On being … cautiously optimistic

By Ingrid Sapona 

Last Friday Ontario went into Phase 1 of its three-phase plan for lifting Covid-19 restrictions. The phases are tied to health system indicators that include the number of new Covid cases, hospitalization rates, and vaccination rates. The relatively modest easing of restrictions that came with Phase 1 may not seem newsworthy to people in countries where things have been open for awhile. But, it’s big news here because Toronto had the longest lockdown in North America.  

People often ask me what’s going on with the pandemic in Ontario. I’m sure they thought it must be totally out of control, given the restrictions and border closure. We’ve had just under 9,000 deaths here in Ontario, a province of 14 million. (By way of comparison, Illinois has a population of just under 13 million and there have been over 25,000 deaths there.) Many people blame the Province for lifting restrictions too quickly in March, when case numbers were increasing and vaccine shipments to Canada were delayed. But, another reason our lockdown lasted as long as it did is because Ontarians are generally more willing to sacrifice personal freedoms for the collective good. To put it another way, we’re not as accepting of high death rates as people in some jurisdictions are.  

Anyway, Phase 1 means the return of patio dining, with up to four people per table, and outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people. In-store shopping is now available in “non-essential retail”, but with a 15% capacity limit. During the most recent lockdown, in-store shopping was only allowed for grocery stores and pharmacies; all other retail was curbside pickup only. Retailers like Walmart, Costco, and dollar stores had to block off all sections except for the grocery and pharmacy aisles. Now we can shop in all the aisles – though there are still capacity limits. Unfortunately, hair dressers aren’t going to re-open till Phase 3, which won’t happen till 80% of Ontarians have one dose and 25% have had both doses.  

On my Friday morning walk there was definitely a different vibe on the street. All the little shops on my usual route had jazzed up their window displays. Signs about curbside pickup had given way to notices about facemasks and capacity limits. Big stacks of chairs and tables suddenly appeared near restaurants, no doubt ready to be set out on the sidewalk by lunchtime.  

The weather on Friday was lovely, so a friend and I decided to meet on a patio for a late lunch. On my way to our rendezvous, I stopped to drop off some clothing and housewares at a Goodwill-type shop that accepts donations. Such shops were completely closed during lock down. I had to laugh when I pulled up and found a lineup of cars, all waiting to donate. Can you say pent up demand? Clearly, I wasn’t the only one who decided to declutter during the lockdown!  

After donating, I noticed a line of people waiting to go into the nearby Winners store (a discount store that’s part of the TJ Maxx chain). Because we’ve had capacity limits on grocery shopping throughout the pandemic, we’ve all become accustomed to seeing lineups. But I was shocked when I realized the line at Winners snaked around the corner. There had to be 50 people waiting! One newspaper commentator assumed the folks lined up at stores were people who chose not to do on-line shopping during the pandemic. I suppose that could have been part of it, but I think many of the folks happily waiting in lines at stores are just eager to be able to browse through items in person.  

Given our northern climate, dining alfresco always feels special. But, after months of eating at home, being served a meal by someone feels absolutely decadent. It also feels mildly virtuous to patronize restaurants again, as they’ve had an especially hard time during the pandemic. At lunch on Friday, I honestly don’t know who had bigger smiles: the restaurant staff or the patrons!  

The past few days there’ve been lots of newspaper stories about how people are feeling as things start to open up. While there’s definite excitement around re-opening, there’s also a palpable sense of trepidation. Many commented that though they’re trying to enjoy the re-opening, they’re wary of what might happen if case counts begin to rise again. Lots of people mentioned that they don’t think they’d be able to cope – emotionally or economically – if we go into another hard lockdown.  

So, as things being re-opening here, I’d characterize the mood as one of cautious optimism. People are hopeful that we’re on the road back to a full reopening, but everyone’s paying close attention to case counts and vaccination rates and hoping they both go in the right direction.  

What about you? As restrictions are eased and things reopen where you are, are you feeling a sense of elation and unbridled optimism? Or are you – like many of us – holding your breath a bit as you begin to reconnect with your old life?  

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona 


On being … any excuse

By Ingrid Sapona 

I don’t know about you, but to me one of the best things to come out of the pandemic has been reconnecting with folks that I hadn’t been in touch with in a long, long time. Early on in the pandemic (hard to believe we’re talking well over a year ago now) I made a point of fairly regularly checking in with friends and family. I suspect many folks did that. 

Those check-ins were pretty much to make sure that those I care about were alright on a very basic level. Many of the conversations seemed to revolve around comparing notes about new routines. For example, finding out how people were coping with transitioning to working from home and whether they were getting groceries in person or by delivery. 

About a month into the pandemic, I also started reaching out to people who were not in my immediate circle of friends. I spoke with folks I went to school with or who I knew from the sail club – that kind of thing. I know I surprised more than a few people when I dropped them an email to find out how they were getting along. But without exception, all of them responded with details about – highlights, for sure – how they were doing. However brief such interactions were, I found them sustaining, especially during the lonelier moments of the pandemic. 

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes feel self-conscious reaching out to folks I’ve not been in touch with for a long time. Part of my trepidation comes from not having anything particularly exciting to say or report. There’s also my basic insecurity about whether they’ll remember me. And of course, there’s the concern they’ll think I’m contacting them because I want something or because I have something to brag about. Cynical, perhaps… but I think those are potential reactions when you’ve not been in touch with someone for awhile. Anyway, this past year I put those thoughts aside and I used the pandemic as an excuse for reaching out to people near and far. 

Last week I kind of wondered if karma was at work when – out of the blue – I started getting emails through LinkedIn from people I’d not heard from in years. Turns out, the emails were to congratulate me for my work anniversary. (For those who aren’t familiar with it, LinkedIn is a social network for professionals and I’m one of the 750+ million people who are on it.) 

I knew that LinkedIn tracks work anniversaries because I regularly get system-generated messages about anniversaries of others in my LinkedIn network. When you get such notifications, you can simply ignore them, or you can send a message to the person to congratulate them. If you don’t feel like personalizing the message, you can just click on a button and LinkedIn will send a generic “Congratulations on your work anniversary” message on your behalf. I don’t tend to use the automated generic message, as it seems too impersonal. If I do send a note, I customize the message, though it’s often just some variation on “Wow – can’t believe you’ve been there X years! Congrats!” 

When the first congratulations message came in this week, I thought there was some mistake. When the second note came in, I checked the dates on my LinkedIn profile and realized I had, in fact, started my consulting business in May 1997. So the anniversary was a legitimate, er, professional, excuse for folks to drop a line. 

Anyway, the emails were the one-click – “Congratulations on your work anniversary” – type. But still, I was surprised by some of the folks who sent them. There was one person whose name I recognized immediately, but I couldn’t even remember whether we went to undergrad or grad school together. There was also a message from a woman I met more than 10 years ago on a fun gourmet weekend. And then there was someone I met half a dozen years ago at a culinary boot camp. My sisters and I took the two-day cooking course and we ended up chatting at length with this classmate when we discovered we were all staying at the same little inn. 

I ended up responding with personal emails to some of the congratulations messages. I’m so glad I did because a few folks responded in kind and we reconnected. For example, I had a delightful back-and-forth with the guy from the culinary course. We swapped stories about what we ended up learning on the course that we actually put to use – or try to – in our cooking. It was so nice to share a fond memory and to know that he and his family are well. 

We cross paths with so many people during our lives, it’s natural to lose touch with many. But just because you’ve lost touch doesn’t mean the connection is necessarily lost for good. Sometimes all it takes to reconnect is a bit of effort and a willingness to try. 

If you’re like me and you find it easier to reach out to others if you feel you have a reason to, that’s fine. Just remember, any excuse will do – from work anniversaries to shared experiences. Hell, I think the pandemic will be an excuse we can lean on for a long time yet. Not sure about that? Feel free to try this line: “Just wondering how you’re adjusting to life as the pandemic restrictions are being lifted.” 

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona


On being ... offensive

By Ingrid Sapona

The pandemic is still raging in much of the world. That’s the bad news. The good news is there are multiple vaccines that minimize the chances of those inoculated ending up in the hospital or dying from Covid-19. These facts alone make getting vaccinated a no brainer for many of us. 

But getting a vaccine isn’t just about protecting yourself. Doing so protects others by lessening the chances of spreading the virus. Also, if the virus is left to circulate, the chances of it mutating increase. The so-called variants of concern (VOCs) are of concern because they can cause more severe illness or can be more virulent. Though the vaccines work on the current VOCs, they might not be effective against new mutations. In short, getting the jab is a win-win: it’s good for you and good for society.  

Here in Canada, public health folks and political leaders have urged us to “take the first jab that you’re offered.” That plea reflects the fact that in Canada the supplies of vaccines have sometimes been spotty. In fact, because of this, Ontario has decided it’s best to get first vaccines into as many arms as possible, rather than using some of the supply for second dose. Under this plan, folks will get their second dose as supplies are replenished.  

Vaccine “skepticism” isn’t as big an issue in Ontario as it is in the U.S. According to the provincial government, as of May 9th, 48% of Ontarians 18 or older have received their first vaccine. That figure is all the more impressive, I think, given the confusion and somewhat conflicting news about risks related to the AstraZeneca (AZ) vaccine, one of the approved vaccines here in Canada. The concerns relate to reports of serious blood clots.  

Though the blood clot issue was troubling, in early March I gladly received a jab of the AZ vaccine. My rationale was that the risks associated with getting Covid were higher and worse than the blood clot risk. In fact, many of my friends who also qualified for the AZ vaccine at that time took it. Since then, eight Ontarians have suffered from blood clots associated with the AZ vaccine and this week Ontario paused the use of it. So, for those of us who got the initial dose of AZ, it’s not clear what we might get in terms of a second. But, 14 months into the pandemic, I’ve come accept such uncertainty. After all, it seems clear that the only way we’ll make it through to the other side of the pandemic is with a healthy does of prudence and patience.  

Here in Ontario, we’re currently suffering through the third – and by far worst – wave. Since Christmas we’ve been living with many restrictions on our activities and travel. By and large, people have complied and folks seem to agree that mass vaccination is the surest way to return to something akin to normal.  

At this point, supply of vaccines isn’t so much an issue here. Instead, the problem is around logistics and just bad planning by those in charge of vaccine distribution. The inevitable problems that arise when millions of people try to register on-line have been compounded by issues around who should administer vaccines. At first, only regional health officials were going to be used. Eventually, however, pharmacies were also tapped as a resource.  

Originally the government distributed vaccines across the province in an equal manner. (No politician wanted to be seen as favouring one group or region over another, after all.) More recently, however, the province realized it should offer more vaccines in “hot spots” – areas and workplaces where the positivity rate is highest. This strategy is being implemented, in part, using “pop up” vaccine clinics. Pop ups are great for those plugged into social media, where you can get rapid updates about the length of line-ups and the number of doses still available. For others, however, pop ups aren’t that helpful. Thankfully, a bunch of digitally savvy community volunteers formed a group called Vaccine Hunters to help people register for vaccines and to keep people up-to-date on where they can find them. That’s how keen people are here to get vaccinated!  

So, with this backdrop, you can imagine how folks here feel when they hear about the lengths U.S. leaders are going to to bribe Americans to get a Covid vaccine. A few days ago, for example, we heard that New York’sgovernor authorized free vaccines to folks attending Toronto Blue Jays games in Buffalo in June. The shots will be available to ticket holders on their way into the game. Nice gesture, sure. But for Jays fans who live north of the border, it’s rather bittersweet, given that we can’t get down to Buffalo for games (or a jab) because the Canada – US border remains closed.  

And then there was the governor of Ohio’s announcement of “Vax a Million” (that’s what he called it!) – a weekly draw that’ll pay out five $1 million dollar prizes. The lottery, which starts on May 26th, is open to all Ohio residents who are 18 or older and who have been vaccinated. (There will also be five draws for full-ride scholarships to state universities for Ohio teens who get vaccinated.) Apparently 42% of Ohio residents have had one vaccine to date, but the rate at which people have gotten vaccinated has dropped nearly 80% since early April.  

Ohio and New York aren’t the only states offering residents incentives for vaccinating. Maine is offering free hunting and fishing licenses, LL Bean gift cards, and other prizes. West Virginia is offering vaccinated residents aged 16-35 $100 savings bonds. New Jersey has a program where folks 21 and over can get a free beer when they get vaccinated. Various companies and employers are also offering prizes and give-aways to vaccinated customers and employees.  

While I think it’s fine if someone wants to offer a small token to encourage people to act promptly (folks who may have been too busy to find time) or to recognize their effort. To me that’s like giving a kid a lollypop after they go to the doctor – a feel-good gesture. But feeling you need to bribe citizens to the tune of $1 million to take a vaccine to help end a pandemic that has taken over 3.3 million lives world-wide is very different. Frankly, it’s offensive.  

At a time when billions of people around the world are desperate for the vaccine, how dare some people not realize that the vaccine is the prize.  

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona 


On being … a disturbing perspective

By Ingrid Sapona 

I don’t know if this happens do you, but every now and then I hear or read something that just stops me dead in my tracks. It’s usually just a sentence or two but it helps me see or think about something in a way I never have before. That happened to me last week when I saw a CBS news segment about a film nominated for the Oscar in the category of Best Live Action Short. 

The film, which ended up winning the Oscar, is called Two Distant Strangers. In the news segment the CBS reporter described it as a “time loop” film. If you’re like me and you’ve never heard that phrase, think: Groundhog Day – where the characters relive a day over and over. In Two Distant Strangers an African-American man re-lives variations of a deadly run-in with police. 

The reporter noted the police killing of George Floyd was part of the inspiration for the film, as one scene shows the cops atop the black man who rasps the sad, familiar refrain “I can’t breathe”. Then the news piece cut to an interview with Travon Free, the writer and co-director. Thirty-six-year-old Free said the film was a way for him to communicate not only what he felt in reaction to the George Floyd killing but also what he has been experiencing all his life. But it was the next thing that Free said about why he wrote the script that truly gave me pause, sending a chill up my spine. He said what else inspired him to write it was “the number of times I’ve had police officers point their gun at me, and the number of times I’ve been pulled over for no reason.”   

The idea I can’t move past is of having a gun pointed at me. I simply can’t imagine the terror of staring down the barrel of a gun. And to have that happen more than once in one’s life is, well, unfathomable. Don’t misunderstand – it’s not that I’m doubting the reality of it. I absolutely believe it happens in the U.S. every day. It happens so often, I’ve lost track of the videos I’ve seen of police shooting black folks. 

But what I never thought about is that those videos are from a camera looking in the direction of the suspect – whether the videos are recorded by police body cams or by bystanders witnessing the terror. As horrific as it is to see those incidents from those vantage points, I’ve never thought about what it must feel like to be the one facing the drawn gun. Just imagine facing the reality that in the blink of an eye (or the tremble of a nervous hand), a bullet could be tearing through you. 

The thing is, we’ve romanticized guns – we trivialized them. The same day I saw the interview with Free I was watching a movie that took place in the 1880s. In one scene a bad guy broke into the hero’s house and pointed this old, primitive looking pistol at the hero. My first thought was how hokey – almost comic – the pistol looked. Besides figuring that it was too early in the movie for the hero to die, my subconscious blithely disregarded the deadly threat a loaded gun fired at point blank range. 

After realizing how I reacted to that gun scene in the film, I thought about all the tragic videos I’ve seen involving police shootings. It made me wonder if we subconsciously think of those videos like some movie (indeed, one we’ve seen very often). I know it sounds stupid, but if people are used to trivializing the threat of deadly force in movies or t.v. – why should they not do the same when they see a video of police pulling a gun on someone whose vehicle they stop? Does that help us just view them and move on, as though they’re just some live action movie?  

What Free’s comment made me think about is how very different it must feel when you are on the receiving end of having a loaded revolver pointed at you. Surely it wouldn’t seem as meaningless as it so often does in movies. And I don’t think having it happen more than once would make it feel any less threatening.  

I realize so far, I’ve focused on the gun-related aspects of what Free said. His comment about being pulled over many times for no reason is, of course, about systemic racism. We’ve all heard the expression – driving while black, walking while black, and so on. In the past, I’ve tried to wrap my mind around what it’s like to be targeted just because of the colour of my skin, but I’m sure I don’t truly get what that’s like. After all, if I really did understand, I’m sure I’d have thought about what it’s like to have a police office point a gun at my face.  

I know, for many of us, these things are pretty unthinkable. And yet, we should all think about them. If we don’t, we’ll never muster the courage to try to end racism and gun violence.  

P.S. Two Distant Strangers is currently streaming on Netflix. 

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona


On being … just as well

By Ingrid Sapona

MasterClass is a website that’s been around since 2015. I first heard about it a few years ago when a friend mentioned the site. She had just taken a negotiation skills MasterClass taught by some business guru. I made a mental note of the site but didn’t take the plunge into a subscription until I noticed there was a MasterClass given by a very famous pastry chef – Dominique Ansel. So, I subscribed. After watching Ansel’s course, I watched a number of food-theme courses – including a few by chefs I was not sure I’d like. I found all of them fascinating. 

The classes are videoed “lectures” of the instructor (the Master) looking straight at the camera and monologuing about their life, their career, and their profession. The lectures are thoughtfully structured and are divided into bite-size segments so you don’t have to watch it all at once. There’s also downloadable course material that provides additional information and useful references.  

I truly love cooking and I’m always interested in learning about it, so I was especially interested in the food-themed classes. Though the chefs do demonstrate how to make different dishes, they aren’t just cooking shows. The chefs talk about so much more. They talk about what first drew them to the profession and what excites them about it. They also talk about things like the significance of farmers, food security, and cooking as an act of love.  

Because I’ve dabbled in scriptwriting and dreamed about writing a play, I decided to check out a few of the film, television, and theatre MasterClasses. To my surprise, the high-profile writers and directors also talked at length about practical business aspects of their profession. It’s clear that their success isn’t just about their artistic talents – their understanding of how the entertainment industry works is also critical.  

All the instructors are experts in their fields. But what really sets MasterClasses apart is that the instructors have managed to distill from their knowledge and experience information that’s interesting and useful. Put another way, the MasterClass instructors I’ve watched are true teachers.  

As odd as this may sound, the most important thing I took away from watching different MasterClasses was knowledge about myself. I realized I don’t have the intensity, drive, and joy toward cooking or scriptwriting that seems necessary to succeed in those fields. While that realization may sound depressing – it’s not. It’s actually a real gift. When I hear Shonda Rhimes explain the steps involved in developing a script, or talking about writing dialog, or about creating characters, a part of me thinks “I could do that.” But when she describes the collaborative process required to get a script produced, it just sounds horrible to me. So, even if I had Rhimes’ writing talent, given my personality, I don’t think I’d like working in the business.  

Similarly, while I was enthralled listening to chefs describe their creative process and how they develop dishes, I don’t feel creative in that way. As well, though I appreciate artful presentation, chefs clearly feel pride and pleasure I don’t think I’d get from it night after night. It’s not that I think I’d get bored, it’s more that I think doing that would get tedious and if that happens, I think the quality of my work would suffer.  

As I watched different MastersClass instructors, I was struck by the fact that it isn’t just talent that they have in common. They also exhibit a focus and drive to achieve in their chosen fields. And, it seems clear that they couldn’t really imagine themselves doing anything else.   

When I signed up for MasterClass, I thought it was a bit of a splurge. But, I figured taking a few classes might be a fun way to pass time during the pandemic. Well, I’m pleased to say that I got my money’s worth. I definitely learned a few things about cooking and writing. But more importantly, the classes helped me realize it’s just as well I didn’t try to become a chef or a scriptwriter – I don’t think I have the right personality for either of those careers.  

What about you? Any field you’ve felt passionate about but haven’t pursued? Any alternative career paths you wish you’d gone down?  

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona


On being ... very real

By Ingrid Sapona 

The term “virtual” has become one of the key watchwords of the pandemic. For example, many folks who used to go into an office or specific work location are now working “virtually” from their homes. Families and groups are having “virtual” get togethers. Indeed, this past weekend there were news stories about “virtual” Passover Seders.  

In some ways, being able to do things virtually has become a badge of resilience. It’s a sign that people are coping and becoming more accustomed to – and comfortable with – technology. For sure, it’s handy to be able to do some things virtually. But, I think doing things virtually can also amplify the disconnection people feel as a result of the pandemic. I also worry that the ability to do things virtually has numbed many to the disruption and devastation the pandemic has caused.  

The strangeness of being virtually present is on my mind this week because today at noon I’ll be “attending” a streamed funeral of a family friend who died of Covid-19. The funeral is being held in person in Virginia but it is also being streamed on-line for those of us who cannot attend in person. It’s thoughtful of the family and funeral home to employ technology to give those of us far away the opportunity to hear what his friends and family say as they celebrate his life. (Given our late friend’s remarkable zest for living, I have no doubt that much of the service will focus on that.) But, I can’t help feel that watching the funeral remotely will be a lonesome activity at a time when the fellowship of others is especially needed. Another shortcoming is that it doesn’t provide an opportunity for me to truly pay my respects to him or his family… 

I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that much about the past year has been surreal. No matter how I’ve tried to fathom it, I cannot wrap my mind around the number of people who have died from the virus. But, the tragedy of the pandemic becomes very real when someone you know and care about dies from it. Indeed, that’s when you realize you have something sadly in common with many millions of people who lost one of the 2.79+ million who have died from Covid-19. We must never forget that for all those who are left behind by someone who died, the pandemic is – and always will be – very real.  

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona



On being… on the brighter side?

By Ingrid Sapona

The one-year anniversary of the pandemic dominated this week’s news. There seemed to be a few themes to the stories related to the anniversary. As one would expect, the theme of devastation wrought by the pandemic was an important focus. Besides discussion of the tragic number of lives lost, there were also articles on so-called long-haulers. One story I read, for example, was about a woman who got Covid nearly 12 months ago and is still coping with unusual side effects.   

The economic impact of the pandemic was in the news too, though more because of debate around Covid relief funding than as a result of the anniversary. I still find it odd that decisions about spending on support measures end up splitting along political lines – in the US and here. I would have thought that months of news stories about people lined up at food banks, or going into work even if they have Covid symptoms because they can’t afford not to get paid, would make the need for financial support a no brainer. But instead, one year into the pandemic – and perhaps glimpsing a light at the end tunnel (thanks to vaccines) – some are more concerned about the impact such spending may have on the treasury and economy, than on the immediate needs of individuals and families.   

On the lighter side, another theme in many stories this week was discussion of things people are most looking forward to doing when the pandemic is “over”. Lots of stories about hugging family and friends, planning trips, and so on. I’m not great at answering questions like “what would you do if” – or in this case “when” – something happens. I don’t know if it’s that I’m afraid of getting my hopes dashed, or maybe I worry that talking about something might jinx it. Who knows… In any event, my mind just doesn’t go there.  

That said, I did want to reflect on the anniversary in some way. So, I decided to focus on some of the highlights of my year. It ended up being an interesting exercise. For example, I was a bit down on my birthday because all I was going to do was cook myself a nice dinner and open a nice bottle of wine. Mid-day, there was a knock on the door. A friend, who had already sent a card, brought me a lovely orchid. She usually goes south for the winter but because she was here (stuck is how she’d probably phrased it) she decided to surprise me and boy did she!  

Another highlight was a mid-summer rendezvous picnic a friend arranged. Three of us met in a park in Stratford, Ontario – a town that’s equidistant from each of us. Stratford’s a small town that hosts a famous theatre festival in the summer. The theatres were shuttered due to Covid and so the quaint town was unusually relaxing and the park was beautiful.  

Last fall brought another unexpected highlight when a friend and I went to one of my favourite restaurants, hoping to get take out. The restaurant is in a different region and we didn’t know if they were still under lockdown. As we pulled up, we saw lights on so we knew it was open, which was exciting. When we went in, we saw a couple eating at a table and sure enough, they were serving. Due to social distancing, they could seat folks at four tables. It was pretty empty, so we decided to eat there. It really is one of my favourite places and it never disappoints, but honestly – we felt like royalty being served and it was the best meal ever!  

Besides the particular days or events (lower case “e”) that stand out in my mind from this past year, there were some behaviours that I and others adopted that really helped brighten my year. Early on, I felt the need to check in with people near and far to see how they and their families are faring. Before Covid it sometimes felt decadent to drop a line just to say hello, as people are so busy. This past year, however, I found folks promptly replied and usually shared real news about what was going on in their lives – hopes, fears, blessings and, sadly, sometimes sorrows. I also love it when friends send Covid jokes – most of the times they don’t even bother writing anything – they just forward the jokes. But the simple act of them doing so tells me they’ve thought about me – and they wanted to make me smile. How lovely is that?  

Another positive this year has been finding alternative ways of engaging in activities and hobbies I enjoy. It’s kind of amazing how fast different arts and social organizations pivoted to providing webinars and holding virtual meetings. One of my favourite activities is attending wine tastings. But, to be honest, they can get expensive and there’s always the logistics of getting to them by transit, so that you don’t have to worry about drinking and driving. For the past four months some of my favorite sommeliers have been hosting free on-line events. I usually only buy one of they wines they’re talking about, but I can enjoy it from the comfort of my den. What a luxury!  

I’ve written before about how important I think it is to mark anniversaries – and so I’m glad that this sad anniversary was noted. And, though I do believe we’re all in this together – it’s very clear that each of us has experienced different highs and lows. I think it’s human nature to point to the things we’ve missed out on this past year. But, for me, focusing on the brighter side – the highlights – of the year provides more insight that can help me navigate the uncertainty that lies ahead. What about you? What have you taken away from the past year? 

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona 


On being … unexpectedly uplifting

By Ingrid Sapona 

Over the past year or so, I’ve written columns that have hinted at my lack of hope for the world. Given this, you may think it’s natural I’d be drawn to a book with the phrase Climate Disaster in its title. Well, that’s not really what drew my attention to Bill Gates’s new book – the full title of which is: “How to Avoid Climate Disaster – The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need.” 

I borrowed the (audio) book from the library this week because I don’t know much about climate change other than that it’s real and that it’s bad. I figured maybe it’s time that I bone up on it. Another reason I decided to read it is because it was written by Bill Gates – a geek with a lot of interests. Don’t we all wish we’d have paid more attention to his 2015 warning about the devastating impact of a global pandemic! (By the way, if you haven’t seen his Vancouver TED talk on pandemics, check it out – one of the eeriest things in the video is a black and white photo of a flu virus – an image we’re all too familiar with now.)

Though I’m only three-fourths of the way through the book, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it. It’s been interesting for a variety of reasons. Gates is really good at explaining things in concrete terms. It’s not that he dumbs things down – there’s more chemistry and physics than I can ever pretend to understand. But, he uses interesting – and memorable – analogies. For example, he explains that emissions released into the atmosphere is like water filling a bathtub. Cutting back on emissions amounts to slowing the flow of water into the tub. But, even if the water is slowed to a trickle, eventually it will overflow the tub, causing disaster. Getting to zero net emissions is tantamount to pulling the plug on the tub – the only sure way to prevent water from eventually overflowing and the only sure way to prevent a climate change disaster. 

Anyway – this isn’t meant to be a book report or a discussion of climate change. What’s column-worthy to me about the book is how uplifting I’m finding it. Don’t get me wrong – Gates doesn’t sugar coat how important it is that we address climate change, or how hard it will be. And yet, he thinks we can avert disaster. Given that his optimism seems rooted in knowledge and understanding, it’s hard not to be moved by it. One of the things I found especially noteworthy is how often he talks about innovation. Wouldn’t it be cool if more people start talking about innovation? It’s so refreshing to hear someone who is smart and creative directing their energy to innovating rather than to disrupting, as so many tech whizzes seem to. It’s clear that Gates is focused on true problem solving, rather than on innovating simply to make money. 

I understand that as a nerd (as he describes himself), it’s natural for Gates to have a lot of faith in science and scientists. He clearly believes that many intractable problems can be solved if enough smart people work on them. Though I’ve never really assumed scientists have all the answers, I can’t understand science deniers. If anything, the fact that scientists have come up with vaccines to combat Covid-19 in mere months should make us all feel humbled AND should make us science believers. 

What’s also remarkable is that Gates isn’t daunted by the magnitude of the problem of climate change. From the outset he makes it clear that the goal is to go from 51 tonnes of greenhouse gasses being added to the atmosphere every year to zero tonnes. Clearly not a small goal. It’s interesting to see how his business experience informs his problem-solving approach. He breaks down problems into bite-size chunks of the puzzle and systematically applies assumptions and criteria to evaluate them, considering viability, cost, and potential impact. That said, he’s quite careful to not lose sight of the forest for the trees. After analyzing a particular chunk, he circles back to the big picture to calculate what impact each particular puzzle piece may have on the ultimate goad of getting to zero tonnes. 

Gates is uniquely situated to raise awareness about the immediacy of the climate crisis. Having spent the last 20 years on international humanitarian work, he has a unique global outlook that politicians and businesses often overlook or feel they can’t afford to have. He can also serve as a catalyst, bringing movers and shakers – scientists and investors – from around the globe together to work on the many problems we’ll need to solve to get to zero.    

If Gates is right in his analysis of climate change – the way he was about the devastating global impact of a pandemic – the consequences of not achieving net zero emissions are dire and the timeframe within which to act is short. But, Gates makes a persuasive argument that it can be done. As I said, I’ve not finished the book yet. But it’s already got me thinking more about climate change and ways I can adapt my behavior. More than anything, the book has helped me realize that we’re not powerless unless we fail to act.

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona