As of Friday 17th April 2020, Ireland is three weeks into official lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. There have been over 2 million confirmed cases reported worldwide. Travelling around social media, there has been a dialogue of positivity; taking the time in isolation to focus on what really matters, to practise healing and self-care, perhaps whilst taking up a new skill or utilising pre-existing interests. While the options are plentiful and for some a welcomed opportunity, the narrative of productivity and enjoying the time at home, accompanied by a glass-half-full outlook, can be blinding to a stark reality. Societies globally need optimism and hope to navigate this crisis, to inspire and to motivate. But there are many whose lives have been changed forever, lives lost, mental health deteriorating, and much worse.
533,000 people have received COVID-19 related social welfare, having lost their jobs. Campaigns have commenced around domestic violence, as the risk of harm to victims has increased now they are stuck in unsafe environments with their abuser. People from all socio-economic backgrounds have to navigate a multitude of issues, especially in disadvantaged areas, from lack of privacy and space in the home, heightened familial conflicts, and increased stress. People in direct provision, as well as members of other marginalised groups such as the Roma or travelling communities, do not have access to the resources others in society do, and can’t practise social distancing in their already overpopulated living spaces. Members of our communities have died, and with that, the most unsettling narrative has emerged that coronavirus is actually good for the environment and good for our planet.
This outlook is intensely problematic. Cheering on or at the very least accepting the tragedy caused by coronavirus, because of the knock-on effect it has had on climate change is not progress – it’s eco-fascism. A growing problem, eco-fascism is a twisted theoretical political model in which an authoritarian government would require individuals to sacrifice their own interests to the benefit of environment and climate as a whole. Supporters are often characterised by white supremacy, xenophobia, ethnonationalism, and a misguided concern for the care of planet Earth. The assumption that ‘we are the virus’ is counterproductive. Wishing for or praising a disaster such as coronavirus, just because it gets rolling the large-scale changes climate groups, scientists and professionals have been telling us for years are necessary to save the planet, is hypocritical. Positive climate change is to save lives. Coronavirus is not saving lives. There are ways to save the planet without ending human life.
While it is true that Earth has been recovering, I must stress that this is all temporary. Predictably, when the crisis ends and elements of life revert to how we knew it, air pollution will resurface. Water pollution will increase. The natural wildlife will leave their newly occupied spaces once the crowds return. Many stories suggesting they have returned in the masses have actually been discounted as fake news. The societal tragedy of this crisis vastly outweighs any marginal environmental benefits, as many environmentalists have stated.
Climate change in its entirety is not based off a population issue, rather capitalism and greed. The response to COVID-19 has demonstrated that in the face of an imminent threat, it is possible for society to change once instructed by the governments. Climate activists have been trying to do this for decades, highlighting the extent of ignorance and inaction of many up until this point. Firstly, there is a disproportionate impact that people in various parts of the world have on the environment. Most consumption occurs in the West, and yet poorer countries will suffer the worst. It will be the already-poor, already-vulnerable, already-sick people who will die.
Human population control and eugenics disguised as environmentalism is not a new concept. Paul Ehrlich’s landmark book (1968) brought forward the concept, with the recommendation of sterilization to prevent a future fight for Earth’s resources. Environmentalist Garrett Hardin lobbied against food aid during famines. Post-pandemic, many of the current restrictions (working-from-home, zoom conference calls, fast fashion brands closed) can indeed impact the rate of climate change. However, only time will tell if this enlightened outlook will follow through. While emissions had dropped in February by at least 25% in China, returning to the same capitalist society of consumption will retract the positive change. An Irish survey conducted by Renatus Capital Partners has revealed that almost 80% of 1000 business people will not decrease their air travel or will just cut it marginally after restrictions are lifted.
Coronavirus is not a sustainable way to reduce emissions. Co-director of the Earth Institute’s Center for Sustainable Urban Development at Columbia University, Jacqueline Klopp stated: “(Coronavirus is) a symptom of us not addressing our serious environmental and social problems.” The pandemic has increased the amounts of medical and hazardous waste generated. Unethical fast-fashion brands, whereby workers do not earn a fair wage, have reported an upsurge of online sales. Human beings are not the virus, and COVID-19 is not good for the environment. The virus is in the name, and the problem is consumption, capitalism and extraction. Capitalism marches hand-in-hand with eco-fascism, and we don’t need either to save the world.
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