Category: Science

Stockpiling Toilet Paper

After five years of saving and planning for our family’s world trip, it seems that an excruciatingly small thing might curtail some of our intentions. The Novel Coronavirus, properly known as SARS-CoV-2 (which causes the disease COVID-19) has become a near pandemic, causing panic in some parts of the world. Entire countries have begun restricting its populace from travel (like Italy). I travel a lot for work, and it’s been a busy week postponing or outright cancelling work trips for myself and other colleagues. Colleagues hoping for vactions this spring — to places like Mexico, Italy and Spain — are now planning for staycations or simpler trips to in-country destinations.

So what about our world trip? It’s not a big surprise to say that we’ve definitely been paying close attention to the news. Having said that, we’ve gone ahead and firmly booked the first two-or-so months of our travel. Mexico, New Zealand and most of Australia are now paid for (nearly $10,000!). But we’ve stopped there as we’re waiting to see what happens with Asia, and, in particular, Japan with its slightly older population (on average) and the hosting of a massive worldwide event in a few months.

Here’s a video from someone who recently traveled to Da Nang, Vietnam, and the real world experience she’s having:

There’s a lot of talk about the spread of the virus slowing or halting in the summer. Sure, historically, many viruses do slow down during the warmer months, but that does not mean that SARS-CoV-2 will follow the same path. If we avoid media rhetoric and look at actual experts (like Harvard’s Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics), the virus may slow, but that will not stop the spread. But worse for my family – we’re only talking about the Northern Hemisphere. Our trip will be taking us to parts of the world where winter will actually be taking place in August. It will be an average of 10 degrees Celcius when we visit New Zealand, for example. This might be a good reason for us to avoid much of the Southern Hemisphere (think Africa and South America) during their summers.

With all that said, are we necessarily worried? A little. Are we stockpiling toilet paper like other people seem to be? No. First of all, we know the virus doesn’t cause diarrhea (it’s a respiratory disease), but secondly we have a bidet. But what about the trip? I’m not worried about the virus itself — we’re young and healthy so we shouldn’t be terribly impacted, medically speaking — but we might have to avoid travel if a country’s borders are closed or if a country has decided to shut down all of their main tourist activities/festivals/etc. There’s no point spending thousands to visit a place when there’s nothing to do. Of course, if we do get sick, then we’ll have to self-quarantine in whatever country we’re in, which could severely impact the next stages of our travel. Even if some calculations estimate up to 70% of the world will catch this virus, I’d rather minimize our spread of it, if at all possible.

In the end, and to answer questions from family and friends, we’re definitely keeping the spread of the virus on our minds as we continue to plan for the trip. We will regularly watch the appropriate travel authority websites of the countries we’re visiting. And, finally, we’re continuing to teach our kids proper hygiene by enjoying websites like Wash Your Lyrics or watching amazing videos like this one from Vietnam:

The Smog We Breathe

We’ve been asked many times why we aren’t going to certain countries. Sometimes it’s because of potential danger (e.g. Syria), sometimes it’s because of time and/or cost (e.g., Antarctica), sometimes because the timing doesn’t work out (e.g., Namibia) but sometimes it’s because of pollution. With the limited number of countries we’re able to actually visit in the short time we have, we must cut certain countries from our list of places we’d like to see… and I’d rather avoid getting sick from air pollution if we can.

One of the countries we recently added to our world trip was Nepal. It was partly a strategic trip to help shorten flight times between Singapore and Oman, but also because it simply felt like a beautiful culture I had wanted my kids to experience. Sadly, it appears that Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, might be in the “midst of a pollution crisis” as one blogger called it. A meta-review of journals in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health, said that “short term exposures” to Kathmandu Valley’s air pollution “invite respiratory diseases and allergy.” There are countless videos on YouTube that describe how bad the pollution can get, from having constant black goock in your nose if you don’t wear a mask, to all your belongings constantly being grimy, to actually getting seriously ill.

New Road, Kathmandu, Nepal
(by S. Pakhrin)

But Kathmandu is actually not even among the worst offenders. According to this article in The Guardian, India has about half of the top 50 cities in terms of air pollution. The next country, China, has 8 cities on the list. My kids have the occasional snow days at school, but it appears many unfortunate kids in these countries have smog days.

Of course, if we’re being honest, we’d only be in any of those three countries (and their specific polluted cities) for a short time, right? How much would Kathmandu’s or New Delhi’s pollution affect us? Likely very little in the long term. But why bother having our kids suffer with the smog and dirt when there’s simply so much beauty elsewhere in the world? This real-time air pollution index and World Health Organization’s outdoor air quality database give a good indication of other places with amazing history, temples and nature that we could visit instead.

Smog Covering New Delhi, India
(by Jama Masjit)

Although the pollution above is mostly caused by cars and factories, we’ve been looking at carbon offsetting our travel (reading things like this blog entry from On The Luce). Carbon offsetting does mostly seem like a way to feel less guilty about your flights (since the flights are likely going to happen with or without you), but we don’t need to be doing this world trip while others might have to travel for work or family. There’s still a lot of research on this topic so expect another blog post or two in the future.

While I’m on the subject, I recommend NASA’s quiz on air pollution called The Air We Breathe.

How To Save Our Planet

Excellent short from WWF narrated by Sir David Attenborough (via Kottke)

(Definition of environmental justice – the fair distribution of environmental benefits and burdens, the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. Environmental justice is an important part of the struggle to improve and maintain a clean and healthful environment, especially for those who have traditionally lived, worked and played closest to the sources of pollution.)

There are so many new electric cars driving around Ottawa recently! I mean, hey, the provincial government cancelled a plan to plant 50 million trees and vaguely stated “something’s going on” when commenting on record flood levels in Ottawa but the citizens seem to be shifting towards action.

Dangers of Ocean Travel

We had seriously considered crossing the Pacific by ship but ended up changing our route. Man, am I sooo glad we did!

I was watching Youtube with the boy the other day and sat through the following while experiencing absolute terror.

Oh my heavens, rogue waves are bloody terrifying!

History of Global Living Conditions

A very interesting and must read article titled “The short history of global living conditions and why it matters that we know it” by Max Roser that answers the question, “All things considered, do you think the world is getting better or worse, or neither getting better nor worse?” by looking at the history of global living conditions.

On Light Pollution: The End of Darkness

A nice little video from the New Yorker on the effect of light pollution and its impact on star-gazing by the general public:

I’ve said it before, but visiting parts of the globe that have minimal light pollution is one of the things I am most excited about for our world trip plans.

Perseid Meteor Shower

2016 has lined up to be some of the best meteor shower viewing in the last twenty years! I am very excited about this because the kids and I are in a “green zone” in the Dark Map right now and should be able to see a great show.

The Dark Map looks like this. (It is a bit sad to see how much light pollution there is. Especially sad for all of the kids who live in urban centres and rarely get a chance to see the night sky.)

I am also looking forward to our trip around the world for star-gazing. Seeing the southern hemisphere constellations, maybe the northern or southern lights, the band of the Milky Way Galaxy, or just an incredible amount of stars when we are in a proper dark zone. So cool!

Perseids Meteor Shower – A Magical Night in Joshua Tree from Kai Gradert on Vimeo.

Perseids Meteor Shower – A Magical Night in Joshua Tree from Kai Gradert on Vimeo.

 

Vox also has a great link round-up, including NASA’s livefeed.

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