Commentary

How we die

evergreen

The local cemetery not far from the farm where Tom Rach grew up outside of Staples, Minn./Google maps

Before COVID-19 changed the world as we knew it six months back, a man named Tom Rach – most likely unknown to anyone reading this – was preparing to attend his 50th high school reunion.

 

It was to have happened this month but has been postponed now due to the pandemic, and he won’t make it. He died Aug. 1 at the age of 68. 

Back in high school days, Rach and I were such good friends a favorite hunting dog, “Tom”, was named  in his honor, but we hadn’t seen each other since I split for Alaska in 1973.

And now we won’t.

No, COVID-19 didn’t kill him. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). another respiratory ailment, did. COPD is often linked to smoking, but you don’t have to be a smoker to suffer the illness.

Air pollution is thought to be a possible instigatator, and there are indications genetics put some people at greater risk of suffering the disease.

It kills about 160,000 people per year in this country, where it is the fourth leading cause of death, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Globally, it is even worse.

Worldwide, COPD is the third leading cause of death, according to the European Respiratory Review. The World Health Organization (WHO) blamed it for 3 million deaths in 2016.

The WHO in 2005 predicted the disease, which was the world’s fifth-leading cause of death at the start of the decade, would climb to third by 2030 largely due to “increased tobacco use among women in high-income countries and the higher risk of exposure to indoor air pollution (such as biomass fuel used for cooking and heating) in low-income countries.”

Sadly, COPD beat the deadline, and now comes COVID-19.

Big numbers

Seven months into the year, worldwide COVID-19 deaths have topped 800,000 and are racing toward 1 million, according to Our World in Data, a website maintained by the University of Oxford. With new deaths still coming at the rate of 3,000 to 4,000 per week, COVID-19 appears likely to post a fatality rate of near half that of COPD by the end of the year.

The numbers are large and scary in part because we have become conditioned to living in a world where death is a private affair little noticed by anyone outside the small circle of people it touches, and mainly because the disease now killing people is knew and unknown.

The unknown is almost always frightening.

Close to 60 million people die around the globe every year in normal times, according to Our World in Data,and the collective size of that death toll is never noticed.

More than 140 million are born each year.

As a species, we are in an ecological sense handily winning the battle for survival. There are now almost 8 billion humans inhabitating the planet. How many it can support is an unknown.

In 1968, a book called “The Population Bomb” written by Stanford University professor Paul Ehrlich with a lot of help from his wife, Anne, triggered worldwide fears humans on earth were on the verge of overtaking the planet’s carrying capacity.

“Published at a time of tremendous conflict and social upheaval, Ehrlich’s book argued that many of the day’s most alarming events had a single, underlying cause: Too many people, packed into too-tight spaces, taking too much from the earth,” Charles C. Mann wrote for the Smithsonian Magazine on the 50th anniversary of the book’s publication. “Unless humanity cut down its numbers—soon—all of us would face ‘mass starvation’ on ‘a dying planet.’

“Ehrlich, now 85, told me…the book’s main contribution was to make population control ‘acceptable’ as ‘a topic to debate.’ But the book did far more than that. It gave a huge jolt to the nascent environmental movement and fueled an anti-population-growth crusade that led to human rights abuses around the world.”

Thanks to the “Green Revolution,” which brought new and improved technology to agriculture, the book also proved to be wrong. And it did little, if anything, to slow the growth in a global population then nearing 4 billion.

The world hit the 4 billion mark in July of 1974, according to the word population clock at Worldometers. Thirteen years later, it hit 5 billion. The 6 billion mark was passsed in 1999 and the 7 billion mark in 2012.

When graphed, human population looks like your classic hockey stick.

At the time the modern Christian calender began, there are believed to have been 200 to at most 600 million people on the planet or a maximum of six-tenths of a billion. It took 1800 years to reach that first billion.

The United States was then home to 5.3 million people, according to the U.S. Census, and the Industrial Revolution was just beginning. The Civil War would soon follow along with the end of slavery, two world wars that drove huge booms in technology, then the Cold War, the aforementioned Green Revolution and the Space Age , all of which accelerated the technological revolution that had begun in the early 1800s.

As technology constantly and steadily improved, U.S. child mortality rates fell from 463 per 1,000 births in 1800, according to the website Statista, to seven today. And the average U.S. lifespan increased from less than 40 to almost 80.help blurb

How times change

Had COVID-19 arrived in 1800, it might have gone almost unnoticed given that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) numbers indicate that only about 2 percent of the nearly 158,000 Americans dead of the disease as of Aug. 15 were under age 40.

Back in 1800, about 98 percent of the people dying now due to the pandemic would have already been dead, many of them long dead. Death was all around in those times.

Just think about that infant mortality rate. Only 220 years ago in this country, almost every living child had a brother or sister who didn’t make it.

Back then, most people never got to meet their grandparents, and today most Americans expect to make it to retirement and enjoy the “golden years” after.

They have every reason to believe that will happen, too, or did before COVID-19.

The actuarial tables for the Social Security Administration say (or said) that a man who makes it to age 65 in good health will on average live to 83 and a woman of the same age will out live him by a couple years. 

COVID-19 appears likley to push that number down a bit, but probably not all that much.

Tom, sadly, didn’t make it to 70, let alone 83. He was one of those who dragged the average down. So, too, his wife, Patti, another old classmate who preceded him in death.

When your 50th high school reunion rolls around, you start noting those who died. What is amazing is how many didn’t. We now expect people to live to old age, and we don’t usually get it shoved in our face how many don’t even if almost everyone reading this knows people who have died.

According to the CDC, 2.8 million people per year die in this country; about 650,000 of them from heart disease, which is often preventable; 600,000 from cancers, some of which are preventable; and 170,000 from accidents, nearly all of which are preventable.

Listening to CNN’s Don Lemon the other night fretting about the latest University of Washington projection that COVID-19 deaths could hit 310,000 by Dec. 1 because of how the government has mishandled the epidemic (as if there were a democratic government in the Western world that has handled it all that well), I was struck not by how badly the country was doing but by how well.

The Imperial College of London warned in March the SARS-CoV-2 virus which causes COVID-19 could kill 2.2 million people in the U.S. by the end of the year. Even if the death toll were to go as high as 400,000 by then, it would be but a fifth of that.

The country has done a lot better with SARS-CoV-2 than our ancestors did with the Spanish flu. It killed 195,000 Americans in September of 1918 alone, according to History.com. By the time it was over, it has killed about six-tenths of a percent of the U.S. population.

Were COVID-19 to prove that deadly, it would leave about 2 million Americans dead. COVID-19 doesn’t appear that deadly, and thankfully it isn’t killing children and young people the way the Spanish flu did.

The disease is killing some of the middle-aged and a lot of the old.

As one of the latter, it would be nice to think all of us alive here now could live forever. I’d have loved to see Tom again. But it would be an ecological disaster for the planet if people didn’t age out.

Life and death are the breath of nature. They are as fundamental to the system as the inhalations and exhalations that keep us alive. And at some level, what is happening now has long been predictable.

No animal population can go on expanding unchecked without nature trying to reign it in. But it’s easy to forget that in an age when we have in so many ways freed ourselves from nature’s constraints.

We can turn night into day. We can make deserts bloom. We can enable the infertile to give birth. We can even, in many cases, save people from COVID-19, but we can’t save them all.

And we can’t save any from the inevitability of death. That nature still controls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

35 replies »

  1. Tabbox, I suggest finding another sandbox. You are wasting valuable time here, the land of pretend. You are in Tar Baby land where whatever you say will ONLY lead to more of what could be described as Groundhog Day, the movie; everyday a repeat. Down, down and down is the only direction here unless you believe Medred is some sort of savant. This is the place that pretends to simplify the complex in a rambling cut and paste sort of way. A snip here and a snip there along with verbal gymnastics and voilà! some sort of unbaked truthiness is revealed. You will seldom find anything uplifting or even intelligent but there will always be lots of words.

    • Keep reading, Mark; eventually you’ll start to figure it out. The site is for thinkers. It doesn’t pretend to simplify anything. Simplicity is a black and white construct. Reality is 10,000 shades of gray.

  2. New covid-19 deaths, yesterday: Spain: 52 France:16 Japan:15 Canada: 7 UK: 16 Germany: 9. Population of these countries: 426 million. United States: 1,290 Population: 328 million. Craig, any chance you could enlighten us on these variances?

    • Yes, first off day rates mean nothing. You need to work with at least weekly averages.

      That said, the pandemic peaked earlier in Europe than it did here. Remember all that talk about flattening the curve? Well, the curve always existed no matter the flattening.

      It’s a bell whatever you do, and Europe hit the top of the bell before the U.S. did, and then the various U.S. states hit the tops of their bells at various times. Thus, we looked at one time to be doing way better than Europe – remember when Trump was ranting about the Swedes and their terrible approach – and now Europe is doing way better than us.

      Sweden’s death rate is now at 57.7/100,000. Ours is at 56.4/100,000. (https://ourworldindata.org/covid-deaths)

      Sweden’s bi-weekly deaths fell precipitously from mid-May on and then pretty much flatlined with a slight downward trend. They are now at about 17 people per week

      Our deaths fell from late April into late June and then a second wave started. That wave rose and is now starting down but we’re still at 12,542 people per week. Our death rate is likely to meet and surpass that of terrible Sweden.

      We can largely blame the Northeast states – New York, Massachusetts, N.J., Penn. where the kill rate was horrible – but it might not have been their fault. Demographics, individual fitness, socioeconomic status, all kinds of things play in there.

      And there could be some other things going on in Europe. I’d suggest looking at the case fatality rate in France: https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus-data-explorer?zoomToSelection=true&year=latest&time=2020-03-01..2020-09-04&country=~FRA&region=World&cfrMetric=true&interval=biweekly&perCapita=true&smoothing=0&pickerMetric=new_cases_per_million&pickerSort=desc

      Treatment has improved, but there are some indications one of the weaker strains of SARS-CoV-2 might be prevailing in Europe, which would be a good thing.

      But this is way too long of an answer to someone I suspect you were trying to make some of point. Sadly, the only point I got out of it was that it’s easy to play with numbers to make a very complicated, very gray situation look black-and-white and simple.

  3. Thanks Craig, I understand and accept your reasoning here.
    I read the “the population bomb” by Paul Ehrlich, in the early 70s. Basically said Mother Earth can only handle so many of us. There is a limit to everything.

  4. you stated that the United States is not that bad in the response to COVID-19. Nothing could be further from the truth about COVID-19. There are estimates that 70,000 people could have been saved if the Trump Administration had taken the virus seriously. That number is just going to climb as the Administration is still not taking it seriously. If fact they continue to put out false information. Today Trump said there will be a vaccine before the election. That is impossible if the phase 3 testing rules are followed. Maybe he wants us to follow the Russia example and treat people not knowing whether it works or not. Relative to population growth and reaching carrying capacity. That is a true statement. When it happens is the question. One can look at some areas of the world and see starvation already and the UN committee is calling for massive funding to help feed these people. More of a distribution issue right now than food supply but we will reach capacity. Our world oceans are already overfished for many species. I failed to get the point of your article as your comments on the green revolution and human rights abuse around the world. You provide no evidence for that. So an idea that the earth is finite and will reach a carrying capacity causes people to treat human beings with abuse? Please clarify with examples.

    • K.T. You forget that the Fed was in short supply of protection devices when the virus hit the country, mainly because of the previous administration’s failures. And you forget to mention that it is the State’s responsibility to draft and execute their responses. If you want to criticize, level it at the NY governor whose mistakes killed around ten thousand seniors like your self by putting them in highly contagious settings of nursing care facilities. At the same time begging the Govt for ventilators. Trump used his emergency powers to utilize large corporations including Auto manufactures to make hundreds of thousand of ventilators. He provided them to the States as well
      as other countries that had failed to have them when needed. He also likely saved tens of thousands of lives when he shut down traffic to our country from China and other places.
      Instead of parroting the company line used by the Never Trump crowd perhaps you could realize that the pandemic did not come with a play book and that maybe Trump has done well. It is remarkable how some politicians who begged the Govt for help because of their lack of preparation and readiness and who received enormous assistance, were lavish in their praise of Trump, only to turn on him when it became politically expedient to do so.
      K.T. You are a fisheries scientist not an epidemiologist. Stick with the facts and don’t do the political attacks. They are beneath you.

      • I know when I am being lied too. The examples you state are Fox news talking points. Every objective review says Trumps slow response and attitude toward cdc guidelines caused the situation we find ourself in. My science background is not a limitation it is an asset to evaluate bs and lies from the administration. I still want to know how the green revolution caused human rights abuse.

      • Ah, come on man! I mean KT. Ha ha. How can you say that it is a lie that Trump closed travel from China to the U.S.? Or that it is a lie that a trump ordered auto plants and other companies to make ventilators? Or that he supplied them to many states that needed them? Or that he was thanked by the governors of some states that received them, like the NY Governor for example? come on KT! You surely are not so anti Trump that you are willing to disregard these facts.

      • The fact you mentioned have to be in context. The actions were made too late and States even had to bid against each other for equipment. The virus came to New York from Europe. The China action was meaningless. Did you forget he said the virus would disappear this summer or the quack treatment s which cost million of tax dollars. How about his disagreement with the experts on what to do. Also not modeling good behavior sent a message that the public does not have to wear a mask, can gather in large groups and ordering schools to open without any significant guidance. We know how that worked out. More important is the estimate that thousands of Americans would be alive if Trump had led on the response. So yes I am anti Trump because he is a moral failure on so many fronts. Are family values of honesty, respect, and faith of no importance to you. One cannot deny his moral failures.

      • KT, why would you get personal with me. I simply recited known facts and questioned why you would call them lies. I did not imply in any way that you have no family values, faith, honesty and respect by failing to recognize facts. Yet you imply by your post that these traits are not important to me. Just because someone disagrees with you should not justify getting personal Kenneth.

      • KT, you are nothing more than a Democrat shill. You know Trump has done a fantastic job with Covid, all the while being tormented by Democrats who block him at every turn and would love nothing more then a higher death toll or to steal an election. The fact that you defend those Communists says enough for me. Maybe you are down in Portland right now rioting? You know, because Orange man bad…

      • your an typical Trump supporter when faced with facts you revert to labels – no substance. States are only part of the solution as the federal gov has significant purchasing power and can provide leadership which the administration failed to do. I guess 178,000 deaths are acceptable to you. He ordered schools open and businesses to open. We saw how that worked. He pushed back on wearing a mask. He is mentally ill by all accounts but you keep defending him. Just accept that the administration did a poor job responding to the virus.

      • KT, and your Dementia, racist, rapist Joe’s mental clarity?
        How about Kamala’s family who owned slaves? How about those FACTS? Where do they fit in with your BLM narrative?? Forgive me for laughing myself off the couch.
        I mean, how do Semocrst hypocrites just “pretend” it never happened??

      • how about the president with stormy while his wife gave birth. How about him trying to cover it. You can laugh all you want. You are the joker. Best estimate Trump lied 20000 times in the last four years. Your a moral coward for not seeing and speaking the truth. While you were on the floor did you feel good slithering with the trump supporter snakes.

      • Aw yes, “the truth.” It’s an elusive little shit: https://www.cqc2t.org/strong-no-go-theorem-wigners-friend-paradox/

        Everyone lies. Trump lies more than most. Some of it is entertaining, I admit. Some of it is depressing. He’s a horrible example for the nation’s young people.

        That does not make his supporters “snakes.” They might just see the alternative as worse. Voting in America for many people is often the lesser of two evils. We shouldn’t be calling people names based on how they make that decision.

      • Kenneth, “the virus came from New York”. Haha, I could believe that with the Democrat leadership that has destroyed the state, but a sane person knows reality. Obviously you spend too much time watching or reading MSDNC or AADN.Why don’ t you go read up on how both the Democrats and China (but I digress) really feel about seniors.

      • I had the virus came to new york from europe which is what cdc and other experts said. China was the origin but the path was via europe to New York. So the travel ban was not effective and too late which this administration has been all along. I read cdc and fda and university reports. You obviously listen to FOX news which has been shown to be wrong on a number of points. Bottom line is Trump apologists are willing to accept 200,000 or more deaths to worship Trump.

      • Craig do not be condescending- I asked for examples. The article you linked to China one child policy mentions nothing about the reason for it tied to the environmental movement. In fact it mentions culture where girls are not wanted, crime, and other population related issues. At the time the carrying capacity of earth was limited. Technology changed the playing field. Today we are seeing starvation is more localized but real where it is happening. It will increase as the population moves up. The basic premise is still true as you note. However to say China one person policy was primarily due to some worldwide concern rather than internal issues in China is a stretch at best. Chins killing of girl babies was happening before any environmental concern. China families saw an economic advantage for boys and a cost for girls who worked less and the family could not support them. Craig I probably will stop commenting and let you and your right wing readers support each other whether the points are true or not.

      • Ken: No one is being condescending. I am trying to explain to you how another reporter, whose story is linked in mine, came to the conclusion that human right’s abuses were linked to environmental issues.

        Over-population is an environmental issue for anyone who accepts the idea of ecological carrying capacity. Unless you’ve changed your views since you left Fish and Game, I believe we agree on this fundamental.

        Every source I have ever found links China’s one-child policy to control of population growth. As Brookings puts it (https://www.brookings.edu/articles/the-end-of-chinas-one-child-policy/), “the one-child policy was designed in 1980 as a temporary measure to put a brake on China’s population growth and to facilitate economic growth under a planned economy that faced severe shortages of capital, natural resources, and consumer goods.”

        Shortages of “natural resources” are an environmental issue, and certainly, the idea of holding the world population in check has been widely supported by many environmentalists.

        “In his 1992 book, former US Vice-President Al Gore wrote: ‘No goal is more crucial to healing the global environment than stabilising human population.'” https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-49601678

        I don’t know that Gore ever directly endorsed the one-child policy, but I’d be surprised if you can find anywhere he spoke out against it because I can’t. Personally, I can make a strong argument for why a one-child policy is a good idea for the planet though no one with any sense of morality can support the way the Chinese went about it.

        Still, human population growth is sort of the ultimate “over-escapement” issue. So, I don’t know how you can argue that is NOT an environmental concern or that China’s one-child policy and the subsequent abuses weren’t in some ways environmentally linked.

    • Also KT, remember when Democrats on January 28th called Trump a racist and Xenophob for stopping travel to China? Remember the bodies that piled up because Cuomo’s FORCED nursing homes to admit infected patients or, how about De Blassio in March “ride the subway, go to a show, dont be afraid”. You remember all those deaths that could have been prevented right?? Oh I know, Orange man bad. Now show ke on the doll where Trump hurts you… so stupid where do I begin???

      • Well, I was lookin’ everywhere for those gol-darned Reds
        I got up in the mornin’ ‘n’ looked under my bed
        Looked in the sink, behind the door
        I looked in the glove compartment of my car
        Couldn’t find them

        I was lookin’ high an’ low for them Reds everywhere
        I was lookin’ in the sink an’ underneath the chair
        I looked way up my chimney hole
        I even looked deep in my toilet bowl
        They got away

        Well, I was sittin’ at home alone an’ starting to sweat
        Figured they was in my TV set
        Peeked behind the picture frame
        Got a shock from my feet, hittin’ right in the brain
        Them Reds caused it
        I know they did, them hard-core ones

        Singer/song writer: Bob Dylan
        Recorded: April 24th 1962

      • Jame’s haven’t we been down this road before? You remember how Obama adorned the White House Xmas tree with mass murderer Mao Xmas bulbs, and Obama’s Van Jones was a self admitted Communist or “red” as you say. Even Obama’s head of the CIA, that scumbag criminal Brennen, voted for the only Communist, Guss Hall, to run for President. There are thousands of Democrats not only in high levels of government obvioisly, but in the media, and academia who are commies. Not sure you have to look far for the “reds”. Maybe look under the bed.

      • Well, I was feelin’ sad and feelin’ blue
        I didn’t know what in the world I was gonna do
        Them Communists were comin’ around
        They was in the air
        They was on the ground
        They wouldn’t give me no peace

        Well, I quit my job so I could work alone
        Then I changed my name to Sherlock Holmes
        Followed some clues from my detective bag
        And discovered red stripes on the American flag
        That Ol’ Betsey Ross

        Well, I fin’ly started thinkin’ straight
        When I run outta things to investigate
        Couldn’t imagine doing’ anything else
        So now I’m home investigatin’ myself
        Hope I don’t find anything out, hm, Great God

      • Bryan, dont let the fakes and the blind get you down. The heartfelt American citizens got your back . Tarbox is lying and he knows it . Creepy how dems will say anything to create trouble and destroy America. Like that insurrectionist nancy pelosi . Her and the rhinos are so demented. Selling their fellow man and America down the river just to keep those globalist dollars flowing. Creeeeepy . Taking advantage of good men like James Mykland . Pelosi just hardened the opposition by trampling the constitution. Calling a whole party and the president enimies of the state . Must ask which state ? The global cabal state ? Bryan keep your chin up . “If you can bear to hear the truth twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools or being lied about- dont give way to lying.” Bryan Take heart in your honesty . Little man whip a big man any day if hes in the right and just keep a comin . You and Trump are in the right with redblooded patriots ready to back you up. Americans always were willing to do more with less . We know your your hearts in the right place. Trump has sacrificed so much to help lead this nation. His has truly been a labor of love . There have been no perfect presidents immune to mistakes , Trumps done his best like we asked . America needed a pit bull and Trumps lived up to his promises despite his detractors . With the dems trying to drag our nation down into a pit of despair from every angle they can pry loose just like obama and hillarys teacher trained them. They would cut off their own nose to spite their face . Pitiful and mislead. “They know not what they do . God forgive them.”

    • Ken: Get a grip. The reference is a quote from someone else – “It gave a huge jolt to the nascent environmental movement and fueled an anti-population-growth crusade that led to human rights abuses around the world” – and it refers to anti-population growth leading to human rights abuses.

      It is linked. Go read the link. And if you question the author’s reasoning you can get back here.

      I would immediately think of China’s one-child policy. It’s hard to believe the skewed gender numbers in that country are related to anything other than infanticide. I’d consider a government policy that encouraged that practice a human rights abuse. https://ifstudies.org/blog/chinas-one-child-policy-effects-on-the-sex-ratio-and-crime

      But that’s just me.

  5. Incredible perspective. Its easy to loose perspective when in the middle of a struggle. Good thing we have scribes like Mr. Medred to keep us connected to the past . Knowledge and perspective is a defense against fear .

    • Perspective is such a powerful thing and gets overlooked all the time. A few short months ago we were told 2 MILLION deaths were to be expected, a month or so later 150,000 seemed like a plausible high water mark, now 310,000 is unexceptable.

      This is what happens when Lucy holds the ball.

      I wish more people had the ability to understand perspective.

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