There is a lot of knowledge to be mined from how our nations - and their citizens - responded to the Covid-19 pandemic. That knowledge could be invaluable to us in preparing for other disruptive events that loom in the not distant future.
The coronavirus pandemic is “just a fire drill” for what is likely to follow from the climate crisis, and the protests over racial injustice around the world show the need to tie together social equality, environmental sustainability and health, the UN’s sustainable business chief has said.
“The overall problem is that we are not sustainable in the ways we are living and producing on the planet today,” said Lise Kingo, the executive director of the UN Global Compact, under which businesses sign up to principles of environmental protection and social justice. “The only way forward is to create a world that leaves no one behind.”
Human rights were “inseparable” from dealing with climate breakdown, she told the Guardian in an interview. “This horrible racism [seen in the killing of George Floyd] is about human rights. We have to make sure that we give the social part of the agenda equal focus.”Social equality, environmental stability and health. That sounds simple enough and yet achieving these goals seem increasingly elusive.
Social equality sounds good but it means overcoming privilege. Here's the problem.
When he died in 2008, Ted Rogers Jr., then CEO of Rogers Communications, was the fifth-wealthiest individual in Canada, holding assets worth $5.7 billion. In his autobiography (2008) he credited his success to a willingness to take risks, work hard, bend the rules, be on the constant look-out for opportunities, and be dedicated to building the business. In many respects, he saw himself as a self-made billionaire who started from scratch, seized opportunities, and created a business through his own initiative.Rogers, of course, was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He attended Upper Canada College, picked up a law degree at Osgoode Hall, rubbed elbows with the right people. He was "in."
Now compare Ted Rogers with an incarcerated aboriginal gang member.
In some respects the Aboriginal gang members interviewed were like Ted Rogers in that they were willing to seize opportunities, take risks, bend rules, and apply themselves to their vocations. They too aspired to getting the money that would give them the freedom to make their own lives. However, as one of the inmates put it, “the only job I ever had was selling drugs” (CBC, 2010). The consequence of that was to fall into a lifestyle that led to joining a gang, being kicked out of school, developing issues with addiction, and eventually getting arrested and incarcerated. Unlike Ted Rogers, however, the inmate added, “I didn’t grow up with the best life” (CBC, 2010).Arguably, Ted Rogers started life with a privileged "habitus."
The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002) defined ones habitus as the deeply seated schemas, habits, feelings, dispositions, and forms of know-how that people hold due to their specific social backgrounds, cultures, and life experiences (1990). Bourdieu referred to it as ones “feel for the game,” to use a sports metaphor.Haven't we wrestled, or at least told ourselves we wrestled, with this for generations? How well has that gone?
Environmental stability. Our exaggerated petro-economy undermines our hopes of achieving environmental stability. What does that even mean at this point natural feedback loops, activated by man-made greenhouse gas emissions like some sleeping giant awakened, now are in play? Here I refer to the thawing of the permafrost and the release of massive volumes of greenhouse gases that, for millennia, were safely sequestered in ice or the seabed clathrates that now release CO2 plumes to the surface and onward into the atmosphere or our beleaguered forests, once massive 'carbon sinks' that are now transformed, by climate change, into 'carbon bombs.' We don't know the measure of these 'knock-on' effects or what other surprises may await.
The third element is health. Here the picture is less gloomy, at least marginally. We like to boast of universal healthcare but there's nothing universal in how it is accessed by Canadians in different parts of our country. As a rule, the further you are from the American border, the more difficulty you may have accessing healthcare facilities and providers. The further you have to travel for health services, the less likely you are to access help.
If achieving these goals domestically is difficult, achieving them on a global scale is nearly impossible. Nations vary enormously, region by region. Most of the world's wealth is concentrated in the relatively underpopulated nations of the temperate latitudes. The worst of the world's climate breakdown is experienced elsewhere, in the developing and Third World countries. I see no sign that the affluent Western world has much interest in notions of equality when it comes to the less advantaged countries.