Post-corona: ‘getting back to normal’ is not just a bad idea – it’s suicidal

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Posted Apr 12 2020 by Dave Darby of Lowimpact.org
Should we return to normal post-corona?

There’s been a lot of talk about ‘thanking’ coronavirus for giving us the breathing space to re-evaluate, and for giving nature some breathing space too. This isn’t one of those articles. I don’t find it compassionate to thank a virus that’s killing thousands of people, and closing millions of small businesses, allowing Amazon to hoover up almost the entire economy. That’s not the kind of world I want.

However:

  • We’re in a mass extinction event.
  • The mass extinction event is increasing the likelihood of pandemics.
  • The current pandemic is slowing the mass extinction event.
  • ‘Getting back to normal’ will speed up the mass extinction event.
  • The mass extinction event, if unchecked, will eventually include humans.
  • Therefore we should not attempt to ‘get back to normal’ post-corona.
  • A new economy is possible.
  • The new economy is preferable.

We’re in a mass extinction event

The now extinct dodo

This is just science, and although science isn’t perfect, there isn’t a better source of reliable evidence about the nature of reality. And science is telling us that we are entering the Earth’s sixth mass extinction event, due to habitat removal, pollutants, climate change, overhunting, introduction of invasive species, soil erosion, water depletion and ocean acidification. The National Academy of Sciences of the US predicts ‘biological annihilation’.

Extinctions are not slowing down – they’re accelerating. Science Magazine reports that extinction rates in the 20th century were 100 times the natural rate, and the window of opportunity to prevent runaway species loss is closing.

Last year, Prof. Jem Bendell of the University of Cumbria produced a compendium of research on environmental degradation which led to his now-famous ‘Deep Adaptation’ paper, that predicts societal collapse and urges mutual support to cope with what’s coming.

Prof. Bendell has also compiled a review of the various negative responses to the coming crash, from disbelief and personal attack to indifference and claims of ‘doom-mongering’. However, I repeat: this is just science. Those who are impatient for the post-corona return of the growth-obsessed, corrupt system that we had before are the real doom-mongers.

The mass extinction event is increasing the likelihood of pandemics

If we damage nature, nature will hit back – this is as true for humans as it is for any species. Destroying nature causes pandemics, because ever-expanding economic activity increases the human sphere, shrinks wild habitat and pushes humans and wild animals closer together, introducing us to novel diseases that are spread around the world quickly because of our ever-expanding transport networks.

And of course, air pollution increases our vulnerability to respiratory diseases, and pollutant particles act as vehicles for pathogens.

A warming world is also more conducive to pandemics, as the changing climate shrinks local food sources, damages the health of wild mammals and birds, affects migration routes and causes the mixing of animal populations that provide the stimulus for new virus strains to emerge. Higher temperatures also provide more fertile ground for the development and spread of disease organisms generally. All bad news in an age of growing antibiotic resistance.

Pandemics are just one of the health issues that we have to worry about from the destruction of nature. Soil erosion, loss of pollinators and desertification leads to food shortages and famine; pollution has already drastically reduced sperm count; climate-change-induced natural disasters, from storms, floods and fires are killers; and the threat of nuclear war has increased as countries scramble for diminished resources. Here’s more on the connection between biodiversity loss and human health.

It might be obvious to most readers here that human health depends on a healthy ecosystem; but it’s not obvious to policymakers, bankers and economists, who, post-corona, can’t wait to get back to growth, and to maximise damage to ecosystems again.

The current pandemic is slowing the mass extinction event

More accurately, the lockdown and economic slump is slowing the mass extinction event. Globally, there’s already been a huge reduction in the things that are causing the mass extinction event – carbon emissions and pollution from transport and industry are the obvious ones – but also in the economic activity that involves the removal of habitat, resource extraction and waste. This is set to reduce even further as we start to feel the knock-on effect from current layoffs and business closures.

We have to be very careful when trying to point to any beneficial effects of coronavirus – people are dying, economies are collapsing, there’s a lot of suffering. It’s may not be wise to point to any potential silver linings. But it’s nevertheless true that a lot of things that threaten our long-term future have slowed down.

This article, written when the global death toll was much lower than now, attempts to do this, whilst praying for the victims, and for a swift end to the disease. Included is this memorable quote:

“Coronavirus is making us behave much more as almost all scientists and doctors, and increasing numbers of economists, were already begging us to behave.”

Overconsumption is the engine behind environmental damage, and that overconsumption has paused, albeit unintentionally. Maybe – just maybe – people will have time to reflect on their own consumption post-corona. Why was the retail therapy needed in the first place? Why do we need to escape the places we live to contribute to the destruction of tourist destinations? Maybe clean air and being able to see the stars at night is better than driving and flying? Maybe coming together to look after vulnerable people in our communities is something we might want to keep doing post-corona, after the crisis is over?

‘Getting back to normal’ post-corona will speed up the mass extinction event

Coronavirus has caused suffering and fear for the future. However, there were already much more powerful reasons to fear for the future, but they weren’t so well-known or understood, certainly by the mainstream. Put simply, the current economy is more dangerous to humanity than coronavirus.

The focus of the current economy is growth in GDP, which always increases carbon emissions, removal of habitat, resource extraction and waste. Always, without exception. The countries with the highest per capita GDP are the countries that cause the most per capita damage to nature (although they often try to hide it by not including the damage caused by consumer goods made overseas, or by flights and shipping in and out of the country). The quest to maximise GDP is the cause of the mass extinction.

Don’t let anyone bamboozle you with oxymoronic talk of ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’ growth – Jason Hickel takes that apart here.

Material growth requires ever-more resources and creates ever-more waste. No-one sane believes that there’s anything material that we can have more of forever – not cars, houses, roads, pencils, needles – or anything else. GDP growth increases overall spending power (or it’s not GDP growth – it’s something else, like devaluation of the currency). There’s then no mechanism to prevent this increase in spending power being used to purchase material things. Therefore, GDP growth can never be perpetual – it can only continue until we stop it, or nature does.

GDP growth is driven by a desire to make as much money as possible – returns on investments, interest on loans, rent on property, speculation etc. – rather than doing something useful for one’s community.

Getting back to normal post-corona – i.e. increasing GDP to pre-corona levels, will cause more immediate problems for humans, in that it will return us to the same level of air pollution, which kills 7 million people annually – many times more than coronavirus will. Why no lockdown against air pollution, or against ecological damage generally?

Fossil-fuel burning power stations: will air pollution return post-corona?

The mass extinction event, if unchecked, will eventually include humans

As the late, great Bill Hicks used to say, life is ‘just a ride’. It’s always been the same, for everyone, and always will. But this ride, for people alive today, is going to crash. We’re in a mass extinction event, temperatures are about to rise out of our control, the wrong people are in power, we have to find room for another 3 billion people, and the number of countries with nuclear weapons has doubled since the nuclear non-proliferation treaty was signed. It’s just a ride for a species too. All species either evolve into new ones, or become extinct. Our evolution, barring a miracle, is about to stop.

A rollercoaster: what will life be like post-corona?

The still great Noam Chomsky recently wondered aloud in an interview whether our species is viable any more.

It’s obvious why, if you think for more than a few seconds about it. A mass extinction event that goes unchecked will eventually remove all species – but long before that, higher mammals will disappear, including us. And even if we don’t come close to removing 100% of species, damaging nature damages humans, because we are part of nature.

Next week:

  • Therefore we should not attempt to ‘get back to normal’ post-corona.
  • A new economy is possible.
  • The new economy is preferable.

Read Part 2 here.


Dave DarbyAbout the author: Dave Darby lived at Redfield community from 1996 to 2009. Working on development projects in Romania, he realised that Western countries were seen as role models, so decided to try to bring about change in the UK instead. He founded Lowimpact.org in 2001, spent 3 years on the board of the Ecological Land Co-op and was a founder of NonCorporate.org and the Open Credit Network.