By Keith Roulston
If there’s one thing the pandemic has demonstrated it’s that we never know as much as we’d like to know.
Many of us have been frustrated that the experts and the politicians, who put the experts’ advice into action, keep changing their minds. It’s natural, of course, that when something new comes along we have to learn as we go but most people would just like the experts to give them one set of rules that didn’t change.
So when scientist first said masks weren’t that effective, then said everyone should wear masks indoors, people got confused. We were told to worry about being infected by germs on our groceries, and then told it wasn’t a big danger after all.
For those who don’t trust authorities at the best of times, it was a sure sign the “experts” were either misleading them or just plain didn’t know what they were talking about. And it didn’t help when the Delta variant changed even what we thought we knew.
And then there was the human psychology factor. Who’d have dreamed people would panic about toilet paper shortages? That so many people would take up baking that flour and yeast were in short supply? That people would buy up every bicycle and snowshoe in sight?
As someone whose profession as a journalist has meant learning new things every day, I’m always fascinated by the way accumulated knowledge keeps changing. I’ve listened to several acknowledged experts speak year after year at events like Grey Bruce Farmers’ Week and watched as their advice changes based on the most recent research. We have more people employed doing research today than probably ever in history, so if these people are doing their jobs, we’re bound to be getting more new discoveries than ever before.
What’s fascinating is that sometimes we take the best information and make changes that have repercussions people never thought of.
I was reading an article recently by Jacqui Empson Laporte, a former environmental specialist with OMAFRA. She noted that farm safety concerns meant that many multi-storey chicken barns had been replaced with single-floor barns. Meanwhile, to improve the welfare of pigs, more space was alloted to each animal.
The unanticipated consequence of this was that the amount of roof area of livestock barns has increased. Hard-surface roofs mean that when it rains, more water rushes off the buildings creating drainage problems.
Meanwhile, in cattle operations, cement bunker silos are replacing upright silos – again more hard surface that can’t absorb rainfall.
To prevent flooding, rainfall needs to be slowly absorbed or pooled until it can slowly be released into streams and rivers. To make up for these hard surfaces we’re going to have to change drainage systems. And what repercussions we haven’t thought of might that bring?
To be more environmentally friendly, automakers since 2000 have been using electric wiring in their cars that’s covered with plastic made from soy-based oil instead of petroleum. It’s good for the environment and provides a welcome market for soybean growers.
There’s just one problem – mice and rats love the soy-based plastic and they chew it. So far it’s cost me, personally, nearly $2,000 in repairs. There’s a class action lawsuit filed in the U.S. to make some car makers compensate car buyers.
During the pandemic we’ve learned that one thing leads to another which leads to another. Closed stores means shopping on-line which leads to demand for shipping containers for consumer goods which means a shortage for shipping grains.
There will always be more to learn.◊