Sunday, April 26, 2020

The Great Pause Week 5 : Is it Over Yet?

"The pandemic, as lethal as it has been, is not yet nearly bad enough."

Área de Protección de Flora y Fauna Yum Balam

At first, I was operating at the margin of panic. I have four of the five health indicators raising my odds of a most unpleasant demise should I contract the virus. One month ago, a canceled flight left me hanging in Punta Gorda Town overnight, in gloves and mask, praying for a seat on the 10-seat Cesna the next day, all the while thinking this could be where the music stops and dreading the limitations imposed by that scenario. Thankfully, I made it back to my winter palapa with my fully-stocked library in Mexico the next evening, removed my mask, and could, after washing my hands again, let out a deep sigh of relief. This is a well-prepared doomstead and I have six months before my visa expires.

Since then there have been weeks of alternating comfort and worry, as foreigners on tourists visas started getting expelled or going into hiding, and a steady up-ramp of precautions augured our present state of lockdown here in rural Mexico. Now, finally, we seem to have a settling-in for the long haul and, all in all, my situation here is not bad. In fact, it’s almost ideal. I am on an island that has cordoned itself from outside contact to the impotent chagrin of state and national authorities. Food and fuel arrive at the dock unaccompanied. Apart from the boat crew, nary a soul comes or goes. The plan is not perfect, but it has bought me this time, and so far, we have no cases of the virus.

As time passes, I have watched the vacillating responses to the pandemic as it encircles the globe. I find the political football match humorous, in a dark way, as I see how caught up people still are, amazingly, in normalcy and confirmation biases, even to the point of ignoring clear and present danger to themselves, their loved ones, and to the Republic.
“Now I’ll show you the self-evaluations of people asked how susceptible they think they are to anchoring, causal base-rate errors, the endowment effect, availability, belief perseverance, confirmation, illusory correlation, queuing; all the biases you’ve learned about in this course.”
The Overstory

What came to me over these weeks of quarantine is that a knock like this is precisely what our global civilization needed. Behold: a gift from nature in the disguise of a ruthless killer. It is not that it will kill us all, it’s that it has made us push the pause button on what we had been doing.
In that pause lies hope.

I feel saddened for those who try to take advantage of the historic moment to further their own agenda, but as I search for what transformative lessons might be learned, I think, at first, one might be that we finally allow ourselves to feel the power of the exponential function. It’s the same one quietly driving us off the cliff of climate change. It has been herding us into our own extinction through our own seemingly insatiable lust to procreate and by obliviousness to our accelerating power to consume non-renewable resources, exterminate other species, and generate toxic waste.

That lesson was more or less the theme of the excellently made but sloppily researched film, now free on YouTube, Planet of the Humans, produced by Jeff Gibbs and Michael Moore. Planet exposes the hubris of imagining that we could merely substitute renewable energy for fossil fuels and be home free. While it was wildly inaccurate about grid-based renewables and biomass energy, and did not ken my strategy for eCOOLvillages and integrated power agroforestry that flip carbon from bane to boon, the film nonetheless offered the choice to construct a Civilization 2.0, or else.

At some point last week I thought it would be the CoV-19 collapse of debt-based finance through cascading bankruptcies that would inexorably pave the way for the adoption of donut economics, blue crypto, a Green New Deal, and other disaster socialist alternatives that have been warming up in the wings waiting for such a moment.

But then I realized that the pandemic, as lethal as it has been, is not nearly bad enough for that … yet. It would need to grind on, go deeper, hurl bunker busters at the hardened silos of Wall Street. There is still a lot of life left in the dragon. More spears are required.

Until this week, I thought more pain to induce deeper restructuring seemed likely to be provided. The projections of what would be needed to end the lockdowns and return to normal gradually extended the time in which we might expect a vaccine from 18 months to four years, or possibly never. If that is true, my visa will need to be extended, but we can all get precious time to deliberate the shape of the reboot. Universal Basic Income seems a fait accompli. Donut economics and ecovillages are gaining adherents. We just need more time.

What does Civilization 2.0 look like? Richard Powers’ The Overstory (recently awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction) gives one kind of glimpse:
“Turns out that the temperate jungle’s million invisible entangled loops need every kind of death-brokering intermediary to keep the circuits coursing. Clean up such a system and the countless self-replenishing wells run dry. This gospel of new forestry is confirmed by the most wonderful findings:. Beards of lichen, high in the air, that grow only on the oldest trees and inject essential nitrogen back into the living system; Subterranean voles that feed on truffles and spread the spores of angel fungi across the forest floor; Fungi that infuse into the roots of trees in partnerships so tight it’s hard to say where one organism leaves off and the other begins; Hulking confers that sprout adventitious roots high in the canopy that dip back down to feed on the mats of soil accumulating in the Vs of their own branches.
“Patricia gives herself to Douglas Firs. Arrow-straight, untapering, soaring up a hundred feet before the first branch, they’re an ecosystem unto their own selves, hosting more than a thousand species of invertebrates. Framer of cities, king of industrial trees, that tree without which America would have been a very different proposition. Her favorite individuals stand scattered near the station. She can find them by head-lamp. The largest of them must be six centuries old. He’s so tall, so near the upper limits imposed by gravity that it takes a day and a half for him to lift water from his roots to the highest of his 65 million needles. And every branch smells of deliverance.
“The things she catches Doug Firs doing over the course of these years fill her with joy. When the lateral roots of two Douglas Firs run into each other underground, they fuse. Through those self-grafted knots, the two trees join their vascular systems together and become one. Networked together underground by countless miles of living fungal threads, her trees feed and heal each other, keep their young and sick alive, pool their resources and metabolites into community chests. It will take years for the picture to emerge. There will be findings, unbelievable truths confirmed by a spreading worldwide web of researchers in Canada, Europe, Asia, all happily swapping data through faster and better channels.
“Her trees are far more social than even Patricia suspected. There are no individuals. There aren’t even separate species. Everything in the forest is the forest. Competition is not separable from endless flavors of cooperation. Trees fight no more than do the leaves on a single tree. It seems most of nature isn’t read in tooth and claw, after all. For one, those species at the base of the living pyramid have neither teeth nor talons. But if trees share their storehouses then every drop of red must float on a sea of green.”

I could have cut that extended quote to the last paragraph, or the last couple of sentences, but the whole thing about an ecology of habitation is about the breadth and scope of the whole. One needs to inhale deeply. Nothing should be left out or put aside. All of it belongs. All of us belong. Us and it are undifferentiated.

Fantastic Fungi, the Paul Stamets bio-pic now screening intermittently in the clear on Vimeo, supplies much the same vision: A world freed of competition; a world given over to intelligent cooperation; permacultural design.

My friend Richard Heinberg put it most succinctly on Earth Day:

“The coronavirus pandemic reminds us that we are vulnerable biological organisms, strands in Earth’s web of life. Due to our special human gifts — notably, our linguistic and tool-making abilities — we have come to think of ourselves as special and apart, more gods than critters. We have used our unique powers to kill off the macropredators that once threatened us — the lions, tigers, and bears. But a micro-predator, far too small to be seen even with a powerful optical microscope, has shown up unexpectedly to remind us that we are still links in the food chain. If something good is to come from the terrifying experience we are all sharing this fiftieth Earth Day, perhaps it will be the reminder that our survival depends not on defeating nature (something we can never really do, because we are nature), but instead on learning to live in a state of intelligent, dynamic balance within Earth’s nourishing yet fragile and perilous complexity.”

But then, just as it all seemed so planned to end this way, my hopes were put on hold by some leading-edge antiviral creativity emerging from within the medical community. It had to happen. There are a lot of very smart people out on the front line now, all looking for a cure. Marine biologist Brian von Herzen sent me this collection of their thinking:

Simultaneously, I read the excellent Opinion piece in The New York Times by emergency room physician Richard Levitan. Working with severe cases, he saw many patients with none of the usual early pneumonia signs like fluid buildup, trouble breathing, or chest pain. What he saw instead was oxygen failure due to the loss of mature red blood cells. People were dying from oxygen starvation, even while their lungs were not yet showing traditional symptoms of pneumonia.

I find it interesting that doctors are so stymied by the peer-review process or the bureaucratic snarl at underfunded CDC and WHO that they have to publish letters in newspapers or go on YouTube to be heard. Nonetheless, what these reports tell us is that CoV-19 is more like HIV than flu. We may find a therapy to prevent deaths before we find a vaccine. While a vaccine could take years to emerge, or never arrive at all, we could be able to re-oxygenate red blood cells, or transfuse, until patients’ white blood cells can develop their own specific antibodies against CoV-19. VonHerzen’s idea is to take the seats out of grounded commercial airliners, replace them with hospital beds and quarantine tents, and then pressurize their cabins to elevate oxygen so they can revive otherwise terminal coronavictims.
And that suddenly saddened me. Winning the fight against this pandemic shortens the Great Pause we really need.

You encourage me to do more and then tell you about it. Help me get my blog posted every week. All Patreon donations and Blogger subscriptions are needed and welcomed, especially at this time when I am quarantined far from home. You are how we make this happen. PowerUp! donors on Patreon get an autographed book off each first press run. My latest book, The Dark Side of the Ocean, is nearing that moment. Please help if you can.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

The Great Pause Week 4: Beady-Eyed Bandits

"If nothing else, we are getting a good lesson in the power of the exponential function."

You know something has changed when you come back from a walk and find a raccoon under your bed. 

Here on the north coast of the Yucatan, we are seeing the flip-side of lockdown. Wildlife is soaring back. With humans in quarantine, animals have reclaimed their natural spaces, and, as in case of this raccoon, some of ours, as well. She made a hole in my thatch and hid under the bed, maybe hoping to have some babies there.

This region experienced significant destruction from Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, followed by a drought and severe wildfires in 1989. That damage led locals to form an organization to petition for greater environmental protection from the federal government. They called themselves the “Yum Balam Civil Association,” taking a phrase from the Yucatec Maya language that translates, “Father Jaguar,” the Lord of Nature.

Área de protección de flora y fauna Yum Balam became in 1994 the first protected nature reserve in México to be created by the demand of its local residents. Its hundreds of square kilometers include important cork forests, wetlands stretching along the Strait of Cuba, Yalahau Lagoon, and adjacent barrier islands.

In 2018, a series of federal inspections led to the temporary closure or cancellation of more than two dozen proposed or partially completed Mayan Riviera development projects — hotels and residences — because they were found to be in violation of the protected area. In 2019 a development management plan was enacted to regulate development for the sake of environmental preservation. It banned plastics, pets, and exotic or invasive landscaping plants from the protected zones. It held buildings to two stories, and prohibited night lighting and fires on the beaches.

And yet, for the past year, the conditions here continued to deteriorate under the pressure of 10,000 tourists per day and new construction to accommodate them. Then, in March 2020, everything suddenly changed. The pandemic removed the main impediment. People.

Climate scientists James Hansen and Makiko Sato this week observed that, if nothing else, we are getting a good lesson in the power of the exponential function and the need to act early when bad exponents trend our way.

They write:
‘Delayed Response’ — days and weeks for Coronavirus, decades and centuries for climate change — makes both problems difficult and dangerous. Delayed response, in a system that has amplifying feedbacks, can lead to exponential response that is difficult to control.
This is why when we see exponential curves like these…

…we should not immediately think, “Oh, this will be over in a few days or weeks.” There is good reason to think that CoV-19 will be with us until a vaccine is found, or if none is found, forever. If it is here forever, what we now call our average human lifespan, historically at an apogee in 2020, will retreat to much lower levels. Fewer of us will expect to live to 80. Many more will die in their 50s and 60s.

Mexico now looks like this:

The centers of infection are where you would expect — at the doors and windows. Tijuana, Cabo, Mazatlan, Laredo, Cancun — these are where Europeans and North Americans go for spring break or vacation. These are where the CoV-19 entered.

The map is also a time machine because it is two weeks past from where the infection has already spread. We can look back in time and see these points of entry, then we can zoom forward and forecast it reaching beyond those points, everywhere, in every state and village, two weeks from now. New York and Seattle become Detroit and Denver. CoV-19 spreads like World War Z.

It is possible that some lockdowns will be lifted, and we may again be able to return to work or play, but those forays will come at higher risk and could be recalled quickly when and where hotspots develop. 

The power of the exponential function is that it can also be turned to healing the planet. We have in the past spoken of the need for an 11% solution — a glide path to take us from adding 40 billion tons of CO2-equivalents per year to withdrawing 10 to 20 billion, on a trajectory that would restore the atmosphere and oceans to pre-industrial greenhouse conditions by the second half of this century.

Most people cannot conceive of how that could work. An 11 percent glide slope means halving emissions every 7 years — half the number of cars on the road, half the amount of grain-fed to cattle, half the commercial airline flights, half the naval vessels by the year 2027. Then half that again by 2034. CoV-19 gives us a glimpse of how that could happen and what it actually feels like when it does.

It may produce personal discomfort and loss, but that is not extinction. Climate change, for many animals (including ourselves), means extinction. According to a study published this month in Nature, among more than 30,000 species on land and in water, sudden population collapses are forecast across almost all species — fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals — and in almost all regions. Unless something radical happens.

“For a long time things can seem OK and then suddenly they’re not,” Alex L. Pigot, a scientist at University College London and one of the study’s authors told The New York Times, “Then, it’s too late to do anything about it because you’ve already fallen over this cliff edge.” 

But something radical is happening. Goats are taking to the streets in Wales. Kangaroos are dancing on Australian beaches.

The effect the lockdowns will have on the global economy will be a deeper decline than during the Great Depression of the 1930s. On the other hand, nature is the REAL economy, so this is a good thing. We may even hit the Paris targets for emissions reductions without the Glasgow stocktake.

This week the world population rolled past 7,777,777,777 humans. That is a problem. For CoV-19 to even give us a neutral growth year, more than 100 million will have to die. CoV-19, or something just as deadly, would have to keep doing that until we stop reproducing ourselves exponentially.

In recent days the silence makes birdsong audible in the once-busy streets of this village. Giant manta rays and dolphins cavort near the docks that used to unload full ferries of visitors. The now-abandoned sandy beaches await the arrival of female Hawksbill turtles to make their nests and lay their eggs. Soon the manatees will return to our rivers.

This is what ecological regeneration looks like. It is a beady-eyed bandit peering out from under your bed.

You encourage me to do more and then tell you about it. Help me get my blog posted every week. All Patreon donations and Blogger subscriptions are needed and welcomed, especially at this time when I am quarantined far from home. You are how we make this happen. PowerUp! donors on Patreon get an autographed book off each first press run. My latest book, The Dark Side of the Ocean, is nearing that moment. Please help if you can.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

The Great Pause Week 3

"In a larger sense, I have been preparing for something like this moment my entire life."

This essay started out like the previous two weeks but, like some kind of viral infection, it followed a nasty growth trajectory, running from an already long 10 minute read to 20, then 30. So, I’ve decided next week I will go back to writing pithy advice columns.

The story thus far: after getting nearly stranded at the site of my permaculture course in Belize with abysmal internet and none of the research materials I had gathered for my latest book project, I made it back to my winter writing sinecure in Mexico and went no farther. This time of year I would normally be returning to The Farm in Tennessee, starting the garden, planning out my next speaking tour, and paying taxes. Instead, I am gathering coconuts, lying in a hammock with my iPad, or talking to you. It is an endless winter.



On my satellite radio a CNN expert commentator squawks about unemployment and the shocked tone puzzles me. Amid all the radical change since March, do economists still not see what is coming? Are they so stuck in the rut they have worn for themselves that they imagine the sooner this ends and we all get back to work, the better we will be? This is not a snow day, guys.

Here the economy was built on tourism. This barrier island was literally sinking under the weight of 10,000 elegantly appointed hotel rooms fashioned of heavy stone, concrete, steel, and dense tropical hardwoods. A few weeks ago the restaurants employed hundreds of cooks and waiters from all over Mexico and beyond. And then, in the blink of an eye, that all shut. The clouds parted and an economic miracle evaporated.

Back at The Farm we don’t farm like we once did — no money in it — but we have any number of practical businesses that are antifragile by design. Tourism in the form of BnBs and our construction trades were brittle but those were never mainstays for the community, and now they are merely supplementary sources of income in good times. The workhorses are producing books, geiger counters, mail-order tempeh kits, fresh soyfoods, midwifery, and medicinal marijuana. These are trades that will not merely survive a pandemic, but thrive on it.

In a larger sense, I have been preparing for something like this moment my entire life. When I was thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail at 25 I imagined that if civilization ever began to crumble I would go find a suitable wilderness to inhabit, maybe in Montana or Idaho, and use my foraging skills to provision myself until it was safe to come out. 

After I landed at The Farm in 1972, I gradually realized it was not about returning to wilderness (although some of us attempted to, up on Hickory Hill), but about designing ecovillages as responsible social enterprises that restored wilderness and reversed climate change. That is a recurrent theme of my later books: community-led change.

My Y2K Survival Guide and Cookbook (1999), co-authored with my mother, sold 200,000 copies. Later revisions — the Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook (2006) and the Financial Collapse Survival Guide and Cookbook (Kindle 2015) — were incrementally better although not nearly as successful. Still, those books had it right. Preparation is everything, and if you had followed my advice, you would be sitting pretty about now.


The concept of antarabhāva, an intervening state between death and rebirth, was brought into Buddhism from the Vedic-Upanishadic precursors to Hinduism. If you have read the Tibetian Book of the Dead, even Timothy Leary’s somewhat humorous edition, you will be familiar with bardos.
Used loosely, “bardo” is the state of existence intermediate between two lives on earth. According to Tibetan tradition, after death and before one’s next birth, when one’s consciousness is not connected with a physical body, one experiences a variety of phenomena. These usually follow a particular sequence of degeneration from, just after death, the clearest experiences of reality of which one is spiritually capable, and then proceeding to terrifying hallucinations that arise from the impulses of one’s previous unskillful actions. For the prepared and appropriately trained individuals, the bardo offers a state of great opportunity for liberation, since transcendental insight may arise with the direct experience of reality; for others, it can become a place of danger as the karmically created hallucinations can impel one into a less than desirable rebirth.
Metaphorically, bardo can describe times when our usual way of life becomes suspended, as, for example, during a period of illness or during a meditation retreat. Such times can prove fruitful for spiritual progress because external constraints diminish. However, they can also present challenges because our less skillful impulses may come to the foreground, just as in the sidpa bardo.
 — Wikipedia 

When we watch the President’s daily press briefing (remembering to wipe the screen with alcohol afterwards), we witness sidpa bardo. It is a non-stop rant of karmically created hallucinations.

La vida no vale nada
Pablo Milanés

Life is worthless
La vida no vale nada 
If four fall per minute
Si cuatro caen por minuto 
And in the end by this travail
Y al final por el abuso 
The journey is decided
Se decide la jornada
Life is worthless
La vida no vale nada 
If I have to postpone
Si tengo que posponer 
Another minute of being
Otro minuto de ser 
And die in a bed
Y morirme en una cama
Life is worthless
La vida no vale nada 
If in the end what surrounds me
Si en fin lo que me rodea 
I can’t change what it was
No puedo cambiar cual fuera 
What I have and what protects me
Lo que tengo y que me ampara
And so for me
Y por eso para mí 
Life is worthless
La vida no vale nada

Songwriters: Pedro Arias, Pablo Milanes
La vida no vale nada lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group



I watched an excellent TED connect with Gary Liu, an editor of the South China News
The way China and South Korea flattened their curve was a three-prong approach: point-of-care testing for everyone, quickly; tight quarantine of the CoV-19 positive; and aggressive contact tracing. Everyone who made contact with an infected person for the previous 2 weeks got tested.
China shut down Wuhan and the entire Hubei Province at 830 confirmed cases on January 13. It was a drastic necessity. The principal pandemic officer at CDC warned the White House and the health industry then that they needed to get going. Two weeks later Wuhan had 35000, then two weeks after, 75000. Two weeks is the time when there may be no symptoms but a person may be infectious. One person can infect thousands of others in that time. 

The greatest failing of the human race is its inability to understand the exponential function.
“In January, it was discussed that there was human to human transmission taking place. So the alarm bells were ringing that this fits the very scary pattern — that it will be very difficult to contain.” 
 — Bill Gates, TED Connects March 24, 2020 

The Alabama governor is still allowing spring breakers to party on the beaches. “We are not New York, you know,” she said. She was not referring to the number of cases. She was referring to the attitude of people towards any edicts from a central government authority. It was also intended as a put-down of NY Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has been calling for a stronger, centrally-coordinated, national response. 

The masks habit in Hong Kong began with SARS. Anyone with a cough is expected to be wearing one if they are in public. Guatemala just made wearing masks mandatory. 

Also in Hong Kong public spaces are constantly being disinfected. Elevator buttons have a plastic sheet cover that is changed often. Dim Sum carts in the street vanished during SARS. Everything went to menu-based restaurants. They give you two colors of chopsticks. One color is to reach to the common Lazy Susan to refill your bowl. The other is for bowl-to-mouth.



Almost 90% of New Zealanders back Ardern government on Covid-19
 China traced back CoV-19 to patient zero, who presented on November 17. The sequence of events after that is illustrative of how political systems fail to mesh gears well with science-based systems. Dr. Lee died on Feb 7. He is now a national hero, honored as such by the central government. The police who persecuted him for blowing the whistle on CoV-19 in December/January have been arrested. 

In the United States the equivalent would be arresting Carrier Strike Group Commander Rear Admiral Stewart Baker and Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly for relieving Captain Brett Crozier from his command of the USS Theodore Roosevelt after the captain sent a memo up the chain of command warning Navy leadership that decisive action was needed to save the lives of the ship’s crew.

President Cobblepot approved the removal and, as if to demonstrate we need to maintain a war footing for our sailors, he dispatched a carrier fleet to threaten Venezuela. He should be arrested too, but the Monarchist parties would have a fit.

My pharmacist agreed to order my cardio meds for me. She said, don’t worry, this will all be over in 3 weeks.

The US has chosen, by intention or default, a herd immunity strategy, at the sacrifice of several million, mostly elderly black people. Most people expect be out of this by next winter, even if no vaccine is developed. The theory is that the CoV-19 virus will disappear for lack of hosts to reproduce itself within. But for that to happen US infections would need to reach eight digits.

I am glad I am not part of that experiment. Here in Mexico they are on the same trajectory, mainly relying on the rabbits’ foot the president has strung around his neck, but I have a bit of shelter to remain apart from that. Assuming they do not lift restrictions here, the barrier is 8 miles of ocean.
Talk about going back to normal after three weeks or six weeks is naive but not unrealistic if (big if) you are doing well with the 3 Chinese tools: universal testing; tight quarantine of cases; and aggressive contact tracing. You need those coming out of lockdown more than you need them going in. 

As the world battles the coronavirus crisis, researchers are warning of a potentially active Atlantic Ocean hurricane season, which kicks off June 1 through the end of November.
The CSU team forecasts 16 named tropical systems; 12 is the average. Eight of those named systems are forecast to reach hurricane status, with winds greater than 74 mph; Six is the usual amount per year. Moving coronavirus victims on ventilators could become a major endeavor that would require action well before a storm approaches the coast — assuming there’s hospital space inland to take them.
And then there are the personal mental and financial barriers. People may be hesitant to evacuate for fear of going to a shelter with the infected. “Much of what we use as baseline assumptions for emergencies will not work right now,” said Bryan Koon, a former director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management. “Natural disasters don’t care what is going on with human health issues.” 


They were surrounded by a fleet of staff, who were stranded themselves, trapped in an eternal honeymoon in the Maldives
…[T]hey were the only guests at their resort, the Cinnamon Velifushi Maldives, which normally is at capacity this time of year, catering to some 180 guests. (“Room rates start at $750 a night,” its website still says.) The resort comprises the entirety of its speck of an island. There is nowhere to go. The couple reign like benign yet captive sovereigns over their islet. The days are long and lazy. They sleep in, snorkel, lounge by the pool, repeat.
The resort’s full staff are at hand, because of the presence of the two guests. Government regulations won’t allow any Maldivians to leave resorts until after they undergo a quarantine that follows their last guests’ departure. Accustomed to the flow of a bustling workday, and the engagement with a full house of guests, most of the staff, having grown listless and lonely, dote on the couple ceaselessly. Their “room boy” checks on them five times a day. The dining crew made them an elaborate candlelit dinner on the beach. Every night performers still put on a show for them in the resort’s restaurant: Two lone audience members in a grand dining hall.
At breakfast, nine waiters loiter by their table. Hostesses, bussers and assorted chefs circulate conspicuously, like commoners near a celebrity. The couple has a designated server, but others still come by to chat during meals, topping off water glasses after each sip, offering drinks even though brimming cocktail glasses stand in full view, perspiring. The diving instructor pleads with them to go snorkeling whenever they pass him by.
A dozen Argentines are trapped here and staying in quarantine at the Tribu hostel. They are adhering to the stay-at-home order better than many of the resident families, whose extended relations are arriving for the Easter holidays, after which it is expected the kids will go back to school.
With no tourists the waters are crystal clear and still. Overhead while I swim I used to see jets passing from Europe to Cancun. Now I see flights of flamingos.

The Gulf of Mexico sea surface temperatures have run above normal over the past year but have sharply risen in recent months. Now, they’re about three degrees above average and that is likely to have a bearing on weather across the central and eastern Lower 48 in the months to come.
The last time Gulf of Mexico waters were similarly warm in 2017, it coincided with an above-average tornado season through the spring, and then Category 4 Hurricane Harvey struck the Texas Gulf Coast at the end of summer.
The balmy gulf waters have already contributed to abnormal warmth across the Deep South, where virtually the entirety of the Interstate 10 corridor through Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia is wrapping up one of its top five warmest Marches on record. Numerous records have toppled, with some cities soaring into the 90s…. According to the Southeast Regional Climate Center, cities such as Brownsville, Texas, Corpus Christi, Houston, New Orleans, Mobile, Alabama, and parts of Florida have all seen their warmest March on record.
— Matthew Cappucci, Washington Post, March 31, 2020 
The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, though storms sometimes form outside those dates. The team predicts that 2020 hurricane activity will be about 140% of the average season. 

The economists and politicians think the pandemic will be over before November. Economics and political science are not physical sciences. 



Here in the Yum Balam nature preserve cutting mangroves is illegal, as it is for most of Mexico also. It is permitted, however, to prune away dead mangroves to reduce the fire hazard. On my morning bike ride I turned down a dead-end trail recently cut on the northwestern tip of the island near Punta Coco and came to a construction site. I noticed all the mangroves were turning white. Then I saw why.

They were being poisoned, probably with Roundup. IV drips had been fashioned from detergent bottles, filled with herbicide, and injected into the trees’ shallow water arteries at 4 meter intervals. 
Tourism should never have gotten this far. It needs to remain in permanent retreat.

Today I wrote a letter of recommendation for the Global Ecovillage Network to be awarded the 1 million euro Gulbenkian Prize. Calouste “Mr. 5-percent” Gulbenkian was an Armenian born in 1869 who grew up in Istanbul. He moved to Marseilles at the age of 15 to perfect his French at a high school and then attended King’s College London, where he studied petroleum engineering and graduated in 1887 at the age of 18. In 1896, Gulbenkian and his family fled the Ottoman Empire to escape the Armenian massacres. They ended up in Egypt, where Calouste met influential contacts in the emerging Middle East oil industry. He returned to London a year later and became a British citizen. He helped arrange the merger of Royal Dutch Petroleum Company with Shell and in 1907, at age 38, emerged as a major shareholder of the newly formed company, Royal Dutch Shell. His policy of retaining five percent of the shares of the oil companies he brokered over the course of his career earned him a vast fortune, much of which he dedicated to victims of the Armenian Holocaust. In 1912, he was the driving force behind procuring oil exploration and development rights in the Ottoman territory of Mesopotamia. He gave British interests a 35% share, German interests 25%, Royal Dutch Shell 25% and kept 15% for himself. During the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire, the Pasha of Iraq gave Gulbenkian the entire Iraqi oil concession. Gulbenkian, however, reputedly said, “Better a small piece of a big pie, than a big piece of a small one,” and sold off most of the development rights to Aramco and others, with the usual 5% royalty. In 1938, before the beginning of World War II, Gulbenkian incorporated a Panamanian company to hold his assets, now a subsidiary of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon. 

It would seem to me poetic if this Foundation, whose fortune derives from accelerating the carbon cycle, could be induced to place that money into the service of reversing climate change in time to save our planet.

At sunset I joined a sitting meditation with Moana, a Quebecois, Deeana from Hawaii, and Sandra at Casa TomTom. We sat for an hour to the sound of the wind in the coconut trees and the waves lapping on the shore. 



Biking the beach after sunrise I listened to Terry Gross’s Fresh Air interview with The Atlantic science writer Ed Yong, who predicted a global pandemic more than a year ago. He spoke about how and when the pandemic might end and what the aftermath might be. These are the important questions, but I am not sure he has the answers entirely right, nor does anyone. I am reminded of Joseph Tainter’s excellent book on collapse of complex societies, and works by Jared Diamond and William Catton on the same theme. In the case of Tainter’s collapse narrative for the Maya, which could have as easily come from pandemic as from civil war, or some combination, a great urban civilization devolved in just a few years to rural forest living. The population did not decline very much, it just dispersed. It had lost its glue and so reverted to a previous position of greater stability and self-reliance until it could re-urbanize, which only happened after the Columbian Encounter.
I don’t know that this pandemic has that much power, but there are more and bigger pandemics that may, when they come.

Bought a lime tree sapling in the market and planted it in a bed of inoculated biochar in my garden. Limes are very popular in the Caribbean. Christopher Columbus brought seeds to the West Indies on his second voyage in 1493, and the trees soon became widely distributed in Mexico, the West Indies, and Florida. Here their main function is to make ceviche from raw fish or flavor your Corona.

Seffi gave me a kombucha scoby so I could start a batch. I had brought tea back with me from China when I last taught the ecovillage design course there. Nice to find a good use for it since I am mainly a coffee man.


There is no small amount of schadenfreude watching civilization implode. What would be antifragile businesses for a small Mexican island? As in any survival situation, one begins with a pause, a deep breath, and then taking inventory of what you have and what you will need.

We have:
  • Protected nature preserve status
  • Scores of large, new, vacant hotel buildings, elegantly furnished
  • Scores of well-furnished closed restaurants with industrial kitchens
  • A large number of unemployed chefs and cooks, receptionists, service people, and managers
  • A diesel power plant and distributed lines capable of meeting the needs of 10,000 people
  • A leaky municipal water system that provides clean but not potable water for 10,000 people
  • A decrepit sewage treatment system
  • A golf-cart taxi fleet, in good repair
  • A police department
  • A fishing fleet with multigenerational experience in these waters
  • A Navy base
  • A hundred small shops or mobile businesses
  • Bicycle repair workshops, small engine repair workshops, a boat repair dry dock
  • Sawmills and carpentry shops
  • A bank
  • Hundreds of dogs and a smaller number of domestic or feral cats
  • Wild marauding raccoons
  • A sheltered port with a 4 meter draft
  • Coconut trees
  • Abundant edible wild fish, octopus, shrimp and lobster
  • A couple of doctors and dentists
  • Many plumbers and electricians
  • Many carpenters, masons and palaperos
  • Broadband internet connectivity (weak)
  • Mobile phone service
  • Landline phone service
  • Cable TV
  • Several baseball parks and soccer fields
  • Some sport fishing boats
  • Five passenger ferries and one car ferry
  • An airport (actually just a dirt landing strip)
  • Baseball and football teams
  • An under-financed and poorly-staffed school
  • Several churches
  • Several health clinics, including an urgent care center
  • Several pharmacies
  • Many fresh fruit and vegetable vendors
  • Several bakeries and tortillerias
  • Warehouses, typically used for beer and construction materials
  • Several fully-stocked hardware stores
  • A night-lit basketball court under roof
  • A night-lit bandshell
  • Propane delivery
  • Garbage collection
  • FedEx/DHL once-per-week delivery
  • Mail once-per-week delivery
  • Paddleboards and kayaks
  • Sailboats and catamarans
  • Experienced scuba guides and gear
  • Three kiteboarding schools
  • Lots of artists and musicians
  • Miles of pristine sandy beach
  • Dolphins, rays and whalesharks
  • Flocks of marine and coastal wild birds
  • Crabs, iguanas, lizards, sea snakes and tortoises
  • A river with flamingos and crocodiles

We lack:
  • Enforcement of environmental regulations for this nature preserve 
  • Our previous clean groundwater lens
  • Redundant, robust, renewable energy systems
  • An adequate sanitation system that processes and neutralizes human wastes
  • Adequate recycling, composting and garbage management/disposal
  • Secure potable water supply (not requiring purchase of plastic bottles)
  • Adequate plastics restrictions, collection and disposal
  • Domestic abuse counseling
  • Night lighting and noise restrictions
  • Adequate nesting turtle protections
  • Restrictions on domestic animals
  • Adequate crocodile and flamingo protections
  • Sufficient hurricane design criteria in building codes
  • Legal CBD
  • Secure food supply for islanders, drawn mainly from the island itself
  • Jobs for everyone previously employed by tourism
  • Good schools for all grades and adult education
  • A community FM radio station
  • Microgrid local WiMax internet
  • A smart growth plan, or any consistent, democratic, transparent planning process

The police truck just drove by my palapa, its loudspeaker broadcasting a message directed mostly at the Easter crowd — mainland relatives who are breaking the rules — telling them to kindly observe our stay-at-home directive and only go out when absolutely necessary, observe 2-meter physical distancing, mask, and frequently wash your hands with soap.

It could be another 2 or 3 weeks before we will know if the island survived Jesus’s resurrection.
I felt a little chagrined and asked Sandra to tell the others I would not be coming to our usual wine on the beach sunset gatherings until after the crowds left again. I don’t want to set a poor example by going out when it wasn’t absolutely necessary.



Don’t know who wrote this:

We fell asleep in one world, and woke up in another.

Suddenly Disney is out of magic,
Paris is no longer romantic,
New York doesn’t stand up anymore,
the Chinese wall is no longer a fortress, and Mecca is empty.

Hugs & kisses suddenly become weapons, and not visiting parents & friends becomes an act of love.

Suddenly you realize that power, beauty & money are worthless, and can’t get you the oxygen you’re fighting for.

The world continues its life and it is beautiful. It only puts humans in cages. I think it’s sending us a message:

“You are not necessary. The air, earth, water and sky without you are fine. When you come back, remember that you are my guests. Not my masters.”

You encourage me to do more and then tell you about it. Help me get my blog posted every week. All Patreon donations and Blogger subscriptions are needed and welcomed, especially at this time when I am quarantined far from home. You are how we make this happen. PowerUp! donors on Patreon get an autographed book off each first press run. My latest book, The Dark Side of the Ocean, is nearing that moment. Please help if you can.


Sunday, April 5, 2020

The Great Pause, Week Two

"Speculation, geomancy, and fantastical myth-making need to step aside for the moment, please. Systems thinkers please stand up."


Lately, I have been recalling the concept of fault tolerance in engineering.
Fault tolerance is the property that enables a system to continue operating properly in the event of the failure of (or one or more faults within) some of its components. If its operating quality decreases at all, the decrease is proportional to the severity of the failure, as compared to a naively designed system, in which even a small failure can cause total breakdown. Fault tolerance is particularly sought after in high-availability or life-critical systems. 
Within the scope of an individual system, fault tolerance can be achieved by anticipating exceptional conditions and building the system to cope with them, and, in general, aiming for self-stabilization so that the system converges towards an error-free state. 
 — Wikipedia 

The human body‘s fault-tolerant design allows for novel coronavirus cells to invade our airways and capture lung cells and then blood phages respond to kill the threat. The viral material is removed from the cytoplasm by forming enclosed autophagosomes and then fused with lysosomes to be degraded. Unfortunately, this CoV, as was predicted by virologists ten months ago, induces and exploits autophagy for the purpose of viral propagation. 

Schoeman, D., & Fielding, B. C. (2019). Coronavirus envelope protein: current knowledge. Virology journal, 16(1), 69.

Engineering has designed us to have a second lung in case we should lose the first, but in this case, the virus attacks both at the outset, as well as the other parts of the respiratory tract. We have many redundant lung cells, but the virus multiplies rapidly once it’s hit its target. The body’s only defense, unless aided by an externally introduced serum designed to hunt and kill infected cells, is to wait for our immune system computer to correctly identify, by trial and error, the virus-infected cells and then to neutralize them. Older model biocomputers (to use John Lilly’s term) and those already tasked with other work may find they lack sufficient available computing power to perform this chore before the lungs are compromised beyond recovery. Pumping oxygen with a ventilator can sometimes extend the time to complete the task and thereby permit survival and recovery. Sometimes, though, you can recover from the virus but not from the ventilator.

Dorothy R. Bates 1920-2004
I pause here, struck by the memory of my mother, in the hospital ICU, and in her final days with pneumonia. She had grown very tired of the intubated ventilator and then the doctor told her that having been on the device this long, any chance of her getting off was pretty unrealistic. She made a hand motion, extended arm, palm down, then a swoop up. We knew what she meant. She was ready to die. With tears, we gave that permission.

When Death Comes

by Mary Oliver

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measles-pox;
when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

Society can engineer better systems of medical care to have enough ventilators and protect its ICU staff to successfully defend against pandemic attacks, or it can rely upon social engineerings, such as quarantines, stay-at-home orders, distancing, and hand-washing to flatten the curve and reduce the damage in an epidemic. It seldom anticipates, however, “multiple fault” scenarios, whereupon other events choose this inopportune moment to arise.

So, for instance, in the midst of the pandemic response, a natural disaster such as wildfire, flood, tornado, hurricane, earthquake or volcanic eruption occurs. It can lay waste or further overburden hospitals and caregivers. It can completely disrupt any social distancing and hand-washing strategy. It becomes a force multiplier for the virus.

We have been lucky so far with respect to these multiple faults, apart from the obvious political ones, but the longer the pandemic lasts, the more likely we will witness such intervening cascades.

Today a lady iguana showed up in my yard. Sandra tells me she is pregnant. I have not seen iguanas here for more than a decade, although they were once common. They make the effort of gardening more challenging, but I welcome their return and hope her pregnancy carries well. Now I want to see the return of soft shell blue crabs that used to build holes under the foundations of my palapa.


In fact, it’s Dougie’s growing conviction that the greatest flaw of the species is its overwhelming tendency to mistake agreement for truth. Single biggest influence on what a body will or will not believe is what nearby bodies broadcast over the public band. Get three people in the room and they will decide that the law of gravity is evil and should be rescinded because one of their uncles got shit-faced and fell off the roof. 
 — The Overstory

My holistic goal is to live long and prosper.
That means not catching this killer flu.
“Wash your hands. Don’t be complacent. This will be going on for a while. You have to be disciplined.” 
 — Andrew Cuomo.

I created a Coggle chart to show three scenarios for the island in the months to come, once the shit really hits the fan in Mexico.

Mexico, like Russia, Brazil, or the US, really got caught napping back in January when China first alerted WHO to the power of this novel coronavirus. At the risk of overreaching with a Hitler analogy, most war college historians would agree that Hitler lost a war that was Germany’s to win because of ideology, not available military skill and resources. There are many examples of Hitlerian intervention to the detriment of generalship — his reckless invasion of Russia, his “no retreat” orders, taking Churchill’s bait to blitz London while sparing RAF air bases, and more.

I say this because it should by now be obvious that like emperors who surrounded themselves with astrologers and soothsayers, the POTUS has a pathological tropism to place cultish ideology above scientific realities. Call it Murdochracy. But physics is real.
The Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, is the only world leader widely believed not only to have Covid-19 and to have lied about it but to have knowingly spread it to untold numbers of his followers…. Under quarantine after his return from the US — 25 members of his entourage have been infected with coronavirus, making Bolsonaro the center of the largest initial cluster in Brazil — the president broke out of his motorcade to shake hands and high five those calling for the government buildings to be burnt to the ground.
Bolsonaro’s approach to Trump is monkey see, monkey do, so the day after Trump floated the idea of an early return to work, against the advice of leading military figures, Bolsonaro went on national television to announce that (in his experience?) coronavirus was just ‘a little flu’, and that since old people rather than children were dying in other countries, Brazilian children should return to school and young people should return to work. Businesses were to reopen, since the politics of quarantine was ‘a thing for cowards.’ According to the speaker of the lower house, Rodrigo Maia, Bolsonaro was under pressure from investors after the market in São Paulo crashed, losing 52 percent of its total value between 17 January 17 and 20 March — the biggest drop in the world, according to Goldman Sachs.
In addition to the number of coronavirus cases and deaths (as of 26 March, 2915 and 77 respectively), Brazil is also leading Latin America in capital flight: Mexico has lost $2 billion in foreign investment; Brazil has lost $12 billion. The real, meanwhile, has dropped to a new low of $5.02 to the dollar. The economy minister, Paulo Guedes, who studied under Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago and at the University of Chile under Pinochet, warned Bolsonaro that Brazil could not afford to quarantine beyond 7 April; the country was already in recession before Covid-19 arrived. To informal workers, who make up four-fifths of the economically active population in urban settlements (favelas), where at least 13.6 million people live, Guedes is offering 200 reals in vouchers, which will not be enough to keep them from having to work to survive.
 — Forrest Hylton, “Brazil Undone,” London Review of Books, March 27, 2020.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is on day 6 of his fever and is in quarantine at 10 Downing St. His chief medical advisor is also in self-imposed quarantine. Same kind of thing as Bolsonaro: Lots of back-pounding and hand-shaking, taking his cabinent, staff, and advisors with him on his jet, etc. 
As yet there are no cases on my island but the CoV-19 can incubate in carriers and be spread for 2 weeks before the carriers show symptoms. This is why it can be more dangerous than Ebola or SARS. There are cases in Cancun and there is daily traffic of food suppliers and others between the island and there, so we cannot say it is not already actively spreading here. We have to regard each personal encounter with utmost care, touching nothing, breathing no-one else’s air, social distancing. I’ve learned to squint and regard everyone as a White Walker. I have been masking for two weeks.


I never used to lock my doors and windows here. Where would you go if you stole from me? But things have changed. I have to step up my vigilance. Many who were in tourism-related jobs are now out of work. There is no money coming in but it leaves here with every trip to the grocer or utility bill. Desperation will grow. I can teach permaculture and organic gardening, but these things take time. So I have reluctantly begun to lock up when I go out. I’ll also need to vary the pattern of my comings and goings to be less predictable.

I really have very little to steal, but losing this laptop for me would be catastrophic. 

My friend Danny Manicolo wrote a nice song for #stayhome’rs, “I know I am safe and protected. Bob is safe and protected. We are safe and protected. Living out here free.”

Another friend, Bobby Klein, threw the ‘ching: 
Your action in the situation at hand
Must be accomplished with mindfulness
And a gentle hand;
Any other way misses the point.
This time is well represented by the Hermit card in the tarot, which signifies that there is a guiding light on your path, but you are walking it alone. It is a time to be solitary, to meditate, organize, and find the truth in your heart. During this time of solitude, feelings of agitation or frustration will arise. No worries, no blame. These feelings will pass as you deconstruct them and shift the fear to love. Clarity, understanding, and enlightenment await you on the journey. Give your mind a break and relax into this in-between state. 
On the bright side, the coronavirus has proved that very large movements by the entire global society are not impossible — that people can act with uncommon courage in an emergency when they understand that it threatens their lives. What we have seen defies the usual excuses for climate inaction. Huge government, academic, and corporate offices completely modified the ways they operated, overnight. It suddenly became socially acceptable to shame people into changing their habits. The economy, for once, took the back seat. Jamie Margolin, an 18-year-old Colombian-American climate justice activist, wrote:
[T]he way the coronavirus disproportionately affects older people is the exact way the climate crisis disproportionately affects young people. … This pandemic has brought business as usual to an official halt. When the worst of the illness has passed, instead of rushing to return to “normal” — the old, comfortable pattern of destroying the planet — we can take this opportunity to restructure our economy and society in a way that will ensure today’s children can live.


Prepping for pandemic goes on even while the pandemic spreads. At its full extent it requires complete lockdown, so if you aren’t in that yet, you can still be making preparations. I am buying more than I need this week on each trip to the grocery or pharmacy but not making a big stockpile, just gradually extending my margin of safety.

I went some distance away to a hot spot for a YouTube Local Futures interview then went to bike home and had a flat rear tire so I pushed it to the bike shop. That was closed but I passed by the home of another bike repair guy and he agreed to help. He and his son put on their aprons and took half an hour to find and patch the leak then only wanted 20 pesos (90 cents US). I gave them 50 pesos and my gratitude. Good people. Then I saw some friends who said the fresh vege markets were all going to close tomorrow so on the way home I stopped and loaded up on potatoes, tomatoes, chiles, and onions. Willy’s is changing to only allow one shopper through the door at a time, or you can come to the door, give your list, and they will bring stuff out to you. That is better for the elderly. The aisles there are very narrow and it is difficult to social distance. Still, some people don’t respect distance in the queue at the door.

 The checkpoint at the port of Chiquila has been taken down and the one in the nearby town of Solferino has been strengthened. Some Holbox government authorities were not allowed to pass without better reasons than to visit family or shop in Cancun. The region is now blocked at the Solferino frontier, but we should be able to resupply with fresh produce from within this foodshed. You cannot take the ferry to this island unless you are a resident. I hear they will still try to expel some foreign tourists who are hiding here but I do not feel threatened. When I was at the outdoor market I heard an old woman say she was grateful for the blockade because it will keep out robbers and drunks.


I first visited this place November 8, 2004. I had been scouting locations somewhere midway between Argentina and Alberta where our 20 ecovillage regional delegates could meet for a week. Maria Ros told me her permaculture center in Solferino would be willing to host, so at her urging, I went there for a look around. At that time her village of 200 had only one phone, and if you called Maria, they would send a child to look for her. I could see this place lacked any of the amenities required for an international business meeting, but Maria was not giving up. “There is a place down that road,” she said, pointing. “It has hotels. You have to take a ferry to get there.”

So began my love affair with Isla Holbox. Stepping to the dock from the ferry after a 45-minute crossing, I discovered streets of sand, a total absence of cars and motorcycles, and the charm of brightly muraled tiendas, hoteles, and comidas. Some of the restaurants were such gastronomic attractions that they had led truly world-class chefs to depart Italy, Sweden, Argentina, Switzerland, or France to come open informal, cozy spaces where the seafood came fresh from the beach. I struck up a chat with the owners of an off-grid eco-hotel and they immediately wanted me to come teach permaculture and solar power systems. I was smitten. My overnight stay lasted a week.

We decided not to host the meeting there but I returned for a two-week stay in December, and then visited again and did some house hunting in January/February ahead of a Global Village Institute board meeting in Mazatlan. A full season of workshops, apprenticeships, and lectures on four continents took up the rest of my year, but in August, Maria Ros came to visit me in Tennessee. We spoke of my love of Holbox, and when I returned there a few weeks later she bought Casa Coco for $25,000. At that time it was ejido land and I was not permitted to own, being a foreigner, but she could, and I had a standing invitation to stay whenever I wished.

Since then I have made it my winter home. Over the past 15 winters I have written ten books there, 6 for print and 4 more digital. It is my Hemingway machine.

In late October of that first year, the island was visited by Wilma, the most intense tropical hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic, and the second-most intense tropical cyclone recorded in the Western Hemisphere (after Hurricane Patricia in 2015).
Wilma … escalated from a tropical storm to a category five hurricane in 24 hours — the strongest hurricane ever to have gestated in the Atlantic. It passed over the island of Cozumel and moved north, taking with it most of Cancun’s 24,000 hotel rooms and almost all of its beach. A hurricane like this would typically be expected to last around four hours. Wilma lasted 64.
And yet there was not a single death. This is the most important point about Wilma’s assault on Mexico: though 62 deaths were reported after Wilma in Cuba and Florida, none were reported here. In a country whose pride is often wounded by the superiority complex of its northern neighbor, the response to Wilma stands in crucially stark contrast to that of the US government to Katrina, which caused almost 2,000 fatalities.
Although Wilma gathered strength with unprecedented speed, the Mexican government was prepared. Everyone in the region was evacuated; shelters were ready; President Fox ordered the military to be on hand with helicopters and food. The Red Cross was there with first aid. The electrical company was sent down in advance in order to repair the damage as quickly as possible once Wilma was over.
 — Gaby Woods, Cancun gets back on its feet after Wilma (25 Jun 2006)

Maria and her partner Hector sheltered from the storm in the upstairs room of their house in Solferino. The downstairs was completely flooded and she would lie awake at night listening to the screams of animals being washed out to sea. People later spoke of the darkness day and night, of putting headphones on their children to silence the ‘devilish roar’, and the scene ‘like a war zone’ when it was over. Eighty thousand hectares (309 square miles) of jungle was leveled and would later burn away in wildfire.

I returned to Holbox on November 21 to find the island already recovering very rapidly. There was still no power and the Navy had to bring food and water, but in the evenings people gathered in the town center to play guitars and sing. Casa Coco had lost one wall and everything in its yard. There was a waterline mark three feet above the floor inside. There was a diagonal stripe on the refrigerator to mark the angle it had assumed as it floated around the room. Three coconut trees had bent over backwards and protected the thatch roof, the same one still on the house today. Plugging my iBook into a portable solar array, I wrote The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook (New Society Publishers 2006), using illustrations from Dr. Strange comic books and photos of local kite-surfers.

My daily routine these days is not very different from then. Like Hemingway, I write best in the morning, so I may take a spin on the bike for 30 minutes then come back for coffee and sit down to write. Later I will bike to the beach for a sunset swim, usually getting a quarter to a half-mile of open ocean workout, depending on wave height. If I need to shop for anything, or visit with friends, I may do that on the way home. In the evening I will dose myself with current news such as the excellent March 29 Crazy Town podcast with Nafeez Ahmed.

Writing for The Atlantic on March 24, Zeynep Tufekci observed: 
Many will be tempted to see the tragic coronavirus pandemic through a solely partisan lens: The Trump administration spectacularly failed in its response, by cutting funding from essential health services and research before the crisis, and later by denying its existence and its severity. Those are both true, but they don’t fully explain the current global crisis that has engulfed countries of varying political persuasions.
As it turns out, the reality-based, science-friendly communities and information sources many of us depend on also largely failed. We had time to prepare for this pandemic at the state, local, and household level, even if the government was terribly lagging, but we squandered it because of widespread asystemic thinking: the inability to think about complex systems and their dynamics. We faltered because of our failure to consider risk in its full context, especially when dealing with coupled risk — when multiple things can go wrong together. We were hampered by our inability to think about second- and third-order effects and by our susceptibility to scientism — the false comfort of assuming that numbers and percentages give us a solid empirical basis. We failed to understand that complex systems defy simplistic reductionism.
Widespread asystemic thinking may have cost America the entire month of February, and much of what we’d normally consider credible media were part of that failure.
I am biking to the beach for my sunset swim when I stop at Veronica’s house and she has a look like she has seen Mictecacihuatl. She says, “You need to get off the street.” She goes and gets her phone and reads me the notice from the Director of Health. All foreigners with tourist visas are herewith expelled from the island. I am here on a tourist visa.

Shit just got real. My position here in Mexico has suddenly become quite tenuous. If I close Maria’s house and pack a jump bag, there are only limited ways to get to Cancun. Borders are closed, even around towns, most hotels and hostels are closed, and Cancun and Merida are hellholes of people camping at the airports, there are almost no flights, and no assistance from US consulates. I am very worried for my health if I venture out into that, as I have, at 73, issues of heart and lung that predispose me to the worst effects of this virus. 

I skip my swim and bike home, taking only the back streets. As I pass people they turn and look at me differently than they normally do. They are not smiling.


First day in hiding.

I spoke with a friend who owns a hotel here and we had a frank discussion. Late last night he posted this to the Yo Amo Holbox facebook group:
Holbox y los extranjeros…. 
Holbox and foreigners …. it is in conditions like these where you can show the best or the worst of yourselves. While Cuba sends doctors to Italy and receives foreign patients with Covid 19, the United States refuses them entry and tries to steal the development of German vaccines for their exclusive use. In this crisis you decide if you are proud of having been supportive or selfish without empathy. On the island there is not a single type of foreigners; there are those who have been working here for years, those who have been here several months, and the gigantic majority have been here for more than 15 days, so they are not a contagion factor. We have known that medical services have been deficient on the island for years, but no population in the world has the number of respirators necessary for a possible pandemic. It is not something specific to the island. The 10% with serious symptoms should go to Cancun, whether foreign or national. There are almost no flights and many borders are closed when someone is expelled from the island they are unnecessarily exposing them. It is likely that a year from now a large majority will have had the virus, some without realizing it. Protect your loved ones at risk, take responsibility for your own health with better food and exercise, and we will come out with our heads held high. Come on Holbox, don’t let fear stain your essence.
The post had 53 comments and 344 likes before the site removed it. All of the comments were supportive.


After a town meeting to hear the protests, and some trending social media with hashtags like #holboxhuman and #holboxsolidario, the Secretary-General of the Municipality of Lazaro Cardenas issued a new directive. Instead of expelling foreigners from Holbox, they were merely “advised to leave.”

Masked as usual, I biked over to the ocean and had a swim and then a cup of coffee with Sandra and another chat with Veronica. Then I stopped for groceries on the way home. For the time being, we are almost back to “normal.”

Thomas Friedman had an interesting Op-Ed in The New York Times. He wrote: 
“…it is vital that we keep in mind just how much more destructive climate change could be for all of us…. Because there is one huge difference between the coronavirus and climate change: Climate change doesn’t “peak” — and then flatten out and then maybe dissipate or be permanently prevented by vaccine — so normal life resumes…. There is no herd immunity to climate change. There are only endless impacts on the herd.”

I recognize that my situation here is better than that of many. I can barely imagine what it must be like to be confined in a cell with a number of other prisoners who are coughing, sneezing, fevered, and unattended. I would dread being in a squalid refugee camp somewhere and hearing those same sounds coming from everyone around me, and not even having soap to wash my hands. And yet, that is the kind of world we find ourselves in. 

This has been a very long post, and for that, I apologize to diligent readers who have come this far with me. The theme this week, if we can discern one now, seems to be that system design thinking could have been applied long ago and would have likely avoided much of the suffering now being experienced and still expanding exponentially. Preparation is everything. Speculation, geomancy, and fantastical myth-making need to step aside for the moment, please. Science-based design and antifragile, regenerative, healing approaches need to step forward.

Back from my morning swim and bike on the beach. Smiles all around. Nobody is leaving.

Be safe out there, y’all. Wear a mask. I protect you, you protect me, and together we are both safe.


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