Sex, Drugs, and Public Health

May 23, 2022

Little by Little, Piece by Piece

Filed under: Uncategorized — cbmosher @ 8:11 am

            Some patients can take it. Some can’t. It’s not something they teach you in Med School. But over the years, I had to learn how to speak to patients. For instance, how I explain the damage to the body from hypertension differs depending on whether the patient is a sweet little grandmother or a 280 pound miner.

            So when the miner came to my office and joked that “my friends are starting to say nice things about me, Doc. I must be dying,” I knew two things. First, he was scared. Second, he had enuf sense of humor to allow me to explain what he was facing with my “Little by Little, Piece by Piece” metaphor. That’s the way our bodies deteriorate after a lifetime of use. With some obvious exceptions like “parachute didn’t open” or “couldn’t swim.”

            It’s a concept I’m now experiencing personally. Testing my own sense of humor. After having been constructed many decades ago, my body has, like everyone’s will sooner or later, begun the process of de-construction.

            Turns out we can apply the same description of de-construction to the world that we depend on to survive.

            Is there Life beyond the County line?

            Let’s focus on how this is playing out in the Sierra. Because it’s instinctive for us to be concerned about that which impacts us in our immediate surroundings.

            Had any trouble getting Fire Insurance for your home? It’s an increasing problem. Know what else is increasing? The Fire Season. “California continues to experience longer wildfire seasons as a direct result of Climate Change” (CalFire). Now we are seeing Winter fires crop up all around us: Big Sur in January, Inyo and Orange in February, Shasta, Santa Barbara, Siskiyou and Riverside in March. 

            Of the 20 largest Calif wildfires, 8 occurred in the past five years. And the average temperature during peak fire months is increasing. (Dana Nuccitelli, astrophysicist and Sierra climate expert).

            We’re all aware that drought is what’s driving this worsening phenomenon. As the planet’s average temperature rises, we’re seeing less rain in Autumn and Spring, more rain and less snow in Winter. The Sierra snowpack is shrinking and melting earlier. The trend over the past 30 years is that the eastern half of the U.S. is getting wetter, the west, drier.

            Smell the wild coriander? The menagerie of flowers?

            Deep breath. In the Sierra, we all know that the beautiful air is likely to change in Summer. Studies show that E. R. visits rise by a factor of five times when the Air Pollution is wildfire smoke as opposed to pollution from other sources.

            And it’s increasing: over the period 2009 to 2013, there were 15 to 20 smoke Air Pollution days in California. Over the period 2016 to 2020 that number was 60 days.

            Just as our delicate lungs, when clogged with smoke particles, can make us sick, the increasing days of Air Pollution show us that the planet, too, is sick. 

            Hot enuf for ya?

            There was a time when some people decided to believe that increasing heat events were “part of some normal cycle.” That belief in spite of data proving otherwise. Now, the Gray Areas of this debate are dissolving.

            The nationwide Heat Wave of 2006 caused 600 deaths, 16,000 E R visits and 1,100 hospitalizations. Between 1850 and 1900 there was one lethal Heat Wave every 50 years. Now it’s every ten years. Anyone who’s lived in the Sierra knows heat.

            The Antarctic Conger Ice Shelf disintegrated last month. This will likely increase the speed of nearby glaciers reaching the sea and calving. A harbinger of accelerating ice loss and sea rise. Our planet is suffering from a Fever. And it’s increasing. The ice shelf collapse is a symptom of how bad things are getting.

            Seen any good Pandemics lately?

            “Emerging Infectious Diseases” are now a major area of study in Medicine. There’s a journal dedicated just to this. Increasing average temperatures have caused invasion of diseases into new areas or prolonged the time such diseases can hang around. This is most obvious with mosquito and tick-borne diseases like West Nile and Lyme, which we now have in the Sierra. Similar process to the Ponderosa bark beetles are now flourishing rather than freezing in the winter. We’ve seen what they can do.

            As the clock goes Tick / Tock / Tick / Tock.

            Do we care how difficult it’ll be for our children, our grandchildren, and all the other children of God over the Earth to survive after we’re gone? I know it’s hard – we focus on the here and now.

            Like when the old miner told me as I was explaining his hypertensive issues, “Never mind that, Doc. Check my eyes. I don’t wanna go blind from that Immaculate Degeneration like my brother.” I didn’t want that for him, either. But he had bigger problems to address.

            The planet is sick, de-constructing, as do human bodies. Will it die like humans do? Well, the rock’s not going away. But the Earth will change. Drastically. So drastically that it’s entirely possible that many species – including humans – will go extinct.

            What can we do?

            A reader said recently, “Humans are the ones failing to care for the earth properly. Humans have been terrible tenants.”

            I propose that we think of our place on Earth differently, similar to how the physician thinks of bacteria in the human body. Many bacteria live in the gut, helping us digest food and providing us with nutrients in return for their cozy living quarters inside us, the host. This relationship is symbiosis. Other bacteria, like Staph or Meningococcus are destructive. This is parasitism.

            Earth is our host.

            We need to live with it symbiotically.  

            We all feel a bit impotent because (1) it’s such a massive problem, (2) politicians in a position to do something are slow to act or outright destructive of efforts, and (3) we’ve grown to like and depend on the two leading causes of this impending Public Health catastrophe.

            But there IS stuff we can do.

            Quiz Time:  What is the leading cause of the Climate Crisis? (Sorry. No prizes for correct answer).

            As we all know, excessive release of carbon dioxide, acting as a Green House Gas (GHG) traps heat above and around us. We also know that fossil fuels are the major (but not the only) contributor. Carbon dioxide does not rapidly decay (remember the CO2 tests from Antarctic ice, still there after 800,000 years as discussed in “The Snowflake and the Virus” in September 3, 2020 Gazette).     We’re already seeing some positive efforts here. As of 2021, Renewables (solar, wind, hydro, biomass, geo-thermal, waves) have eclipsed coal in energy production in the U.S.  Renewables and Nuclear together eclipse the number one source, fossil gas.

            Because CO2 doesn’t decay, its impact is very LONG RANGE. We need to push hard on eliminating fossil fuel use. How?

  1. Next vehicle, make it electric or at least, hybrid.
  2. Lobby your Congress-critters on this
  3. Go solar to heat (passive) and generate electricity on your buildings.

            Those efforts will diminish the release of CO2 into our atmosphere. But it won’t REMOVE the CO2. However – – – 

            Quiz # 2:  What is the second biggest contributor of Green House Gas?

            Methane is a more potent GHG than CO2. But – good news ! – this one DOES decay quickly (over just a few years). So methane is a SHORT RANGE problem. If we can reduce its release (while working on the CO2 issue simultaneously) we could do something spectacular. A study out of Stanford University shows how we could reduce GHG emission by 52% and hold global warming to scientists’ 2 degree (C) target, avoiding disastrous effects. 

            But even better, there a way to ABSORB atmospheric CO2, reducing the warming dome over us even further. 

            And this is something we all can do. Starting right now. Without politicians.

            It will require a very significant change for us, and many will see it as a sacrifice in the short term.

            The major source of methane is animal agriculture. Livestock, especially the industrial type with dense populations of cattle and mountains of manure (I’m sure you’ve seen this). The duo of humans and big Ag animals has exploded to become 96% of all mammals on Earth.

            Luckily, we’re OMNIVORES. Unlike most other animals, while we CAN digest meat, we can survive on plants alone. The Stanford study projected that, if we phased out animal agriculture, this happens:

  1. The methane release goes down
  2. Methane decays in the short term
  3. It reduces the deforestation currently occurring to create grazing land (we’ve been losing one acre of Rain Forest every second) would allow the regenerating forests and meadows to absorb CO2 like sponges.
  4. By 2050, the GHG emissions would be paused, allowing us time to replace fossil fuels.
  5. And you already know about the health benefits of such a diet change (less cancer, heart disease, diabetes, lower body mass etc.)

            Not easy.

            But worth it for the kids.

            Little by Little, Piece by Piece.

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