There is no vaccine for the climate: connecting Covid-19 to climate change | HK Wealth
There is no vaccine for the climate: connecting Covid-19 to climate change
Do you remember, somewhere in the fog of 2020, that period where the pandemic had seeped into every area of our lives but its exact contours and consequences hadn’t yet been established? That point after the initial panic was over, where people had begun to accept this new reality, and had started to consider where we might go from here? Somehow, amidst the horror of news screens filled with ventilated bodies and death counts scrolling ever upward, hope began to spring. Thoughtful, poetic articles began to emerge online about the deeper meaning of this event. Humanity had been given a chance to pause, to reflect, and perhaps – against all odds – change course. There was a cautious, quasi-spiritual sense that the planet was sending us a message, as if Mother Nature had realised that humans were not going to bring themselves back from the brink and was now taking the matter into her own hands. These visions of a better society were complemented by a raft of personal resolutions towards self-improvement: goals were set and new habits were inculcated, with the aim of returning after the pandemic a better you in a better world. It was as if we were all given the opportunity to zoom out, from our own lives but also society as a whole, to decide what was really important.
This sense of optimism seemed to be supported by palpable changes in our environment. Global emissions were down 7%; flights had dropped 96%; there were dolphins in Venice! These cracks of light in the gloom sustained us, made us feel as if the pandemic was really for something (beyond, well, surviving a pandemic). That is, there seemed to be a goal we were working towards, by which we could orientate our present reality, giving it some sense. And this was important. Hope sustains us in times of difficulty. It is the voice which reminds us no pain lasts forever, that the sun also rises.
But it seems that somewhere along the way, this optimism began to give way to something else. Weariness. Disillusionment. As lockdown 2 almost imperceptibly melted into lockdown 3, as the term ‘wave’ began to lose all meaning because the Covid tide had never gone away, darker realities began to set in. Not only did we witness our governments continue to vacillate and send mixed messages, we saw huge opportunities to restructure our economy missed, the same old mistakes from the 2008 financial crisis repeated as ‘too big to fail’ industries such as aviation and steel were bailed out, with no climate-change mitigation requirements built into the rescue packages. Rather than being ‘The Great Leveller’, we saw this pandemic exacerbate existing inequalities, the wealth of the top 1% rising by $8 trillion during the pandemic whilst many ordinary people were reduced to government handouts. Working from home also removed access to an equal workspace and put increased pressure on those facing challenging circumstances in their home environment. And everywhere we looked we found ourselves adrift in a sea of plastic: the take-out diets triple-plastic wrapped to avoid contamination, the delivery packages ordered to punctuate the boredom of lockdown living, and of course the proliferation of that once unknown acronym: PPE. And perhaps most deflating of all, it turned out those dolphins had never been in Venice, that it was a piece of fake news exploiting the sense of hope in the air.
What happened here? Were we deluded to dream of a better future? Did we imagine something that never really could have been?
No. It is never wrong to hope. And it did sustain us in those interminable lockdown months. Our error was in putting our hopes on an external event, in this notion that Covid had come to save us, as if it were some sort of geo-biological defense mechanism, the natural arc of history correcting itself. But an event can only be as significant as the responses which it generates. Which is to say, the significance of the pandemic was in the million daily acts of kindnesses which it elicited: the grocery collections for elderly and infirm neighbours, the selfless bravery of the frontline workers putting themselves and their families at risk for the greater good, the proactiveness of those who organised events and other forms of support for the most vulnerable. Without even realising it, without waiting for a sunny day where we would have the type of society that we wanted, we were building it in front of our very eyes. One based on solidarity, equality and community concern (all of which happen to be the very characteristics needed to pull us out of the climate crisis – since we are all sharing increasingly limited space and resources on this planet). What we needed wasn’t a deus ex machina to solve the problem. What we needed was to see that the world around us is a result of the values we hold as a society, and it is this we need to change. This means remembering that the same essential ties that bound us through the pandemic persist and it is along these ties that change is effected, not some grand narrative happening out there. After all, the planet doesn’t care – it is humans that will perish, not nature.
The pandemic certainly has and will create short term change. The US government has just initiated an unprecedented $1.9 trillion stimulus package which stands to halve national poverty for example. But if we forget the lessons that Covid taught us about our own ways of life, such socially-minded policies will quickly fade into memory. No cataclysm will prevent business as usual from returning. As the Cree Indian saying goes, “Only when the last tree has been cut down, the last fish been caught, and the last stream poisoned, will we realize we cannot eat money.” We cannot wait for further wildfires, droughts and floods to jostle us into wakefulness. It is only through a wave of individuals coming together into communities, into a global movement, encompassing economics, energy, agriculture, and politics, that a truly sustainable way of life will be achieved. Outward events can point us in the direction, but we must walk the path. The steps need not be huge, but we must continue to take them. Reading or sharing this article. Subscribing to offset the carbon we produce. Reducing meat consumption, greening our finances or joining a movement. Every step counts. But never question that it is you who must walk those steps. Far from being a lonely journey, the more you do, the more you will find the others who are walking it with you.
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