The Girls Who Turned Green

  • Chlorosis was a frequently diagnosed disease during the 19th century that gave the skin of the afflicted a greenish tinge.
  • As a cure, doctors told young women to get married and reproduce, exercise or quit their studies, as befitted societal expectations.
  • The disease, associated with iron deficiency, eventually faded away, likely because of better treatments and the end of overdiagnosis.

In the 1890s, 16 percent of those admitted to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London received the diagnosis of chlorosis. The disease entailed a host of symptoms, including anemia, amenorrhea, lack of appetite, pica (the urge to eat things one wouldn’t normally eat, like wax) and fatigue. But the most unusual — and the one that gave the disease its name — was the greenish tinge that the skin of the afflicted acquired.

Nowadays, if you Google “chlorosis,” all you’ll get are links to plant diseases. The plants have an iron deficiency, although the disease manifests as a loss of green, not an excess of it. Scattered human cases remain, but what was once an epidemic has largely disappeared. In the 1980s, hematologist William Crosby published a paper titled “Whatever Became of Chlorosis?”

For centuries, chlorosis was a constant — though the diagnoses behind it shifted with the societal and medical norms of the time. First described in 1554, it was known until the mid-1700s as the “disease of virgins,” and the best cure was thought to be intercourse (bloodletting was also a popular treatment).

Women were prescribed marriage as a cure.

Anna Scanlon, Illinois Wesleyan University

“Chlorosis was absolutely seen as a women’s disease, which meant, as it still often means today, that it got little attention and was easily dismissed with absurd cures,” says Anna Scanlon, director of the writing center at Illinois Wesleyan University and an avid researcher of chlorosis. Other treatments included telling women to conceive, exercise or abandon education. While there were physicians who believed that men could also contract chlorosis, such cases were thought to be extremely rare, and those men diagnosed with it were usually described as effeminate. The disease was predominately associated with the upper classes until the mid-19th century, when the medical establishment realized that poor women could also lack adequate nutrition and exposure to sunlight.

Boarding schools catering to the daughters of wealthy families were thought to be breeding grounds for chlorosis, much as they have been thought to be hotbeds of anorexia in modern times. The two diseases, it turns out, have much in common: Both have been strongly associated with femininity and thought to be diseases of the body and of the soul, born at least in part from the turbulence of adolescence and the restrictiveness of women’s societal roles. Treatments for chlorosis largely reinforced ideas of the time about what women should be: married, reproducing and not focused on education. “Women were prescribed marriage as a cure because they were considered unmarriageable if educated,” Scanlon says. “So it was essentially a way to kill two birds with one stone: Stop her from receiving an education and restore her to her proper place in society while also stopping the progression of the disease.”

chlorosis

So what did happen to chlorosis? The answer is likely threefold: the symptoms were shunted to a different diagnosis, hypochromic anemia; treatments became more effective by focusing on diet rather than on virginity; and doctors with young female patients no longer expected to find chlorosis everywhere they looked.

Much about the disease remains mysterious. It’s unknown, for example, whether the afflicted always turned green. A 1980 paper on the disease in the British Medical Journal suggested that “possibly many saw greenness because they believed they ought to,” and that the moniker “green sickness” might have been due to the women involved being metaphorically green (i.e., inexperienced).

Another reason chlorosis may have disappeared: There were bigger, flashier diseases to worry about. “Public health lost interest in chlorosis as larger concerns arrived on the forefront,” says Scanlon, such as “shell shock associated with the First World War, influenza and the pandemic of 1918.” Adolescent girls not getting their periods — even if it did turn them green — took a back seat and then faded away.

The Secret to Happiness Might Be the Air We Breathe

As Europe locked down to fight the coronavirus pandemic, trains stopped running, people stopped driving and coal-fired power stations went off-line. The drop in air pollution is estimated to have saved 11,000 lives in Europe alone, according to the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air.

Dirty air’s effects on physical well-being are known. But according to a new report by the Denmark-based Happiness Research Institute, it’s also eating away at our personal happiness.

Residents of more than 20 European cities are thought to be losing at least 5 percent of their well-being to air pollution.

The report measures WALYs — well-being-adjusted life years — to quantify happiness. “By making the cost of air pollution comparable to more tangible problems such as diabetes or unemployment,” says Michael Birkjær, one of the study’s lead authors, the report shows “how to cost-efficiently create better lives for the many.”

The happiness has a price tag too — the research found that compensating a family in Krakow, the worst-affected city on the chart, for lost well-being, would take about $862 per year. Studies on China and the U.S. have reached similar conclusions.

Vector illustration with simplified map of all European states (countries) with  european regions. Blue silhouettes, white outline and background

Source Getty

Pollution’s effects on happiness also mirror those caused by ill health. “Our analysis shows that if you live in Paris, you lose as much well-being due to air pollution as you would lose to having arthritis,” Birkjaer says.

Of course, it’s impossible to measure whether the recent drop in pollution is affecting well-being amid a pandemic that’s spreading devastation. And pollution levels are likely to rise again once industries and travel resume, experts say.

But some cities are changing anyway. Emerging from lockdowns, cities like Paris and Milan are designating formerly car-choked streets as pedestrian and bike zones, potentially reducing the traffic pollution that’s been keeping citizens from living their best lives.

Welcome to Sleep Yoga

Lie down. Palms facing up. Knees gently bent. Mind quiet.

That’s normally the last couple of minutes of a yoga class, known to many practitioners as “corpse pose” (or “nap time”). But with yoga nidra, that’s where you’re going to stay.

Though yoga has become a massive fitness craze for its role in keeping people physically fit, that’s not the only thing that yoga — as in the ancient branch of Hindu philosophy — is used for. Yoga nidra is yogic sleep, a form of guided, hyperaware relaxation. You lie on the floor for the entire class period, listening to the voice of your teacher in what amounts to a form of guided meditation. The goal: to give your body the feeling of a short, restful sleep.

“It’s the non-conceptual experience of being very relaxed, physically and otherwise,” says Tina Foster, a San Francisco meditation expert who teaches yoga nidra. “The experience is difficult to put into words, but a common phrase that comes up is ‘a sense of profound safety.'”

Foster discovered the practice when recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder. A teacher, hoping to help her improve her meditative practice, gave her a cassette tape of yoga nidra narration. Years later, while she was living in a different country, her tape broke — and with no yoga nidra teachers around, she tried to do the practice without the tape. “It was actually very, very natural. I could remember every single word. … Some part of the mind continues to stay open when we sleep.”

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“It’s the non-conceptual experience of being very relaxed, physically and otherwise,” says Tina Foster.

Source Shutterstock

Some proponents of yoga nidra claim that half an hour of it is as restful as a few hours of regular sleep, though the rubric for measuring “restfulness” is never made clear. I tried it a few times — all you need is a nice place to lie down and access to YouTube. And dudes, it is kind of wacky.

Not the practice itself. Nobody tells you you are getting sleepy, or even how relaxed you must be feeling (a pitfall of guided meditations I have failed before). You simply lie down, set an affirmation — the woman’s voice suggested something like “I am happy and healthy” (but I will admit mine was “After this I will get some duck confit”) — and then follow the voice telling you to focus on each individual body part in turn, sending your mind up and down your physical body.

The wacky part came after, when I finished my allotted 20 minutes: Opening my eyes felt more like waking up from a nap than like just getting up off the floor. I didn’t feel weightless or ecstatic, just different. During my next session, my 17-pound cat came and sat on my chest for 16 minutes and I was too relaxed to worry about it. After acknowledging the sound of purring, I moved on to focusing on my thumb, forefinger, middle finger, ring finger, pinky, back of the hand.

“You find it very easy to be still,” Foster explains. “You actually kind of lose awareness of even the possibility of moving.”

Yoga nidra is a popular research topic — in the past year, the practice has been found in academic studies to lower stress in university students, raise the self-esteem of burn victims and help people undergoing colonoscopies manage their pain.

Are the 20-minute sessions as restful as a few hours sleep? Let’s put it this way: I will continue to get regular sleep like a regular person and not find out if I can sub in a few yoga nidra sessions, because I love sleep even more than I love duck confit.

Seriously though, not everyone feels hyper-rested every time, Foster says, but everyone’s experience on the mat on any given day is different. However, yoga nidra may work for you where other meditation has left your mind … wandering.

Protesting for George Floyd, Other Nations Confront Their Own Dark Histories

When actor John Boyega, who rose to fame in the recent Star Wars films as a stormtrooper who quits the force and joins the resistance, stood in London’s Hyde Park on Wednesday, he shouted the names of the people whom the protesters were remembering: George Floyd, Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin — all Black Americans killed by police officers. And then: Stephen Lawrence, a Black British teenager whose murder in 1993 led to an investigation into racist policing, and Mark Duggan, a 29-year-old Black British man killed by North London police in 2011.

Around the world, protests against racist police brutality in the United States have arisen. But the protests aren’t limited to American cases; they’re also highlighting cases of police brutality in other countries, with protesters demanding new investigations or at least renewed attention to people of color who were killed or mistreated due to systemic racism.

In France, 20,000 people protested last week, some wearing masks that said “I can’t breathe” — Floyd’s last words. They also referred to the 2016 death in French police custody of Adama Traoré, whose last words were also “I can’t breathe.” “Today, when we fight for George Floyd, we fight for Adama Traoré too,” Traoré’s sister Assa told the crowd. Reform will be a challenge in France as elsewhere: French politicians recently introduced a bill to make filming a police officer punishable with fines.

In South Africa, protesters have linked the Floyd case to the death of Collins Khosa, a 40-year-old Black man who was killed on Good Friday by soldiers, allegedly for public drinking despite lockdown rules. His family has since managed to win a court victory holding the officials accountable. An investigation into the case is ongoing.

While the Floyd case has inflicted a blow to the U.S.’ ability to be a world leader when it comes to taking the moral high ground, perhaps its reckoning with racism will make the country a leader in a different way — by sparking anti-racist protesters the world over to demand better from their governments.

Stuck in Quarantine? Call a Stranger

When was the last time you called your grandmother? I’ll start: I can’t remember. Sometimes we email. In fairness, we live nine time zones apart, and I did just mail her some books. She also has nine children who I know are checking on her daily. And yes, I feel bad about not calling.

But lots of people have stopped calling. And some organizations in the U.K. and Ireland have set up volunteer phone banks to take the place of those delinquent relatives and absent friends, regularly calling people who are elderly, isolated and lonely, both to chat and to check up on them.

It’s known as telephone befriending, and under normal circumstances it’s only used for elderly citizens, because they tend to be more isolated than other people in society. But now, thanks to coronavirus quarantines, we’re all isolated. So what if we had a telephone befriending scheme for … well, everybody?

You start off meeting a social need, but you end up meeting an emotional need.

Seán Moynihan, CEO of Alone

“The empirical evidence is fairly strong that loneliness can really damage your health,” says Seán Moynihan, CEO of the Dublin-based, senior-focused charity Alone, which includes telephone befriending among its programs. Since the coronavirus — which confines even healthy, not-normally-isolated seniors to their homes with little outside contact — Alone volunteers have been making about 18,000 calls a week, a huge increase from their normal rate of about 4,000.

Now it’s not just seniors who are isolated — even though they have been disproportionately targeted by the virus. Normally, someone in their 20s or 30s who’s lonely would be more likely to switch jobs, move or go on weird Tinder dates than your average senior citizen. But with huge chunks of society effectively trapped by quarantine, loneliness is coming for a whole lot more people.

It can be a challenge for such charities to find the seniors who need their help the most, since they’re by definition isolated. Many are referred to the organization by a doctor or hospital, once they realize an older patient lacks an adequate support system. Others are just people who took the initiative to call in. “Which is a tremendously brave thing, to actually ring up and say, ‘I’m lonely,’” Moynihan says.

A temporary program to call the lonely could potentially operate along similar lines, with people signing up themselves or being referred by family or acquaintances. Telephone befriending as it currently exists is (among other things) a way of making a new friend, as organizations like Alone strive to make sure the same volunteer keeps in touch with the same vulnerable person week after week. “You start off meeting a social need,” Moynihan explains, “but you end up meeting an emotional need.” And with a more general program, it’s likely that the two people on each end of the phone will both be in isolation, putting them on a more level playing field and potentially facilitating friendships that will continue after the coronavirus quarantine is long over. Perhaps it would even be a way of humanizing strangers in a time of polarization and distrust. But we’d settle for a few laughs and an hour on the telephone — fixing society completely seems a tall order.

With everyone suddenly lonely on a relatively similar — and nationwide or areawide — scale, it might not be quite so scary to admit that one needs help. In fact, Moynihan says that recent weeks have seen both a huge influx of seniors reaching out for help and new volunteers stepping up to deal with the thousands of new calls. “We’re really hopeful that there will be a positive legacy from this,” he says, “where we will have built the network to reach into our communities.”  

If you are interested in setting up a network to help isolated people in your area, feel free to contact Alone at Alone.ie for tips and advice.

Special Briefing: What Happens If Having COVID-19 Doesn’t Give You Immunity?

This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.

WHAT TO KNOW

What’s happening? Everyone wants some protection from COVID-19 and a way to reopen economies, and at first glance, the idea of immunity to the disease seems to offer both. Resistance — which people develop to many diseases after having them — would mean a relatively invulnerable population being armed with documents dubbed “immunity passports.” Those with them could start working and buying in a fairly normal way long before a vaccine arrives. But it’s not at all clear that such immunity follows a coronavirus infection, and rushing to that conclusion could be dangerous. 

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A barber attends a client after reopening his barber shop in Madrid, on May 4, for the first time since the beginning of a national lockdown to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 disease. (Photo by Pierre-Philippe Marcou/AFP via Getty Images)

Why does it matter? These immunity documents could end up spawning a fresh health crisis, while deepening inequality. Scientific authorities like the WHO say there’s no evidence that you’re immune to the coronavirus once you’ve been infected. Given the inaccuracy of some antibody tests, false promises of immunity could prompt people with certification to take risks they shouldn’t. And if they pick up the virus again, they could rapidly spread it to others who mistakenly feel safe in the presence of those who’ve been cleared. At the same time, immunity passports, proposed by the U.K. and Chile, threaten to create a new set of haves and have-nots — from those able to work and provide for their families through to those who find themselves untouchable. That might create an incentive for people to deliberately get infected, or fake documents. 

HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT

The power of knowledge. While the idea of immunity is appealing — Dr. Anthony Fauci, U.S. infectious diseases guru, cautiously said last month that such tests “might have merit” — even governments that were initially most gung-ho about its promise have since pulled back. Chilean officials now say that the medical discharge certificates they plan to issue to COVID-19 survivors won’t necessarily prove holders are immune to the virus. The U.K., meanwhile, had to pull back on its immunity certificate plan when the tests it bought proved unreliable. But better antibody tests — like the Roche screenings recently approved by the FDA — could put governments in a bind: Is getting people back to work worth the risk of trusting potentially unreliable immunity claims?  

White House Coronavirus Task Force Holds Daily Briefing At The White House

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (C) speaks as U.S. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence look on during the daily briefing of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Ain’t no party. In late March, the Federalist published an editorial exhorting young, healthy people to deliberately infect themselves with the virus to create what it called herd immunity. That’s a bad idea for a lot of reasons, not least because young, healthy people are being killed by COVID-19 too, and public health experts called it out at the time. But concerns linger that immunity certificates could encourage new-age “pox parties” — where people have deliberately exposed themselves to viruses in the hope of building immunity against measles, chicken pox and other diseases. Washington state officials scolded people this week for what they said were such gatherings created for people to catch the coronavirus, though they later walked back that characterization. 

How many COVIDs? While a recent viral study found that there’s at least one significant new strain of COVID-19, scientists say it’s not at all clear that’s the case — and that while like all viruses, this one mutates, that doesn’t mean it’s creating whole different strains that will require new vaccines like the flu does. Still, some see a future where instead of developing immunity to this coronavirus, we fight a new version of this battle every year (again, as we do with the flu).

Anti-vax boost. Science still hasn’t determined how long COVID-19 immunity lasts or if it’s strong enough to make a difference. It may turn out that a vaccine (still months or even years away) is the only definitive answer. But by giving an official stamp of approval to past infections as an alternative route to immunity — which is what immunity certificates would do — governments risk playing into the narrative of anti-vaccine movements that insist inoculations aren’t necessary to protect yourself against a disease. That could set the stage for a public health nightmare even once a vaccine is available.

WHAT TO READ

What COVID-19 Antibody Tests Can and Cannot Tell Us, by Stacey McKenna in Scientific American 

“Overestimates of COVID-19’s spread could lead to underestimates of fatality and hospitalization rates — or excessive confidence about herd immunity.”

Should People Without Coronavirus Antibodies Be Second-Class Citizens? by Kenneth Roth and Annie Sparrow in the New York Times

“It’s too easy to imagine antibody tests becoming a new form of discrimination: Employers might insist on antibody certificates simply to minimize absenteeism or medical costs among their workers; employees might find it easier to work with colleagues who have antibody certificates rather than to continue with face masks and social distancing.”

WHAT TO WATCH

An Update on COVID-19 Immunity with Arturo Casadevall

“The coronavirus is … capable of relatively rapid mutation, but it is not in the same league as HIV or influenza.”

Watch on the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health YouTube channel:

Understanding Immunity’s Role in the Coronavirus Pandemic

“Our big concern is: Can we get this viral infection again? And the answer is we simply don’t know.” 

Watch on CBS News on YouTube:

WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER 

Who was that masked man? Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is the only member of the upper house so far to have tested positive for COVID-19. He is also a doctor and refuses to wear a mask, telling reporters, “I have immunity” — but unless he has access to data the rest of the world is still lacking, he can’t know that. 

Quarantine Taboos We Should Keep for Good

If we ever meet in this wild and precious life, I am not shaking your hand. Don’t take it personally — I’m never shaking anybody’s hand again. How do you feel about waving? I love waves, especially from 6 feet apart.

The general consensus seems to be that the coronavirus has permanently destroyed the handshake. Maybe. Maybe not. After all, humans have short memories. But there are a few things that the coronavirus has gotten rid of that we hope to see gone for good.

Parties You Never Wanted to Attend

That includes bachelorette parties and SantaCon and any event that’s expensive and not actually that fun. In a post-coronavirus world, groups of drunk people may be slightly less willing to get on a plane to drink in an exotic location. The EMT teams in small European cities and Nashville, Tennessee, will surely thank them.

Cruises

We thought if David Foster Wallace couldn’t kill the cruise industry, nobody could. But people still wanted to walk around the deck of a relatively small boat for an entire vacation while watching wannabe Broadway stars singing standards for criminally low wages. It’s hard to see these bouncing back after all the news stories of people being trapped aboard such ships, just waiting to be infected one by one and eating questionable shrimp cocktails.

Boring Dates

Some OZY staffers advocate for the end of the in-person first date entirely — opting instead for the safer, less labor-intensive video chat as a first point of contact. But pheromones are real, so let’s go with boring dates. The lack of dinner-and-a-movie options has forced people to be creative — ordering from the same takeout place and watching the same movie in different houses if they live separately, or resorting to floor picnics, fake restaurants, scavenger hunts and hide-and-seek as dates with their live-in partners.

Commuting

If you can do your job from home during the most anxious time in global memory, you can do it from home on a normal day when you’re allowed to go to a café or a park for a break during the day. If you’re lucky enough to still have a job, and to have one that doesn’t bring you into contact with others, your boss may have trouble getting you back in transit multiple hours a day when you could be catching up on sleep or continuing your quarantine morning yoga routine.

Voting in Person

It’s still unclear whether the 2020 election will be conducted largely by mail, but it absolutely should. While the largest study of mail-in voting recently concluded that it doesn’t favor either political party, it undeniably does boost turnout.

Gigantic Weddings

Do you really need 500 guests? No. You are not Princess Diana, so chill. Besides, out-of-towners can attend via Zoom — saving both you and them tons of money.

Not Knowing Your Neighbors

Sure, maybe you’re only doing it in case you all have to band together for survival. But isn’t it nice? You know their names. You can borrow a cup of flour from them — that is, whenever flour becomes available again. Besides, you just know one of them has useful skills like installing shelves or starting a fire using only a can of beans and a little hope.

Coughing on Stuff

We used to go outside without a mask and cough whenever and wherever we pleased. It was disgusting then too, but we didn’t realize it. Let’s wash our damn hands, and when sick, wear a damn mask. Even after we’ve eradicated the coronavirus, it’s still good advice (and stylish, in a bandit-like way).

Special Briefing: Could a Coronavirus Vaccine Destroy the Anti-Vax Movement?

This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.

WHAT TO KNOW

What’s happening? As the coronavirus pandemic rages around the world, many are desperately hoping for a vaccine in record time. At least 76 potential vaccines are in development, with the most advanced research teams saying shots could be ready as soon as September, far faster than any vaccine has ever been developed before. But not everybody’s happy about it: The anti-vaccine movement that’s been growing for the past several years may be facing an existential crisis.

Samoan Measles Deaths Reach 70

Hawaii aid workers (nurses) help out with MMR vaccinations on December 6, 2019 in Apia, Samoa. (Photo by Chikara Yoshida/Getty Images)

Source Getty

Why does it matter? There’s some evidence that COVID-19 could get anti-vaxxers to abandon their views. London’s Vaccine Confidence Project recently found that while 33 percent of people in France — known to be the country that distrusts vaccines the most — say they don’t think vaccines are safe, only 18 percent would refuse a COVID-19 immunization. It also found that as understanding of the coronavirus grows, people are more likely to be open to a vaccine. Still, the virus has fostered lots of conspiracy theories, and some worry that the rush to inoculate against coronavirus could lead to corners being cut, which could bolster anti-vaxxers’ evidence-free claims.

HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT

Personal space. U.S. vaccines fall into three categories: voluntary (like the flu, which only 45 percent of Americans got inoculated for in 2019); mandatory, like the MMR vaccination kids have to get to attend school; and compulsory, which is what happens when someone refuses to get a mandatory vaccine and is deemed a threat to public health. Anti-vaxxers opposed to government intervention say they’re worried that the coronavirus vaccine will fall into the third category — though doctors say fears about supply actually mean people will likely be competing to get the vaccine rather than scrambling away from it. Still, some anti-vaccine die-hards insist the coronavirus isn’t that serious (despite the fact that it’s now killed more Americans than the Vietnam War) and they’d prefer the disease to the vaccine.

Washington Covid-19

A lone protester holds a sign calling for an end to the lockdown and claiming chloroquine works as she stands in front of the White House in Washington on Saturday, April 25, 2020. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Help or hurt. Anti-vaccine movements have gained ground in recent years — a Gallup Poll in January found just 84 percent of Americans currently say it’s very important that children be vaccinated, down 10 percentage points from 2001. Some influential peddlers of junk science have helped that along, and celebrities like M.I.A. and Novak Djokovic have said they’d refuse a coronavirus vaccine. Meanwhile, a wacky conspiracy theory holds that Bill Gates is supporting development of a vaccine so he has an excuse to microchip people. But the reality of an actual pandemic, some scientists hope, could drive home to skeptical parents the importance of inoculations, and help drive those vaccine confidence numbers up again to bolster herd immunity.

Moving too fast. One big driver of anti-vax sentiment in China has been the erosion of trust in pharma companies, like one in 2018 that was fined for falsifying data. In 2016, a fake vaccine scandal rocked Indonesia. Some worry that the speed at which labs are trying to produce a COVID-19 shot could actually bolster the anti-vax movement if the vaccine proves to not be very effective or if it has unpleasant side effects. And with the coronavirus increasingly becoming a political football — liberals are far more likely to be extremely concerned about the virus, according to a recent Axios poll — any hiccups with vaccines could also strengthen religious conservative views opposed to them in different parts of the world.   

WHAT TO READ

How the Hunt for a Coronavirus Vaccine Could Go Horribly Wrong, by Rachel M. Cohen in The Daily Beast

“If a vaccine is released that doesn’t work well or yields dangerous side effects — especially in the face of an historic pandemic — it could empower anti-vaccine activists and reduce support for other longstanding vaccines that have gone through rigorous and exhaustive testing.”

How the Anti-Vaccine Community Is Responding to COVID-19, by Katharine Gammon at Undark Magazine

“To be anti-vaccine in today’s world, says [law professor Dorit] Reiss, you have to subscribe to some conspiracy theories, because there is so much data on the other side.”

WHAT TO WATCH

Novak Djokovic Against Mandatory Coronavirus Vaccination

“I wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel.”

Watch on Reuters on YouTube:

WHO Slams ‘Racist’ Calls for Africa to Be Vaccine Testing Ground

“Africa cannot and will not be a testing ground for any vaccine. … The hangover from a colonial mentality has to stop.”

Watch on France24 on YouTube:

WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER 

Coronaception. Widespread disinformation goes beyond anti-vaccine propaganda. According to a poll taken by the Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape Project in early April, 29 percent of Americans believe there is probably or definitely already a vaccine for COVID-19, and it’s just being withheld by the government. Another 32 percent say the same about a cure for the disease.

How to Celebrate Earth Day From Your Couch

The best-laid plans and planets often go awry.

For Earth Day’s 50th anniversary, a massive, planet-wide cleanup, in the works for years, was scheduled to take place. But with a fifth of the world’s population under some kind of coronavirus lockdown, that clearly wasn’t going to work.

Headlines have been snatched away from Earth Day before. On the 30th Earth Day, in 2000, Elián Gonzáles, the 5-year-old Cuban refugee who had been found clinging to an inner tube a few miles off the coast of Florida, was taken by federal authorities in a highly publicized raid. But nothing like the coronavirus has happened on such a global scale before.

Still, says Earth Day Network President Kathleen Rogers, it’s not like Earth Day is canceled. In fact, a lot of what was planned for the day is online.

Earth Day 2020 is about turning every person into not only an environmentalist but also a citizen scientist. The app Earth Challenge 2020 allows you to do just that. (Heads-up: There’s an app called Earth Challenge, which is a geography game; that’s not the one we’re talking about.)

What adults really need to do is take some kind of action. Things are slipping backward.

Kathleen Rogers, president, Earth Day Network

The deal with Earth Challenge is that in the future everyone is going to be a scientist, even if that just means helping collect data to be analyzed to learn more about our planet. Via the app, you can help track air pollution and the accumulation of plastic garbage by taking photos of the sky where you are or any street trash you see (artsy!). Once you upload the photos, the app will encourage you to take an Earth-aiding action tailored to your geographic location, like volunteering or signing a local petition. Soon, Rogers says, you’ll also be able to track pollinators via the app by taking photos of bees.

Lots of citizen science projects already exist, Rogers says, but they keep their data in Excel spreadsheets rather than in an easy-to-access open source platform. Another focus of Earth Challenge is to help local groups coordinate and aggregate the information they’re collecting. Making data from small community groups working on local projects available to everyone could increase its usefulness exponentially — and involve everyone in a kind of massive group science project: the project of existing together. Its aim is nothing less than to be the largest open-source citizen science database in existence.

There are other ways to celebrate. If you’re feeling like a fight, you can make a protest sign and join the online climate strike under the hashtag #DigitalStrike, much as teen activist Greta Thunberg has been. For parents with kids suddenly at home all the time, the Earth Day website has toolkits with worksheets and timelines that can be used to teach about environmentalism.

For those past the age of majority, Rogers is hoping to see greater involvement. “What adults really need to do is take some kind of action,” she says. “Things are slipping backward.” Those actions can be small, like making plant-based recipes, recycling or donating to environmental causes. The site also has a searchable world map of digital events like web conferences and art challenges. Oh, and that global cleanup we mentioned earlier? It hasn’t been canceled, just postponed, so be prepared to step in and shovel trash whenever we’re allowed outside en masse again.

If even that feels like too much work, there’s always … staring at a screen. Turner Classic Movies has announced that it will show five classic movies about the environment on Earth Day, including some 1930s shorts about the Great Depression (which, sorry to be a downer, might soon be relevant) and the 2006 Al Gore documentary An Inconvenient Truth.

What History’s Urban Vegetable Gardens Teach Us About Survival

In 1917, the United States government — concerned about wartime famine and a relatively recent mass migration to cities that had diminished the importance of rural life — issued a call to youth to become “soldiers of the soil.”

Millions of children are thought to have participated in the U.S. School Garden Army (USSGA), which melded a curriculum of practical gardening know-how with a philosophy that equated patriotism with farming, even in cramped urban spaces.

The effort, whose motto was “A garden for every child, every child in a garden,” was funded by the War Department and operated like a military unit until Armistice Day in 1918. The USSGA was just the first of many official programs exhorting American citizens to grow food in times of crisis.

When things get crazy and out of hand and you have no sense of control, [gardening] is an amazingly interactive and physical thing.

Laura J. Lawson, Rutgers University

The 1940s and World War II brought so-called victory gardens to individual backyards as well as to large public spaces like New York City’s Bryant Park. At the height of their popularity, the gardens helped offset the food shortages caused not only by the war but also by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans in camps during the war. Many of them were farmers — often particularly productive ones responsible for a large proportion of crops like tomatoes and sugar beets.

Without those 6,100 West Coast farms — which were markedly less productive once the land was taken over by inexperienced farmers — food shortages became an even larger threat, and the victory garden program was an attempted corrective. The Roosevelt White House had a vegetable garden (revived by Michelle Obama in 2009), and an estimated 20 million gardens sprouted across the U.S., producing, according to official materials, about 40 percent of the produce consumed in the country in 1943. Eleanor Roosevelt’s garden “was a statement to the nation that it was the patriotic duty of every person, from the first lady to the lady next door, to plant and cultivate for victory,” writes Cecilia Gowdy-Wygant in Cultivating Victory, a history of the victory gardening movement.

1940s BOYS WORKING IN...

Children working in a World War II victory garden in New York City’s Lower East Side neighborhood.

Source Charles Phelps Cushing/ClassicStock/Getty

In times of national crisis, there is often an emphasis on gardening both practical and philosophical. “Gardening is something really tangible that people can do,” explains Laura J. Lawson, a professor of landscape architecture at Rutgers University and author of City Bountiful, a history of community gardening. “When things get crazy and out of hand and you have no sense of control, it’s an amazingly interactive and physical thing; it’s a thing you can see benefit from almost immediately.” While both World Wars invested in official gardening programs to boost food production across the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia, Lawson says that economic downturns like the Great Depression and the type of urban unrest that took hold in the 1970s and ’80s have also been accompanied by a turn to gardening and community agriculture. So-called relief gardens, for instance, took root during the Great Depression — there were 5,000 in New York City alone — providing both jobs and sustenance for desperate people.

The current COVID-19 crisis is no different. Seed companies have reported sales spikes across the U.S. as people, fearing that food supply chains will fray, wonder just how much food they can grow themselves — not enough, Lawson estimates — and experiment with backyard raised beds and balcony herb gardens. In recent days, articles have proliferated on how to stock your pantry and how to grow the tomatoes some worry they soon won’t be able to buy. While it’s unlikely that amateur gardens will be efficient enough to replace grocery stores, such efforts add value by connecting consumers to their local food systems, encouraging patronage of nearby farms and other producers and generally making meals a more neighborly pursuit.

Victory gardening wasn’t just about food or patriotism — it was a community activity in which gardening clubs and schools offered hands-on instruction on how to grow things. But today, for people enduring quarantine and starved for time outdoors and human companionship, the words “community garden” may sound like an impossible luxury. Next to that, the nutritional value of the small potatoes that individuals may be able to grow seem like, well, small potatoes.

And with the flower industry wilting in the face of the current crisis — with graduations and weddings canceled, businesses stand to lose millions of dollars — you may soon need to grow your own blossoms. Even during wartime, flowers weren’t dismissed as frivolous but rather encouraged — they could be sent to military hospitals or used to brighten the nation’s mood.

Though the timing of the coronavirus may seem particularly cruel to anyone watching the weather turn sunny and warm through a window, spring is a particularly pleasant time to experiment with seeds and plants, waiting for sprouts to push their way through the soil. “It’s a little less therapeutic maybe in August when the weeds come in,” Lawson jokes. “But for now it’s hopeful and optimistic.”