the world are halted and millions of people abide by stay-at-home orders in the effort to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19, many are observing similar unintended consequences: cleaner air and water in some of the most polluted cities on earth.

  • Impacts of the new coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) could contribute to a near 8% drop in global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2020, according to a report from the International Energy Agency (IEA).
  • Global energy demand is expected to drop 6% this year, due to both the coronavirus and to countries seeing warmer-than-average winters. That 6% decline is seven times higher than the drop brought by the 2008 financial crisis. Alongside that decline in energy demand, IEA predicted demand for coal could fall by 8%, while oil will also see a downturn. But renewable energy sources may see an uptick in demand.
  • IEA said emissions are likely to rise again once economies reopen and recover, unless countries try to invest in clean energy and renewables. In a tweet, IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol called for “structural emissions reductions.”

If you lived through the Nixon years you may have thought you’ve seen it all.  From enemy lists to break-ins. But this current administration has demonstrated there is no limit to massive abuses of power and privilege.

The 21st century Republican party and its leadership, culminating in the actions and events leading to Trump’s impeachment, without consequences, and the obstruction of evidence in due process, speaks to the current system of governance which has broken the checks and balances within the Federal government.

Since assuming power, the Trump Administration has, and is, reversing nearly 100 environmental rules designed to protect the public health and the environment.

Epa Reversals

All told, the Trump administration’s environmental rollbacks could significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions and lead to thousands of extra deaths from poor air quality each year, according to energy and legal analysts.

At the same time, the Interior Department has worked to open up more land for oil and gas leasing by cutting back protected areas, limiting wildlife protections, and in policy partnership with the EPA, eliminating air and water pollution rules and protections.

The GOP controlled White House and Senate has taken gerrymandering, court stacking, influence peddling and profiting to a whole new level.

Unlike the days of Nixon, Trump and his party have a nation media empire which not only has their backs, but engages daily in misdirection and conspiracy theories and serves as a state propaganda machine the envy of even Russia’s state run media.

In U.S. cable and digital media markets, specifically, that’s influence which translates into effective mind control of the 30% of the population — (their) truth without facts, science as fiction, and serves as a policy feed-back loop for the President of the United States who gets his daily briefings from Fox, not the nation’s intelligence community.

All told, the Trump administration’s environmental rollbacks could significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions and lead to thousands of extra deaths from poor air quality each year, according to energy and legal analysts.

None of this will change until the GOP leadership is standing in the unemployment line come this November.

Virus Finanical Aid 2

COVID-19, Federal Financial Aid Headed to Hawaii

NEWS UPDATE – Monday, April 20th, 2020

Second Round Economic Relief Package Momentarily Stuck in the Mud of Politics

Negotiations between the Trump administration and Democrats to reach a final deal were not expected to finish Monday, congressional officials said, as they worked to resolve the disagreement. But Senate leaders scheduled a session for 4 p.m. on Tuesday, signaling optimism that they could resolve the issue and quickly approve the measure without a formal vote that would require senators to return to Washington.

Democrats are pushing to include a requirement in the agreement, which includes $25 billion for testing, that the government establish a national testing strategy, according to people familiar with the ongoing negotiations who asked for anonymity to disclose details.

Democrats have said that a national testing strategy is crucial to combating the further spread of the coronavirus and allowing states to plan for eventual reopening. Republicans, wary of placing the political onus on the administration to devise and carry out such a strategy, have argued that states should set their own plans.

Mr. Trump appeared to reject the Democrats’ proposal on Monday, by placing politics ahead of a coherent national testing policy needed to address the COVID-19 pandemic. “States, not the Federal Government, should be doing the Testing,” the president wrote on Twitter.

Last week ago the Democratic controlled House of Representatives and the Republican-controlled Senate, finally reached an agreement on the first round of Federal financial aid for workers and business, in response to global pandemic which is having impacts of the nation’s new stay-at-home economy.

The Congressional aid package (CARES) included a massive $2 trillion coronavirus economic recovery package. The aid package also represented the largest emergency relief package in American history – includes billions to help those who are unable to work due to the outbreak, direct cash payments to millions of Americans, new funding for state and local governments, including at least $1.2 billion for Hawaii, and aid for small businesses, hospitals, and health care workers.

Virus Finanical Aid

Key provisions in the financial aid package include:

Hospitals and health care workers – provides more than $130 billion to help hospitals, nursing homes, health centers, and health care workers across the country.

  • Billions for personal and protective equipment for health care workers, testing supplies, increased workforce and training, new construction to house patients, an increase of the Strategic National Stockpile, medical research into COVID-19 and Medicare payment increases to all hospitals and providers.

Unemployment assistance – provides $260 billion to help those who have lost their jobs or are experiencing reduced incomes.

  • Available to self-employed individuals, part-time workers, independent contractors, and gig workers, including ride-sharing drivers.
  • Covers those who are sick, quarantined, furloughed, or whose family circumstances keep them from working or reduce their pay as a result of the coronavirus outbreak or government containment efforts.
  • Aid will cover salaries up to about $65,000 for 4 months.

At least $1.2 billion for Hawai‘i – funding to the state and county governments that will help pay for Hawaii’s response efforts.

Direct cash payments – provides a one-time cash payment to millions of Americans.

  • Individuals will get $1,200 (joint filers get $2,400) plus $500 per child.
  • Benefits start to phase out for those with incomes exceeding $150,000 for married couples, $75,000 for individuals, and $112,500 for single parents.
  • Payments will not go to single filers earning more than $99,000; head-of-household filers with one child, more than $146,500; and more than $198,000 for joint filers with no children.

Small businesses and non-profits – provides $377 billion for small employers, including restaurants, hotels, and non-profits.

  • $350 billion in partially forgivable loans to small businesses and non-profits to maintain existing workforce and help pay for other expenses like rent, mortgage, and utilities.
  • $10 billion for Small Business Administration (SBA) emergency grants of up to $10,000 to provide immediate relief for small business operating costs.
  • $17 billion for SBA to cover 6 months of payments for small businesses with existing SBA loans.

Large employers – provides $500 billion to keep the biggest employers, including airlines, and their workers on the job.

  • Protects collective bargaining agreements and prevents employers from firing employees.
  • Extends health care benefits for airline contract workers.
  • Prohibits stock buybacks or dividends for the length of any loan provided by the Treasury plus one year.
  • Restricts increases to pay for top executives.

 

CARES Act information provided courtesy of Senator Brain Schatz’s office
Covid 19 Image

COVID-19, What We Don’t Know

White House Reality Check

President Trump this week proposed guidelines for reopening the economy and suggested that a swath of the United States would soon resume something resembling normalcy.

For weeks now, the administration’s view of the crisis and our future has been rosier than that of its own medical advisers, and of scientists generally.

In truth, it is not clear to anyone where this crisis is leading us.

The scenario that Mr. Trump has been unrolling at his daily press briefings — that the lock-downs will end soon, that a protective pill is almost at hand, that football stadiums and restaurants will soon be full — is a fantasy, most experts agree.

What We Don’t Know Can Kill Us

More than 20 experts in public health, medicine, epidemiology and history shared their thoughts on the future during in-depth interviews.

When can we emerge from our homes?Covdi 19 What We Don't Know

How long, realistically, before we have a treatment or vaccine?

How will we keep the virus at bay?

The path forward depends on factors that are certainly difficult but doable, they said: a carefully staggered approach to reopening, widespread testing and surveillance, a treatment that works, adequate resources for health care providers — and eventually an effective vaccine.

Still, it was impossible to avoid gloomy forecasts for the state, the nation, and the world next year.

_______________________________________________________________________

Despite the relentless, heroic work of doctors and scientists around the world, there’s so much we don’t know about this pandemic…

  • We don’t know how many people have been infected with Covid-19 (only reported cases).
  • We don’t know the full range of symptoms.
  • We don’t always know why some infections develop into severe disease.
  • We don’t know the full range of risk factors.
  • We don’t know exactly how deadly the disease is.

 

  • We also don’t have answers to more detailed questions about how the virus spreads, including:
    • “How many virus particles does it even take to launch an infection?
      • How far does the virus travel in outdoor spaces, or in indoor settings?
        • Have these airborne movements affected the course of the pandemic?”

 

  • We don’t know for sure how this COVID-19 virus first emerged.
  • We don’t know how much China has concealed the extentof the coronavirus outbreak in that country.
  • We don’t know what percentage of adults and what percentage of children are asymptomatic.
  • We don’t know for certain if the virus will subside as the Northern Hemisphere enters the warmer months of spring and summer, as other viruses do. The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is bullish. Other experts, not so much.
  • We don’t know the strength and duration of immunity. Though people who recover from Covid-19 likely have some degree of immunity for some period of time, the specifics are unknown.
  • We don’t yet know why some who’ve been diagnosed as “fully recovered” from the virus have tested positive a second time after leaving quarantine.
  • We don’t know why some recovered patients have low levels of antibodies.
  • We don’t know the long-term health effects of a severe Covid-19 infection. What are the consequences to the lungs of those who survive intensive care?
  • We don’t yet know if any treatments are truly effective. While there are many therapies in trials, there are no clinically proven therapies aside from supportive care.
  • We don’t know if people will continue to adhere to social distancing guidelines once infections go down.
  • We don’t know when states will be able to test everyone who has symptoms.
  • We don’t know how many vaccines can be deployed and administered in the first months after a vaccine becomes available.
  • We don’t know how a vaccine will be administered — who will get it first?
  • We don’t know if a vaccine will be free or costly.
  • We don’t know if a vaccine will need to be updated every year.

In absence of Federal leadership and national coordination of policy and resources, we don’t know if we can implement “test and trace” contact tracing at scale — an essential requirement to America (and Hawaii) back to work.

The worry among the medical community is that an unhappy population, trapped indoors for months, with the most vulnerable possibly quarantined for far longer will abandon restrictions despite the risks, is that the virus will be with us from now on, or that a vaccine will initially elude scientists, stretching out what feels for some like intolerable isolation from work and friends, and island life activities once taken for granted, like swimming, surfing and paddling at your favorite beach.

“My optimistic side says the virus will ease off in the summer and a vaccine will arrive like the cavalry,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a preventive medicine specialist at Vanderbilt University medical school. “But I’m learning to guard against my essentially optimistic nature.”

Reputable longer-term projections for how many Americans will die vary, but they are all grim. Various experts consulted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in March predicted that the virus eventually could reach 48 percent to 65 percent of all Americans, with a fatality rate just under 1 percent, and would kill up to 1.7 million of them if nothing were done to stop the spread.

A model by researchers at Imperial College London cited by the president on March 30 predicted 2.2 million deaths in the United States by September under the same circumstances.

By comparison, about 420,000 Americans died in World War II.

Last, but not least, we do not know exactly how transmissible or lethal the virus is. But refrigerated trucks parked outside hospitals tell us all we need to know: It is far worse than a bad flu season, as COVID-19 was previously described by the president.


There may be good news buried in all this, the virus may also be mutating to cause fewer symptoms. In the movies, viruses become more deadly. In reality, they usually become less so, because asymptomatic strains reach more hosts. Even the 1918 Spanish flu virus eventually faded into the seasonal H1N1 flu.

 

Notice – this BeyondKona article contains elements of relevant New York Times articles published within the past 24 hours… 
Hi Wave Crash

Surf’s Up

To understand what lies ahead for Hawaii, the nation, and our world during the current pandemic storm epidemiologists have been studying the countries first battered by the virus storm.

Waves of COVID-19?

Any surfer can tell you about waves, big ones, small ones, good ones, and wipe outs.  The one thing waves all have in common – there is always another wave that follows, and generally in sets of three or four waves at a time.

Science tells us that COVID-19 virus will likely come in waves, in great part due to the uneven and disjointed global response to the pandemic, and the nature of the corona family of viruses.

Presently, there is disparate talk and increasing pressure to cut and run from our virus-induced economic losses. Scientists warn that prematurely re-booting our global economic engine with the infection still raging will only feed waves of the pandemic’s impacts.  Others argue, if China can do it (put people back to work), so can we..?

However, the question is not should we, but when?Sets Of Waves

The more the President does his campaign-best to convince the nation that once we get through this grim month of April, the nightmare will be completely over, the economy will come back with a roar, and all will be fine – we all want to believe the President, and wouldn’t it be wonderful, if true.

But this virus is very resilient, and health experts warn that this may be just the first wave of what may be waves of infections until we get a vaccine sometime in 2021.

Already, Japan after initial success is seeing a surge of infections, both China and South Korea have struggled with imported infections; and that seems inevitable as economic activity restarts and travel resumes.

“There’s this biological fact that still in South Korea, the people who haven’t been infected aren’t immune, and as soon as there’s an end to social distancing they’ll be vulnerable again,” noted Dr. Mark Poznansky of Harvard Medical School.   The same is true in the United States.

“We’re just looking at this first wave,” noted Dr. Murray. He estimates that in June, some 95 percent of Americans will still be susceptible to the virus.

“The world’s on fire with this virus,” said Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota, and this means that even if one country succeeds in putting out the blaze, sparks will keep arriving from elsewhere to cause new outbreaks. He added: “I think the transmission will continue to occur for some time.”


Jobless Graph


COVID-19 VIRUS UPDATES

First, the good news — we have a policy toolbox that works. 

Even for countries that bungled their initial response to the virus, like Italy and the United States, there’s hope: Social distancing succeeds in slowing the contagion, and it does so quickly — within a few weeks of the adoption of tough measures.   On balance, this is excellent news. Early on, epidemiologists simply didn’t know how well social distancing would work.  It’s clear it works and we have an all important tool to save lives, if we use it…

Many Republican-controlled state governments are now seeing the consequences of their policy of virus-denial. Now faced with overwhelming facts from growing local virus impacts, the pandemic has come knocking at their front door, and it is no longer someone else’s problem, or just another science-driven conspiracy like human-caused climate change, this is the real deal.

“It’s the economy stupid.”     

That was the political calculus of 2008 presidential election.

In China, deaths didn’t fall sharply until a month after authoritarian controls had been imposed, in effect locking down the country. The government has now just as quickly reversed its effective national policy of economic lock-down, allowing sections of the country’s factory-rich areas to resume operations, leaving virus mitigation efforts selective applications and areas, all in the absence of a medical cure, and in nation of 1.2 billion people.

The consequence of China’s economy-first policy is a better managed rehearsal for Trump’s stated plan to offer the Country a quick release from its lock-down.  Is the Chinese government gambling with the lives of citizens – that’s a bet not yet called in a gamble with the COVID-19 virus, which until a vaccine becomes available, is holding all the cards.

The daily made-for-TV briefing to the Nation

Like the Chinese, Donald Trump is also focused on the economy during the present day pandemic.  Trump made it clear again today, in another of his daily made-for-TV briefings to the nation, that insulting reporters and anyone in the medical and scientific community who disagrees or challenges his unfounded assumptions and beliefs, they will face his wrath.

During the state of today’s TV briefing to the nation, our President went about setting the record straight with crooked statements.  Reporter questions, ranging from mounting virus-related deaths to Federal emergency response failures, to critical supply shortages in the nation’s hospitals resulting in mounting deaths measured in the lives of the nation’s healthcare workers and their patients – it was all but brushed aside with Trump’s unfounded assessments that he and the private sector would soon delivery a cure or treatment for the virus from existing and experimental medicines…America would be “great” again.

It is indeed a pleasure to hear Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases get his allotted 5 minutes at the microphone during the daily 2 hour briefings. Fauci uses his brief moment at the mic to reboot the conversation with refreshing wisdom and facts, providing the nation a reality check on Presidents statements. But as quickly as he appears on stage, he is then relegated to the back bench, so Trump can continue of daily show.

For the record, Dr. Fauci is the widely admired and much listened-to expert who has been in his position since 1984, advising six presidents along the way. He has taken on HIV/AIDS, Ebola, Zika and many other public health threats.

Ignoring the CDC, Dr. Fauci, and all creditable medical resources at his disposal, Trump, once again now that impeachment process is over and his personal lawyer has come out of the shadows, , doctor Rudy Giuliani is now advising the President on so-called miracle cures for the COVID-19 virus – yet none exist. The facts are that there are none, no vaccines have yet been invented, and therefore no proven existing drug work conclusively on the virus.  In this case, Rudy Giuliani’s cure advice may be worse than the disease, in some cases both can kill you.

 

Presidential Low Bar

The COVID-19 VIRUS – A Presidential Moment

Editorial

Four months into a global pandemic and national crisis, President Trump is only beginning to face the facts — his earlier assertions of a virus “under control” and a personal belief  that the threat would “miraculously” disappear without much effort by the Federal government have failed to materialize.

Five weeks ago, when there were 60 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the United States, President Trump expressed little alarm. “This is a flu,” he said.  He was still likening it to an ordinary flu as late as last Friday (Mar. 27th).

By Tuesday, however, more than 1,000 in US die in a single day from coronavirus, doubling the worst daily death toll of the flu.  Cases of COVID-19 reached 259,750 in the United States, and over one million cases have been recorded globally. The national virus-driven death tool climbed to 6,603 — presidential denial and wishful thinking were no longer acceptable in the political calculus.

More Americans have now been killed by the virus than by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

This reality and other facts are finally changing Trump’s mind, and during yesterday’s (Mar. 31) White House briefing on the deadly virus’ and its impact on the American people, Trump pivoted (as he often does) … “It’s not the flu,” he said. “It’s vicious.”  For more than two hours, surrounded by charts showing death projections of hellacious proportions, our president appeared to be coming to grips with a reality he had long refused to accept.

At a minimum, the charts predicted that 100,000 to 240,000 Americans would die — and only without proper containment measures the number could exceed 2 million American deaths — avoidable if the nation abides by stringent social distancing restrictions, presenting choking the economy.

Just two days ago, March 29th, President Trump repeatedly suggested that COVID-19 related restrictions might ease in a matter of days or weeks, his personal target, by Easter.

For all of Trump’s personal and leadership failings, including ignoring vast amounts of Federal scientific and intelligence resources at his disposal, he failed to act when the COVID-19 was more a threat to the United States, than an actual event.  In short, the nation’s chief executive failed America, and left the County woefully unprepared for the pandemic’s arrival on US shores — that was over 4 months ago – and the virus will continue to come at a cost of American lives and an economic crash bigger than initially imaged.

Trump Twitter Quote

TV ratings on the national stage

Did Trump’s actions (or lack thereof) create the virus, NO.  But his absence of federal leadership has contributed to, and compounded, the virus’ national impact. Governors from around the country are screaming for more assistance from the federal government. Trump would only obsess over his ratings, as if running the United States government is more akin to a TV show, and he is the star.

At times it is hard to comprehend how indifferent Trump appears to the growing human suffering from this pandemic. Yesterday’s made-for TV performance from the White House was a turn-about from his previous pandemic assertions, but only time will tell how long the President’s seemingly new found appreciation for the facts lasts.

Ignoring the facts

To date, Trump remains willfully ignorant of the magnitude of this national crisis and global pandemic. Then there is the prospect of silent spreaders unknowingly helping to fuel an ever expanding pandemic that does not fit into artificial deadlines and his political calculus.

A burst of fresh data on the prevalence of “silent,” or asymptomatic carriers points to the looming danger and a prolonged ending to America’s national shutdown.

Classified Chinese government data suggest “silent carriers” could make up at least one-third of the country’s positive cases of the 2019 novel coronavirus, Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post recently reported. Approximately 43,000 people in China who had tested positive for COVID-19 last month had no immediate symptoms. And those cases were not included in the official national tally of confirmed cases, which had hit 80,000 at the end of February, the paper said.

But as extensive testing continues, authorities in Wuhan have found new cases of asymptomatic—or mildly symptomatic—infection, sparking concerns about how many contagious people have been circulating freely. Fresh data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Friday about a nursing home in Washington state only served to compound those fears.

“Almost everybody thinks there’s the potential of a second wave after we relax the restrictions,” said Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University and an expert on U.S. readiness for pandemics.

“There’s no good timeframe—it’s certainly not by Easter—that we’ll be starting to loosen up,” he continued, referring to President Donald Trump’s suggested finish line. “But once we do, people who did not have coronavirus will be going out to spaces where silent spreaders might be.”

Controlling the narrative from the bully pulpit…

This President continuously ignores the best intelligence and science on the COVID-19 threat, a pattern of behavior that dates back late last year, when the projections on COVD-19 pandemic and impact on America’s people and economy were known to the White House.

Trump first called the COVID-19 virus threat a “hoax”, then tried to blame it on the Democrats, and then pivoted to wild assertions that the virus was not a real threat after all.  But, the facts of the matter have finally overwhelmed false assertions, and painfully reveals the administration’s absence of federal leadership. Critical medical system shortages persist, and a White House policy to privatize the response to a global pandemic has only compounded virus impacts on America.

Under the best-case scenario presented on Tuesday (3-31), Mr. Trump will see more Americans die from the coronavirus in the weeks and months to come than Presidents Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon saw die in the Korean and Vietnam Wars combined

It’s TV time

As America’s first TV celebrity president with an ideological bent to ignore facts and science on global crises — from climate change to pandemic threats —  there seems no end to the president’s belief that he (as self-described) is a “genius”.   As leader of the free world, operating under a personal premise is dangerous.  Unlike all modern day presidents before him, Trump does not need subject matter experts to advise him, or scientific findings to set policy, and certainly not intelligence reports which disagree and challenge his preconceptions of the world or get in the way of his belief system … my mind is made up, don’t confuse me with facts.   

In the heat of crisis, Thursday (3/27) evening, Trump called into his personal TV network to chat with Fox News’ Sean Hannity.  In the conversation, Trump demonstrated what he is best at at — politics 24×7, and not taking responsibility for his actions.  In the midst of a catastrophic pandemic where normal life has been disrupted, where millions of Americans have lost their jobs, and tens of thousands more will die from the virus — Trump’s solace to the Fox audience  “…it can always be worse.”

There was absolutely nothing in the conversation with Hannity that demonstrated Trump had the slightest idea what was really happening in the world around him, or that he was going to lift a finger to help.

Which did happen for the next TV hour was Trump going straight into his theme of the evening: complaining about people wanting him to display leadership.

Rather than expressing his concerns about the coronavirus epidemic, rather than offering his support to those suffering, or condolences for those already mourning, Trump used his appearance to complain that many of the nation’s governors were … asking for things.

In particular, Trump was upset that governors wanted personal protective equipment for healthcare workers and ventilators for patients.

Trump seemed to treat these requests like they were coming directly from his own pocket, and as if the governors were trying to trick him by … requesting lifesaving equipment as citizens died around them.  “I have a feeling that a lot of numbers that are being sent in some areas are just bigger than they need to be,” said Trump.

But even then Trump wasn’t done complaining about various state governors requests for Federal help. “When you talk about ventilators,” said Trump, “it is a highly intricate piece of equipment. It’s heavily computerized, and good ones are very, very expensive. And they say … Gov. Cuomo and others … they say we want 30,000 of them. 30,000. Think of this.” Yes, think of it. A new medical ventilator costs around $15,000.

If Trump gave every governor what they wanted and need, it could cost $450 million. It’s not like it’s a real national emergency…

Dws Leaky Waterworld

EDITORIAL – Three Years After A Major Westside Water System Failure, County Audit Misses The Mark

In January 2017, a series of mysterious system wide failures led to a nearly 40% reduction in water delivery capacity by the Department of Water Supply (DWS) and to its West Hawaii customer base.  Of the 13 wells which comprise the DWS Westside system, five (5) wells mysteriously failed within days of one another.

The loss of five deep water wells resulted in severe water use restrictions for both residents and businesses throughout North Kona region, and for more than a year.

A belated DWS county audit was delivered to the County Council this week, more than three years after the event.  In the words of County auditor … “DWS should further develop and implement complete, detailed and written contingency plans by district as well as update their Continuity of Operations Plan.” 

That’s It?  As to the cause of the West Hawaii cascading well failures of 2017, the taxpayer-funded audit provided little insight.   In fact, if not for the persistence of North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff and former Councilman Dru Kanuha in response to residents’ concerns, there might not have ever been an audit.

What exactly triggered a series of closely aligned pump failures occurring within days of one another?  Aquifers Wells DwsFundamental questions as to why this happened, and equally important, as to what can be done to prevent it from happening again have not been investigated or explained by officials.

The DWS system failures took the utility two years to recover, mostly though a series of work-around steps. To date, some of the damaged wells may remain possibly permanently out of service, beyond economic recovery.

The costly series of downed wells and reduced service capacity required extended periods of voluntary and threatened water rationing, with DWS water trucks supplementing down service areas — also all at ratepayers expense.

The absence of any reasonable explanation goes to the heart of DWS’ operations: a quasi-public /private organization without accountability to its ratepayers; beginning with operational oversight, and ending with its manager and chief engineer.

A CLOSER LOOK INTO CORRECTIVE DWS MEASURES NEEDED

What  were the “lessons learned” that could prevent such failures in the future?

First, we must consider three fundamental and outstanding issues with DWS’s (Dept. of Water Supply) mission critical operation – reliably delivering water services to its customers: island residents, agriculture, and businesses:

  1. No Power, No Water — DWS has no power backup system in place for its pumping operations; DWS is totally dependent on HELCO (HECO) power to operate on a 24×7 basis. The most basic power back-up capacity (enabling continued operation in the likely event of power loss is absent from the DWS water delivery system).  Service resiliency is not part of the utility’s management ethos. In the event of an extended power outage 8-18 hours, the DWS infrastructure begins to fail in water delivery, as pipeline storage tanks are emptied.
  2. A Culture of and Absence of Public Transparency — The loss of five Hawaii Island Westside service wells within less than a month (January 2017), has never been fully explained – coincidence, not likely. Questions that remain unanswered, including: what was the state of HELCO power delivered to DWS, and what was the state of power surge protection at the time of system failure, and at each of the five well sites.  Is it true that all five well sites were wired to the same HELCO circuit? If yes, is there a link between the pump and equipment failures and the state of power delivery at the time of the incidents?
  3. No Incentive to Improve Resiliency, Efficiency, or Lower Costs — DWS is the largest single power consumer on Hawaii Island. They are HELCO’s number one customer, but delivering power through a fragile grid which is ready to fail with Hawaii Island’s next super storm (even after ratepayer-funded HELCO grid strengthening improvements of 2018).  More than half of DWS’ operating cost is from electricity purchased from HELCO which is required to power its pumping network.  Escalating HELCO power costs are quickly passed onto DWS ratepayer water bills (no questions asked). From the DWS’ perspective, the ratepayer money barrel appears bottomless.

There is a nine member Water Board (appointed by the Mayor) which is charged with public oversight of DWS operations. The board has historically failed to demonstrate much interest in representing ratepayer interests, rubber stamping rate increases, and failing to hold accountable DWS management. Rather than focusing on their fiduciary oversight responsibilities to improve resiliency, efficiency, and lower costs within DWS, the Board appears less concerned with such details.

  • There is also an absence of imagination by the Water Board and DWS management when it comes to opportunities that can address inherent operating deficiencies within the utility, i.e., addressing the absence of power back-up and adequate power surge protection from the grid– both a cost of operation and service reliability issue.
  • Failing to pursue self-generation powering opportunities (solar/wind) and pumped-storage; are missed opportunities which can significantly cut DWS operating costs, introduce sustainability, and will certainly add to overall operating resiliency.

All appears in short supply when it comes to public accountability from a water utility which is both essential to Hawaii Island life and the local economy.

Red Alert

The loss of biodiversity, the rise of deadly diseases

According to new research published in Nature, December 2019, a healthy biodiversity is essential to human health. As species (marine, terrestrial, and airborne) disappear, infectious diseases rise in humans and throughout the animal kingdom, so extinctions directly affect our health and chances for survival as a species.    https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/extinction-countdown/humans-are-more-at-risk-from-diseases-as-biodiversity-disappears/

There are 26,500 species threatened with extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a global network of some 16,000 scientists. That includes 40 percent of amphibian species, 33 percent of reef-building corals, 25 percent of mammals, and 14 percent of birds.  Hawaii has had its share of extinctions, primarily birds, with over 50 species now extinct, and averaging one bird species going extinct every decade for the past 50 years.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_extinct_animals_of_the_Hawaiian_Islands

Another indicator of a global biosystem in trouble is Earth’s insect species, essential to both the food chain of humans and animals alike — the total number and variety of insects is estimated to be dropping by 2.5 percent every year. “There are examples of species all over the world that are essentially the walking dead,” said biologist Paul Ehrlich.

Humans are more at risk from diseases as biodiversity disappears

“Biodiversity loss tends to increase pathogen transmission across a wide range of infectious disease systems,” Barnard College ecologist Felicia Keesing.

Pathogens can include viruses, bacteria and fungi. And humans are not the only ones at risk: all manner of other animal and plant species could be affected.

Biodiversity around the world is declining at a very fast pace.

The human population has swelled to over 7.5 billion and our species’ has produced a massive footprint on planet Earth with a devastating impact on mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, and marine life.

We’ve driven thousands of species to extinction through habitat loss, over-hunting and over-fishing, the introduction of invasive species into new ecosystems, toxic pollution, petro-chemical agricultural, and the overriding human-produced element: climate change in the form of global heating…

Only 3 percent of the original populations of the heavily fished Pacific bluefin tuna remain in the sea.

Extinction List Grows

In the past 40 years alone, the number of wild animals has plunged 50 percent (2014 study). Just in the past 20 years, a 90 percent plunge in the number of monarch butterflies (an indicator species) in America, and an 87 percent loss of rusty-patched bumblebees.   “We are sleepwalking toward the edge of a cliff,” said Mike Barrett, executive director at WWF.

The Holocene extinction, is otherwise referred to as the sixth mass extinction.

Is a global mass extinction now underway?  Many scientists now believe humans are living through a “6th mass extinction,” or an epoch during which at least 75 percent of all species vanish from the planet.

The current and ongoing sixth extinction event of species (sometimes called Anthropocene) is the direct result of human activity. The current rate of extinction of species is estimated at 100 to 1,000 times higher than natural background rates.

In the Beginning…

Earth has supported life in some form for about 4.2 billion years. The previous five mass extinctions occurred over the past 450 million years; the last one occurred about 66 million years ago, when the aftermath of a massive asteroid strike wiped out the dinosaurs.

Prior global extinctions differed from the current one.  They were triggered by a natural disaster or change in Earth’s climate. This time, it’s humanity that is driving a mass die-off with global consequences poorly understood or appreciated.

What are the consequences? 

Potentially enormous. The loss of species can have catastrophic effects not only to the health of the planet, but to the food chain on which all of humanity depends. With widespread degradation of highly biodiverse habitats such as coral reefs and rainforests, as well as other areas, the vast majority of these extinctions are thought to be undocumented, as the species are undiscovered at the time of their extinction, or no one has yet discovered their extinction.

Ocean reefs, which sustain more than 25 percent of marine life, have declined by 50 percent already — and could be lost altogether by 2050.Dinasour Extinction

Insects pollinate crops humans eat. Take the humble honeybee for example. U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agriculture Statistics Service finds that honey bees (in 2016 report) contributed over $339 million to the US economy in honey sales, but that’s just a drop in the bucket compared to the honey bee’s value to humans and our food chain.

In fact, bee pollination accounts for about $15 billion annually in added crop value; many crops are fully dependent on bee pollination which is vital to the approximately 250,000 species of flowering plants that depend on the transfer of pollen from flower anther to stigma to reproduce.  Today, commercial agriculture production depends on more than 90 crops which rely exclusively on bee pollination.

Of the approximately 3,600 bee species that live in the U.S., the European honey bee (scientific name Apis mellifera) is the most common pollinator, making it the most important bee to domestic agriculture.   Equally important to modern agricultural is the use of chemicals to manage so-called pests.

Introduced in 1990’s, Neonicotinoids, are now the most widely used insecticides in the world.  Their benefits are widely marketed by chemical manufacturers, leading to their widespread use in agriculture and residential areas.

Studies have linked bee deaths and hive collapse to this relatively new form of insecticide due to its persistence in the soil, and ability to leach into the environment, high water solubility, with negative health implications for non-target organisms such as pollinators (honeybees).

Neonicotinoids can be sprayed onto foliage or applied as soil drenches, but they are predominantly used as seed treatments. When used this way, neonicotinoids are taken up by all parts of the plant as it grows. This means these systemic insecticides are present in pollen and nectar that pollinators can come in contact with when foraging.    https://pollinator.cals.cornell.edu/threats-wild-and-managed-bees/pesticides/neonicotinoids/

About one-third of the food eaten by Americans comes from crops pollinated by honey bees, including apples, melons, cranberries, pumpkins, squash, broccoli, and almonds, to name just a few. Without the industrious honey bee, American dinner plates would look quite bare.

The current human-caused environmental stresses worldwide are …“far more than just being about losing the wonders of nature, desperately sad though that is,” the WWF’s Barrett said. “This is actually now jeopardizing the future of people. Nature is not ‘nice to have’ — it is our life-support system.”

 

Red Alert – deadly diseases on the rise

The rise in diseases and other pathogens seems to occur when so-called “buffer” species disappear. Co-author Richard Ostfeld of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies points to the growing number of cases of Lyme disease in humans as an example of how this happens. The authors focused on diseases—including Lyme, West Nile virus, hantavirus and nine others—around the world. In each case they found that the maladies have become more prevalent during the time in which local biodiversity shrank.

“Preserving large intact areas and minimizing contact with wildlife would go a big step of the way to reducing disease,” Keesing said in Nature.

So should you care?  Yes you should, if you value your health.  Living in balance with nature not only makes sense, but it essential to all life (humans included) on Earth.

 A healthy planet equals healthy humans …a lesson we humans must learn or join the 6th global extinction of species now underway.

Road Taxes, Electric Vehicles and Hawaii’s Future

New developments in battery technology, and the promise of a growing number of electric vehicles to choose from in various price ranges has some Hawaii legislators on edge. In “the sky is falling” of knee-jerk legislation last year, SB 409 was born.

For additional information on electric vehicles (EV’s), and their role in Hawaii’s future, we invite you to visit the July 2019 edition of Hawaii Today: https://www.beyondkona.com/ev-adoption-linchpin-to-hawaiis-transportation-and-clean-energy-future/

SB 409, and its companion introduced in this current 2020 session as SB3111, are designed to collect from the small group of Hawaii’s Electric Vehicles owners road maintenance fees traditionally collected in the form of taxes on fossil fuel (gas/diesel) sales.  If you ask most of Hawaii’s EV owners they’ll likely tell you …sure we’ll pay our way, but is this right approach and the right time?  

Instead, SB409 (2019) and SB 3111 (2020) have in effect, added uncertainty and economic barriers of entry to EV ownership for Hawaii’s driving public. 

EV’s represent barely 1% of all registered vehicles in the state of Hawaii, and both bills are designed to address a problem that does not yet exist, and will not exist for some time to come.  So instead, our legislators created another tax (something we do best here in Hawaii) and one that promises to further slow Hawaii’s already modest growth path to electric vehicle ownership, and as a result, slow the advancement of Hawaii’s transition to clean energy and climate change mitigation.  

BeyondKona asked one of our island experts on the subject, Bernard Moret, EV owner and board adviser to Big Island Electric Vehicle Association (BIEVA) for his thoughts on the subjects of road taxes, electric vehicles, and Hawaii’s future in electrified transportation.

On road taxes, electric vehicles, and Hawaii’s future

Bernard Moret, guest editor

A transition to 100% renewable energy, not just for electricity production, but for all land-based activities, is crucial to the future of the state.

Hawaii is blessed with plentiful solar, wind, and geothermal energy, but is currently relying on fossil fuels for most of its electrical production (KUIC on Kauai is far ahead of HECO on the other islands) and for all of its transportation.

State and county policy makers have studied approaches to meeting the state’s goal of 100% renewable energy production by 2045 and the counties’ goal of total decarbonization of their vehicle fleets by 2035.  Much has been made in the last year of state studies aimed at maintaining funding for the road system in the face of anticipated decreases of revenue from the gasoline tax due to increased adoption of battery-powered electric vehicles (BEVs) by the public.  Because these discussions all take place in the context of the state’s and counties’ efforts to move to 100% renewable energy sources, the first finding is simply that the only reasonable path open to us is through clean production of electrical energy and electrification of all land transportation.  So, where are we along this path?

To date, only modest efforts have been made by HECO to tap into renewable sources of energy, but this will change in keeping with the state’s mandate. Yet, the environmental contribution EV’s provide to the state’s other goals in the advancement clean energy and climate mitigation is generally discounted at the legislative level.

The contribution EV’s play in advancing the state’s clean goal will likely manifest themselves in two significant ways.

  • 1-  Creation of an EV charging infrastructure will drive a resistant statewide utility (HECO) to shift their power production capacity to clean and renewable energy in order to meet the growing demand for EV-driven clean power demand, while incorporating the same cost-saving efficiencies of 21st century grid operations.
  • 2-  A natural extension of EV ownership to homeowner and commercial installed Solar rooftop power production, completing the cycle and fueling opportunity from sun-to-vehicle.

Ev 1 Emissions

Specific to the transportation front, the expected decrease in gasoline consumption has not yet happened in Hawaii, in fact, last year saw a 3% increase in gasoline consumption — an unfortunate development as it also means an increase in pollution.  However, adoption of BEVs has started to modestly ramp up; state, counties, and power companies are working on setting up a network of charging stations; and discussions have started on a proposed road tax for BEVs.  Road maintenance needs, of course, will not change even when all vehicles on the road are BEVs.

Road damage from vehicles is almost entirely a function of their weight.  Government and state studies show that a single 18-wheeler loaded to its federal maximum of 80,000 lbs does 10,000 times more damage to the road than a midsize car.  In other words, almost all of the road damage is due to large commercial transports: dump trucks, tanker trucks, 18-wheelers, etc.  Put another way, drivers of personal vehicles subsidize road maintenance through the gasoline tax — accounting nationwide for over 60% of the revenue, while causing less than 1% of the road damage.

In the diagram below various vehicle weights and their ratios are represented by the level of road damage, compared to the average car.Vehcile Weight V Road Damage

We will not discuss here whether such a subsidy is fair: after all, everyone on the islands needs access to groceries, consumer goods, medical supplies, etc., all of which need to be hauled from harbors to distribution and sale points.  What we are saying here is that personal vehicles (including light-duty trucks) do so little damage to the roads that distinguishing among them, or even worrying about their annual mileage, is unimportant.

Currently the gasoline tax affects only drivers of vehicles with internal combustion engines (ICE), according to the efficiency of their vehicle (thus encouraging the adoption of more efficient vehicles) and to the mileage driven.  Any BEV makes much more efficient use of energy than any ICE vehicle (including hybrids): EPA figures show that the most efficient ICE cars barely reach 39 mpg, the best non-plugin hybrids up to 55 mpg, but BEVs are all between 100 mpg and 135 mpg equivalent.  Thus, as more of the total miles driven on the island are driven using BEVs, energy consumption gets reduced and pollution gets reduced even more.

There have been proposals to tax the electricity used for charging BEVs in an attempt to mirror the gasoline tax as closely as possible, but such proposals make little sense, for two reasons.  First, they would require extensive additional infrastructure, both public and private, to measure that energy. Second, as noted, the difference in total mileage driven (or total energy used) has almost no effect on road damage.  A much simpler mechanism is to add the road tax to the annual vehicle registration tax.   This added amount could be fixed or computed on a sliding scale (charging expensive vehicles more so as to reduce the impact on residents with modest incomes).  Given the efficiency and cleanliness of BEVs, imitating the gasoline tax by making the road tax dependent on mileage for BEVs is counterproductive.

The best solution is thus to continue taxing ICE and hybrid cars using the current gasoline tax and start using a road tax, as an extra sum paid with the registration fee, for BEVs, one that is independent of mileage, but progressive (charging more for expensive cars) so as to protect residents with modest income.

We should keep in mind that electric transportation will not only be a major contributor to Hawaii’s energy independence, but also bring huge benefits in terms of quality of life.  BEVs produce no emissions of their own; thus, after 2045, when electrical production is 100% renewable, all electric transportation will be clean — whereas today it is responsible for over one third of the pollution in the state!

In addition, BEVs are much simpler mechanically than their ICE counterparts (no gears, no transmission, very few moving parts) and thus last much longer and require almost no maintenance, resulting in a much lower cost of ownership.

BEVs are silent except for tire noise.  BEVs are statistically much safer than other cars: less than 1 accident per 2 million miles for BEVs vs. over 4 accidents for other cars — and, thanks to the rigidity of the structure that holds a BEV’s battery, the BEV driver is better protected than the ICE driver in case of accident.

The transition to electric transportation and a clean future is under way in our state and we should let our representatives know that we want them to do their best to facilitate that transition, including by setting a simple and reasonable policy for funding road maintenance.

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Bernard Moret was born in Switzerland, moved to the US in 1976, received his PhD in Computer Science in 1980, became a US citizen in 1984, and worked as a faculty member at the U. of New Mexico from 1980 till 2006 and at the Swiss Institute of Technology in Lausanne from 2006 to 2016, doing research in computational biology on the evolution of genomes.  With his wife, he moved to the Big Island of Hawaii in 2016 and now lives in a home powered by solar panels that also recharge his electric car.