The Things We Thank You For

Nobody can be faulted for thinking there isn’t much to be thankful for in the last couple of years, but if you are reading these lines there surely is at least one big thing worthy of gratitude. Then we propose the following: 

The rapid development of anti-Covid vaccines

This has been a feat of historical importance if you consider that in normal circumstances an enterprise of this scale may take up to 15 years. In the whirlwind of the pandemic coverage, many in the public may have overlooked that this was also an instance of successful private-public cooperation, in which the scientific community, pharmaceuticals, and governments came together to articulate a fast response to a global health emergency.

In the US, Operation Warp Speed (OWS) partnered with multiple institutions, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to develop, manufacture, and distribute 300 million doses by early 2021. Paired up with expedited yet rigorous clinical trials, one admittedly bad situation did not become worse. We probably do not need to draw comparisons to the 1918 Spanish flu to understand how catastrophic Covid-19 could have been otherwise.  

This does not mean that we are in an ideal situation, yet we all know that adversity is part of life. Readiness to confront these challenges is a marker of progress.  

Behind the highly effective Moderna and Pfizer vaccines there is a promising scientific innovation. They are mRNA vaccines, different from traditional ones that use a whole virus or bacterium or part of them to build up immunity to the pathogen.

The mRNA vaccines are chemically synthesized without the need for cells or pathogens, making the production process simpler. They carry the information that allows our own cells to make a small part of a pathogen and thus fight it. Crucially, from the information carried by the mRNA vaccines our cells cannot reproduce the whole pathogen. In other words, they cannot cause Covid-19. 

We are not scientists and do not claim to have all or any of the answers. We simply base our assessment on publicly available information, which we highlight. As for the vociferous followers of the antivax creed and other sects, suffice it to quote British philosopher Bertrand Russell from an essay written in 1933, dark times for Europe and mankind: “The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.” 

A greener world

Nobody seems to be sure about what to make of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26). Was the Glasgow climate summit a success or a failure? The boring answer is somewhere in between.  

At this point, can there honestly be any surprises that some countries, especially fast- developing ones like India, are lukewarm to the idea of a carbon-free world when greener alternatives to fuel their growth are not readily available? Yet two days after the Indian government, with the complicity of China, watered down the coal use provisions in the Glasgow deal by agreeing to “phase down” rather than to “phase out” the use of coal-based energy, an environmental emergency was declared in New Delhi, leading to the shutdown of all schools and colleges indefinitely amid worsening air pollution.

Only five of the 11-coal based power plants in the city are allowed to operate and construction work has been banned until November 21, with exceptions allowed for transport and defense-related projects. The levels of PM2.5—tiny particles that can clog people’s lungs—in Delhi far exceed the World Health Organization’s safety guidelines: a figure between zero and 50 is considered “good,” while one between 51 and 100 is “satisfactory,” according to the air quality index or AQI. At around 400 or more, the AQI score in Delhi is considered “severe.” 

India points out that poorer developing nations should not carry the burden of a greener economy while others are historically responsible for creating the current climate catastrophe in the first place. Translated into non-diplomatic language, this means that the wealthy industrialized (and now mostly or increasingly post-industrial) economies are free to patronize now that they have got rich on the back of dirty energy.

Yet as the environmental emergency in Delhi just has shown, we are way past blame games. For the sake of everything that is in the world and all its inhabitants, humans and non-humans alike, we need to get our act together.  We all know that this is the long, painful end of the fossil fuels era. Much good will come out of it, for the environment and society at large. Look at the governments of the largest fossil fuel exporters and you will get the point. Oil wealth has often mutated into the oil curse, distorting economies and the politics of countries sitting above reserves that have been too large for their own good and that of their neighbors. 

However imperfect carbon capture and green tech may still be, we are on a path to a healthier, cleaner world.   

Thanking Whom

That brings up the question of thanking whom. If you are a religious person, then you know the answer. Other than that, may we suggest that you also thank the people you have close at hand: family, friends, customers, and all those who make life worth living. One thing the two examples we have given above point to is that, almost subconsciously, we are not after progress so much for us but for the future, for our children and generations we will not see. We want a better world for the people who will inhabit it when we are no longer here so we can renew our faith in our very complicated species, warts and all.  

Like the Pilgrims of Plymouth and their Wampanoag hosts in 1621 let us say these magic words when we get together with the people we love: Thank you.