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Karl Grossman

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Silver Lining Of Pandemic: An Opportunity To Make The World A Better Place

What is to follow this horrific COVID-19 pandemic?

Indian author Arundhati Roy wrote that the COVID-19 pandemic is a “portal” — a “gateway” — to a new world.  

“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew,” she wrote. “This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.”

“We can choose,” she continued, “to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our … dead ideas, our dead rivers, and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through … ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.” 

We can, indeed, hope that somehow this global health calamity might lead to a better world. More importantly, after all the deaths, the profound misery we need and must work for a better world. And there are forces seeking to prevent that outcome.

The pandemic has made clear the oneness of the peoples of the world, as former U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly, wrote in an op-ed piece in The New York Times.

“Seen from space, the Earth has no borders,” he wrote. “The spread of the coronavirus is showing us that what we share is much more powerful than what keeps us apart. All people are inescapably interconnected, and the more we can come together to solve our problems, the better off we will all be. One of the side effects of seeing Earth from the perspective of space is feeling more compassion for others.”  

Kelly, who spent a year on the International Space Station, wrote: “I’ve seen humans work together to prevail over some of the toughest challenges imaginable and I know we can prevail over this one if we all do our part and work together as a team.”

“Oh, and wash your hands — often,” he concluded.

The disaster surely underlines the folly of humans battling with each other — the horrible human proclivity to war, the folly of pouring national treasuries into armed conflict.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is appealing to warring parties on Earth to pull back from hostilities, put aside mistrust and animosity, silence the guns.

“It is time,” said Guterres, “to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives.”

Susanne Grabenhorst, leader of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, agreed.

“The virus drastically demonstrates both the mutual global dependencies and the irresponsibility of military conflict,” she said. War, she emphasized, has “massively weakened” health systems “and made millions of people particularly vulnerable to the current pandemic.”

IPPNW, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, is “demanding that military resources be redirected…for the service of health and peaceful life.” 

Another Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Mikhail Gorbachev, declared in an essay in Time magazine: “Many are now saying the world will never be the same. But what will it be like? That depends on what lessons will be learned.”

“What we urgently need now is a rethinking of the entire concept of security,” wrote the former Soviet president. “Over the past few years, all we’ve been hearing is talk about weapons, missiles and airstrikes … War is a sign of defeat, a failure of politics.”

“The overriding goal must be human security: providing food, water and a clean environment and caring for people’s health,” he continued. “To achieve it, we need to develop strategies, make preparations, plan and create reserves. But all efforts will fail if governments continue to waste money by fueling the arms race.”   

In recent times, a nuclear Armageddon has gotten closer. The “Doomsday Clock” of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was reset in February to 100 seconds to midnight — the closest to midnight since it was initiated in 1947.

Nuclear war, with an exchange of some of the more than 14,000 hydrogen and atomic weapons existing today, many on hair trigger alert, would be an atomic COVID-19 for the people of the Earth. 

“Why not,” asked State University of New York Professor Emeritus Lawrence Wittner, “work cooperatively to save humanity from massive global death and economic collapse” rather than “waging wars and engaging in vast military buildups with the goal of slaughtering one another.” 

Is a world at peace a pipe dream? I know something about conflict and war from being a 20-year member of the Commission on Disarmament Education, Conflict Resolution, and Peace of the United Nations and the International Association of University Presidents. The vision of the commission was reducing, perhaps someday ending, the conflict that mires the globe.

The same intensity with which humanity has studied and practiced war through the millennia must be applied to peace. I traveled the world with the commission, coordinated conferences. It developed courses used internationally on conflict resolution and peace. It also brought people from all over the world together for retreats — people from where conflict brewed. 

It was amazing that after a couple of weeks, getting to know each other personally, these folks who otherwise would be at each other’s throats, had become friends. Nations can, through diplomacy, engendering trust and communicating, do the same. Peace is possible.

“The concept of ‘security’ must be redefined, or at least expanded,” wrote Jonathan Granoff, president of the Global Security Institute, and DePaul University Professor Barry Kellman, wote in Newsweek. “For a long time, it has been defined singularly in nationalistic terms, measured by military strength. Many trillions of dollars continue to be spent on weapons to defend nations against threats they pose to each other.

“Vast institutions have been created around these weapons, and outstanding intellects are dedicating their brilliance to strengthening these institutions and designing strategies for using these weapons — all in the name of national security,” he continued. “But as this pandemic spirals around the world, and as militaries lie helpless before it, it’s appropriate to ask whether we would be better off if more resources and attention were pooled and devoted to addressing threats to human security.

“It is an existential imperative we need to prioritize now,” he added. “It is essential to combatting pressing global threats, including climate change and nuclear weapons, as well as pandemic diseases. Our thinking and actions must reflect the reality that we are one human family.”

As to the link between COVID-19 and climate change, some of the same groups and political figures deny both. As DeSmog, the information center on global warming disinformation, has exposed: “The climate science denial machine created by the fossil fuel industry is now a major source of COVID-19 disinformation. Deniers have deployed many of the same tactics they have used to attack climate scientists and delay action to downplay the severity of the coronavirus outbreak and sow distrust in the response efforts of governments, scientists and the medical community — with deadly consequences that are now unfolding before our eyes.” 

Canadian physician Dr. Courtney Howard, in an interview in Yes, said the coronavirus crisis “at first seems unrelated to climate, but it has a lot of consequences for the conversation around climate and health … The whole coronavirus outbreak is a giant wake-up call in terms of planetary health because what it’s saying is, ‘Hey, there’s a lack of care at the intersection of humans and the natural world, and that’s what allowed a zoonotic virus to make a jump into humans.’ Essentially, we’re in a generational tipping point,” she said. “Things have been disrupted, so now we have this opportunity: how can we apply the lessons that we’ve learned to saving lives this century and into the next?” 

Professor Dieter Helm of the University of Oxford in England said: “The coronavirus crisis will come to an end even if coronavirus does not … What will not be forgotten by future historians is climate change and the destruction of the natural environment … There is a broader lesson here … and a really great legacy of this crisis would be that we learn it.”   

World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General Petteri Taalas, on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in 2020, declared: “Whilst COVID-19 has caused a severe international health and economic crisis, failure to tackle climate change may threaten human well-being, ecosystems and economies for centuries. We need to flatten both the pandemic and climate change curves. We need to show the same determination and unity against climate change as against COVID-19. We need to act together in the interests of health and welfare of humanity not just for the coming weeks, but for many generations ahead.” 

As The Guardian, out of the U.K., began an article on the climate crisis: “Drowned cities, stagnant seas; intolerable heat waves; entire nations uninhabitable … and [with a global population of] more than 11 billion humans. A four-degree-warmer [four-degree Celsius is 39.2 degrees Fahrenheit] world is the stuff of nightmares and yet that’s where we’re heading in just decades.” 

As with the COVID-19 virus situation, action on the climate crisis has been slow.

The climate crisis, as with the COVID-19 pandemic, must be taken on forcefully with the world together. Totally delinquent has been the Trump administration withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement with Trump calling climate change — like he called the coronavirus pandemic — a “hoax.” Ending the burning of fossil fuel — the chief cause of global warming — and a conversion to green, renewable energy would deal with this enormous threat. 

As “we go from today to tomorrow,” commented Gov. Andrew Cuomo, this is “an opportunity where after this horrendous period that we have gone through on every level, after the exorbitant cost of this, the personal pain of this, the death … this has to be one of those moments in time when we look back where we say society transformed.”

“It was a learning and growth and transformational period where growth and evolution were accelerated,” he continued. “Society took a terrible blow, but it became a moment of reflection where all sorts of new reforms and innovations happen. That’s what we have to do with this period. So our goal is not let’s get up and turn the machine back on and keep going the way we were. No. How do you make the changes now that you’ve been talking about in some cases for years … but … never had the political will to do it? Or … it was too difficult. We talk about environmental changes that we’re going to make, but we never really do it. We talk about issues of income inequality, but we never really get there. We talk about changes to our public transit system, but it’s too hard, it’s too controversial.” 

“All right,” said Cuomo, “well now you have an opportunity in this window to really make changes and reforms and improve things in a way you haven’t. And by the way, if you went through this and you went through this pain and aggravation and suffering and you didn’t learn, well, then shame on us.” 

Jamie Metzel, formerly with the U.S. State Department and a White House fellow and a UN human rights officer, said: “The world is not going to snap back to being exactly like it was before this crisis happened … We’re going to come out of this into a different world.”

And he warns: “Our democracies are going to be challenged.” 

An immediate political effect of the COVID-19 pandemic has been leaders in a number of countries moving their nations toward authoritarianism.   

“There will be change,” said social critic, historian, linguist, and MIT Professor emeritus Noam Chomsky. “The question is: what kind of change.” He asks: will the COVID-19 pandemic provide an opening for “more repression?” 

There is a drive afoot, says Chomsky, of figures “working to institute the kind of change they want.” They’re “carefully constructing” a push “encompassing the most reactionary states in the world” to use the COVID-19 pandemic to foster authoritarian rule.

“Will there be counter-pressure?” he asked. People need to understand that it is not enough to just show up on Election Day, says Chomsky. They must be “all the time working, pressing, making changes — that’s the way things are done — and it has to be done on an international scale.”

Will out of this calamity come a better world? Or will the world go through this gateway “dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our…dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies…”

We can create a new and better world — but we must fully commit ourselves to it and work for it, “pressing, making changes.” 

Karl Grossman’s just-released TV program on the COVID-19 pandemic, “A ‘Portal’ to a Better World?” can be viewed at youtube.com

For more coronavirus coverage, visit longislandpress.com/coronavirus

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Climate Change Remains A Growing Threat

A new inlet that Superstorm Sandy cut through Fire Island remains years later. (FINS photo)

“A good thing to remember as we enter a new decade is that we’ve waited far too long to take action on climate change,” said Gordian Raacke, executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island. “Now we have just a small window left to act.”

Raacke was speaking as much of Australia was burning largely due to climate change, while its national government leadership remains in denial about the issue. The major reason for climate change is the burning of fossil fuels, and Australia continues to be dependent on coal-fired power plants. 

“Australia’s leaders … defend the fossil fuel industry, a big donor to both major parties — as if they were willing the country to its doom,” wrote Australian author Richard Flanagan in a recent piece in The New York Times headlined “Australia Is Committing Climate Suicide.”

The nation’s prime minister (like America’s president) insists climate change is a hoax. It’s no hoax. Among its other impacts, climate change “takes moisture out of the ground and vegetation, so it’s much drier” — thus the fires all over Australia, explains Raacke.

For Long Island, the main impacts are sea-level rise and more intense hurricanes, their power heightened by the increasingly warmer ocean waters on which hurricanes feed, says Raacke. 

As for sea-level rise, Kevin McAllister, founding president of Sag Harbor-based Defend H20, has noted that over the past 40 years, waters surrounding LI rose by 4 inches, and now, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation predicts because of climate change, in the next 40 years “we can expect they’ll rise by 11 to 30 inches.” 

People on the Island, like those in Australia, need to call for strong action to be taken to deal with the causes of climate change, notably demanding alternatives to fossil fuels. For Long Island, the program spearheaded by New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo to harvest wind off our shores is a great advance. It’s among the abundant green energy alternatives to fossil fuels. 

The state Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, passed last year, aims for a 100 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 with the stated goal of “exercising a global leadership role on greenhouse gas mitigation and climate change adaptation.’” The word “leadership” in its title is telling. 

“As Washington turns a blind eye and rolls back decades of environmental protections, New York turns to a future of net zero emissions,” Cuomo said. 

Karl Grossman is an investigative reporter and professor of journalism.

SUNY College at Old Westbury: A Model of Diversity

SUNY College at Old Westbury.

Long Island is the 10th “most racially segregated metropolitan area” in the U.S., says Elaine Gross, founder and president of the Syosset-based organization Erase Racism. That’s a result of racially restrictive covenants — banned by the Supreme Court in 1948 — and racial steering by real estate agents, sending whites to certain areas, minorities to others. That’s illegal, too, but still common.

But there is an island of diversity on Long Island, a remarkable exception to this pattern, a place where people mix: SUNY/College at Old Westbury. Experiencing diversity is a major part of the educational process at the college. 

It has to do with the numbers 30:30:30:10. The vision has been to be college with a student body of 30 percent African-Americans, 30 percent white, 30 percent Latino and10 percent Asian-American, Native American and foreign. This is inclusionary, not exclusionary. If the percentage dips in any group, there is an effort to up it.

The college was established in the 1960s as an innovative, indeed experimental, SUNY campus. John Maguire became its president in 1970. He came from a family representative of the segregationist South. His grandfather was lieutenant governor of Alabama. 

“You could not imagine a more conservative, racist man,” he recounted when I interviewed him when he returned to Old Westbury to be the commencement speaker several years ago. 

As a sophomore at Washington and Lee University in Virginia, he saw a sign posted about a conference in Pennsylvania for prospective ministers. It was a chance to go to the North, where he had never been. 

When he got to the Crozer Theological Seminary he was advised that he would room with a Crozer student “from Atlanta, Georgia…You’ll like him…He’s already been named the president of the student body.” 

The other young man was Martin Luther King, Jr. And that began “a long friendship and it was a glorious friendship,” a “transformative element no doubt…in my life….We became wonderful, fast friends.” 

Maguire became deeply involved in the civil rights movement and was a Freedom Rider. When he came to SUNY/Old Westbury he and the faculty developed a plan to thoroughly mix people — based on 30:30:30:10. The concept was, explained Dr. Maguire, “no one would feel left out, but it wasn’t so big that one group ruled the other.” The students “came together” and began “to say, ‘he’s not so bad, she’s not so bad,’ and sure enough friendships developed, and it was…remarkable.”

It still is.

I’ve been a professor at the college since 1978 and I marvel watching the students come together and develop understandings and friendships. When a new academic year begins, some African-American students from Wyandanch might sit together and several Latinos from Brentwood might sit together and a couple of Chinese-American students from Flushing might sit together and several white students from Plainview might sit together.

But by the following week, an African-American student is sitting next to a Latino student, a Chinese-American student is sitting next to a white student — indeed all the students have mixed together. Many had never before gotten to know those of other ethnicities and races.

“Old Westbury is rightfully celebrated as a college community that brings people of all races, creeds, and socio-economic backgrounds together,” says Dr. Calvin O. Butts, III, who recently retired as president of the college after 20 years. “Being designated among the top diverse campuses in the country …. reinforces that Old Westbury is at the forefront of cultivating intercultural understanding and global citizenship in its students.”

In its SUNY Old Westbury Magazine in 2018, the college reported that the prior year’s entering class was 31 percent white, 27 percent African-American, 25 percent Latino, 12 percent Asian-American and 5 percent “international and other backgrounds.” The two-page spread was headed, “In the Spirit of ’30:30:30:10.’” It ended with: “The model founded in those earlier days continues…and prospers.”

The faculty, administration and staff are also fully diverse.

It’s an extraordinary model needing to be replicated — on Long Island and elsewhere.

Taking A Page From The Old Daily Long Island Press

It’s a thrill writing a column for the Long Island Press again after all these years. For it was at the original Long Island Press where I started writing a column decades ago.

I was hired as a reporter for the Long Island Press in 1964. I was given a column in 1969. Because the paper ceased publication in 1977, there are very few of us from the original Press still practicing journalism after 43 years. 

With the original Press going out, I took an alternative career highway: becoming a professor of journalism at SUNY/Old Westbury, continuing to do investigative reporting but on TV, radio, in books, magazines, and newspapers, too, and in recent years on the Internet.

The Press was an easy place to work. It was a friendly place. But also a quirky place.

For example, after being hired I was told I would not exactly be working for the Press but for ABC News Service. I was instructed to leave the Press building in Jamaica, walk a block to Jamaica Avenue, and there would be a kosher butcher and above it ABC News Service.

Up a flight of stairs from the butcher was what looked like a stage set for a show about journalism in the 1920s. There were booths with antique phones and not a reporter at those booths now. 

But there was a most affable fellow, Barney Confessore, who put me on the payroll of ABC News Service—through which I would work for the Press.

What was involved was a scheme through which the Newhouse family, which owned the paper, were able to avoid putting people on its unionized payroll.

There were some Press reporters, such as all those who covered Queens, on it. This was because of the clout of the Newsday Guild of New York City. But reporters who worked in Nassau and Suffolk Counties were on the ABC payroll. I was told as the years went by that the Newhouse family commonly did this.

After I received journalism awards and it became problematic for The Press to publish a story about me as of ABC News Service receiving an honor, I was shifted to the Press payroll and said to be the only reporter in Nassau or Suffolk on it.

I quickly learned at the Press about the influence powerful people have over some media. Robert Caro in his book The Power Broker on Robert Moses told of how Moses had New York City newspapers in his pocket. Before the Press I spent two years at the Babylon Town Leader challenging the four-lane highway Moses pushed to build on Fire Island.

On my first day at the Press as a cops-and-courts reporter, I was called by an editor who said I should understand I was never to write a story about Moses or a commission or authority he headed. I asked what should I do if there was a fatal auto accident on Southern State Parkway. 

“Give it to another reporter,” I was told.

Water Quantity, Not Just Quality, Of Concern on Long Island

(Shutterstock photo)

On Long Island there’s been “a lot of focus on water quality but not enough on water quantity,” says John Turner, a leading local environmentalist long involved in water issues. 

He was legislative director of the New York State Water Resource Commission and director of Brookhaven Town’s Division of Environmental Protection. He’s conservation policy advocate at Seatuck Environmental Association in Islip. 

“It’s a constant challenge to inform people on how they get their water — where it comes from,” he says. Long Islanders “don’t see” the “groundwater reservoir” below, their sole source of potable water. 

There’s been increasing concern over the years about chemical contaminants in the island’s water supply, he notes. But quantity is an equivalent problem.

Nassau County has been hit by a lowering of its water table because 85 percent of the county is sewered and all these sewage treatment plants rely on outfall of wastewater into surrounding waterways.

In Suffolk, 30 percent sewered, the Southwest Sewer District’s Bergen Point Sewage Treatment Plant sends millions of gallons a day of wastewater through an outfall pipe into the Atlantic Ocean, and smaller sewage plants send wastewater into bays and Long Island Sound.

In Nassau, lakes, ponds, and streams, which are the “uppermost expression of the aquifer system, have dropped considerably,” says Turner. Hempstead Lake “is Hempstead Pond.” There’s no longer a Valley Stream in Valley Stream.  

It doesn’t have to be this way, he emphasizes. In Suffolk, starting in 2016, the Riverhead Sewage Treatment Plant began sending treated effluent to the county’s adjoining Indian Island Golf Course. This has provided irrigation nitrogen and fertilization, and wastewater is “no longer finding its way into the marine environment” to cause algae blooms.

The key, says Turner, is water “reuse.”

“We’ve been calling for the counties or the State of New York to put together an islandwide water reuse roadmap.”

For if Nassau and Suffolk destroy their underground water supply — as Brooklyn and Queens did years ago from over pumping and entry into the water table of saltwater — there’ll be no rescue from New York City, he says. 

The city gets its water from upstate reservoirs. There’s been talk recently of Nassau buying water from the city. But its reservoirs are near capacity. 

“New York City has not been welcoming Nassau County with open arms,” says Turner. Another alternative is desalinization but that’s “incredibly energy intense and expensive.” 

Water reuse is a Long Island essential.