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Monitor Daily Podcast

April 20, 2020
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TODAY’S INTRO

Rising to an ‘impossible’ challenge and other Earth Day lessons

Today’s stories explore the privilege implied in stay-at-home orders, how small businesses in Russia are rising to the COVID challenge, a town using past tragedy as a guiding light through the pandemic, how Earth Day changed America, and 10 books to carry you away while you stay at home. But first, a look back to how America found hope during another dark time.

In 1970, little seemed to be going right with the natural world. Rivers caught fire. Acid rain fell from the sky. Birds were disappearing. But that spring a simple message began to take root in American thought: There’s one planet Earth, so we better take care of it together.

As tens of thousands of people gathered in American cities for the world’s first Earth Day on April 22, founder Gaylord Nelson told the crowd in Denver: “The objective is an environment of decency, quality, and mutual respect for all other human beings and all living creatures.”

That message carries new weight as we mark the 50th Earth Day amid two seemingly intractable global challenges: climate change and a pandemic.

The end of the coronavirus pandemic is uncertain, but the world is gathering momentum together, taking steps that previously seemed impossible. The same is true for the climate crisis. Scientists, policy makers, engineers, and everyday citizens are working to preserve our planet.

This week, in honor of Earth Day’s pioneers, the Monitor is teaming up with Covering Climate Now, a partnership of hundreds of global news outlets, to explore climate solutions. Check back throughout the week for a look at nature-based solutions, Boston’s quest to go carbon neutral, and efforts to integrate solar power and agriculture.

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A deeper look

‘If you don’t work you don’t eat’: Where lockdowns have extra sting

As the novel coronavirus spreads, governments are watching each other, trying to learn what policies work. But poorer countries, where much of the labor force is outside safety nets, are entering less-charted waters. 

Noelle
Gustavo Graf/Reuters
Fish sellers walk outside La Viga fish market during the coronavirus outbreak in Mexico City April 9, 2020. In recent weeks, the government has limited gatherings to 50 people and shut down nonessential businesses.

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Across the globe, governments face tough choices about how to control the spread of the novel coronavirus. Let life go on, and the disease can spread unchecked. Order everyone home, and the economy buckles.

These choices are especially painful in countries where high percentages of people work informally, outside most safety nets. Governments from Mexico to South Africa have taken dramatically different approaches but have one thing in common: Stopping the pandemic demands something more complicated than a cut-and-paste of responses tried in China, Europe, and the United States.

Arturo Granadas sells fruit in pop-up street markets in Mexico City. Each morning, he puts on a face mask and heads out to set up his hot-pink tarp stall, as he has for the past four decades. “If the government doesn’t provide alternatives [for informal workers], we will have no choice but to continue to go out and work,” he says.

Resistance has pushed governments to ease some restrictions and assist poor people. Meanwhile, informal workers say they hope the crisis will be a wake-up call about how important they are.

“We aren’t the problem,” Mr. Granadas says. “We are the solution to the government’s inability to create jobs and stable employment.”

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‘If you don’t work you don’t eat’: Where lockdowns have extra sting

The number of coronavirus cases in Mexico was growing quickly, bending toward the kind of curve that had turned cities like Paris, Rome, and Wuhan into ghost towns, empty and silent. 

But in Mexico City on a recent morning, though the streets were quieter than normal, the dissonant orchestra of daily life continued. Sweet potato vendors sounded their iconic steam-engine whistles. Flatbed trucks piped their monotone jingle as they circled the city collecting broken electronics and used mattresses. Subway trains clattered along their tracks, their doors squealing open to disgorge crowds of passengers. And tortillas sizzled on street-corner comales, large round griddles.

In the tranquil Coyoacán neighborhood, a sign beside one food stand offered a succinct explanation for why the coronavirus hadn’t interrupted daily life the way it had elsewhere.  

Mexico isn’t Europe,” read the sign, photographed by journalist Andalusia Knoll Soloff. “In Mexico, if you don’t work you don’t eat.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

Across the globe, governments have faced tough choices about how to control the spread of the novel coronavirus. Let life go on, and the disease can spread unchecked. But order everyone home, and the economy buckles.

These choices are especially painful in countries like Mexico, where social safety nets are often flimsy and millions live off whatever they can hustle together each day. For these countries, stopping the coronavirus demands something more complicated than a cut-and-paste of responses that have been tried in China, Europe, and the United States. Instead, it requires bending those solutions to meet the needs of the world’s poorest people, for whom staying home without work could be as deadly as walking into the virus’s hotspots.

“A lockdown, or even social distancing, is actually a bit elitist as a concept,” says Dr. Elizabeth Kimani-Murage, a senior researcher at the African Population and Health Research Center in Nairobi, Kenya. “When people live in houses that are very small and close together, when they work to earn enough to live off of that day, how can you expect them to stay home and stay indoors to keep an unknown virus away?”

Opposite approaches

At one extreme in answering that question is Mexico, where President Andrés Manuel López Obrador for weeks brusquely ignored calls to institute nationwide restrictions on movement, or to close businesses. “Remember,” his government implored in a March public health notice, “the illness caused by the COVID-19 coronavirus is not serious.”

Schools were closed, and in recent weeks he has agreed to certain measures, including limiting gatherings to 50 people and shuttering nonessential businesses. But his priority, he says, is to protect the 60% of Mexican workers who labor informally – hawking fruit, scrubbing toilets, preparing tacos, and doing other piece work that pays job-to-job, in cash. Because these jobs are unofficial, they tend to be unprotected by employment law or government safety nets.

Jerome Delay/AP
Homeless people get in line to receive food baskets from private donors during a lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19, in Johannesburg April 13, 2020. South Africa, with the continent’s most cases, has been able to slow the pace of infections.

At the other end sit countries like South Africa, where a quarter of the labor force is also informal. But unlike Mexico, it has instituted one of the world’s strictest lockdowns, which has shuttered most industries, and prohibits even outdoor exercise and the sale of alcohol and cigarettes.

“The countries that have acted swiftly and dramatically have been far more effective in controlling the spread of the disease,” explained President Cyril Ramaphosa as he announced South Africa’s original three-week lockdown – now extended to five weeks. Since the lockdown began on March 26, indeed, the rate of newly diagnosed case has fallen sharply, from 110 per day before the lockdown began to 67 per day by its second week.

Globally, most experts and leaders acknowledge that some form of societal shutdown is necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19. “We know how to bring the economy back to life. What we do not know is how to bring people back to life,” said Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo on March 27. “We will, therefore, protect people’s lives, then their livelihoods.”

But shutting down countries where more than half the population lives in poverty has not gone seamlessly. Police and soldiers deployed to enforce the lockdown in poor South African communities have beaten and publicly humiliated those who resisted the orders, conjuring up painful echoes of apartheid-era lockdowns to violently quell black resistance. In Kenya, police have killed nearly as many people for resisting curfews and other disease control measures than have died from the disease itself.

And many of those resisting the lockdown restrictions say they simply have no other choice.

“The thing that makes people keep going out is their empty stomach, that they simply don’t have anything to eat,” says Luyanda Hlatshwayo, who works as an informal recycler in Johannesburg and is also an organizer with the African Reclaimers Organization (ARO). In normal times, recyclers like Mr. Hlatshwayo spend their days sorting through garbage bins left out for collection, picking out recyclable goods, which they then sell to centers around the city.

Those centers are now closed, since the country did not deem them an “essential service.” But many recyclers continue to roam their old routes, dodging police and hoping for handouts from sympathetic suburbanites. “People who have enough to eat, enough to live off of, they follow the rules,” he says. “But the ones who don’t, can’t.”

Attempts to help

Resistance from the country’s poorest people has pushed the South African government to ease some of its more onerous restrictions. Shared minibus taxis – the most common form of public transportation – are now allowed to travel at 70% capacity, up from 50% at the start of the lockdown. And in early April, officials announced that informal hawkers of fruits and vegetables would be allowed to sell their wares on the streets again, as long as they registered to do so. 

“The only way lockdowns can continue in societies with high poverty is if government is responding swiftly and directly to the needs of very poor people, whether that’s food or just direct transfers of money,” says Hannah Ryder, a Kenyan economist and former diplomat who runs the consultancy Development Reimagined.

Across Africa, Asia, and Latin America, governments have begun to adapt their responses to assist poor people, particularly those in informal jobs most likely to fall through the cracks of other social assistance. (The informal sector accounts for 89% of employment in sub-Saharan Africa, and 54% in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the International Labor Organization.)

Peru and Argentina, for instance, have begun emergency cash transfers to vulnerable people. Forty-seven African countries, meanwhile, have instituted some form of relief for citizens to access essential services, from waiving utility bills and fees on mobile money transfers to direct food or cash aid. And India has promised $22.6 billion for direct cash transfers and food assistance, which it hopes to use to feed more than 800 million people, after its lockdown left millions of workers without wages.

But many countries have struggled to keep up with the sheer magnitude of need when their economies are already in free-fall. In South Africa, for instance, phone lines for numbers set up for food assistance ring unanswered, and most of the aid given to informal workers so far has been private. “Not five cents from government,” says Mr. Hlatshwayo, whose organization ARO has raised nearly $10,000 in a crowdfunding campaign to support out-of-work recyclers.

“We aren’t the problem”

In Mexico, meanwhile, most informal workers have continued working, and say they will do so as long as there are no alternatives. Although the federal government has not implemented strict restrictions – taco stands and other informal food stalls can still sell their food to-go – some states and municipalities have implemented curfews or lockdowns.  

“What I understand is that the virus is a really, really big risk. I truly believe that,” says Arturo Granadas, who sells fruit in pop-up street markets in Mexico City called tianguis, and who serves as a representative for a union of informal hawkers in the capital. Each morning, he puts on a face mask and heads out to set up his hot-pink tarp stall, just as he has for the past four decades. “If the government doesn’t provide alternatives [for informal workers], we will have no choice but to continue to go out and work,” he says.

But like grocery-store employees and delivery drivers in Europe and the U.S., workers like Mr. Granadas and Mr. Hlatshwayo say they hope this crisis will be a wake-up call about how important their industries are, and how crucial it is for government to support them – not only in times of crisis.

“We are constantly criminalized, stigmatized, and persecuted in Mexico,” Mr. Granadas says. “But we aren’t the problem. We are the solution to the government’s inability to create jobs and stable employment.”

For experts, too, a silver lining of this pandemic may be the light it shines on people at the margins, whose lives have historically been easy for those in power to ignore.  

“Maybe the right model to address this is not only the health challenges, but the many underlying challenges, like poverty, education, and access to care,” says Dr. Hermes Florez, the interim chair of public health sciences at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “We have to address those to better be able to tackle future pandemics.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

As Moscow locks down, small businesses feel the crunch

It’s never been easy to run a small business in Russia. Now the pandemic is threatening to shut them down in a new way. But Russian entrepreneurs are figuring out ways to get by, and officials are starting to help them.

Noelle
Courtesy of Oleg Sirota
Oleg Sirota, who owns a small cheese-making operation in Istra, outside Moscow, is one of many entrepreneurs in Russia whose business is in existential danger due to the coronavirus pandemic and associated lockdown.

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Small businesses make up less than 20% of Russia’s economy, though they have proliferated and diversified in Russian cities in recent years. Their very existence seems a bit of a miracle, and most still find it very tough going in the best of times.

But now that the coronavirus pandemic has prompted a lockdown of Moscow, Russia’s main economic and transport hub, until at least the end of April, many entrepreneurs describe the threat they face as existential.

Vladimir Putin has decreed that the government should pay special attention to the survival of small businesses, including direct subsidies of $162 (the minimum wage) per employee every month for those that retain at least 90% of their staff.

Some hold out hope the crisis will bring change, and, maybe, official attitudes toward them will improve. Mikhail Sagiryan, who runs two fitness clubs in the Moscow region that he’s had to close, says his relations with local officials have greatly improved in the past month.

“They are really trying to be helpful. It’s like a war situation, where everybody should pull together. If that spirit lasts, even a little bit, that would be good.”

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As Moscow locks down, small businesses feel the crunch

The rise of Oleg Sirota’s cheese business, and its current dire straits, is actually a tale of two crises.

Mr. Sirota produces quality European-style cheeses, such as parmesan, cheddar, and Gruyere which, until recently, he distributed to eager clients through the Moscow region’s network of farmers markets. The cutoff of European food imports to Russia amid the ongoing sanctions war that began six years ago afforded him and many others the opportunity to step into areas of niche production where they formerly never would have stood a chance of competing.

But now Russia’s coronavirus shutdown is battering his supply lines, scattering the workforce, and severely challenging his ability to keep things going. The entire city of Moscow is shut down at least until the end of April, and no one may even leave home without a digital permit that states their reason for doing so. Buying cheese isn’t on the permitted list.

That’s a serious problem for Mr. Sirota. “We can’t stop working,” he says. “Cows have to be milked every day. If we throw the milk out, we’ll soon go bankrupt. Our partners who work with us will go bankrupt, and our skilled workers will be permanently out of a job. Everything we’ve built will be lost.”

Small businesses like Mr. Sirota’s – he has fewer than 200 employees – make up less than 20% of Russia’s economy, though they have proliferated and diversified in Russian cities in recent years. Their very existence seems a bit of a miracle, since any form of private entrepreneurship was treated as criminal activity during the Soviet era, and most still find it very tough going in the best of times. Among the head winds they face are official corruption, endless red tape, and public suspicion rooted in Soviet-era biases. Some describe the challenge they face now as an existential threat.

“The situation in our sphere is catastrophic,” says Dmitry Nesvetov, an official of Opora, the organization that represents small businesses in Russia. “The drop in custom for many of our members is nearly total. If we don’t get very real support, a lot of our people will lose everything.”

But Mr. Sirota – like other small business owners – is determined to survive. He’s brought his most essential employees to the Moscow-region village where his cheese-making operation is located, rented housing for them, and put them up in what he calls “barracks” mode for the duration. He’s also leased a fleet of vans, is advertising on social media, and hopes to sell his production by direct delivery.

“Over 3 million Muscovites have left the city,” he says, referring to the fact that many urban Russians own countryside dachas, or cottages, where huge numbers have repaired to sit out the crisis. “We are already up to 100 deliveries daily and if we can get that up to 300, I think we’re going to make it through this. At the start of this I gave a pep talk to my staff, assuring them that we will overcome. I did that mainly to encourage them. But now I’m actually starting to believe it myself.”

Entrepreneurs in crisis

The coronavirus pandemic crept up slowly on Russia – its impact is still well behind many European countries, much less the U.S., with the total cases brought up to 47,121 on Monday – but it is hitting now, especially in Moscow, the country’s main economic and transport hub. After a period of complacency, Vladimir Putin reacted in March by announcing a nationwide shutdown, now extended to April 30, and turned over most of the government’s responses to a team of technocrats.

Many of their initiatives have been well received, including intensive consultations with the business community, and measures to provide tax deferrals, zero-interest bank loans, and rent relief for struggling companies. But few small business operators report any of the declared assistance. That may be due to logjams in Russia’s banks, which are reluctant to issue credit to small businesses.

Mr. Putin has left most of the heavy lifting and bad-news delivering to his coronavirus response team. Instead he’s given a few reassuring “fireside chat” talks to the country, and held online conferences with officials. But he’s also taken steps that could have long-term repercussions. One has been to relax Russia’s tight centralization and hand more authority over to local governors to handle their own regions’ pandemic problems. Another was to decree on April 15 that the government should pay special attention to the survival of small businesses, including direct subsidies of $162 (the minimum wage) per employee every month for those that retain at least 90% of their staff.

Russian entrepreneurs tend to be a hardy breed and, although many speak in despairing terms about the current near-total loss of business and the paucity of official assistance, quite a few say they are finding ways to dig in for the long term and find workarounds.

So says Tatiana Sokolova, head of a Moscow marketing firm who recently returned to her central Russian hometown of Torzhok to help develop its tourist potential.

“In the hotel and restaurant business, all activity has ceased. But we have long-term relations with our clients, and we can expect that to return,” says Ms. Sokolova. “I’ve managed to keep most of my team. I’ve had to reduce their salaries, but promised to make it up to them. We face new problems every day, but I think we will manage. We have good people.”

Several restaurateurs in Moscow are even stepping up to help by arranging delivery of prepared meals to the city’s thousands of beleaguered medical workers after it became known that the government had no plan for feeding them.

Building cooperation?

Some hold out hope the crisis will bring change, that lessons will be learned, laws and regulations will be overhauled and, maybe, official attitudes toward them will improve.

Mikhail Sagiryan runs two fitness clubs in the Moscow region, which he’s had to close. He says it would be good to get some guarantees that he won’t lose his premises – something the Moscow government has started to do – but if this doesn’t go on for too long, he should be able to wait it out.

“The main thing is that the government should take care of ordinary people,” he says. “Business is low on their list of official priorities, we always have been, but common people are very important because they vote, come out to parades, and such. So, if the government provides money for people, maintains order and calm, this will be good for my business in the long run.”

Mr. Sagiryan says his relations with the local officials he deals with have greatly improved in the past month. “They are really trying to be helpful. It’s like a war situation, where everybody should pull together. If that spirit lasts, even a little bit, that would be good.”

Igor Yurgens, the director of INSOR, a pro-business think tank, says one very positive development in this emergency has been regular consultations between the government and Russia’s three major business groups: the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs for big, Delovaya Rossiya for medium, and Opora for small businesses.

“Of course business is getting only part of what they ask for. Some lifelines are thrown, but the situation is very desperate,” he says. “Still, this process of consultation is working well. It would be a very good thing if it were made permanent.”

Fighting ‘invisible fire’: Why Paradise is ready for coronavirus.

They lost their town to fire. Now, the residents of Paradise, California, are drawing on communal strength born of adversity to meet the pandemic with determined optimism.

Noelle
Ann Hermes/Staff
A sign at the entrance of Paradise, California, on March 13, 2020.

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After wildfire burned their town in 2018, the people of Paradise, California, were determined to rebuild.

Now the COVID-19 pandemic threatens its fragile progress. Facing another calamity so soon after the Camp fire, residents and local officials share concern over the ordeals ahead and yet trust they will persevere – a communal resolve born of collective adversity.

“At first you think, ‘We just went through one disaster, and now this?’” says Jody Jones, a member of the town council who was mayor when the inferno struck. She and her husband lost their home to the flames. “At the same time, this community has drawn a lot of strength from what we went through, and that will help us get through this.”

Between the two crises, Pat Zinn, a retired bank manager whose house survived the blaze, considers the coronavirus far less ominous.

Ms. Zinn always keeps small stockpiles of toilet paper, cleaning solvents, and canned food on hand. Her habitual readiness derives, in part, from childhood memories of rationing during World War II. Her calmness about the coronavirus arises, in part, from living through the polio epidemic while growing up in Southern California.

“People my age, we’ve been through life. We know it has ups and downs,” she says.

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Fighting ‘invisible fire’: Why Paradise is ready for coronavirus.

The concrete foundation rising from the dirt lot along Sunburst Drive will support a three-bedroom house that Jada and Grant Keeter will call home one day. Until a month ago, the couple thought that day would arrive by Christmas. Then California’s governor imposed a statewide stay-at-home order in response to the coronavirus outbreak, and now they wonder if their timeline might be as fanciful as Santa Claus.

“We’re still aiming for Christmas, but it’s a little hard to know if there will be any delays,” Ms. Keeter says. She stood beside the gravel drive leading into the property as her husband inspected the foundation walls. “We’re hoping for the best.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

Their determined optimism reflects a common sentiment in the Northern California town of Paradise, where the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in state history swept through on Nov. 8, 2018. The blaze killed 85 people, destroyed some 14,000 homes, and forced the evacuation of Paradise’s 27,000 residents, along with another 23,000 from nearby communities.

Seventeen months later, as the town struggles to rebuild and its population hovers around 3,000, the COVID-19 pandemic threatens Paradise’s fragile progress. Facing another calamity so soon after the Camp fire, residents and local officials share concern over the ordeals ahead and yet trust they will persevere – a communal resolve born of collective adversity.

“At first you think, ‘We just went through one disaster, and now this?’” says Jody Jones, a member of the town council who was mayor when the inferno struck. She and her husband lost their home to the flames. “At the same time, this community has drawn a lot of strength from what we went through, and that will help us get through this.”

The lockdown decree that Gov. Gavin Newsom announced March 19 has led to most of the state’s businesses closing and schools shifting classes online. In Paradise, the pausing of public life has clouded the future for dozens of the more than 200 businesses that have opened since the wildfire. The school district, with half as many students as before the blaze, has seen its academic year upended once again.

Under the statewide order, construction remains an “essential” service, enabling home builders to continue working. For the Keeters, whose house burned down, the good news is tempered by the potential for lags in the supply chain of construction materials.

“There are a lot of questions about everything right now,” Ms. Keeter says, “and we’re all waiting to see what the answers will be.”

Ann Hermes/Staff
A sign announces the cancellation of a Paradise High School event on March 13, 2020, in Paradise, California. The high school opened its doors in the fall of 2019 after Paradise was largely destroyed in the Camp Fire. Paradise High School recently had to close again due to the threat of the coronavirus.

“The invisible fire”

Paradise’s recovery gained momentum in January with the opening of the Building Resiliency Center in a vacant bank branch. The center serves as a one-stop shop for residents to obtain building permits, housing assistance, and planning guidance to accelerate home construction.

The pandemic has slowed the center’s work as town officials, mindful of social distancing guidelines, have reduced staff and restricted visits to scheduled appointments. Fewer than 90 new houses have gone up in the past year, and even as the whir of circular saws and the report of nail guns attest to ongoing construction, the pace has dropped.

“We can’t let the rebuilding stop,” says Eric Reinbold, Paradise’s police chief. He and his wife and their three children moved to a town 15 miles away after the fire destroyed their home. “But everything has been affected to one degree or another, and the big thing is, we don’t know how long it will last.”

Health officials have recorded 16 cases of the coronavirus in Butte County as of Monday morning; none have occurred in Paradise. Damage from the wildfire closed the lone full-service hospital in town, and while an immediate care clinic that opened last month has conducted tests for COVID-19, the relative lack of medical services adds to the anxiety of residents.

“This is like the invisible fire,” says Eddie DeAnda, an outreach worker with a disaster crisis counseling program who lives in Paradise. “It’s been a stressful time. Just going to the grocery store kind of puts people on edge.”

The outbreak has hampered the town’s efforts to mend its social fabric. Municipal officials, who shut down the town hall, have canceled or postponed annual community festivals. Paradise High School’s graduation ceremony, scheduled for June, could involve seniors receiving diplomas by appointment rather than in a group celebration.

The school district welcomed back about 1,600 of its 3,300 students in August. Last month, three days before the state’s stay-at-home order went into effect, administrators closed classrooms and teachers switched to online instruction.

The high school opens each weekday morning to allow students to pick up laptops and wireless hotspots. But the disruption of a second straight school year has deepened the hardship for students, as many families displaced by the fire still live in trailers or other temporary housing outside Paradise.

“Our emotional reserves were already a little lower than everybody else’s,” says Tom Taylor, the district superintendent. He has told teachers to modify their expectations of students. “We can’t push too hard. We just have to accept they won’t learn at the same level.”

The high school’s graduation ceremony last June, seven months after the Camp fire, provided a unifying moment for students and residents alike. Mike Ervin, the school’s principal, worries that the class of 2020 – including his youngest son – could miss out on a cherished rite of passage.

Imagining his son walking toward him on the commencement stage, Mr. Ervin says, “I was really looking forward to giving my kid a hug.”

Ann Hermes/Staff
High school principal Mike Ervin stands outside his office at the end of the school day on March 13, 2020, in Paradise, California. The high school opened its doors in the fall of 2019 after Paradise was largely destroyed in the Camp Fire.

“We keep on going”

Gun sales have increased at Fins, Fur, and Feather Sports in the weeks since Paradise’s residents began living almost entirely indoors. Shop owner Chris Main offers a wry explanation for the rush.

“People are buying firearms and ammunition to guard their toilet paper,” he says. The Camp fire spared his home, and though concerned about the impact of the pandemic on his suppliers, the Paradise native has resolute faith in the town’s resilience. “We’ve been through a lot, but we keep on going, keep on surviving.”

The fallout from the lockdown order on restaurants, cafes, and other businesses will emerge in the coming weeks and months. As Ms. Jones, the former mayor, frets about the local economy, she finds reason for hope in the nearly 700 building permits the town has issued for home construction since the fire.

“The coronavirus has left all of us feeling a little in limbo,” she says. The uncertainty extends to the completion date of the new house that she and her husband are building. “But if we can keep construction going, then we can weather this challenge, too.”

In the fire’s aftermath, 10 of the 21 officers on the town’s police force departed, pursuing new jobs and a fresh start. Now guiding the department through a different sort of adversity, Mr. Reinbold relies on lessons learned from that earlier disaster, urging his officers to remain visible to reassure isolated residents.

“This isn’t as traumatic as the fire, when we lost much of our community in a matter of hours,” says Mr. Reinbold, who has hired three officers in recent months. “But people are scared thinking about where we could end up, so you want to show them we’re here and they’re not alone.”

Broken power lines owned by the Pacific Gas & Electric Co. ignited the Camp fire, and last month, the company pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter. The news elicited a muted reaction even in California as the pandemic dominates headlines and public attention.

Martin Kuz/The Christian Science Monitor
Pat Zinn, a retired bank manager, stands in front of her home in Paradise, California, on March 27, 2020. Her house survived a wildfire that wiped out most of the town in November 2018. Referring to the COVID-19 pandemic, she says, "This is nothing compared to the fire."

Between the two crises, Pat Zinn, a retired bank manager whose house survived the blaze, considers the coronavirus far less ominous. “This is nothing compared to the fire,” she says.

Ms. Zinn always keeps small stockpiles of toilet paper, cleaning solvents, and canned food on hand. Her habitual readiness derives, in part, from childhood memories of rationing during World War II. Her calmness about the coronavirus arises, in part, from living through the polio epidemic while growing up in Southern California.

“People my age, we’ve been through life. We know it has ups and downs,” she says. Still, she adds with a smile, “I’m glad I’m not in New York.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

Reporters on the Job
Monitor correspondent Martin Kuz gives the inside scoop

I’ve made a handful of trips to Paradise in the 18 months since California’s worst wildfire gutted the town, which is nestled in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Returning a few weeks ago, I noticed a change: For-sale signs had sprouted on hundreds of the empty lots where homes once stood.

My initial reaction was a sense of erasure. The signs offered hard evidence that a prevailing assumption since the day of the inferno – that most residents would rebuild their lives elsewhere – had proved true. The past would remain forever irretrievable.

The hours passed, and as I drove through the barren neighborhoods, my perspective began to broaden. I saw that for Paradise to exist as something more than a void – a memorial to all that has been lost – a new generation of residents will need to put down roots here.

Their arrival in the months and years ahead will neither elide the recent tragedy from memory nor shield the town against future calamity, whether fire, flooding, or pandemic. But their presence will nurture a renewal as Paradise rises from the scarred earth, healing in its own time – a town, once bereft, finding its way toward possibility.

Q&A

How Earth Day united a nation and sparked a global movement

Today an environmental ethos informs many of our actions. But those values haven’t always been with us. In honor of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, we look back at how it all began.

Noelle

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Over the past year, so-called climate kids have stormed the world stage, urging their elders to take drastic measures to preserve the planet. But long before Greta Thunberg addressed the United Nations, a whole different generation of young people took to the streets in defense of the Earth.

One of those first environmentalists was Denis Hayes. He was a student at Harvard University and headed to Washington to offer help to Sen. Gaylord Nelson, who was planning the first Earth Day, scheduled for April 22, 1970.

Before long, Mr. Hayes had dropped out of Harvard and moved to Washington to be the organizer of the event. An entire movement was born out of that moment, one that has endured for 50 years.

“If you had gone around the United States in 1969 asking people what they thought about the environment, people mostly wouldn’t have known what you were talking about,” he says. “By the middle of 1970, something like 75% of all Americans called themselves environmentalists.”

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How Earth Day united a nation and sparked a global movement

AP/File
Part of the crowd observing Earth Day, including a youngster wearing a “Let Me Grow Up” sign on her back, relaxes on a hilltop in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park April 23, 1970.

When Denis Hayes decided to join an environmental teach-in, he had no idea he was about to help launch a movement that would endure for half a century.

The year was 1969 and “there were things that were ripping America apart,” Mr. Hayes recalls. He was a student at Harvard University and headed to Washington to offer help to Sen. Gaylord Nelson, who was planning the first Earth Day, scheduled for April 22, 1970.

Before long, Mr. Hayes had dropped out of Harvard and moved to Washington to be the organizer of the event. He found a surge of people eager “to find some things that hold us together,” he says. 

And it worked. Some 20 million people participated in the first Earth Day events, held in nearly every town and city in the United States. At the marquee event in New York, Fifth Avenue closed from Union Square to Central Park.

“I had never imagined addressing a crowd that would be so large I could not see the far edge of it,” recalls Mr. Hayes. “It was like looking out at the ocean. The crowd extended over the horizon.”

That moment was just the beginning. What started as a single day grew into a sustained movement that drew both Democrats and Republicans and launched a slew of legislation, from the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency to the adoption of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act, and the Superfund program.

The 50th Earth Day celebration this spring is global and – due to the emergence of COVID-19 – virtual. The focus of the event has shifted, from pollution to climate change. But the spirit remains the same.

CWH/AP/File
Denis Hayes, then-head of Environmental Teach-In Inc., poses in the group’s Washington office on April 8, 1970.

Mr. Hayes recently looked back on that first Earth Day, its legacy, and lessons for today’s activists. Here are some excerpts, edited for clarity and length, from that interview. 

What did the first Earth Day change?

If you had gone around the United States in 1969 asking people what they thought about the environment, people mostly wouldn’t have known what you were talking about. By the middle of 1970, something like 75% of all Americans called themselves environmentalists. There was a set of values – that had sort of been there and implicit, but not wrapped up together in any kind of definable boundary – that came to reshape the culture.

I grew up in a community that was dominated by a paper mill. It cranked out uncontrolled sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide that became acid rain. And that was thought of as the smell of prosperity. We changed that. 

There are now people who have chosen to live in a particular kind of location for environmental reasons. Who chose their automobile or bus commute for environmental reasons. There are people like me who chose to have one child for environmental reasons. Politicians got elected and defeated for environmental reasons. All of that happened in a relatively clear chain in the aftermath of Earth Day.  

What parallels do you see with today’s environmental activism? 

In 1970, if you looked at a smokestack, you saw really ugly clouds of smoke coming out. With climate, of course, with CO2 – you can’t see it, you can’t smell it, you can’t taste it. But what you can see are the effects of it. All of that makes it tangible and visible to people in a way that allows you to have a fair amount of momentum. And then, of course, you have the kids.

Social movements are almost always driven by youth. Historically, young has meant 20 or 22 or 25. Today, it’s often 15 or 16. They have this intuitive sense that the world is getting bad at an accelerating pace and they want to do what they can to stop it. Part of what we’re doing with Earth Day is answering the question Greta [Thunberg] always asks: Where are the adults?

We’re going to be throwing some adults into the mix, who have filed some lawsuits, who know how to prepare legislation, who have worked with the technologies and know what you can do and what would be defying scientific principles. It has to be a broad societal effort, but to get the whole thing launched, as it has been, by the very young has really been a godsend.

What role can environmental activists of the 1970s play today?

I don’t want to overstate this, but there was an idealism that was pretty widespread in the ’60s and ’70s. And those of us who were there then have now moved into positions of some power, some influence. Some have retired and now have some leisure. I’m seeing a fair amount of evidence that that idealism is starting to resurface.

That idealism came from the young and is beginning to spread to the old, to the seniors who have this fair amount of remaining authority over the economy. It’s been less effective with the politicians. But where in 1970 it was environmentalists working hand in glove with politicians to try to put some constraints on the irresponsible behavior of the corporations, there’s a trace now of environmentalists working with the most enlightened corporate leaders to put some constraints around the politicians.

How do you find optimism?

My biggest worry about the kids is that most of what they’re facing are these gloom-and-doom stories, which are all very real. But they have to also recognize that there are well-founded reasons for hope. 

You will never be able to generate a movement if you don’t have hope. You can’t have a civil rights movement unless you think you can prevail. You won’t have an anti-war movement unless you think you can end the war. 

And you won’t have a climate movement unless you can build a safe, healthy, resilient, beautiful society that isn’t dependent on fossil fuels.

A number of things have changed faster than anybody thought was possible: the rapidly declining costs of solar technologies, of offshore wind technologies, of battery technologies, of electric vehicles. 

Hope is often an act of will. I have a daughter, and my daughter has a daughter, so now I have a granddaughter. I can’t dodder off into my twilight years hopeless. There has to be an ability to have society make the necessary choices. 

This story was published as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.

Books

Stay inside with the 10 best books of April

Feeling isolated? Staying indoors will feel like an adventure with this roundup of titles ranging from romance to historical fiction to memoir.

Noelle
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Stay inside with the 10 best books of April

Courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers
‘Simon the Fiddler’ by Paulette Jiles, William Morrow, 352 pp., and ‘Warhol’ by Blake Gopnik, Ecco, 976 pp.

1 The Love Story of Missy Carmichael by Beth Morrey

At a time when people are having to isolate themselves, this charming debut novel by Beth Morrey is a balm. Instead of boy meets girl, it’s woman meets dog ... and toddler, and single mom, and ultimately, herself. A trip to the park leads to a new sense of family for septuagenarian Millicent Carmichael, who finally starts making a home a half-century after she moved into her London house.

2 The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd

Sue Monk Kidd imagines a wife for Jesus, a woman who stands as his intellectual and spiritual partner. Ana longs to write about the lives of women. Jesus longs to save humanity. The novel captures both their affecting relationship and also the larger political and social currents. 

3 Simon the Fiddler by Paulette Jiles

A fiddler conscripted into the Confederate Army crosses paths with an Irish woman, the indentured servant of a Union officer. When the South surrenders and Simon moves on and immerses himself in his music, he still longs for her. Beautifully told with lyrical descriptions, the novel illuminates the everyday struggles of the era.

4 The Engineer’s Wife by Tracey Enerson Wood

Tracey Enerson Wood infuses her novel about the building of the Brooklyn Bridge with fascinating historical details. The construction was overseen by Emily Warren Roebling when her civil engineer husband fell ill. Faced with challenges such as corrupt politicians and dangerous working conditions, she nonetheless rose to the occasion. 

5 The Moment of Tenderness by Madeleine L’Engle

Courtesy of Hachette Book Group
“The Moment of Tenderness” by Madeleine L’Engle, with an introduction by Charlotte Jones Voiklis, Grand Central Publishing, 285 pp.

Charlotte Jones Voiklis patches together a mosaic of her grandmother’s largely unpublished writings. Such familiar subjects as forlorn misfits, social cruelty, a planet in danger, and Christian hope all went together to make “A Wrinkle in Time” a genre-busting classic. Read the stories here in the raw. Read the full review here

6 Hid From Our Eyes by Julia Spencer-Fleming

Julia Spencer-Fleming returns to Miller’s Kill, New York, for her latest exploration of life, murder, and morality. Episcopal priest Clare Fergusson and her husband, police Chief Russ Van Alstyne, are trying to navigate later-in-life parenthood. The police department itself is on the line, with voters deciding whether to disband the force, when a girl is found dead along a highway. The whodunit is the least interesting part of the book, but the rich characterizations and exploration of humanity make this series worth following.

7 Warhol by Blake Gopnik

“In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes,” Andy Warhol is credited with saying. But there is nothing fleeting about his legacy as an artist, filmmaker, and self-created pop-culture phenomenon. His life and work are examined in detail in Blake Gopnik’s biography. Warhol devotees will rejoice, and more casual readers will receive an education in all things Andy.

8 Becoming Wild by Carl Safina

Courtesy of Macmillan Publishers
“Becoming Wild: How Animal Cultures Raise Families, Create Beauty, and Achieve Peace” by Carl Safina, Henry Holt and Company, 368 pp.

Carl Safina looks at three species – the sperm whale, the scarlet macaw, and the chimpanzee – to chart all the ways they build and sustain their societies. He explores how those cultures echo and differ from our own.

9 Active Measures by Thomas Rid

Information specialist Thomas Rid takes readers on a comprehensive and disturbing tour of the changing shape of disinformation over the last century.  

10 Calder by Jed Perl

The public has always loved Alexander Calder’s vivid and dramatic sculptures, but the art critics have usually been unimpressed. Jed Perl’s biography, the second of two parts, firmly places this genial, fun-loving artist in the pantheon of American art, where he belongs. Read the full review here

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Hong Kong embraces its rights – for the rest of us

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Beijing’s treatment of Hong Kong has long been a bellwether on how it would treat the rest of the world. On Saturday, that predictor became clearer after the arrest of 15 prominent campaigners for democracy. Not surprisingly, many of the activists welcomed their arrests. The charges relate to their role in mass protests last year against China’s attempts to curtail basic rights in the former British colony.

China’s ruling Communist Party regards rule of law as a tool to extend its power, not as a universal right. Yet most Hong Kongers prefer the self-governance and transparency of their current system, including an independent judiciary. Since the protests have subsided with the threat of the coronavirus, pro-democracy leaders have been preparing to renew them in July. In addition, they hope to win many seats in September’s legislative election.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping often reminds his country that rule of law really means “the law of governing by the Communist Party.” As he tries to export his model of governance to other countries, he is starting to receive pushback in many places. None more so than in Hong Kong.

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Hong Kong embraces its rights – for the rest of us

AP
Pro-democracy advocate Martin Lee, second from right, leaves a police station in Hong Kong April 18.

For more than two decades, Beijing’s treatment of Hong Kong has been a bellwether on how it would treat the rest of the world. On Saturday, that predictor became clearer after the arrest of 15 prominent campaigners for democracy.

Not surprisingly, many of the activists welcomed their arrests. The charges relate to their role in mass protests last year in defense of rule of law and against China’s attempts to curtail such rights in the former British colony.

“When the rule of law is in a crisis, shall we walk out or fight on?” said one activist, Margaret Ng, a longtime barrister and former legislator, after being released on bail.

Another of those arrested, Martin Lee, who is considered the “father” of the pro-democracy movement, was glad that he could now join the more than 7,000 young people already detained in connection with the demonstrations. At one point last year the demonstrations included about a third of Hong Kong’s 7 million people.

As she entered the police station Saturday, Ms. Ng was seen carrying a book that describes how China’s ruling Communist Party regards rule of law as mainly a tool to extend its power in other parts of the world, not as a universal right. The multiauthored book, “China’s National Security: Endangering Hong Kong’s Rule of Law?” also makes a case that the ability of the semiautonomous territory to retain its basic rights “matters ... to all of us” around the globe.

Most Hong Kongers prefer not to be called Chinese and embrace the self-governance and transparency of their current system, including an independent judiciary. Hong Kong still ranks high in a global index of rule of law. Since the protests have subsided with the threat of the coronavirus, pro-democracy leaders have been preparing to renew them in July. In addition, they hope to win many seats in September’s legislative election. Both of these developments may account for the timing of the arrests.

These leaders have also altered their tactics by asking people to support businesses that favor democracy and avoid those that don’t. Much of China’s pressure in Hong Kong is through the business community, which relies heavily on ties to the mainland.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping often reminds his country that rule of law really means “the law of governing by the Communist Party.” As he tries to export this model of governance to other countries along with his sweeping conception of China’s national security, he is starting to receive pushback in many places. But none more so than in Hong Kong. The arrests on April 18 have rung a bell in this bellwether territory. It is a sound heard around the world.

A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

‘Give us grace for to-day’

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Across the globe, stay-at-home orders have kept immediate family members closer together – sometimes sparking tension as well as joy. But each of us can turn to God for the daily grace of patience, kindness, and poise we need to meet such situations, as a mother of three has experienced throughout her time as a parent.

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‘Give us grace for to-day’

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

As people hunker down to heed stay-at-home orders that have been issued in so many countries around the world, new living arrangements have created both joy and stress. College-aged children, used to living on their own, are once again living under their parents’ roof; some folks are caring for ill ones in their household; others live alone. There’s too much togetherness for some and not enough for others!

Years ago, when I had two kids under the age of 2, my husband needed to travel for business for nearly a month in the middle of winter. Shut in for days at a time with two babies, I could not get a minute to myself. My patience and my temper were wearing out.

Then I came across a passage Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this news organization, wrote in “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures”: “What we most need is the prayer of fervent desire for growth in grace, expressed in patience, meekness, love, and good deeds” (p. 4).

I realized that fundamentally, my need wasn’t for more time to myself or help with the kids. What I truly desired was grace – a quality I really didn’t feel I possessed.

The idea behind grace, as I’ve learned in my study of Christian Science, is that God so loves each of His children that He always cares for us and blesses us. God’s grace is universal, not dependent on circumstance or what we’ve done or haven’t done. That’s because God knows us not as flawed mortals, but as the spiritual likeness of the Divine, good and pure.

This is a very freeing way to think of ourselves and others. We are all capable of extending grace to each other, expressed in acts of kindness and forgiveness. Expressing God’s love toward one another helps each of us feel that love of God tangibly. In the Bible, John, a follower of Jesus, reminds us: “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (I John 4:11, 12, New International Version).

When times are trying and life’s burdens seem more than we can bear, we can turn to God for the spiritual supplies, or qualities, we need. The prayer that Jesus gave to the world, called the Lord’s Prayer, is a call to God to help us meet the demands of our day.

One line of this prayer is “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). Mrs. Eddy, sharing what this passage meant to her, wrote, “Give us grace for to-day; feed the famished affections” (Science and Health, p. 17). God readily provides the patience, kindness, and poise we need to meet any situation.

This divine grace is beyond willpower or stoicism. Grace impels us not to overlook wrongdoing but to forgive easily, to see another’s need and silently meet it. Grace benefits the recipient and the one expressing it alike.

That’s what I found during those challenging times as a young parent. I prayed and yearned to feel more of that pure and unwavering love with which God, the divine Father-Mother of everyone, loves each of us. And during that month and beyond, God’s grace was my rock. I found I was able to demonstrate grace in new ways, such as through greater patience, calm in stressful times, and just being more loving and present with my adorable kids. And looking back years later, I realize that the quick temper I once had has been replaced by a more gracious, calm demeanor born of that experience.

During this present day, with all three of my now-adult children back in my house and my husband and I “shut in” with them, there is such a great need to be gracious and patient with one another as we each face new challenges daily. I’ve found solace in my favorite gift from God: grace.

Each of us can turn to God in prayer and know that the grace we yearn for is there for us today and every day!

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A flash of defiance

Matt Rourke/AP
Protesters demonstrate at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, April 20, 2020, demanding that Gov. Tom Wolf reopen the state's economy even as new social distancing mandates took effect at stores and other commercial buildings. Despite a rash of small protests in U.S. cities, a majority of Americans – nearly 60% – worry that prematurely lifting stay-at-home orders would lead to unnecessary deaths. To date, COVID-19 has claimed more than 37,000 lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

Thanks for joining us today. Come back tomorrow when Simon Montlake will explore Massachusetts’ effort to enlist an army of contact tracers in the battle against the coronavirus.

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