January 2016 (supplement)
|These are regular editorials
produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent
[Return to related issue on Nonviolence News]
It is clear what needs to happen
The world is currently a more hostile place for us humans than heretofore, a situation which is entirely of our own making. We have impinged, are impinging, on nature and other animals in a way we should not have done (hence Covid-19 as well as HIV-AIDS, SARS and MERS) and so far have not learnt the lessons that are needed. The coronavirus pandemic cannot be taken in isolation from other major factors in the world today, and, if we continue as we are going we cannot assume it will be the last such crisis. If the more lethal SARS and MERS had the efficiency of Covid-19 in replicating itself then we would have been in even deeper trouble than currently.
Covid-19 has been a brutal reminder of the fact that we humans are all interconnected, both to each other and to nature and other animals.
While it should be clear what needs to happen in the future, ‘the powers that be’ (economic and political) will resist radical changes. Massive social upheavals, such as occasioned by the two world wars of the 20th century, may open the possibility of radical social and political change but whether this happens or not is largely dependent on what people do after the major crisis has ended. Some of the rhetoric during a crisis may achieve some small changes but it is much bigger changes we need – and that will only come through organised social and political movements continuously working for and demanding change. This editorial will list just some of the changes needed.
Those who have sufficient or more for their needs, in rich or poor countries, are not those in general who suffer the most in any crisis. Covid-19 has most severe repercussions for older people and those with pre-existing debilitating medical conditions and no one knows how their body will react if the disease is contracted. However the possibility of social distance or isolation for many poor people in less well off urban areas, and particularly in less well off countries, is impossible, and poorer countries are generally now facing into the coronavirus storm with little or no resources available to the bulk of people to shield them from health or economic effects. The answer is not just creating more equality and redistributing wealth, at home or abroad, but also ensuring that the lessons are learnt in terms of preventing similar health disasters happening again, and being fully prepared to deal with any that should emerge.
Part of dealing with the root of the current pandemic is about dealing with our relationship to other animals – our problem is that we are, despite our affectations, an animal when it comes down to it, and a vulnerable one. Dealing with that vulnerability requires reframing our relationship to other animals and with nature. And to do that we have to alter our relationship to our world (a theme often explored in Larry Speight’s column in this publication) and to each other. We have to give other animals and nature their place: that means ending the relentless erosion of wilderness and natural forest. But to do this requires other things to be done; eradicating poverty and moving from a meat based diet.
We cannot simply turn an unjust and environmentally unfriendly world into a just and ecological one without making major adjustments. The first one is that if the capitalist pie is not going to continue to get bigger, then we need fairer slices, i.e. more equality, both nationally and internationally. Covid-19 has clearly indicated the speedy interconnectedness of the world; a few months from the start of the Covid-19 spread among humans, we are all in the soup, almost wherever we are. No human is an island.
Conflict is a fact of life but dealing with it does not have turn violent, and we need tremendous investment in conflict dealing and prevention. The massive expenditure on arms and armies is a major reason not only why so little money is available for health and wellbeing but a direct cause of wars and violence. If we have an available ‘resource’ (if an army can be called such) then it tends to be used. Humanity needs money spent on its direct needs, not on its destruction. The UN has called for ceasefires in the current situation; peace movements have called for them to be permanent.
Moving beyond our fixation with armies and violence requires a redefinition of what is security. Even if the ‘intelligence agencies’ of the USA and the UK (to pick two countries with massive ‘intelligence’ expenditure) picked up on the threat posed by the current coronavirus – and in the case of the USA information would indicate it did – does not mean that the respective political establishments took notice. In Britain the government was fixated on Brexit. In the USA Donald trump was fixated on Donald Trump, plus a bit on external borders.
In both cases the initial, and most important, response from the governments, bordered on the pathetic. If ‘security’ was understood in a different way, as human security (the health and wellbeing of the citizenry) then the response might have been rather different and outcomes rather more positive. Of course the original autocratic Chinese authorities’ response in Wuhan meant the disease had a chance to spread when it could have been snuffed out close to source but that is, tragically, water under the bridge but a lesson for the future.
Beyond redefining security as human security and not military security, we need to move to a situation where war is considered as reprehensible as slavery is today, or even more so. The development of international mechanisms for dealing with conflicts needs major development, and that requires reform of the United Nations. Overcoming the vested interests of the ‘big powers’ at the UN with their dangerous but irrelevant nuclear weapons is a major task but with much effort should not be impossible.
In relation to allowing nature and other animals their place, a variety of policies need enacted for this to be practicable; these include a redistribution of wealth globally, the end to untrammelled economic development, the designation of special conservation areas as well as universal moves to end harmful pollution, a virtual end to fossil fuel use, and adequate financing of conservation measures. This also requires a cultural change for humanity in seeing other animals as deserving their place on our earth, not as objects to be exploited or killed when they get in the way.
Many different factors come together and we cannot solve one issue in isolation. The continuation of global heating will devastate the lives of peasant farmers and others, also displacing millions living in relatively low lying areas close to the sea. This will strengthen conflicts over water, land and other resources causing an increased flow of refugees. Poverty will increase as a result and with it the risk of disease. Large military expenditure will deprive populations of the possibility of proper support in the crises they face. Human rights, such as they are in many countries, will go out the window in crisis hit areas. Global heating will put even more pressure on land available for agriculture.
This is where a vegetarian/vegan diet, and organic farming come in. Intensive crop production is possible with geographically suitable organic farming or horticulture which preserves the wellbeing of the soil and the environment – as well as people’s health through the food they eat. But extensive meat eating is not a habit the world can afford, it simply requires too many resources and creates too much in the way of global heating. Feeding the world more than adequately is quite possible with a vegetarian/vegan diet grown organically – but this requires a major cultural and economic shift.
Coming back to the origin of Covid-19 and other coronaviruses as well as HIV-AIDS, it is probable that ‘bushmeat’ is to blame, i.e. capturing wild animals and killing them to eat. It would be easy to blame the ‘primitive’ people engaged in such practices but if you are a subsistence farmer or rural dweller seeking to survive, it is not surprising that you might capture or kill such animals. Again this shows how everything is linked; without economic development such a poor person cannot be expected to forgo the opportunity of killing wild animals and in any case further encroachment on wilderness areas risks similar effects.
Issues of economic justice, global heating, peace (including countering militarisation) and global health are all interlinked. We need action on all of these and they are difficult or impossible to tackle individually.
An A4 sized poster on the theme of human security, health and wellbeing - and not military ‘security’.
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Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –
The Covid-19 pandemic is a first in human history in that it has paralysed economic activity across the globe, in poor and rich countries alike, in cities with populations of twenty-million people and villages and hamlets with scarcely a hundred. It has house-bound the rich in their palatial homes with expansive gardens and the poor in their wood-plank corrugated iron shacks. Governments, whatever their political ideology, have a common priority, the containment and if possible elimination of something which can’t be seen, smelt, heard or touched but is able to enter a person like a ghost and kill them. As one survivor of the virus said, being infected with it was like sucking life out of the air. Every breath felt as if it was the last.
Acting on the recommendations of the World Health Organisation governments have passed legislation compelling people to behave in ways they would have strongly resisted before the advent of Covid-19. One of the most restrictive laws is that of barring people making unnecessary journeys, abiding by this is facilitated by the closure of most shops and public venues so taking away the incentive for people to venture far from home.
A host of benefits arising out of restricted journeys include cleaner air, a fall in the number of animals killed on the roads, a decline in the disruption of wildlife, fewer fish taken from the sea, less litter on country roads, a dramatic drop in the amount of global warming gasses entering the atmosphere, less resources used to manufacture goods, a decline in retail resulting in less things labelled as rubbish and thrown away. Confinement has given many a greater appreciation of the natural world which may induce more positive behaviour towards it.
Confinement has also given rise to innumerable community self-help groups with people volunteering to help those unable to provide for themselves. There has also been an almost universal awakening in regard to the level of everyone’s dependency on the people who, usually invisible, do low status, low paid but invaluable jobs. These include those who take away our household ‘waste’, serve in shops, stack shelves, deliver post and provide personal care to people in need. National health services across the world, that have been under-resourced for decades, are of a sudden appreciated for their true value.
In Ireland and the UK there has been a fundamental change, little remarked upon, in how many now see the world. The rapid spread of the virus, the urgent need for respirators and personal protection equipment, the international collaboration of scientists to find a vaccine, the need for skilled, strong hard-working people from Eastern Europe to work on farms during the harvest season has made people realize the web of relationships that exist among the countries of the world. One cannot but wonder that if Covid-19 had occurred in the months leading up to the 2016 UK referendum on whether to stay or leave the EU if the vote would have been different.
The demographic who are mostly dying from the virus has highlighted the deep levels of inequality in society and the negative consequences for all because of this. In the United States it is mostly those from low-income families, namely African American, who because of the poverty related medical conditions they suffer from are most vulnerable. (*1). The virus will never be eliminated until the slums housing millions in Africa, Asia, south America and elsewhere are replaced with decent homes with people having easy access to public-funded health services and education. The needs of the rural poor also need to be addressed. Contrary to what it says in the bible poverty need not always be with us. (*2) Structural poverty can be a thing of history if governments channel the vast sums they spend on armaments and war into eliminating poverty, if corporations paid a living wage and countries reformed their taxation system in favour of fairness.
The virus is a scourge which should be eliminated and care of every kind given to those who suffer in some way from it. What awaits humanity during the coming decades is far worse that Covid-19. This is the collapse of ecosystems due to climate breakdown, loss of biodiversity and our general ravaging of the planet. We have known this for decades as the scientific community has known there would be a pandemic and if changes are not made in how farm animals are reared more pandemics will almost certainly occur. If we regard the demise of the biosphere, and structural injustices, in the same way we regard Covid-19 we may, relatively speaking, have a new world in the morning. (*3)
(*1) Bernie Sanders, The New York Times, 19 April 2020.
(*2) The Green Bible, 1999, Matthew 26:11.
(*3) Roger Whittaker, A New World in the Morning, 1970.