For the last month on Mondays at lunchtime, I've been logging on to a Zoom Spanish class with a half a dozen other women. All of us have varying degrees of high school, college, and life experience that qualify us as "intermediate" speakers. We all intermittently confuse the differences between ser and estar (existentialism of the moment be damned) and the reflexive forms of liking things (me gustan los chocolates though me gusta una cerveza). This week, we wrestled for a while with two words: llevar and traer, both of which mean to bring. The first means to take toward, while the other means to take away. But notice, our delightful teacher pointed out, that thing that's doing the moving--the object of the motion--is both llevar and traer. It all depends on how you look at it.
In the way that everything these days feels weirdly disconnected and weirdly relevant to everything else, that comment made me think back to a webinar I sat in a couple weeks ago put on by the Society of Environmental Journalists. The topic was "Covering Climate, Covid-19, and the Economy: Is a Green Recovery Possible?" One of the speakers was Jonathan Pershing, Program Director, Environment at the Hewlett Foundation, but before that Special Envoy for Climate Change at the U.S. Department of State. His comments were global and local, predictive and poignant, sweeping and specific. He'd seen a lot of things in his years working on climate and policy. But he'd never seen anything like this pandemic. Covid, he said, had shown him that change he'd never thought he'd see in decades could happen in just months.
The economy is in shambles. One part that has been disproportionally affected is the fossil fuel industry, where oil demand is down by 20%, and some analysts don't expect that it will ever recover. The shales make particularly bad financial sense right now. Fracking is down by 75% and most operators have shelved future plans. What's still happening in the energy sector is wind and solar, which the International Energy Agency predicts to continue to grow by 10% and 15%, respectively, even with the downturn.
Here's something I never thought I'd write: BP, perpetrator of the largest marine oil spill in U.S. history, saw revenues fall $16.8 billion the second quarter of 2020. So, they decided to cut oil and gas production by 40% and upped their commitment to low-carbon energy technologies tenfold.
Right now everything feels like it is falling apart. But depending on how you look at it, maybe we needed it to break before it could be brought back together.
I often recall an interview I did a long time ago with an airplane pilot for a Nat Geo article about a new type of flight system. He told me that in the United States, pilots follow straight-line paths from one FAA tower to the next, reporting in at each one as they fly. This is an artifact left over from the days when the first mail-carrying planes navigated the mid-Western plains. Every night, farmers were paid by the mail service to light fires in their fields. Without modern instrumentation, pilots visually spotted the fires and flew from one to the next. It's all unnecessary, the pilot told me. With our current technology, pilots should instead fly on optimized highways in the sky. It’s the way pilots fly in Nepal, a place so mountainous no one dared navigate by farmer-lit fires. There, inefficient flight patterns never took hold.
In my more hopeful moments, this two-sides-of-the-same-coin perspective of the current chaotic situation buoys me a little. Maybe like traer, this collapse is bringing us out of the flames of the past. Maybe like llevar, we are being brought toward a better future on highways that are still invisible to us.