Back in Beirut: lock-down, vaccines, and climate change

February 28, 2021

We arrived to Beirut on February 15, late afternoon, after a very long and tedious trip from Ecuador with scales in Atlanta and Paris. The city remains under lockdown; most businesses are closed and to go out one needs to get a permit from a government web site, indicating when you are planning to be out, where and for what.  Still, you see considerable activity and traffics on the streets. It is likely that many are not respecting the rules; enforcing them is difficult even when you have the technology. I also understand that people continue to socialize in their houses and that restaurants, at least outside of Beirut, remain open to “friends.”  

The number of new COVID cases fell sharply between early January and February 22nd when they started to go up again (see pic). A set of Pfizer vaccines financed by the World Bank were delivered a couple of weeks ago, just enough to vaccinate 7% of the population — including some of the politicians who have been gaming the system, and their families. Maybe the country gets some more vaccines from COVAX (UK Astrazeneca) and then through deals with China and Russia.  But it seems that it will be several months before the majority of the population gets a shot.  More likely, Lebanon will follow the path of other developing countries where the end of the epidemic will be the result of herd immunity not vaccines. In South Africa, for instance, despite the appearance of the new strain, the number of cases has been falling and life seems to be going back to normal. Some argue this is because herd immunity has been on the rise particularly among poor communities (see the Financial Times article:  Why global Covid infections have plummeted).

Other than going grocery shopping and for a couple of short walks, Natalia, Marina and I have been staying home. Today was an exception.  We were able to drive to a near-by town in the mountains, south of Beirut, Beit El Qamar, where an acquaintance owns a bed and breakfast. We had lunch there, some excellent Lebanese food that I accompanied with Arak.  

Before leaving the appartment this morning I had time to catch-up with readings; news papers, journals, and magazines. In The Atlantic there was an interesting article about climate change: The Terrifying Warning Lurking in the Earth’s Ancient Rock Record

The author, Peter Brannen, goes back in time thousand of years to show how changes in the planet’s climate have affected life, the structure of the continents and sea levels.  It seems, in fact, that we are very lucky to be living in a period — an instant in geological time–, of climatic stability that has been good for Homo Sapiens.  But our own actions are likely to interrupt that pretty soon. 

The point of the article is to illustrate how relatively small changes in temperature levels can have dramatic consequences. Brannen writes: “10,000 years ago, at civilization first light, the Earth’s top half was aimed towards the sun during the closest part of its orbit — an arrangement today enjoyed by the Southern Hemisphere.  The resulting Northern summer warmth turned the Sahara green.  Lakes, hosting hippos, crocodiles, turtles, and buffalo speckled North Africa, Arabia and everywhere in between.” 

For me the main message was that there is no real reason for us to be here; we have been extremely lucky, If it is not our own follies, some random natural phenomena will likely wipeout our civilization or at least force major reallocations of people and changes in the ways we live.

This brings me to the review of three books on climate change that was also in the FT this morning:  The New Climate War by Michael Mann, a scientist who has been leading the research on climate change since the times when it wasn’t popular; What if we Stopped Pretending by Jonathan Franzen, an author; and How to Avoid a Climate Disaster by Bill Gates.  In his book Mann criticizes the other two.  Gates for coming up with techno-solutions that distract from the practical, yet difficult decisions, that societies and governments need to make to deal with the potential problems linked climate change, and Franzen for his attempts “to build a case for doom on a flimsy foundation of distorted science.”  But I think that a lot o what Franzen is saying makes sense.  Maybe it is too little too late and the best thing we can do is think about how to cope with climate change and eventually adapt…..   More food for thought. 

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