By Elliot Parker
Like the Climate Crisis, Covid-19 has shown that state cooperation instead of state separation is necessary to fight and defeat another battle that is plaguing humanity. Covid-19 is in its relative infancy. It can be said that the peak is yet to be reached despite the vast amounts of deaths recorded and the number of individuals still afflicted by the virus. The Climate Crisis and Covid-19 share some commonalities: they are both man-made, with the former occurring due to reckless human exploitation of the natural world and the latter from reckless food standards within an illegal market. Both are heedless but both were avoidable. Nevertheless, in this moment it is important to forget about what has been done and instead focus on what we can do to mitigate the damage caused by both respectively.
In order to attain this with both the climate change and coronavirus pandemic we need to embrace the fact that we live in an era of globalisation. Cooperation and transparency of action between states, I believe, can achieve this mitigation and even prevention going forwards. We need to begin with taking treaty obligations seriously, for instance the Paris Accords, these are measures to prevent climate damage for future generations yet states have done virtually nothing to achieve the goal of 2 degrees Celsius warming by the end of the century. Before the world was shut down due to covid-19 we were on track to double that or even triple it to 6 degrees warming by the end of the century if the ever-increasing rate of consumption continues.
The impact of such a warming is unspeakable damage and loss of land on a scale unprecedented. This change in perception needs to occur between diplomats and states themselves when setting contingencies at the UN and other functions. But equally, as citizens, we need to stop pointing fingers and demand some action be taken. This can be said about covid-19 as well. Scrolling through social media feeds, viewing various newspaper headlines and listening to the rhetoric of certain politicians as they point the finger at China for the virus and all of its implications. It can be said that the virus did originate in Wuhan, which is a province of China, but its containment and the subsequent response of nations is down to them as governments and policy-makers to face up to this challenge. Furthermore, as individual citizens, we have an obligation to limit the damage by remaining vigilant, hygienic and showing adherence to lockdown requirements.
A decade of austerity has left Britain woefully unprepared for the pandemic. Britain has one of the lowest hospital beds per 1,000 people of any developed nation and has half as many intensive care units as Italy (Britain has an average of 6.6 and Italy 12.5 per hospital). 83% of these intensive care beds in Britain were occupied in January before the onset of the virus. Moreover, Britain has the second lowest doctor and nurse ratio per 1,000 people of any developed country.
This is fairly damning and does not bode well as this virus continues. Hence, it is important to adhere to the lockdown requirements but equally, we must call to account the politicians who have placed us in this position in the first place. The NHS was always going to be stretched, any healthcare system would be, but Germany, which has over three times as many confirmed cases as Britain, currently has 60% fewer deaths. Therefore, a lesson to learn from this pandemic is that preventative measures need to occur internally within countries and greater communication between nations to avoid complete catastrophe.
Nevertheless, it is pleasant to see nations assisting each other, for example the Cuban medical staff coming to Italy to assist and Israel and Palestine cooperating to mitigate the damage caused by covid-19. Yes, the virus did start in China, but that is now a fact. What we do now is what will define us, how we react to this adversity will either save many people or condemn many people to an unnecessary death.
We can apply these lessons from covid-19 to the Climate Crisis. The Climate Crisis leads to thousands of deaths per year, a recent report has stated that 250,000 people could die per year due to climate change. The co-author to that report, Sir Andrew Haines believes this figure to be a “conservative estimate.” Covid-19 has been recorded since November 2019, hence the ‘19’ as that symbolises the date it was discovered. By that figure, over 4 months, there have been 34,000 deaths due to the virus (as of 29th March 2020).
As the rate of infection and subsequent mortality rate increases exponentially, we may reach a mortality figure upwards of 500,000 by the end of the year (as a generous estimate from the author’s layperson knowledge of virology). The Climate Crisis reality of thousands of deaths per annum. In Europe alone we have had two heatwaves over the previous 20 years that have killed thousands. The first of which was in 2003, which led to 35,000 deaths and the most recent in July 2019, which killed just under 1,000 British people alone. The number of climate related deaths are increasing exponentially as the effects of climate change are worsened and human activity continues to dictate the destruction of ecosystems, shows that we already have a covid-19 scale pandemic happening before us alongside covid-19 itself.
This energy and effort utilised by states to fight and defeat covid-19 needs to be directed towards the Climate Crisis when we come out of this global lockdown. Instead of compensating for the missed time by burning more fossil fuels, destroying more rainforests and extracting more natural resources, we must seek greener alternatives to mitigate the damage already caused and to prevent future damage.
This cannot be done by individual states; it must be done cooperatively by all nations. We must set aside compulsions of greed and listen to the science and the experts like we are currently doing with Covid-19. The financial means are evidently available for such wholesale change. Furthermore, on an individual level, people need to get on board with climate change prevention measures and demand systemic change and a move from the disaster capitalism methods of expropriation and exploitation of both the natural world and individuals. We must respect each other and respect our planet.
To paint a hackneyed concept, imagine the world is a human body, and all the organisms present on it are cells that facilitate the running of its lungs, the forests, and its lifeblood, the ocean. Its flesh is the soil. And because we act like a parasite or virus, just appropriating its resources and growing ever exponentially larger in pursuit of our own advancement, its immune system is rejecting us. We are at fault to think that we are more than merely a tiny cog in this natural mechanism, and right now we’re hijacking the whole goddamn machine. Such is the link between viral infections on humans and the parasitic impact of human activity upon the natural world.