🌎 #293: Is COVID "over"?

Quinn Emmett
September 23, 2022
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Welcome back, Shit Givers.

It's fall! Please wrap your knit sweaters around your palms and give a big hello to the 410 new friends who've joined us since last week.

Your favorite Action Step last week was checking out my e-bike! It's great. Sincerely (don't forget to check if there's an e-bike incentive program in your area).

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CLIMATE CHANGE

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Here comes the boom bust

The news: After Ira, a whole lot of companies are finally, actually gearing up to do what they're here to do: build a brand new clean economy.

And that means it's time for some accountability.

All the pretenders who've flooded funds with bullshit ESG and net-zero claims the past few years — and the asset managers who've knowingly fueled them — are finally feeling some serious heat.

  • The European Central Bank's limiting purchases of long-term debt by ESG frauds and pumping up co's who meet more stringent (and third-party verified) requirements
  • Morningstar found hundreds of funds that fail to qualify under the "Article 9" label (basically 90% of investments must be "sustainable")

Meanwhile: 

  • Fast fashion's real environmental impact is under intense scrutiny and heavy industry's going to be a bear to decarbonize
  • Europe's almost 20 year old carbon market is just priced too damn low to matter
  • And Italy, which may be fascist-adjacent again as early as next week, wants a referendum on the EU's decision to mandate EV sales by 2035

On the "E" part of ESG, it's time to build!

  • Here's six companies going HAM on clean energy, EV's, and battery tech in the US (including rebranded Kia)
  • We need to build a hell of a lot more buildings in empty city spaces (and parking lots)
  • For the first time, there's more clean energy jobs in the US than fossil fuels (but pay's lagging)
  • The US's EV charging infrastructure has a lot of room for improvement
  • Manchin's permitting deal is going to fail. How can we help build clean power lines without...fueling (dammit)...more fossil fuels infrastructure?

⚡️What We Can Do: Our friends at Protocol put together some tips for your company to drastically (and inclusively) improve on sustainability.


COVID

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Vaccine equity update 9-23

Is COVID over?

Let's back up.

The parameters for defining "over" have boiled down to a predictably and quintessentially American question:

Instead of asking, "How can I help?", we're asking "What does 'over' mean for me?"

For many individuals, and especially younger people, people who aren't immunocompromised, aren't already living with Long COVID, or caring for someone in either case, this virus finally resembles something like the flu, thanks to vaccines and boosters, treatments, prior exposures, and the privilege to deal with all of the above without losing their job. Congrats. You're free (for now).

But for the country as a whole, this virus — wildly but probably finitely transmissible, and yet eternally evasive — means a current death rate of 400-ish people a day, mostly the elderly and the historically marginalized (plus thousands with mild sickness and unable to go to work (or forced to go to work, and giving it to others)).

That's where "we" are. So what does 400 people dying a day look like, in practice? How do we quantify "over"?

Well, averaged out over the course of a year, 400 deaths a day is:

  • Around 140,000 "new" deaths a year (new, i.e. arguably wouldn't have happened before 2020)
  • Which is three times as deadly as a typical flu year
  • Making it the new 3rd-4th leading cause of death in the country
  • And as David Wallace-Wells recently noted, that's "more than die each year from diabetes, pneumonia, or kidney disease."

For those visual learners among us, imagine aliens nuke everyone in the picture below, plus half, every year from now on:

Michigan Stadium
110,000 people at Michigan Stadium. Imagine closer to 140,000.

Now, some more context: Imagine if aliens had nuked three of these stadiums each of the past two years. Horrifying, I know.

But there's good news!

After the best of us put up a pretty good fight, the aliens promised to nuke only one stadium a year going forward. Huzzah!

And — even better news: We discovered a series of injections that would almost guarantee that anyone who receives them would not end up evaporated in that one stadium.

Further! The government -- who really didn't explain very well how communities could protect one another from the aliens, causing enormous death and confusion -- celebrated the achievement by making the injections free, and even mandating them wherever they could, for as long as they could, to build immunity against the aliens in as many of us as they could.

But their bumbling efforts could only go so far, because the aliens are smarter than we are, and more importantly, we are who we thought we were.

The result: Despite, idiotically, only a third of us taking the government up on their latest and more improved injection offer, we, having normalized the larger numbers -- one stadium is far less than three -- and eager to live each of our individual lives again, breathed a sigh of relief, accepted one stadium a year as the new baseline, and told the aliens, "Deal."

So that's how we got to "over."

Look: COVID is almost certainly never going to fully go away, like many of us hoped it would when we saw those first vaccine trucks get on the road. 

But for folks who are more vulnerable, who face more daily exposure risk (teachers, medical workers, service workers), or just truly don't want this fucking thing (me) -- well, I'll keep fighting to bring this thing down until it is much closer to the flu (which, to be clear, we need to keep bringing way down, too).

⚡️What We Can Do: Been 3-6 months since your last infection or booster? Find the new one here (and bring your friends/family, too). Team work makes the dream work.


FOOD & WATER

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Think of the children

The news: 47 truly horrible people got rightfully slapped with federal charges this week for defrauding $250 million intended to feed low-income children during the pandemic.

Delightful.

From The Washington Post:

"Federal prosecutors said the defendants — a network of individuals and organizations tied to Feeding Our Future, a nonprofit operating in Minnesota — in some cases obtained federal pandemic funds in the names of children who did not exist and then spent that money on luxury cars, houses and other personal purchases."

Look, Batman is VERY problematic, but kid crimes and generally these types of monsters and monstrous operations lead me to occasionally empathize with selective vigilante justice.

I am mostly kidding of course, but this is science for people who give a shit, you subscribed, and so maybe you get where I'm coming from.

Alas, instead of molding my own bulletproof rubber suits, I started a newsletter and podcast, often standing on the shoulders of real investigative journalists.

The point: Billions of dollars were wasted and abused while good people tried to feed kids and families during a terrifying pandemic, and so I'm glad the Post and others are chasing it down

Maybe we should more carefully distribute emergency funds the next time a pandemic rolls around and kills a few million people. Maybe that's the lesson.

Or maybe we should just build a country where kids have access to food no matter what. Let's do this.

⚡️What We Can Do: Feed some families tonight through our friends at Feeding America.


TOGETHER WITH MORNING BREW

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Check it out!


HEALTH & BIO

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Grasping at straws and needles and pills

The news: In 2021, 7506 people died of opioid toxicity in Canada. In the United States, overdose deaths — mostly driven by fentanyl -- were 108,000.

As both nations wrestle with a wildly complicated problem -- including litigating and dramatizing the shit out of major offenders -- that I simply cannot summarize in 250 words or less, our more centralized northern neighbors are giving a new idea a try: "safer supply."

From STAT:

"At the light-filled Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre, clients...receive prescriptions for government-funded, pharmaceutical-grade opioids they can use to feel the euphoric hit provided by drugs or at least ward off withdrawal, instead of having to rely on street drugs. The program, called safer supply, is part of an expanding movement in Canada to counter the increasingly treacherous drug supply."

The goal, mostly: Prevent overdoses, to make time and room for real treatments.

But as the article makes clear, these programs are not without detractors or risks, including the fact that patients are still actively being subscribed the thing that's killing them and so many others.

On the other hand, these drugs are so addicting and street versions have become so prevalent and dangerous, we have to try whatever we possibly can, something the US is simply not setup to do.

⚡️What We Can Do: Know someone dealing with opioid addiction? Let's get them some help. Our new friends at Power can help find a related clinical trial near you.


BEEP BOOP

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I see you

It's not every day I'm able to serve up a timely headline about surveillance and Avatar, but here we are.

Let's finish this week with a quick wrap-up of the many ways surveillance is increasing around the world — and what the hell we can do about it.

  • Last week I described how US border agents are building a database from your phone, accessible to virtually all of their agents
  • New York will install two security cameras on every subway car to fend off crime and welcome back hesitant riders, saying, incredibly: "You think Big Brother is watching you on the subway? You’re absolutely right. That is our intent."
  • The New York Times published another incredible visual report on Russia's vast surveillance state
  • California's new online privacy law aimed to protect kids is complicated
  • This will surprise you but American churches have urged members to install "anti-pornography" apps to police their online activity from sin

⚡️What We Can Do: Like climate change, among the most effective things we can do is talk about it. Read, share, and subscribe to The Markup, a nonprofit newsroom that investigates how powerful institutions are using technology to change our society.


🗣 Got feedback or thoughts on this issue? Members can comment here! Not a Member yet? You're just $5 away from joining up.


10 THINGS FROM MY NOTEBOOK

  1. CRISPR was easy. Now it's hard. Here's why.
  2. The YouTube "dislike" buttons don't actually do anything
  3. The NIH's BRAIN initiative will create the most detailed ever human brain atlas
  4. Can daily breathing training work as well as medicine to reduce your blood pressure?
  5. California banned taxic new fossil gas furnaces and water heaters by 2030
  6. LAUSD will stock schools with overdose reversal drugs after a string of devastating deaths
  7. Mike Bloomberg's going to war against plastic
  8. The first public database of fossil fuel infrastructure is here, and...
  9. You can compare it against the very cool new Global Renewables Watch tool!
  10. And here's another one: BioTIME, a time series for quantifying and understanding biodiversity change

Thanks for reading, and thanks for giving a shit. Have a great weekend.

-- Quinn

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