Monday, March 30, 2020

Now We Have to Look at Ourselves In the Mirror. It's Not Very Pleasant.

One of the traits neoliberalism has instilled in us is a near-bulletproof ability to look the other way.

Terrestrial life (non-human) declines by half in forty years. Marine life declines by half in forty years. Not my problem. Biodiversity loss, especially the loss of pollinators, spreads across the planet. Meh. Stocks of farmland degraded by excessive, intensive agriculture and agricultural chemicals. Somebody ought to do something about... what was that? Severe weather events of increasing frequency, duration and severity. Well my, my. Global warming. Sure, yeah, bad.  We'll get someone on those things, eventually. They'll think of something.

Then a pernicious little virus sets in. Oh well, a few weeks of self-isolation and social distancing should do the trick and then we'll be back to normal, right as rain. Only we're not so sure of that as we were just a few months ago. We've started to look in the mirror.

Some of us are finally coming to realize that all of those annoying dire warnings thrown at us over the last 15 to 20-years were true. They weren't "alarmist," the excuse we often used to justify ignoring them.  Have we really been living in a Potemkin culture?

The Guardian's enviro-scribe, George Monbiot, wrote an op-ed last week that went largely unnoticed as all eyes were riveted on the coronavirus.  He questioned whether Covid-19 will awaken us from our stupor.
The temptation, when this pandemic has passed, will be to find another bubble. We cannot afford to succumb to it. From now on, we should expose our minds to the painful realities we have denied for too long. 
The planet has multiple morbidities, some of which will make this coronavirus look, by comparison, easy to treat. One above all others has come to obsess me in recent years: how will we feed ourselves? Fights over toilet paper are ugly enough: I hope we never have to witness fights over food. But it’s becoming difficult to see how we will avoid them. 
In combination with a rising human population, and the loss of irrigation water, soil and pollinators, this could push the world into structural famine. Even today, when the world has a total food surplus, hundreds of millions are malnourished as a result of the unequal distribution of wealth and power. A food deficit could result in billions starving. 
But this is just one of our impending crises. Antibiotic resistance is, potentially, as deadly as any new disease. One of the causes is the astonishingly profligate way in which these precious medicines are used on many livestock farms.

In the US, where 27 million people have no medical cover, some people are now treating themselves with veterinary antibiotics, including those sold, without prescription, to medicate pet fish. Pharmaceutical companies are failing to invest sufficiently in the search for new drugs. If antibiotics cease to be effective, surgery becomes almost impossible. Childbirth becomes a mortal hazard once more. Chemotherapy can no longer be safely practised. Infectious diseases we have comfortably forgotten become deadly threats. We should discuss this issue as often as we talk about football. But again, it scarcely registers.
Monbiot observes that the spread of virulent epidemics, antibiotic resistance, climate breakdown, and the spreading reality of food insecurity are just some of the civilizational-scale threats we're facing. If we treat Covid-19 as some "one off" event, we're setting ourselves up for even greater catastrophes that won't be waiting for future generations. They're getting an early start and we're all in their crosshairs.
There are two ways this could go. We could, as some people have done, double down on denial. Some of those who have dismissed other threats, such as climate breakdown, also seek to downplay the threat of Covid-19. Witness the Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, who claims that the coronavirus is nothing more than “a little flu”. The media and opposition politicians who have called for lockdown are, apparently, part of a conspiracy against him. 
Or this could be the moment when we begin to see ourselves, once more, as governed by biology and physics, and dependent on a habitable planet. Never again should we listen to the liars and the deniers. Never again should we allow a comforting falsehood to trounce a painful truth. No longer can we afford to be dominated by those who put money ahead of life. This coronavirus reminds us that we belong to the material world.


Anonymous said...

We'll, if you can step back from all the fear and emotions and look at things from a purely biological view (pretend you are Spock), this is survival of the fittest which has been seriously delayed due to technology (think agriculture), advanced medical procedures and drugs. It's heartless to think this way, I know, and make no mistake, I'm not thinking this is a good thing. The downside is that the fittest are probably the richest, who, it could be argued, should be the first to go.

The Disaffected Lib said...

It's not obvious to me that even the richest/fittest are secure, Anon. Some time ago I wrote of a professor/futurist from New York who received a handsome speaking fee. He thought he was being hired to give a luncheon address to a Wall Street group and prepared remarks accordingly. When he arrived at the venue he discovered he was there for an audience of three, all hedge fund managers. They weren't looking for a speech. They had questions they wanted answered.

He said the focus was on what might befall them when money became valueless. In particular they wanted his advice on surviving social collapse including what they might do to prevent their own security from turning on them to take their assets.

When you think about it, the richest are often the most dependent on others. They're not particularly self-sufficient. They hire others to provide mundane but life-supporting services. Think Mr. Howell on Gilligan's Island.

If you were to be marooned on an island would you prefer to share your circumstance with a rich man or someone who had a passing knowledge of horticulture, construction and first aid and was equally adept with a rifle and a fishing net?

Lorne said...

For far too log, Mound, we have lived in a cossetted manner, willfully oblivious to all of the warning signs, reassured by the ill-founded belief that science, technology and feel-good pop psychology could get us out of any jam, be it global or personal. The hollowness of that magical thinking is now obvious, but if we don't learn our lesson and modify our collective existence drastically, we never will.

John B. said...

Like many others I'll remain in my stupor and be content to blame the forces that have, and will continue to, aggressively work to keep me there as I await the time that an Admirable Crichton will appear and try to save what's left of us.

If you don't know where you are or where to go next you might only be confused. But if you don't know or would even care to have an understanding of how you got here, then you're lost.

Anonymous said...

Good points, Mound. I was just thinking that the rich would buy themselves out of trouble, but if society does collapse, the rich might not even have the skills to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

The Disaffected Lib said...

Lorne, we have indeed spent decades setting ourselves up for a mighty fall.

BTW, I'm trying to track down the clip but there are numerous reports that your friend in faith, Pat Robertson, is blaming Covid-19 on oral sex.

“Some of these young uns are doing all kinds of unnatural things with their sex organs,” said Robertson. “When people do that, they transfer all kinds of chemicals from ladies’ private parts and that’s where I think the virus came from. We never had this kind of thing when I was coming up. But no one was committing oral sex back then.”

This is the same guy who blamed 9/11 on witches and lesbians.

The Disaffected Lib said...

John, don't be so damned fatalist. There's no end of people who could use a little messing up.

The Disaffected Lib said...

Apparently that has dawned on some of them. Me, I just went through all my fishing gear. I cleaned and oiled my rifles last week. Tomorrow I'm planning to inventory the ammunition lockers. When it comes to that sort of thing, the lowly 22 LR is the "go to" firearm of choice. There is an abundance of shellfish for the taking where I am and it's pretty easy to trap a couple of Dungeness crabs for dinner. Trout, salmon and cod are in reasonable supply albeit no longer abundant. Deer, loads of them. I read about a must-have book, "The New complete book of Self-Sufficiency: the classic guide for realists and dreamers" (1976) and I got a copy 2nd hand for cheap. It's really quite good and even has a chapter on brewing your own beer and the basics of wine making. And I'm up to my eyeballs in tools of all descriptions.

I put all this stuff together over many years in part because of the slim but real chance that we may get the "Big One" earthquake. The provincial government sends out reminders every couple of years with inventories of stuff we should always have to hand. One seismologist predicted that big quake will move the entire, 400 mile long island, 18 feet to the east. That's a lot of force and a lot of damage.

the salamander said...

.. hmm.. richest = fittest ..

Darwin's Law, Mother Nature.. is uh.. pitiless, last I looked. Further, in my brief planetary hop skip n jump trip the most dangerous things in life best not looked at directly.. Sideways glance be best, cut a wide circle n shuffle along there lickedy split. Never a payoff to being cocky or cocksure. Hold to the 'old saws'.. put your trust in th lord.. but keep yer gun powder dry eh. Put another way by this deep woods pilgrim, surrender yer lunch and walk away from the bear.. as the stranger at the bar said at the end of The Big Lebowski.. "sometimes you eat the bear.. sometimes the bear eats you.." .. Grizz more likely to eat you and yer wallet than hold to Queensbury Rules.. Polar Bear gives not a single fluck.. short on the talk talk, will just tuck its napkin in.. and enjoy you for lunch toute suite.. emit a burp n toddle off for naptime. Fit don't count for nothin.. fat is better n lip smackin goodly sez the bear

Normal is hking a fireroad in the Cascade valley, Banff Alberta revelling in the scenery and yer L L Bean parka.. trouble with that is the trouble with normal.. is it always gets worse.. Again the remorseless cold eye o Sweet Mother Nature.. the Queen Bee.. our wondrous special, kill yo unsuspecting presumptious ass dead mutha. That wondrous double rainbow ? Dude, Dudess .. step off the trail and study yer backtrail ! Show respect or at least try !.. I was blessed with 18 lives, not 9.. Closing now on Life 16 or 17 I figger. Truth be told, wuz never good at math n may have lost count.. For every lucky dawg sucker like me there's a dozen who had no luck at all.. just not fair.. c'est la vie

Some folks a mile from their private campground laneway missed the stop sign northbound on the paved 2nd line at our 27th sideroad.. hit the gravel hump at speed.. mebbe 60 mph n locked the brakes midair.. I was 12 n tryin to catch my quarter horse without an apple in my pocket. They could probably taste the BBQ sausage and corn on the cob I bet, had already cracked sum beers & hurryin.. life was good eh ! Less than a minute from their guests.. a Lithuanian wild weekend.. hot diggety kolbassa dawg. Our dog and my nasty horse gave a snort & turned to th wind sudden quick.. smell of gasoline rank & drifting thru our cornfield from the east.. Party over afore it begun. They missed the Mimosa Disciple Cemetary gravestones, flew into our cornfield, rolled, rolled n rolled sum more.. no trouble finding their trail . all dead it seemed but for an infant cawing in the corn, was pitched clear somehow.. n not a mark upon it, the rest dead.. no fire and engine still running tho sputtering. Killed that quick, n rode for adult help..way outta my pay grade surreal.. but it didn't mark me. Instead it taught me.. I just didn't know it.. did later, Here n there I think back on it.. and other situations survived via blind luck, happenstance, or the good graces of Mother Nature. Don't count yer blessings.. scramble clear n vamoose. Step away from calamity ASAP.. tho after you assist the injured. The dead require no help. Don't mess with Mother Nature.. respect her to the max, be her friend, not her enemy.. Fate ? Circumstance ? Destiny ? Foolishness ? Carelessness ? Does it even matter ? Hmm.. respect, gratitude, playing things smart do count, & bigtime. Maybe that's our only 'edge'.. its the razor's edge in my view.. and I seen a lot, learned a bit.. Its an intangible, a great 'hedge' .. To waste it is crazy.. to protect any and all 'hedges' edges, back doors, a smart move, its the only move, best we remember that, treasure them, work with them..

The Disaffected Lib said...

I had one run-in with a cougar that got my attention, Sal. Black bears several times but we seem to abide each other. I've heard of mountain bikers that find one trying to run them down. That doesn't always end well. I've yet to see one of the island wolves but know a few who have. I've seen the coastal wolves up inlets on the mainland side. Quite a bit smaller than timber wolves but a pack can take down a grizzly supposedly. No, it's been live and let live so far. I was in a small herd of bison a few months ago. Farmed animals, habituated to humans. Friendly as could be but the bulls are massive. I've been stepped on by a horse. I've known a cow's hoof in a milking barn. One of those bison might have been a different experience.

I stopped hunting when I was 19. It didn't take long to realize that wasn't for me. I don't get sport "catch and release" fishing either. It's one thing to go for food but quite another to put a fish on the end of a hook and the trauma of being reeled in and landed - for nothing.

I do go periodically to the range just to keep us some measure of proficiency. Target shooting is an enjoyable way to pass an hour or two.

Just once I'd like to see one of the giant, Roosevelt elk that inhabit the north half of this island but they're elusive creatures that go out of their way to avoid human contact. A guy I knew won the lottery for an elk permit a few years ago. He did track a couple but never laid eyes on one. As he went into the trees after them, they went even deeper. He tried to stake out likely areas but nothing every came through while he was waiting.

the salamander said...

.. about the same here.. never seen a couger though.. not a single wild cat. Never a polar bear either, though my cousin saw both. Never an orca strangely but sharks n many a 6 foot barracuda. I top my cousin via a brief wolverine sighting near Takekaw Falls.. I had friends in Banff were park rangers.. great stories from the back country. We had mucho elk on the Banff Springs golf course. Bison in the paddock. Wild animals fascinate me .. in another life I would be a marine biologist.. or wildlife ranger. We all grew up with Jacques Cousteau and National Geographic.. It took me into the wild, atop Everest and breathing mixed gas down to the Angela Doria. You ever want to read a blowaway grizzly book, track down The Track Of The Grizzly.. yes, the Craighead Brothers who I first met via the Geographic. Heavy horses a plenty.. stepped on me, leaned on me.. stunning giants, sweethearts big as the bull moose

Boss n I were on empty.. long day o snorkelling in the Turks.. we 20 feet from shore.. mebbe 2.5 feet o water.. rinsing our masks, beer oclock, fun day. Two french guys pokin n splashin on foot too, nearby. One calls the other.. ici le skate.. I shout to Boss, go for a look see, mask in hand, we 4 gather round.. and I stick my mask just in.. as does Boss to have a look.. wondrous diaphanous sea creature.. astonishing long pinkish feathery wings.. the hell ? Like a water dragon.. aint no skate that for sure.. distant bell going off in my head.. our 8 eyes stare at it, we got it surrounded with our 8 feet n legs.. it starts movin and right rhen I start softly retreating, pulling the boss away lickedy. split.. Closest I ever come to dying or never being the same me that entered the water that day.. a scorpionfish.. where did that warning bell come from ? Jacques Cousteau and National Geographic.. ! No shot I can send you, my waterproof point n dhoot camera had flooded n died coupla days earlier. Later I described the fish in detail at a dive shop.. a dive master overheard me .. jumped right in, askin where.. when, what depth.. serious concern. One touch says he, its straight to hospital, onset of permanent kidney and liver damage, tissue damage, cascade of complications, holiday ? Its over Rover sez he with just one touch of a spine. Priceless sighting, once in a lifetime he says.. Lionfish are a bit similar down there, a real invasive scourge actually, but in his experience 1/10th as dangerous & far more shy. I don't count that among my 9 lives.. or my 18.. and always wear water shoes or my shorty fins ever since haha.. damn thing got me spooked but good.. moral ? Sometimes being lucky tops being careful.. nothing is really ever certain, no guarrantees around mother nature.. (and money can't buy you love..)