We interrupt this broadcast for a call to arms to combat corona
Updated: Mar 18, 2020
All of us must engage in responsible behaviour and courageous action NOW. This post offers some answers to two crucial questions we are faced with:
What must I do right now?
What will we do once this is over?
I studied environmental law, earth sciences and environmental management. I double and triple check the information I find online. So what I am offering here is thoroughly researched.
I realise that many people must go out and work to pay the rent and put food on the table. Many others face serious, perhaps existential economic threats, especially the restaurants I am going to ask you not to frequent. This post is not so much for them, and it certainly isn’t ‘against’ them. I just wish them all the best, I really do.
What must I do right now?
Short answer: assume you have the virus and stay at home, so as not to spread it to someone who might die of it down the line – yes, that’s a distinct possibility.
Long answer: you may have ‘it’ and not know it yet. You may even never know it, because you’re one of those people who don’t have any symptoms. In that case, every time you socialise, you potentially give it to 2.5 others, who in turn give it to 2.5 others, etc. Do the math – that’s why our super cautious Chancellor Angela Merkel publicly announced that around 70% of the population will most likely get covid-19.
‘So what’, you may think, ‘I’m quite healthy, if I get it I’ll feel bad for a bit and then that’s that.’
Nope, nyet, non, nein. That’s NOT that.
Among the potentially hundreds of people down the infection line you possibly started, there’ll be someone with diabetes. Or a chronic lung condition. Or an otherwise compromised immune system. And that someone may well die. Do you really want to risk that possibility, whether it’s a 20% chance or a 0.2% chance?
And also - if you get it and need care, you are putting additional strain on the health system, which in some countries is already taxed to and above the limits. And that means they can't take proper care of others who might need it (even) more than you do.
You gotta pay the rent. And if that means you must go out, then that’s all the more reason for those of us who don’t HAVE to to stay at home. If your company offers the opportunity to work from home, take it – and then please do NOT go out in the evening for a drink with friends. I personally think we shouldn’t even invite friends over for dinner (am still arguing that with my husband), not for a while at least.
Update 16 March: Hubby just uninvited the friends and cancelled the fish order for next Saturday...
What do we do once this is over ?
Short answer: do not return to business as usual but consider making currently forced changes more permanent, for the next time something like this happens – yes, that too is a distinct possibility.
Long answer: I am not going to say that global warming caused covid-19. It didn’t. BUT...
... what we do to the environment, have been doing for way too many decades, is very much a factor in the spread and the consequences. Pollution: globally, air pollution has caused wide-spread lung problems, making many people more susceptible to serious covid-19 problems. Our mobile life-style: that cheap Ryanair flight for a weekend in Rome ten days ago? It brought back five passengers with the virus. See the ‘to the power of 2.5’ calculation above.
PLEASE NOTE that I am not ‘passing judgment’ on those passengers. So many of my international friends have family abroad. Hell, both my daughters live abroad and I am desperate to see them. But I won’t, not until the bell curve of new infections is much, much flatter. And I will preach over and over again that these cheap flights MUST stop.
Have you seen the images of clear skies over China? As horrible as the death toll there is, this too is an outcome of covid-19. What if we made a conscious choice to aim for clear skies, cleaner air...?
For decades we have (passively if not actively) contributed to rampant social and environmental injustice, to a permanent chase for growth, to a reckless depletion of natural resources. Ooh, a new iPhone. Ooh, cheap pretty clothes. I ‘need’ some coffee, I get a coffee, I throw away the cup (its recyclable it’s okay, right?). This ‘more, cheap, easy, growth’ mentality MUST change. There are billions of people on this planet who deserve their share of growth – we don’t any more, not to the degree that we are availing ourselves to it.
Also – once we’re over covid-19, there’ll be another virus. Guaranteed. So whatever you have to do now will come back to serve you.
Oh, and by the way...
It's NOT all gloom and doom
As writers, we are familiar with mythology scholar Joseph Campbell’s assertion that ‘where you stumble, there your treasure lies.’ It’s the cornerstone of any myth and any Hollywood blockbuster or Netflix series.
We are in a massive stumble right now that forces us to adapt and to change habits. Let’s see this as an opportunity as well. Let’s consider which of these changes are not so onerous AND can make a positive difference for environmental health.
Of course I’m not saying that lockdowns are a good thing, of course I know that so, so many people’s livelihoods depend on goods being transported. But still, this pause should serve as an opportunity to re-assess the situation. What can I as an individual do to draw lessons from this, to perpetuate some of the enforced changes, and also to make some more changes to my habits?
‘I as an individual,’ you scoff, ‘have no power. It’s money that runs the world, money, corporations and politicians. What I do won’t make a difference.’
Whose money powers corporations? Ultimately, your money. Whose vote gets politicians elected? Unequivocally, your vote.
Divestment works. It is making big corporations re-think their business strategies. Even BlackRock, the world’s biggest investor, says that climate risk is investment risk and sets sustainability as the new standard for investing. (You can probably argue about their definition of ‘sustainability’, but it’s a step in the right direction.) I
So if you have any savings, rearrange your portfolio to pull out of all fossil fuels and actively invest in renewables, future technologies, reforestation etc. (I did that a few years ago and the yields have actually been above market average.)
Grassroots movements work. 350.org and the Fridays for Future movements have real impact, they raise public awareness and political pressure. With public awareness come numbers, and numbers mean it’s not an individual thing any more. Your tiny share of money is joined with millions of other tiny shares of money, and suddenly we do have power.
Now is a supremely difficult time for so, so many people, and my heart truly goes out to all those who suffer. But now is also the time to take courage, to become active, to help others if we can, to make changes that will make life on this planet bearable for our children’s generation. We OWE it to the coming generations.
If you want to know what you can do, start following 350.org on social media. Listen to the highly informative and entertaining ‘Outrage and Optimism’ podcast (I recommend starting with episode 31), read the book 'The Future We Choose' (get it from your local bookstore rather than Amazon so there's no delivery truck on the road just for you - ISBN: 978-1838770822. Or, since right now delivery services are shutting down, get the Kindle edition). Find ideas, share ideas - but double- and triple check information!
Oh, and - wash your hands...
Updated 18th March to reflect reader feedback - thank you, Matthew Curlewis, whose excellent article on the Climate Emergency is available here.