Well here we are – it has been six months since my last blog, and I apologize for that tardiness. It just seems that every time I sit down to write about something I have experienced in the world, something else happens, and I get sidetracked. But yesterday was the last straw. I was reading a story on the BBC website and got introduced to Naegleria fowleri, a threat so ridiculous it sounds like it comes from a Monty Python sketch. I’ll get back to that in a moment, but first a review of the year.
Spoiler alert – it is not very happy reading.
Trigger alert – contains references to climate change, armed conflict, societal upheaval, global pandemics, economic devastation, and general human stupidity.
Incompletion alert – this is just a review of some things I have noticed, and I don’t pretend it to be an authoritative summary. Please feel free to add your own stories.
So with those caveats, here we go …
January: The United States authorized the assassination of General Qasem Soleimani in Iraq; Iran retaliates by firing missiles at US bases and then a Revolutionary Guards unit accidently shoots down a Ukrainian airliner, with 63 Canadians among the 176 people killed.
January: Five earthquakes of magnitude 5.0 to 6.4 hit Puerto Rico over a three-week period, causing $3.1 billion in damage.
January to now: Ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan, Kashmir, Mali, Ukraine and Yemen continue to cause thousands of civilian deaths (as well as military ones). Political and social upheaval continues in Brazil, Libya, Myanmar, Syria, and Venezuela, among other places. Now a war has erupted between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
January – March: The Australian bushfires burnt over 18.5 million hectares (46 million acres, which is about 33 times the size of Prince Edward island or 1.4 times the size of England), killing at least 34 people and nearly 3 billion terrestrial vertebrates – mainly but not only reptiles.
January – April: 460 confirmed tornadoes churned across the south-central US, which is worrying as the main tornado season is in the fall.
February – April: hundreds of millions of desert locusts decimated East Africa, swarming all over Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia and causing significant crop damage.
March to now: A worldwide pandemic was declared as COVID19 spread around the world. In my last blog (March 24), I noted that “the number of people infected [by COVID19] world-wide is rising rapidly – it took 3 months for there to be 100,000 cases, and then only another 12 days for that to double to 200,000. A week later there are 400,000+ cases, and it will be illustrative to see how rapidly that total continues to rise.” Well, the numbers just doubled and then doubled again, and there have now been over 33.1 million cases and over one million deaths.
April: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hospitalized and in intensive care with coronavirus.
April: The Great Lockdown led to the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s; at one-point crude oil was trading at minus $35 a barrel.
April to now: Severe tropical cyclone Harold caused catastrophic damage to South Pacific Islands such as Vanuatu and Fiji (April), Cyclone Amphan tore through India and Bangladesh (May) and Typhoon Maysak was the largest storm ever to hit South Korea (September).
April to now: Las Vegas broke its previous record of no rain for 150 days and as of Monday 28 September has had no measurable rain since 20 April (161 days).
May to now: The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season has featured a total of 24 tropical or subtropical cyclones, 23 named storms, 8 hurricanes, and 2 major hurricanes, all of which hit the southern US and then (so far) faded out before causing damage to Canada. The season continues for another month.
May to now: Months of civil unrest in the United States followed the death of George Floyd and was exacerbated by other incidents coming to light. In September, the Department of Justice declared three cities – New York, Seattle and Portland (Oregon) – as “anarchist jurisdictions.”
June: The warmest June on record, with temperatures of +1.5C or more above ‘normal’ pretty much everywhere around the world and at one point reaching 38C in Siberia – the highest temperature ever recorded in the Arctic.
July – now: The wildfires in the western United States burnt over 6.6 million acres (nearly 5 times the size of PEI), killing at least 30 people. There have been minimal reports of animal fatalities.
July – September: Severe flooding in Sudan led to over 120 deaths, while monsoon flooding in South Asia (Indian, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal) resulted in over 1300 fatalities.
August: 2750 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded in the port of Beirut, killing more than 200 people, wounding 5000 others, and leaving 300,000 residents temporarily homeless.
August: Highest temperature ever recorded on earth of 54.4C reported in Death Valley, California.
August: A derecho caused severe damage across Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa and other central states in the US. According to the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a derecho “is a widespread, long-lived wind storm associated with a band of rapidly moving showers or thunderstorms variously known as a squall line, bow echo, or quasi-linear convective system. Although a derecho can produce destruction similar to that of a tornado, the damage typically occurs in one direction along a relatively straight swath.” It now joins “weather bomb” and “polar vortex” as a meteorological word I’d never heard of until recently.
September: Denver broke 14 temperature records (both hot and cold) in 6 days – including going from 34C to -0.5C overnight on 7/8 September.
September: ‘Zombie Tropical Storm’ Paulette re-establishes itself after disintegrating in the south Atlantic.
September: The two contenders for the Presidency of the United States redefine the word “debate”.
October 2, 2020: Today. This is the one hundredth day on PEI where the temperature has met or exceeded 20 degrees Celsius this year. Our ‘normal’ number of +20 days is 79, so this is basically a 25% increase over the annual average. It has made for a gorgeous summer, although the farmers have complained about the lack of rain, and of course there were very few tourists around to enjoy the beaches. But even a sunny day casts some shade, I guess.
It has also just been announced that President Trump and his wife have both tested positive for the Coronavirus. Which is sad, as nobody wants anyone to become ill, but at the same time it does reduce their risk of contracting Naegleria fowleri, the new threat to our world.
If you haven’t heard of this one, it’s quite a doozie. In essence, it’s an amoebic microbe that eats your brain! Interestingly, though, it only infects people when water containing the amoeba enters the body through the nose. This typically occurs when people go swimming or diving in warm freshwater places, like lakes and rivers. The Naegleria fowleri amoeba then travels up the nose to the brain where it destroys the brain tissue. You can’t get it by drinking contaminated water, or from water vapour such as shower mist, it has to go up your nose.
It seems that Naegleria fowleri has been around for quite some time, but it is now spreading into the northern hemisphere because global warming has increased the water temperature in the lakes and rivers to the point that the amoeba can now survive in places where it was previously absent. And of course, on hot summer days many people tend to jump into any available river or lake, hoping for the cooling effects. If you are part of that group, please try to keep your head above water.
Which is a good way of looking at the world, really.