Blue Sky Thinking
While it’s important to avoid the misleading “the planet is healing itself” jingoism, and to sidestep the many fake news stories about miraculous urban recovery, and to shout down the awful eco-fascist “Corona is the earth’s vaccine…” patter, the economic shutdown is telling us something very important about our ‘other crisis’, our ecological crisis, the one that will still be here if and when we recover.
I know we’re all contemplating the pandemic, but check this out. Air quality in SoCal right now isn’t good. It’s incredible. Like numbers from another era. It’s not just the rain. Having less traffic is making our city more livable. Think about it. pic.twitter.com/GPNIzDnmXj
— Peter Flax (@Pflax1) March 18, 2020
Using Purple Air real-time air quality monitoring data Peter Flax has pointed out the astonishing air quality in South California right now.
As climate scientist Michael Mann, whose groundbreaking research led to the so-called “hockey stick graph” of Earth’s rising temperatures put it:
“On the one hand, this crisis accidentally demonstrates how our ongoing depletion of resources is threatening our planetary environment by providing us at least a fleeting window into what things might look like were we living more sustainability and demanding less from this planet. And as we gradually see the sorts of services and conveniences we’re so used to begin to disappear and get a sense of how fragile our societal infrastructure really is—infrastructure that we now rely upon to support a population of 7.8 billion and growing people that are demanding more food, more fresh water, more space—we are starting to get a sense of how precarious modern civilization really is. We’re only one crisis away from dystopia. That crisis could be climate change if we don’t act now.”
It’s becoming very clear that growing our economy is costing us our future.
Degrowth and post-growth economists, once derided as utopians are now, suddenly mainstream.
Cookie Wellbeing economists are now being given the kudos they deserve.
The anarchist concept of mutual aid is now an everyday organising tool.
As the Enough collective put it: “This story of growth is so embedded in our ways of living that any kind of change demands the complete re-imagination of our society. We believe that not only is this possible, it is now essential. We are consuming resources faster than they can be replenished and we are pushing our planet’s capacity to its limit. In our lifetimes, this will have a massive disruptive impact on our society and on the way we live; on our food, and on the air, water and soil we rely on. If we want to avoid huge disruption, we must change the way we think about living, working and distributing resources.”
The task of survival, the task of recreating a viable liveable society is staring us in the face.
Like the people flouting the guidance on public health in a pandemic today, the people avoiding the reality of climate breakdown but continuing they’re normal activities were part of the problem. But as Katherine Trebeck explores in ‘Building Back Better Depends on Addressing the New Divides in our Economy’, the solutions lie in reconceptualising our entire economy and our entire relationship to work.
And the idea that individual behaviour change on its own, especially in a society in which social ties and the very idea of having collective shared common interests has been completely undermined, can succeed, is looking very doubtful.
But two things may save us. The first is the ability of people to remember the sociable and the communal instincts that have been suppressed by our economic systems and the values it promotes. The second is the rediscovery of collective state action and the rediscovery of urgency.
But the virus is telling us more about the structures and systems we suffer under. As degrowth economist Jason Hickel has noticed:
“This economic crisis is revealing that the main reason we all have to work for wages isn’t just to buy the things we need, but to pay rents and debts – in other words, to give money to the holders of capital.”
It’s worth remembering these things:
We must not all go back to work.
Things must not go back to normal.
Business as usual is a terrible idea.
Our economy was killing us before the virus came.