“Nobody could have seen it coming or how bad it could be.” Wrong! Epidemiologists and virologists saw the earliest warnings of the global danger of the COVID-19 pandemic and warned the politicians. Even I, with my modest background in epidemiology, knew as soon as I saw the characteristics of this novel corona virus that its virulence would result in a global pandemic if governments did not take drastic measures immediately.
In a few nations, leaders and citizens took heed. New Zealand has eradicated the pandemic almost entirely by aggressively deploying standard public health practices. A few others such as South Korea suppressed the first wave quite successfully. The US led the world’s greatest failures with deaths far out of proportion to its share of the world population. Intelligence officials warned Trump early on, but his response was public denial of the threat, which continued as the suffering and death rate soared.
The response of so-called world leaders to the burgeoning global climate emergency has expressed far more nuance than that of the crass fake president. International negotiations focused on toothless “agreements” to reduce carbon emissions, while the same nations continued to encourage the fossil-fueled economic growth that is the primary source of the worsening crisis.
A Pandemic of Prevarication
The Trumpian prevarication tally accelerates and its content more bizarre to the very end of his fake presidency. His political sycophants slavishly follow his lying lead. I need not review here the numerous ways by which he, his corporatist appointed agency heads, and the ethic-less Republican senators have worked to plunder the nation for private profit and enable the Trumpists to decimate any federal agency focused on serving the public good. Think EPA. Think CDC. The damage is everywhere, right down to our kitchen pantries.
Now the great pandemic “second wave” has hit (as predicted by scientists who observed the widespread self-indulgent efforts to compromise with the uncompromising virus). Because the anti-realist political propaganda has effectively demonized those who try to protect the public health, many people excuse themselves for avoiding any self-discipline or social responsibility that might have balanced their extreme and resentful individualism. So, a national spike within the second wave undoubtedly will follow 2-3 weeks after the Thanksgiving denial fest.
The President Elect’s crew rushes to get a handle of all the social and economic as well as health damage to the people, which the political nihilists have caused. It will be a steep uphill battle to undue four years of intentional destruction of the American commonwealth, not to mention national unity or human compassion.
The parallels are striking. The politicization of climate change stems from the same irrational refusal to adjust entrenched habits and authoritarian manipulation of public anxiety, as the Trumpian refusal to mount a national strategy to control the COVID-19 pandemic. Death and destruction mean nothing to them, beyond a joyful demonstration of their power. And that, after all, is what they are all about.
We must remember, however, that the entire corporate global economy is designed to extract value from people and environment, for corporate advantage. Its moral amoral premise allows it not to consider the common good or the wellbeing of the people and places it exploits. The rapidly growing climate emergency conflicts with the extractive intensions of profiteers. To the “captains of industry,” the next quarterly report is far more important than the fate of humanity.
As with the pandemic, the moral emptiness, the lack of compassion, pervades the meaningless international “agreements” to reduce carbon emissions. Each such agreement scrupulously avoids any mention or commitment to how they might achieve such reductions. All those decades of international meetings were about public relations, not climate crisis resolution.
The Green New Deal, much disparaged as impractical, too expensive, and the product of naïve and foolish “leftists” and progressives, is merely a briefly outlined framework for renewing American infrastructure using clean energy and producing many livable-wage jobs for citizens. So, what’s all the quibbling about? Well, the elite’s fear of loss of control over the economy and politics, is at the center of the reaction, of course.
Societal Transformation: A Necessity Hard to Imagine
The pandemic is a harbinger of things to come. The failure to mobilize to confront a deeply existential threat to humanity pervades the political and public response to both pandemic and climate emergencies.
The consequences in both cases can be terminal if no major intervention arises. Interesting, that word, “intervention.” It connotes the need to break into a downwardly spiraling system failure. The drug addict needs an intervention whether s/he acknowledges it or not. More than one analyst has pointed to the addictive culture of industrial consumerism. It is blatantly unsustainable, yet it continues unabated toward societal as well as ecological collapse.
So, here we are. Our habitual behavior sustains the complex system that is driving the destruction of our habitat—the Earth System itself. The hard fact remains that society must re-self-organize to survive. It must re-humanize energy production and use as well. That fact is no more negotiable than the infectious disease trajectory of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) commonly called, COVID-19, nor than the onslaught of climate chaos. It is time to give up the illusion that life is merely a matter of personal consumer choice.