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Issue #1913      May 4, 2020

WHAT A MESS!

Let’s hope the inevitable saturation of news brought about by this latest global pandemic does not allow everyone to forget the horrors just a few months ago of the appalling bushfire crisis on the Eastern seaboard. Let’s also hope that the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2018 report is not forgotten, because were we to ignore the problem of global warming at this crucial time, future deaths globally will far outnumber those wrought by COVID-19.

It is now apparent that these two monsters appearing within a short space of time – like genies out of bottles – reveal our self-delusion that we have everything under our control. We have been humbled as human beings to realise that we are not gods. Hopefully, we understand that we have been deluding ourselves that we are the top dog in our universe, that only humans can improve the world and keep evolving due to our high intelligence and physical endeavours.

Perhaps this is a very good time to re-assess the truth of what humans are capable of. Since the industrial revolution and its concomitant rapid progress with manufacturing, and food production on a massive scale helped by the invention of railways linking areas of production with city populations, society rapidly benefited from capitalism – too busy and greedy to see the widespread destruction being done to the planet. Today many blame those capitalists for becoming rich, but many workers also benefited from the system, which is probably the reason why, today, very few want to see the end of such a system. The ease of consumption has softened the majority to think that this is the only type of society we can have, whereas capitalism is just one of many ways society has organised itself over the centuries.

It’s time now to face facts and listen to some unpalatable truths about where capitalism has led us. In his paper, Deep Adaptation, Professor of Sustainability at the University of Cumbria, Jem Bendell, painted a bleak picture of the future unless we act immediately to reduce carbon emissions. His descriptions of trying to live with climate-induced droughts, lack of water, diminished crops, depleted supermarket shelves, and no power were illustrated powerfully during the height of the bushfires. Communities ringed with ferocious fire storms; people uprooted and living in centres safe from the apocalypse – although in many cases, suffering from smoke inhalation and watching as fiery debris rained down on them. Completely impotent against a raging Nature. Like the latest situation with COVID-19, suddenly our normal, comfortable daily lives were shattered: no longer knowing what normal life is anymore.

But have these apocalyptic experiences opened our eyes? Are we starting to perhaps doubt that the capitalist system under which many of us were thriving is beginning to crumble? The British economist Lord Nicholas Stern described climate change as “the biggest market failure in history.” Yet we still hear our “leaders” telling us they can’t (or won’t) reduce greenhouse gas emissions if it means endangering jobs in the coal industry. Do they consider that the few jobs in one particular polluting sector are more important than reducing global warming which, if not dealt with, will destroy the planet and everyone else’s jobs in other industries? It would appear that common sense has been lost.

Some enlightenment has been gained thanks to COVID-19. It has forced us to stay home. The greenhouse gases usually produced by the emissions of carbon dioxide via the thousands of planes in the skies and the millions of cars racing around the earth, have fallen sharply. So far we’ve already halved this year’s addition to the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide concentration that affects climate change. This is such a sobering statistic that it is absolutely necessary to review the way the lives we lead affects the world we live in. It is essential that after the pandemic, we do not revert to that lifestyle.

This knowledge alone should be enough to make us re-think our own behaviour. Imagine the tremendous benefits if this reduction in travel were combined with a cessation of using fossil fuels for energy. Immediately, the planet would begin to recover – albeit slowly.

But is there a connection to be made between the two most life-threatening problems facing humankind? Is climate change and the appearance of deadly viruses linked? In my lifetime, there has been Ebola outbreaks in 1976, 1995, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2007, and 2012. Do you remember the Hendra Virus in 1994? It was transmitted from bats to horses to humans, but not from human to human. In 2002/3 we had the SARS virus since traced through the intermediary of civets to cave-dwelling horseshoe bats in the Yunnan province of China. COVID-19, the latest, has killed nearly three times as many people in eight weeks as SARS did in eight months. It is proving more contagious and has infected more than one million people. Another coronavirus was MERS in 2012. They seem to be happening more frequently and becoming more contagious.

What is causing this? Once again the mixing of wild animals in the Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market in Wuhan was the trigger on this occasion, but globally as well as in China, wild food is becoming increasingly formalised as an economic sector. Industrial agriculture is entering food production. Wild food operators in Asia are pushing further into forests, and increasing the interface with, and spillover of, new pathogens, including COVID-19. Evolutionary biologist, Rob Wallace author of Big Farms Make Big Flu targets the role of agribusiness in this crisis. He links this with the need to mend humanity’s broken relationship with ecosystems, putting the ball well and truly into the capitalists’ court. We can no longer treat nature like a production line.

Food production has to change radically. We have to support programmes that support agroecological production. What is agroecology? It’s the study of ecological processes applied to agricultural production systems using new management approaches. It isn’t associated with any one particular method of farming but compared to the industrial approach to farming, it can be seen to be more an alternative agriculture.

Wallace sees the practice of highly capitalised production of food endangering the entire human race: in this instance helping to unleash this new, deadly pandemic. We need agroecological practices that protect the environment and our farmers, and we must find a way to heal the ecological metabolism and remove economics as the sole motivator for everything we do.

We have a monumental challenge in our quest to restore the ecological balance. What is becoming increasingly clear is the damage being done to the environment and our health by continuing to pursue monetary gain at the expense of the planet. The future being created under the present capitalist system will see environmental constraints reducing the quality of life and introducing extremist perspectives, i.e. survival of the fittest, which will replace liberal values. Let’s imagine what social collapse might mean to ordinary folk. Bendell explains his idea of deep adaptation as being the three Rs – Resilience, Relinquishment and Restoration. He says “Resilience asks us ‘how do we keep what we really want to keep?’ Relinquishment asks us ‘what do we need to let go of in order to not make matters worse?’ Restoration asks us ‘what can we bring back to help us with the coming difficulties and tragedies?’ ”

Bendell doesn’t get involved in politics other than to say that “the West’s response to environmental issues has been restricted by the dominance of neoliberal economics since the 1970s.” He doesn’t comment on duplicitous governments spreading lies to keep us in the dark. He doesn’t mention their corruption by the massive donations of fossil fuel companies and other magnates. He doesn’t need to.

We need support in our quest for a more sustainable way of life. We are “Resilient.” The consensus is that people do not want to keep the polluting industries – we want to “Relinquish” them, but those in charge drag their feet. To begin the “Restoration” the current reduction in CO2 will depend on how the people decide to reconstruct society because if this isn’t done soon, we face more apocalyptic catastrophes and the anger that simmered after the appalling summer of 2019/2020, will seem mild compared to the coming rage.

Next article – May Day 2020 PHOTOS

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