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  • Posted April 12th, 2020
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    Post-corona: ‘getting back to normal’ is not just a bad idea – it’s suicidal

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

    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.


    The views expressed in our blog are those of the author and not necessarily lowimpact.org's


    14 Comments

    • 1annbeirneanimalwhisperert April 12th, 2020

      Hi Dave well put, there is no way we can allow the governments to take us back to business as usual.

    • 2ultra V. April 12th, 2020

      The virus hasnt closed the businesses, the govt did that all by themselves. As for the killing of thousands of people, you need to get a wider perspective. This virus hasnt killed any more people than a flu, or car accidents or diabetes or cancer or heart disease. Diabetes is a true pandemic which goes completely ignored and has been caused by the bad advice given by the industrial medical complex which has also spearheaded this lockdown.

    • 3satka kartar April 12th, 2020

      sorry i dont believe the XR line “we`re heading for mass extinction…Theres NO mass extinction event…The planet has the means to heal its self perfectly without our participation! I see the pandemic as just another learning to show hopefully how we can simplify our lives. for sure the silence and peace will be pleasing to many who dont practice meditation and after this they will want to pursue further. Not everyone will follow and will return as much as they can to their `old lives`.,..for this is their conciousness level at this time. no judgement… All events are teachings in themselves…its not a punishment

    • 4Steve Gwynne April 12th, 2020

      Simply put, the needs and expectations of human Nature need to adapt to meet the needs of tamed Nature and wild Nature.

      Wild Nature has exactly the same capacity for self preservation as tamed Nature and human Nature and is able to mobilise/evolve a sufficient biological weapon to ensure its own long term survival.

      Covid-19 is a gentle reminder of who is boss and is consequently predominantly taking out the illfirm. This is the ecological/ecocentric reset that we ignore at our peril.

      We need to create a good life within planetary boundaries
      https://goodlife.leeds.ac.uk/
      with increased community resilience, increased circulatory in our consumption/production systems, the building of national strategic interests including a sufficient health system and most importantly we need a levelling down to equalise society and reduce overall consumption. An ecological benchmark wage per hour would, I guess, be around £15-20 per hour. Wages/jobs that provide more need to be progressively taxed to bring equalisation within national/global safe operating space.

      In this respect, affluent professional middle class jobs need taxing and taxing hard in order to create equalisation from the bottom rather than the middle or the top.

    • 5Dave Darby April 12th, 2020

      annebeirne – we’ll have to work hard. The best we can hope for I think is to sow the seeds of an alternative – a new economy.

      ultra V – or air pollution, which kills 7 million people each year; read the article – I’m not making the point you’re arguing against.

      satka – not ‘heading for’ a mass extinction event – we’re already in a mass extinction event. Why are you saying we’re not? Do you think scientists are wrong about species becoming extinct? or about the rate of extinctions? Where are you getting your information?

    • 6Dave Darby April 12th, 2020

      Steve – you’re asking the state to provide the solution, via distributive taxation? How do you see that happening? What’s the strategy for making it happen?

    • 7Anthony Hay April 12th, 2020

      Hi Dave. Thank you for the post and I agree with all you have said (as far as I understand it, of course).

      Do you have an opinion about what technology you think will be available to humans in the future?

      For example, my wife would have died soon after our first child was born had medical tech. not been available. That might have been the outcome had we lived in a developing country. Do you think that is where we are headed?

      Will knowledge and technology progress or is this it?

    • 8Dave Darby April 12th, 2020

      Anthony – I think the most likely scenario is that all governments will mobilise all of their resources post-corona to maximise GDP growth, which will mean that biodiversity will continue to decline; Britain is becoming more Mediterranean, but what will happen to the real Mediterranean? The Mediterranean belt will move north, and desert will follow it. (https://e360.yale.edu/features/redrawing-the-map-how-the-worlds-climate-zones-are-shifting; https://www.livescience.com/62168-sahara-desert-expanding.html) And it won’t stop, as long as the economy is based on growth, extraction, concentration. Unless things change (and I’ll be advocating that next week, but realistically, it’s unlikely to happen), I don’t think humans will progress at all, let alone technology.
      In the unlikely event of system change, and if direction can be guided by wisdom and restraint rather than profit, then who knows (no-one, I guess).

    • 9Anthony Hay April 13th, 2020

      Dave – Thank you for the reply. I hope the coronavirus will change the direction we are headed. As Greta says, “act as if you loved your children above all else.” I don’t think we will wake up to this until the climate crisis is as pressing as coronavirus. And whereas we might reasonably hope to overcome the virus with a vaccine in a year, the climate crisis will be with us for a hundred years or more (I assume).

      My son is disabled and has 24/7 care, and I am fast approaching senility. If the future is based on local exchange of goods and services I’m hoping we will still be able to look after people who don’t contribute much to the economy. I’m hoping you might touch on this in a future article.

      satka – If you do a Google search for Sixth Mass Extinction you will find many thousands of references. Or search Species Loss Rate and you’ll see a UN report: “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”

    • 10Dave Darby April 13th, 2020

      Anthony – ‘I’m hoping we will still be able to look after people who don’t contribute much to the economy’ – In tighter-knit communities that hang on to their wealth instead of having it extracted, I think we’ll be able to look after people much better. It’s definitely something I want to write about more, because there have been systems throughout history that have looked after people locally better than the current system – from Friendly Societies to Medieval Guilds, and even hunter-gatherer societies. The human touch works better than bureaucracy I think.

    • 11Andrew Rollinson April 20th, 2020

      Dave,
      In your response to Ultra V, I believe that you have missed his/her point. He/she is subtly saying that there is an agenda behind what the government is doing, and it is they (not “COVID-19”) which have closed businesses. The more I see and hear about this the more I agree with Ultra-V, with the caveat that the govt are merely dancing to someone else pulling the strings, as they have done over the last few decades.
      You might want to look at Sweden’s different response to this “pandemic”.
      With deaths from air pollution in the UK, I think the figure was 68,000 people annually (Client Earth), which puts things in context.
      Andrew

    • 12Dave Darby April 20th, 2020

      Andrew – yes, I got that. But it’s a whole new conversation. It’s a complicated and really tricky one too. It’s one thing to talk about superPACs and the unlimited amounts of anonymous corporate money pouring into global political systems; it’s another to claim that specific policies are coming from corporate boardrooms. There needs to be evidence, and trying to provide that can draw you into whole new worlds. And ultimately, if the lockdown is a corporate ploy, a power grab, so what – we can still only try to build alternatives, so that’s where I want to put my energy.
      I wanted to focus on not ‘getting back to normal’, although the growth mongers will have their way of course. All we can do is try to build alternatives, and counter their arguments where we can.

    • 13M. Fioretti (@mfioretti_en) April 20th, 2020

      Hello Dave Darby, and everybody else reading this.

      I am the author of the “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.”

      Thanks for the compliment, and please note that since that post, I have written about ten more elaborating on the same general topic, with plenty of details, anecdotal evidence and general food for thought. Your feedback on any of those, and help to circulate them as much as possible, is very welcome. Ditto for help to translate any of them to any other language. The whole series is here: http://stop.zona-m.net/tag/coronavirus/

      Thanks in advance for your thoughts and support!

    • 14M. Fioretti (@mfioretti_en) April 20th, 2020

      sorry, extra comment just to tick the “notify me of new comments” box…

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