Lena Dobrowolska & Teo Ormond-Skeaping
This article was written during lockdown in the United Kingdom in April and May of 2020. It captures both the uncertainty and the glimmer of optimism that preceded the easing of restrictions in the UK and beyond as we speculated about what a post lockdown world may look like. Since writing a number of significant events have unfolded including the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.
When in the middle of February we decided to start social distancing, having been warned about the seriousness of the virus by Lena’s mother who is a doctor. We did so not because we were suffering from any symptoms of COVID-19 but because one of us is extremely vulnerable to becoming seriously ill if they were to catch it.
We had also seen how severely, first Wuhan and then Northern Italy were being impacted by local epidemics, and how likely it was that the UK was on a trajectory towards a similar scenario, given that the government had at the time taken few precautions to stop the virus from spreading.
We didn’t panic, but we were worried. Not worried about a Mad Max type end of the world scenario, but worried that a lack of action and clear social distancing guidance would increase the risk of one or both of us catching it. So to begin to imagine ways to limit the risk of ourselves and our friends and families from catching it, we started asking each other “what if questions”.
Questions like: what if work requires us to travel across London? What if we need to isolate from our new incoming housemate? What if London went into lockdown like Paris? What if panic buying causes supermarket supply chains to collapse? What if our neighbour who has cancer doesn’t take the virus seriously, how could we explain the risks to him? What if he needed to stay at home in isolation? How can we help him get food and supplies?
As a result, we were not at all surprised when lockdown was announced on the 12th of March, and our parents, neighbours and friends with whom we had canceled social engagements and nagged obsessively about taking the virus seriously, suddenly started saying things like: “Ok, so maybe you were right..but next time go a little lighter on the death stuff…”
The “what if” technique, which comes from the scenarios thinking methodology, was something that we had learnt about whilst undertaking the Culture and Climate Change Future Scenarios networked residency between 2016 and 2017.
Initiated by Prof. Renata Tyszczuk and Prof. Joe Smith in recognition of the importance of communicating the urgency of climate change through art and culture, the residency challenged us to become artist who were climate change researchers. It did so, by facilitating our collaboration with climate scientists, policy makers and researchers with whom we were to explore the theme of climate changed future scenarios.
As an introduction to scenarios thinking, Renata Tyszczuk explained to us that “scenarios can be seen as rehearsal spaces for collective modes of acting on, and thinking about uncertain futures”. We were then tasked with several scenarios making exercises, the first of which was to imagine a climatic future in relation to an object from the Scott Polar Museam’s collection, in our case a Inuit polar bear hide coat, in collaboration with scientists, researchers and policy makers from multiple climate related disciplines.
Through these exercises, we experienced how by asking “what if questions” in dialogue with others, we were challenged to become aware of different and multiple perspectives and how these perspectives gave rise to future scenarios that would have previously been unimaginable to us. In this way we learnt how to consider multiple possible future scenarios all at once and how to generate our own scenarios in collaboration with participants from disciplines or back grounds very different to our own.
Throughout the course of the residency and our ensuing Future Scenarios artist film and photography project, we worked with the collaborative practices at the root of scenarios thinking to suggest palpable imaginings of both difficult and improving future scenarios in dialogue with the researchers and communities that we visited. During our investigation we speculated upon scenarios of climate induced migration, intensified natural disasters, sea level rise, energy futures, conflict, heat and water stress and food security. To do so we visited locations that are vulnerable to climate change such as Bangladesh, Lao PDR, Nepal and Uganda, and those which are historically responsible for climate change, but also vulnerable, such as the UK and the USA.
Through the creation of speculative documentary film and photography, which we refer to as Capitloscenery *, we worked to identify glimpses of the future within the lived experiences of those that are most vulnerable to climate change and the dangers of continuing on our current “business as usual” scenario trajectory.
In doing so we wished to highlight three important things: One, how the crisis of climate change is for many not a future scenario, but a disaster that is unfolding right here, right now. Two, how the solution to the problem is already here and how this solution is being sabotaged by a number of developed nations such as the USA. And three, how allot can be learnt about adaptation and resilience from those nations and communities in the Global South who are already dealing climate change on the ground.
* scenes that are descriptive of the circumstances that are typical to the condition of Capitalism and Neo Liberal Capitalism that have precluded the Earth’s entry into a new geological epoch. Note that while this new epoch is officially referred to as the Athropocene, we like others including feminist thinkers such as Dona Haraway and political ecologists like T.J Demos, feel that the term Captilocene more aptly describes how the new epoch has come about through the extractive practices of a few corporations in pursuit of capital, rather than through the actions of all humanity which the word Athrops (Greek:man) wrongly implies. As evidenced by the fact that the term Athropocene implies that indigenous communities are equally responsible for such defining features of the epoch as climate change when they are not.
Having introduced us to the concept of scenarios thinking Renata also explained to us where scenarios came from. Scenarios she said, originated in the 16th century from a form collaborative Italian Street theatre called Commedia Dell’arte, in which a troupe of actors would be challenged to improvise performances based on sketches or "scenarios”.
Later the term “scenarios” was used in Hollywood to describe the plots that screenwriters would devise for films, which we now refer to as screenplays.
Then in the 1950’s during The Cold War, the term was seized upon by Herman Khan a futurist working for the Rand corporation as a military strategist on thermonuclear warfare. Khan, one of the real life inspirations for Dr Strange Love, pioneered a technique he called “future-now” thinking that combined detailed analyses with imagined fictional stories, with the intention of producing reports as though they might be written by people in the future.
Khan and his team of writers based their reports on difficult “what if” questions such as: what if the Soviets strike New York City with a thermonuclear weapon, how could the city be evacuated safely on short notice?
It was Khan’s intention that his scenarios would provide the context and stimulate the though process that leaders may experience during a nuclear attack that data and facts alone would not.
The name “scenarios” was suggested by Khans friend, the Hollywood screenwriter Leo Rosten as a way to “deglamorise” the concept, something that Khan understood was important for two reasons: Firstly, that it allowed scenario writers to think freely about future without worrying about the moral, economic or scientific constraints of the present. And secondly, because an adequate term was needed to frame the stories for the military leaders that would read them so that they did not discount the stories as science fiction or mistake the them for definitive outcomes.
Following on from Khan’s work the scenarios thinking methodology has since been employed by a wide range of scientific disciplines, economists and industries as a way of planning for a number of possible futures and as a way to manage uncertainties.
From the 1960’s to the present day scenario thinking has been central to climate change research and policy making. Climate scientists, researchers and laterally policy makers favoured the methodology because it allowed them to incorporate the uncertainty that surrounds the rate of warming that will occur and the impacts that such warming will have on the Earth’s ecosystems, our cultures and economies into policy and scientific reports, thereby allowing them to plan for many eventualities.
At first climate scientists and then the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) developed scenarios from data driven models to help us understand the scope of the problem with the intention that we would then go onto mitigate climate change before it became harder to do so. These early models simulated the warming trajectories that our historic, current and expected emissions indicated for our future climate with the first model being published in 1967.
While at the same time from work in the field of interdisciplinary academic research came the 1972 Limits to Growth report which presented a computer aided simulation of several different scenarios of exponential economic and population growth. Significantly the report highlighted that unless humanity moved away from a “business as usual” scenario to one that focused on sustainable development, extractive practices and the constant pursuit of economic growth would cause a sudden and uncontrollable collapse of the economy, earth's ecosystems and human population within the next 100 years.
Later climate models went on to indicate how National Determined Contributions (NDCs) to emissions reductions, the type of aspiration goals set within first, the Kyoto protocol and latterly the Paris agreement, could limit warming.
The IPCC’s latest scenarios report, the Paris Agreement’s Representative Concentration Pathways, or RCP scenarios for short, detail the impacts of average global temperature rise along 6 scenario pathways, ranging from a 0.3 °C to a conservative 4.8 °C average global temperature rise by 2100. In addition, the report also indicates what emission reductions need to take place to stay on a given pathway such as on scenario pathway RCP 1.9 which sees warming kept below the aspirational goal of 1.5 °C global average temperature rise. Thereby protecting the world's most climate vulnerable nations from adverse suffering.
However, since the early 1970’s, corporations such as fossil fuel giant Royal Dutch Shell have also used scenario planning for strategic decision making. By speculating upon different scenarios of future energy use, in which demand rose and fell and crises did and did not happen, the company’s planning team were able to foresee the energy crises of 1973 and 1979 and react accordingly to reduce losses and increase profits. Shell’s most recent scenario Sky even explores how the corporation could be a part of a Paris compatible 1.5 °C future.
Most recently scenarios thinking has been used to map the projected loss of life that the COVID-19 pandemic could entail at the global and national level.
In the UK the government and it’s scientific advisers have been asking “what if questions” to determine which pathway we would take through the pandemic. Questions like: Does the UK impose a lock down or not? Do we or don’t we enforce stricter social distancing measures? If the R is 1 or less will it stay that way if we lift the lockdown? And most importantly what conditions will overwhelm the National Health Service (NHS)?
With “flattening the curve” the ultimate objective now that containment has failed, decision makers must choose between different scenarios in which varying degrees of social distancing measures, quickly or slowly, send cases on a downward trajectory, and doing nothing which would send case numbers soaring on a upwards trajectory that would quickly overwhelm the NHS.
Scenarios thinking had also played a central role in the UK Government's early proposal to pursue herd immunity instead of draconian quarantine measures. In this instance the models that the scientific advisors for the government had created suggested that “taking it on the chin” to avoid a “pandemic cure that is worse than the disease” was a viable scenario pathway that avoided the severe economic impact of a lockdown and a hypothetical second wave that was potentially more deadly than the first. A pathway that would arguably allow the UK to prosper while other nations were laid low, but at the cost of a massive loss of life. Thankfully, this scenario was quickly abandoned when cases started to exponentially increase and we belatedly went into lockdown.
Although scenarios thinking is intended to anticipate obstacles and forks in the road ahead, so that we may avoid potential dangers and make informed decisions about which direction we are taking to the future. Such thinking may also be used to place obstacles and delay or influence decision making by those with foresight, who wish to benefit economically for as long as possible, before or during a transition or a crisis.
Yet another more complicated aspect of scenario thinking is that overtime decision makers have come to lean more heavily towards dehumanising scenarios derived from data driven computer generated models because they believe in the technical authority of such models. As a result, the collaboratively generated compassionate scenarios proposed by teams of specialists from a multitude of fields that take into account what has been learnt by people on the ground, such as the knowledge gathered by doctors and nurses in the case of the pandemic and the knowledge gathered by southern nations in the case of climate change, are being disregarded. (Consider the fiasco surrounding A level results in the UK as an example, an algorithm was used to decide students' grades instead of the teachers who knew the students abilities personally.)
You see, while we we thinking compassionately about how our neighbours, friends and family could avoid getting sick, other people were look to data driven models to gauge how the economy would suffer if X number of people got sick and what number of deaths was acceptable or worse how profit could be derived from such things as selling masks or altering social distancing requirements from 2 to 1 meters.
Due to trending towards data and algorithms, leaders are now promoting scenarios as privileged knowledge of the future to assure their supporters, shareholders or constituents instead of the subjective assessments that they are. With scenarios no longer being considered as Khan had intended them to be as aids to prepare us for an uncertain future, we are increasingly finding that scenarios are being touted as sets of deterministic pathways (Renata Tyszczuk), from which we must choose the least worst option, if we are indeed lucky enough to be included in the decision making process.
Ultimately, in the wrong hands scenarios thinking may in fact be used to colonise the future and further suppress the voices of already marginalised indigenous and minority communities and those organisations, governments and individuals that advocate for a just transition out of COVID-19 and away from fossil fuel extraction towards a carbon negative economy.
With Humanity standing at a crossroads, one direction leading to ecomodernist type futures full of techno-fixes that risk the moral hazard of assuming that negative emissions will be possible and locked in geoengineering, and the other direction to climate justice and indigenous cosmology based futures that respect the limits of earth's ecosystems. The type of scenarios that we place our faith in and how we interpret them, as determinist pathways or cautionary tales, will significantly determine the habitability and equality of our future.
Although a COVID-19 type pandemic was not a climate exacerbated scenario that we explored in our work, it was one that many scientists had highlighted as needing serious attention.
While the pandemic is not directly caused by climate change, warming and the extractive practices that lead to it have increased the likelihood of such a scenario. With ever increasing levels of deforestation due to unsustainable agricultural practices and encroachment into forests by developers and loggers, the booming illegal wildlife trade and a rising demand for bushmeat, species of animal are making contact that have never before met in the wild and they are doing so in the presence of humans. As a result viruses like COVID-19, Ebola, SARS and MERS have long been expected to go pandemic.
Additionally not unlike climate change, preventative action, vaccine development and lessons learned in the wake of Ebola and the SARS pandemic that could have saved hundreds of thousands of lives during the COVID-19 pandemic had been deemed alarmist or too expensive, with nations in the Global North reacting slowest and therefore suffering the greatest death tolls.
For many in the Global North images of deserted streets in our capitals and the Pope’s rain drenched mass in an empty St Peters square evoked the kind of end of the world scenario that scores of Hollywood zombie apocalypse, alien invasion, deep impact, day after tomorrow type films have conditioned us to expect the moment the pandemic happened.
Yet for many of the world’s poor that are living in the fallout of what was first colonialism, then became capitalism and has since rebranded as Neoliberal capitalism, the end of the world had already happened (T.J Demos).
For the already marginalised, who’s land and culture has been taken from underneath and above them and whose very existence is threatened by a long list of disasters that include ecocide, climate change, racial violence, religious, sexuality or gender identity based persecution, the COVID-19 pandemic is just another form of slow violence (Rob Nixon) that makes the tragedy that has become their existence worse.
When we said we were worried about COVID-19, we were not just worried about social distancing in this country, we were worried about all of the people we had interacted with in the communities within which we had worked in the Global South and the USA, where for many the luxury of social distancing is not possible.
For example, we worried about those that we met in Bangladesh who lived in densely populated slum communities, the multigenerational families of South Sudanese refugees that we worked with in Uganda who lived in single room tents or huts, and those that had lost their homes in the 2018 Camp Fire in Paradise, California who still lived in cars or RV’s on their lots where their homes once stood. All of whom were dependent on communal water sources and shared latrines, making it very hard for them to maintain social distancing in their communities.
For them lockdown was not a chance to do a deep dive into social media or to binge on the latest boxsets, it is a period of enforced starvation and confinement, which may expose them to domestic abuse and sexual violence and in some cases increase their chances of getting the virus.
What sort of social distance people are able to maintain and for how long, further reveals the vast inequality that has become inherent to our global society: Some can work from home. Some have no homes at all to shelter in. Others are on the verge of losing the roof over their heads due to sudden unemployment. If some don’t work, they don’t eat. Others still, live next to polluting factories which make them more vulnerable to getting seriously ill when they catch the virus.
We are quickly learning that COVID-19 is not the big leveller that we perhaps initially thought it was. Although it can infect all humans, from world leaders to slum dwellers, it does not affect us all equally.
The COVID-19 pandemic is not just a crisis but a crisis within a crisis within a crisis, that is making inequality, spending cuts to social services and political inaction all the more visible.
While it is right to acknowledge the vulnerability of the Global South to the impacts of COVID-19, it is wrong to assume that its nations are helpless in the face of the pandemic. With developing nations such as Vietnam, which borders China, having so far suppressed the outbreak and recorded no deaths, through a combination of strict quarantine and contact tracing, even though it has a population of 95 million, a weak health care system and a small budget to tackle the problem.
When during the Future Scenarios residency in 2017 we were invited by Dr Saleemul Huq, a renowned Bangladeshi climate researcher, to his research centre: The International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) in Dhaka Bangladesh. We were invited to explore, not how the nation is being impacted by climate change but instead how Bangladesh is in fact a climate change expert. In doing so we learnt how the narrative of vulnerability that once surrounded those nations most vulnerable to climate change has developed into a narrative of resilience and adaptation.
During our time at ICCCAD Dr Huq and his team explained to us how the countries that were once thought of as helpless in the face of climate change are now emerging as leaders in key areas of climate research and policy making while simultaneously manning the moral helm of climate politics.
For example, Dr Huq revealed that countries in the Global South had in many cases pioneered the introduction of such things as climate resilient and low Carbon development pathways, nature based adaptation strategies, the use of indigenous climate resilient agricultural practices and technologies like salt resistant rice strains, low cost adaptation technologies for sea level rise and river bank erosion, research into loss and damage, knowledge sharing, community based disaster preparedness, climate policy implementation at the national level, and the constitutional protection of nature.
But perhaps most significantly Dr Huq said, it had been the Southern nations that had called for the aspirational goal of 1.5 °C and the Warsaw Mechanism On Loss and Damage to be enshrined in the Paris agreement and that unsurprisingly the nations of the Global South are in fact closest to decarbonising their economies, even though as a group they have contributed the least to total global carbon emissions.
While conversely Dr. Huq explained, the developed nations that are principally responsible for climate change and have the greatest technological and financial resources to tackle it, seem to be stuck in a state of political apathy that is delaying any serious emission reductions while withholding finance for mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage from the vulnerable nations of the Global South that will be hardest hit.
Perversely, some responsible nations, like the U.S, are seemingly compounding their own enormous vulnerability to the impacts of climate change by making little progress towards adaptation at home, whilst simultaneously strategically delaying climate negotiations, prior to their exit from the agreement in 2020.
Following our time at ICCCAD, we concluded that by foregrounding this new narrative of resilience and adaptation in our work, we could reveal how Dr Huq’s narrative of resilience and adaptation opens up a dialogue about a still yet-to-be determined future. A story that rejected the fatalistic narrative about vulnerability that compounds the victimhood of those nations most vulnerable to climate change and highlighted the fact that it is still possible to advert a climate catastrophe by meeting the aspirational goal of 1.5 °C if we act now.
Not only does the Global South offer lessons in climate leadership but also on compassion and generosity. When in 2016 The European Union accepted close to 363 thousand refugees and migrants, Uganda itself an LDC with a history of conflict, accepted nearly 983 thousand refugees that had been displaced by conflicts in neighbouring South Sudan, The Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi.
Then in 2017 when President Trump rolled back on the requirement for federal agencies to consider established climate science in their planning, which meant that homes, roads and other infrastructure could be built with no regard to the rising risk of climate exacerbated floods, droughts or storms, Dr Huq wrote an open letter on behalf of Bangladesh to the American people offering both sympathy and help to adapt to climate change.
We too have received compassionate messages from the Global South during the pandemic, most recently when on the 19th of March our friend Joseph, himself a former refugee from South Sudan, whom we had met when he was living in Omugo refugee settlement in Uganda, messaged us to check if we were ok and to send us his thoughts and prayers, having heard of the mounting COVID-19 death toll in Italy.
Such gestures should encourage us to reach out and make contact with those most impacted by COVID-19 and Climate Change, to approach an understanding of how our lifestyles affect them and to learn from their generosity, compassion and lived experiences. Yet in a world enveloped in perpetual crisis, one dominated by Shock Politics, compassion and love seem to be so easily trumped by a business as usual maxim, xenophobic rhetorics and the technological determinism of the patriarchy.
The COVID-19 pandemic and Climate Change appear to share many similarities. They are both Hyperobjects. They were both made worse by globalisation. They appear at first to effect all equally, but are soon recognised as impacting the poorest hardest. Neither obey borders. The precautionary measures that could have diminished their impact have been delayed, ignored and deemed too costly. They both require international cooperation in research, mitigation and adaptation and dramatic changes to our behaviour.
But the similarities largely stop there.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic possesses all of the qualities of a hyperobject. It’s massively distributed in space and time. Even after we have all been vaccinated, the virus, like the flu will outlast us all. And all of the COVID-19 virus that will ever exist on earth cannot be seen all at once. We can think, see and understand the virus in a totally different way to how we can comprehend climate change.
Where climate change requires thousands upon thousands of data sets, images and models to come close to describing it, the virus can more easily be understood when we see an image of one single copy of the virus. Because we can single it out, we can more easily cast it into the role of an enemy, another, one outside of humanity that we may freely hate. We cannot, and will not hate climate change in the same way because that involves hating ourselves which leads to apathy, which is counter productive.
Once the viral assailant has been identified, war like rhetoric can be used to create a rally round the flag type enthusiasm for defeating it. We can put a 3D generated image of it on public information posters telling us to wash our hands and maintain social distancing, we can create cartoon viruses for kids to help them understand why school has been canceled and we can project daily death tolls over the scanning electron microscope image of it. All of which help us focus our energy on flattening the curve. Yet no equivalent polar bear on thin ice type image, no treaty, no Greta Thunberg has successfully encouraged us to concentrate on flattening the emissions curve or the loss and damage curve (if one was plotted) .
Where the pandemic differs again from climate change is in the understanding that it has an known point of origin (though it is still contested) and that blame could be placed on a single nation. Although anthropogenic climate change, can be understood as starting during the industrial revolution, there is no equivalent of COVID-19’s patient zero, no carbon dioxide molecule number one, instead there was a sustained period of emission during which nearly every nation on earth contributed in some small way to an increase of Carbon Dioxide from 280ppm to 415ppm. While we are rightly attributing the lion's share responsibility for global warming to the developed nations like the U.S, UK and Europe who are principally responsible for historic greenhouse gas emissions, we are also acknowledging by working together under the Paris agreement, that every nation must play a role to limit warming.
America’s escalating war of words with China, over what President Trump lauds as an attack worse than Pearl Harbour or 9/11 by a “Chinese Virus”, thereby greatly contributing to the tsunami of hate and xenophobia that the pandemic has unleashed, is only possible because there is an origin to point the finger at.
While arguably we could point the finger at the UK, and more specifically to James Watts for making the steam engine so popular, it is likely that the industrial revolution would have happened anyway. However we can and should point the figure at those who have intentionally delayed climate action such as Exxon during the decade (1979-89) that we could have stopped climate change.
As we work to tackle the COVID-19 crisis, we know that one day it will end. That one day of the pandemic is a very tangible one day, it is a point in time that is as little as one or two years ahead, it is the carrot on that stick that gives us hope. But the one day of climate change is not near, for most of us it is beyond our lifetimes and presents little incentive for us to moderate our carbon intensive life styles.
While the COVID-19 crisis may well be resolved in the next term of the inbound U.S president, climate change will not be, it requires sustained, far reaching preemptive policy making that many politicians are to afraid to impose for fear that it will detract from their chance of re-election (Saleemul Huq). While second term U.S president’s do enact lasting changes on their way out the door, a returning Trump will without a doubt leave a damaging legacy of fossil fuel bail outs, renewed coal extraction and further deregulation under the guise of rebuilding the post virus economy, all of which will make catastrophic global warming harder to advert .
Unfortunately, the real time COVID-19 crisis, as opposed to the slow motion disaster of climate change is also being used as an excuse by would-be autocrats to secure more power. As leaders around the world assume emergency powers to protect public health systems, a small number of leaders are unlocking powers that far exceed any that democratic governments have assumed to fight COVID-19. Such examples of the abuse of power include: Hungry’s “coronavirus law”, giving the prime minister Viktor Orban almost unlimited powers to rule by decree with no expiry date. Cambodia’s introduction of a COVID-19 emergency law that allows for the unlimited surveillance of private citizens. A law in Zimbabwe targeting those spreading misinformation (including criticism of the government) that comes with 20 years imprisonment. And the timely implementation of lockdowns in countries such as India in which enforced stay at home orders have ended nationwide rallies against the government’s marginalisation of Muslims. With social distancing laws stopping journalists and human-rights activists from leaving their homes, we simply do not know if unreported abuses are not even worse. (Since this article has been written things have arguably gotten worse not better, for example look to Venezuela where individuals are being punished for catching the virus.)
So, we are screwed right?
If the virus doesn’t get us, and the autocrats don’t oppress us then the climate crisis will finish us off.
But why assume the worst? Why not treat the virus as a provocation to imagine the world otherwise? And take lockdown as an opportunity to ask questions about what a just transition out of the pandemic looks like?
Why not think of the “pandemic as a portal” (Arundhati Roy), a dress rehearsal for the climate crisis, “an icon of what is really possible" (Jeramy Lent) and a chance to take the lessons learned from this finite crisis and use them to tackle another more enduring one (Saleemul Huq). We might even thank the virus (Timothy Morton) one day for saving those who survived the pandemic from a fate worse than COVID-19.
As the crisis deepens we have seen behavioural changes, environmental improvements, market shocks and levels of state intervention to protect citizens and businesses that were previously unthinkable.
The Uk’s government is paying 80% of the salaries of contracted workers and the self employed and renting hotels for the homeless. Spain has promised to introduce a universal basic income and has already nationalised its private hospitals. New York State is releasing low risk prisoners and has halted evictions.
We are learning that people have been quite prepared to dramatically change their behaviour to reduce the risk of overwhelming their nations health systems. This is encouraging and diminishes the argument that actions on climate change will affect civil liberties and freedoms. (Saleemul Huq)
We are expected to see an 8-11% reduction in global emissions due to the lockdown. An amount equivalent to the annual emissions reductions needed in each year of the next decade to limit warming to less than 1.5 °C above pre-industrial temperatures.
We are experiencing a huge reduction in air pollution as the economic slowdown closes factory doors, stops unnecessary car journeys and brings to a halt fossil fuel burning public transport systems around the world. A reduction in car crashes and train derailments has greatly reduced moralities in India and less air pollution has saved an estimated 77 thousand lives in China.
Consumers are returning to local producers and small businesses as they try to reduce their contact with larger numbers of people and when overwhelmed supply chains have left supermarket shelves empty.
People are realising that their work can be done from home, that meetings can be done virtually and that colleagues, friends and family around the world can feel as close as those next-door. (Jeramy Lent)
Solutions are being crowdsourced as health workers on the front line share their knowledge of dealing with past emergencies and apply it to COVID-19, as in the case of clinicians like Charlene Babcock who demonstrated on youtube how ICU’s could use one ventilator for up to four COVID-19 patients in an emergency situation where ventilator capacity was overwhelmed.
We have once again been reminded that more often than not disaster brings out the best in people as mutual aid groups form to support those who are most vulnerable to the impacts of the pandemic and communities find themselves pulling together. (Jeramy Lent)
Very importantly we have seen that major investors like Warren Buffett have dumped carbon intensive stocks, in his case airline stocks, and that others are starting to see the benefit of shorting fossil fuel stocks as demand plummets and the price of a barrel of oil dropped into negative figures. As a result renewables are increasingly looking like safer long term investments.
As the previously unthinkable has suddenly become a reality in a very short period of time, a genie that will be very hard to put back in its bottle has been released (Klein). No longer will politicians be able to tell their constituents that such things are not possible due to cost, they have seen that they are, if the political will to do so is there.
To avoid returning to business as usual, the very thing that caused the public health crisis and the climate emergency in the first place, we need to move towards a “new normal”. A better than normal. where policies are aimed at helping the most vulnerable citizens of every country as well as reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and protecting earth's ecosystems and more than human inhabitants .
It is possible for this crisis to catalyse the same leap forward that The Great Depression did in the 1930’s when it led to the New Deal if our collective reaction is to reject neoliberal norms and bring in a Green New Deal to transition to a post pandemic economic that simultaneously tackles mass unemployment and climate change.
More than anything COVID-19 may teach us that it is time to stop following the technocratic totem of “The Science” (neoliberal behavioural economists new name for data heavy models and algorithms) and time to start listening to real scientists, healthcare professionals, and community workers and those Southern and indigenous communities that are being impacted by the double whammy of climate change and COVID-19.
Hopefully the virus may teach us to stop trusting our futures to statistic or behaviour driven models that have been determined by inhumane machine learning technologies and instead to return to the collaborative practices and humanistic disciplines that lie at the root of scenarios that can help us extend empathy to the cryosphere, the biosphere and the vulnerable through the imagining of a compassionate and habitable future.
We will soon see what lasting lessons have been learnt from COVID-19, as lockdowns around the world start to be lifted we will face the choice of listening to the researchers, doctors, nurses, teachers and carers on the front lines or following “The Science” of Neoliberal capitalism.
Choices that will be made as the U.S goes to the polls for the 2020 presidential election, and reflected in the ambition of the nationally determined contributions to emission reductions and in the progress made on Loss and Damage at the now postponed UNFCCC COP-26 that is due to take place in 2021.
This article was published in issue five of BoomSaloon in September 2020. Find it here: https://www.boomsaloon.com/product/issue-005-resolve/
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