I was so consumed with the COVID-19 pandemic that I paid no attention to the lack of rainfall in the early months of 2020 and 2021. To tell the truth, I enjoyed the dry winter months. I got to spend more time gardening. Cold and damp days kill the joy of being outdoors. Then, on May 10, California Governor Newsom grabbed my attention when he placed 41 counties, 30 percent of our state’s population, under a drought state of emergency.
“With the reality of climate change abundantly clear in California, we’re taking urgent action to address acute water supply shortfalls in northern and central California while also building our water resilience to safeguard communities in the decades ahead,” said Governor Newsom. “We’re working with local officials and other partners to protect public health and safety and the environment, and call on all Californians to help meet this challenge by stepping up their efforts to save water.”
Learning that water storage in Lake Mead and Lake Powell has now fallen to about 35 percent of their capacity is also alarming. America’s two largest reservoirs, created by dams along the Colorado River, provide water to 40 million Americans and irrigation for more than 4 million acres of farmland across California and six other states—Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. Twenty-nine Native American Tribes also depend upon theColorado River Basin for their water supply and preserving fish and wildlife habitats. The Bureau of Reclamation has forecast that the Lake Mead reservoir will hit a historic low of 1,065 feet by the end of 2021. The future of this reliable water resource is now at risk.
These past 15 months under lock-down, social distancing, and mask-wearing due to the COVID-19 pandemic have tested my mental and physical health. Weekends spent outdoors gardening have saved my sanity. To my knowledge, only five neighbors got sick with the coronavirus. None of them were hospitalized. I give thanks that they have all fully recovered.
I got my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on February 25 and the second dose on March 18. Though the vaccine is now readily available to all Californians 12 years and over, my adult sons have yet to receive their first shot.
The County of Los Angeles is now dangling Vaccination Sweepstakes. Those who get vaccinated from June 11 to June 17 will have the chance to win a pair of Los Angeles Rams, Los Angeles Chargers or Los Angeles Clippers season tickets for next season. If you’re a resident of Los Angeles County, is 18 years or older, and is a football fan, now is your chance.
The State of California’s vaccine incentive program, Vax for the Win, is better yet! All Californians who have had at least one vaccine dose are automatically entered. On June 15, ten more winners will be selected to receive $1.5 million each. That’s not money to ignore in these harsh economic times. Since the program was launched, roughly 2 million people have reportedly taken the shot. As at June 11, our state has administered nearly 40 million vaccines. Over 70 percent of Californians 18 years and over have received at least one dose.
Choosing hopefulness is holding out the possibility of change. It’s living with one foot in the mud and muck of the world as it is, while another foot strides forward toward a world that could be. Hope is never a matter of sitting down and waiting patiently; hope is nourished in action, and it assumes that we are—each and all of us—incomplete as human beings…. We can choose to see life as infused with the capacity to cherish happiness, to respect evidence and argument and reason, to uphold integrity, and to imagine a world more loving, more peaceful, more joyous, and more just than the one we were given—and we should.
Excerpt from Demand the Impossible: A Radical Manifesto by Bill Ayers, Haymarket Books, Chicago, Illinois, USA, 2016.
Bill Ayersis a social justice activist, teacher, and a retired distinguished professor of education and senior university scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is the author of two memoirs, Fugitive Days and Public Enemy.
On Tuesday, April 20, I was relieved when the jury declared Derek Chauvin guilty on all three counts for the death of George Floyd. Would the Floyd family have obtained justice without national and international outcry? However, there was no justice for George Floyd. Trading with a twenty-dollar counterfeit bill was all it took for his summary execution by a knee chokehold. The CEOs on Wall Street, who took down both the US and global financial systems and destroyed the lives of millions of workers and mortgage holders, were too BIG even for a trial much less the death penalty.
Considering that the police continue to kill blacks without due process, I think it foolhardy to believe that Chauvin’s guilty verdict is any sign of progress towards police reform. While institutionalized systemic racism persists, police killings of black and brown bodies will persist.
How complicit and guilty are we as a nation in the training given to our police force that has no qualms in eliminating black and brown offenders, however trivial their alleged crime?
Our centuries old, racist, social-economic system extends way beyond policing. This entrenched system determines where we live, the schools our children attend, our access to a healthy diet, the health care we receive, our exposure to toxic air and water, and much more. We need to address these inequities in our policies and actions to Restore our Earth, not just for a few but for the 99 Percent.
For how long can we continue to enjoy the benefits of an unjust and inequitable system and not share collective guilt?
April 22, 2021 is Earth Day. The theme this year is Restore Our Earth, an optimistic outlook given the ongoing challenges humanity faces with a climate emergency, now coupled with yet another year of a global pandemic.
“Restoring Our Earth is about solving climate change through the world’s natural systems, such as regenerative agriculture practices and reforestation, as well as through existing and safe technologies,” said Kathleen Rogers, President of EarthDay.org. “Restoring our planet will also require commitment of our world’s leaders to support climate literacy and civic skill building so that we can create a global engaged and active citizenry, a green consumer movement, and an economy that is just and equitable across all countries and across all demographics.”
There will be three days of climate action, beginning on Tuesday, April 20, with a global climate summit led by Earth Uprising. In the evening, the Hip Hop Caucus and its partners will present the “We Shall Breathe” virtual summit.
On April 21, Education International will lead the “Teach for the Planet: Global Education Summit.” It will be a multilingual virtual summit spanning several time zones. If we’re to solve the climate emergency, we must learn about it. We can’t build a sustainable environment without educating the next generation. That’s why EarthDay.org is spearheading a campaign to have “compulsory, assessed climate and environmental education with a strong civic engagement component in every school in the world.”
On the big day, Earth Day Live: Restore Our Earth will be streamed live beginning at 12:00 p.m. Eastern Time on April 22. You can tune in on EarthDay.org, Facebook, Twitter, Twitch, YouTube, and GEM-TV. For those of us who live on the Pacific Coast, this means tuning in earlier at 9:00 a.m. Pacific Time.
Joining forces with EarthDay.org, TED Countdown will premiere several original TED Talks during the livestream, providing additional top-tier content by climate leaders.
We can restore our Earth with reforestation. It’s one of the cheapest ways to sequester atmospheric carbon and tackle our climate emergency. But reforestation is not easy. It has its pitfalls. Learning from past failures, EarthDay.org developed The Canopy Project.
Human activities have destabilized Earth’s life systems. The signs are all around us. It’s time to restore the balance. Tune in to one of Earth Day’s events. Learn. Engage. Let’s make a difference. Act now.
My Poetry Corner April 2021 features the poem “Cruel Radiance” from the debut poetry collection A Nail the Evening Hangs On (Copper Canyon Press, 2020) by Cambodian American poet Monica Sok. Born in 1990 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Sok is the daughter of refugees. She is a Jones Lecturer at Stanford University and teaches poetry to Southeast Asian youth at the Center for Empowering Refugees and Immigrants in Oakland, California.
Sok dedicates her poetry collection to her grandmother Bun Em who arrived in the USA in 1981, two years after escaping genocide under the Khmer Rouge regime with her four daughters and two sons. A master silk weaver, Bun Em’s loom, grief, joy, and perseverance infuse Sok’s real and imagined collective memory.
In “The Weaver,” Sok transforms her grandmother’s grief into nourishment for others around her. It made her happy / as she worked on silk dresses / and her hair never ran out. / Sometimes, when she was tired, / she’d tie it up / and let all the tired animals around her house / drink from her head. Her loom becomes an old friend and an ancestor she prays to in the poem “Ode to the Loom.” Her grief is re-imagined as nails falling like rain in the darkness, so that when her hair falls / not as rain does / but as nails the evening hangs on, / and her hands slip no longer / from silk but on walls in the dark / hall to her room…
As the daughter of genocide survivors, Sok grew up with familial silence. Her poems came out of silence, she told Danny Thanh Nguyen during an interview in May 2020. “I’m writing about the genocide, but I’m writing more about the inheritance of that trauma…. I had to give myself the permission to write the stories and I went into myth-making, tried to mythologize my family’s narratives.” But the narratives are not just about her family’s experience, she noted. Rather, she was working towards a collective history of all Cambodian families.
The psychological toll of being a Black woman and the difficulties this presents in reaching political consciousness and doing political work can never be underestimated. There is a very low value placed upon Black women’s psyches in this society, which is both racist and sexist. […] If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.
The year 2017 marked the fortieth anniversary of the Combahee River Collective Statement, which introduced to the world terms such as “interlocking oppression” and “identity politics.” The Combahee River Collective (CRC) was a radical Black feminist organization formed in 1974, growing out of the antiracist and women’s liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s. It was named after Harriet Tubman’s 1853 raid on the Combahee River in South Carolina that freed 750 enslaved people.
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylorwrites on Black politics, social movements, and racial inequality in the United States. Her book From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation won the 2016 Lannan Cultural Freedom Award for an Especially Notable Book. Her articles have been published in Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture and Society, Jacobin, New Politics, The Guardian, In These Times, Black Agenda Report, Ms., International Socialist Review, and other publications. Taylor is Assistant Professor in the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University.
According to the NOAA National Climate Report 2020, issued on January 12, 2021, last year was the most active wildfire year on record across the West. In California, thousands of firefighters battled five of the six largest wildfires in our state’s history. Nearly 10,000 fires burned over 4.2 million acres. The August Complex fire alone burned over 1 million acres, an area larger than the state of Rhode Island. In Colorado, three extensive wildfires, burning over 500,000 acres, also broke the state’s historical record.
For 2020, the average temperature of 54℉ (12.2℃) for the contiguous U.S. (CONUS) ranks as the fifth warmest year in the last 126 years on record. On August 16th, temperatures soared to 130℉ (54.4℃) in California’s Death Valley—the hottest CONUS temperature recorded in 2020. Most of the contiguous U.S. experienced above average temperatures. Ten states across the Southwest, Southeast, and East Coast had their second-warmest year on record.
East Coast residents also faced several record-breaking storm events. Thirty named storms formed in the Atlantic Ocean, breaking the record of 28 set in 2005. Tropical storms Cristobal, Marco, Laura, Delta, and Zeta made landfall in Louisiana, the most storms on record for any state in one year. Hurricane Laura generated a storm surge of over 17 feet (5.16 meters) above ground level, which would be the largest on record for Louisiana.
The Midwest was not spared. In August 2020, the region was hit by a historic derecho, a destructive thunderstorm complex. The derecho raced across the Central States, causing damages estimated at $11 billion, the costliest to hit the region in four decades.
Perhaps, like me, you have not yet experienced loss of property, livelihood, or a loved one due to some climate disaster. Yet, we the working people all suffer the consequences of the economic costs of these weather and climate disasters. America’s annual loss in 2020 exceeded $95 billion, the fourth highest cost on record. Twenty-two of these events caused losses amounting to more than $1 billion each, shattering yet another annual record of 16 events made in 2011 and 2017. The total cost of U.S. billion-dollar weather and climate disasters over the last five years (2016-2020) exceeds a record $600 billion.
Unless we change the way we live and work, these weather and climate disaster events will continue to intensify and cripple our state and local economies, already under stress due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. On the upside, the lockdown and reduced economic activities in the U.S. and worldwide have led to a drop in global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. But, it is just a short-term reduction.
At the time of completing their Emissions Gap Report 2020, released on December 9, 2020, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reported that 126 countries, covering just 51 percent of global GHG emissions have net-zero goals that are formally adopted, announced, or under consideration. If the U.S. adopts a net-zero GHG target, as announced by the Biden Administration, the share would increase to 63 percent.
Apart from the USA, only ten other G20 members have set net-zero emission goals by 2050: Argentina, Canada, China (before 2060), European Union, France, Japan, Mexico, South Africa, South Korea, and the United Kingdom. Based on pre-COVID-19 projections, only nine G20 members are on track to achieve their unconditional nationally determined contributions (NDCs).
Without a firm commitment to significantly reduce GHG emissions, as set out in the Paris Climate Agreement, we the people of Earth will face a temperature increase of at least 3℃ (37.4℉) by the end of this century.
As at October 2020, global COVID-19 fiscal spending continued to promote high-carbon economic production. In planning the recovery from COVID-19, governments worldwide have an opportunity to catalyze low-carbon lifestyle changes by disrupting entrenched practices. (Clearing forests to rear cattle for beef consumption comes to mind.) Based on UNEP’s consumption-based accounting, around two-thirds of global emissions are linked to private household activities. Moreover, the richest One Percent of the world’s population account for more than twice the combined share of emissions of the poorest 50 percent. The report further notes that our participation as members of civil society is essential to bring about wider changes in the social, cultural, political, and economic systems in which we live. We have to change our lifestyles if we are to bridge the emissions gap. (Emphasis is mine.)
Watch the UNEP’s video, “Emissions Gap: A Turning Point,” released on December 9, 2020 (duration 1:35 minutes):
Change is inevitable. More so when we set the change into motion. In 2020, COVID-19 forced us into lockdown mode, bringing the global economy to a standstill. In the USA, our inability as a nation to agree on a strategy to combat a highly contagious, mutating, deadly foe will cost us more lives. Our economic recovery will take longer. Meanwhile, time is running out on tackling a global climate crisis that is gathering force with each passing day. Staying safe in place may not be an option.
My Poetry Corner January 2021 features the poem “No Island Is an Island, & So Forth” from the poetry collection As One Fire Consumes Another (2019) by John Sibley Williams, an award-winning poet, educator, and literary agent. Born in 1978 in Massachusetts, Williams earned his bachelor’s degree at the University at Albany in New York in 2003. Then in 2005, he received a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Rivier University in New Hampshire. He moved to Portland, Oregon, in 2009 where he earned a Master of Arts in Book Publishing from Portland State University. He lives in Portland with his partner and twin toddlers.
Williams’ poetry collection As One Fire Consumes Another comes at a critical time in American history with the empowerment of white supremacist and white nationalist groups. Framing his poems in column-like boxes, resembling coffins, the poet confronts the violent side of American history and bears witness as one fire consumes an unending series of fires in our homeland, on our southern border, and in distant lands. In an interview with Jeanne Huff of Idaho Press, Williams confessed that he struggled in exploring the extent of his “personal privilege as a white, CIS, able-bodied male whose labors and strains are so trifling compared to others.”
In the poem, “Everything Must Go,” a house is portrayed with ghost-white covering sheets and that new coffin smell. Its mossed gables are weighed down by a full century. Out-of-synch always with the dark drift of history, and hopeful that these are not self-repeating tragedies, the poet proposes that we must sell off what we fear owning. To remain silent is not atonement for our dark history.
We have become so numb to the cruelty we inflict on others with our unending wars that nothing stirs the / birds from our oak when we learn that six children were killed in Kabul, the poet observes in “When instinct matures into will.” The horizon sits / precisely where we left it. Fat with / faith. Fat, faithful, choosing what to / feel, feeling nothing.
Fire also rages in the homeland. The poem “A Gift of Violence,” in memory of the Charlottesville riots in August 2017, speaks of the racist hatred still alive across generations.
Memories of burning buildings raw
& righteous. A grandfather’s flames
passed down, undimmed. A full set
of knives in the drawer without time
to blunt from underuse. A city never
quite white enough. A city furiously
lit by misremembered histories…
Even Noah’s ark would not be big enough to un- / ruin, no flood more violent than our / own, the poet laments in “Dear Noah.” Like a ghost haunted by itself, / we move along old scars terrified of / what would happen if left to heal.
As a nation, we remain disunited and self-destructive. Call it by its true name: schism, the poet declares in “The Bones of Us.” Before we were a country of / burning buildings & protest & want, / we were the same. A shining city on / a shining hill raised on the silenced / bones of others.
In the featured poem, “No Island Is an Island, & So Forth,” the poet calls on white Americans to consider the role they all play in the hate and violence permeating our society. Holding on to illusions of bygone glories serve only to sever our body politic.
Sign your name to ruined Civil War
forts. Next time, use a Sharpie when
listing your demands to god. Instead
of touching forehead to ground as if
in supplication/ecstasy/grief, set fire
to the old battlefield & let the winds
unsever your strings to the past. In
dust & degrees, redraw boundaries.
This is what happened & this might
be what we let happen again…
When Williams penned these words, did he envisage white insurrectionists carrying the Confederate Flag while they stormed Capitol Hill on January 6, 2021? They fashioned their strings to the past into a Jim Crow-styled noose to hang our Vice President who, they believed, had sold out their cause to hold onto political power.
No island is an island; no body just a
body, & so forth. When the South
rises again, carry your father with the
rebel flag tattoo to the window to
watch the burning. Let the world
laugh at itself. Break from tradition.
To men who want & want & want,
admit you’ve tried so hard not to be
one of them.
Emboldened and incited by their leader in the White House, white supremacists and white nationalists among us have risen to prominence. To men who want & want & want there is no end to the burning. Fire consumes lives and livelihoods—black, brown, and white alike. No island is an island; no body just a / body, & so forth.
Only we can set ourselves free from the coffins, filled with hate and fear, that imprison our bodies and souls. Are we up to the task?
To read the complete featured poem, “No Island Is an Island, & So Forth,” and learn more about the work of the poet John Sibley Williams, go to my Poetry Corner January 2021.
America will not survive the big lie [that Trump had won the election] just because a liar is separated from power. It will need a thoughtful repluralization of media and a commitment to facts as a public good. The racism structured into every aspect of the coup attempt is a call to heed our own history. Serious attention to the past helps us to see risks but also suggests future possibility. We cannot be a democratic republic if we tell lies about race, big or small. Democracy is not about minimizing the vote nor ignoring it, neither a matter of gaming nor of breaking a system, but of accepting the equality of others, heeding their voices and counting their votes.
Timothy Snyder is the Levin professor of history at Yale University and the author of Our Malady, On Tyranny, The Road to Unfreedom, Black Earth, and Bloodlands. He has received the literature award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Hannah Arendt Prize, and the Leipzig Book Prize for European Understanding.