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The Weighing of the Souls (tryptych interior): Michael Madden.

Two crises with the same cause

Comparing HM Government’s handling of two crises – coronavirus and climate change – leads Michael Madden, Hastings resident, environmental campaigner and painter, to some interesting conclusions.

Two recent and very serious crises share a similar cause – human attitudes to wild animals and to Nature in general.

Researchers say that the coronavirus first infected humans in a Chinese food market where wild animal body parts were sold – specifically via bats and pangolins. That vile trade allowed such close contact with animal viruses that they infected people. It then spread around the world’s human population.

The climate crisis is also due to our short-sighted attitude to Nature. We know that its delicate balance has already been damaged due to the huge footprint of our waste. Yet still too many people see Nature as something that just exists – to be exploited as they choose. This view is even inherent in many religions, which aspire to Godliness rather than Earthliness. Almost all traditional world religions or belief systems, including most schools of Buddhism, are primarily focused on our own redemption from this earthly sphere.

In fact there seems to be something in the mass mind-set that perceives itself as above Nature, independent of its laws, as if we are its masters and in control of it and our own destinies. We watch nature programmes that show pristine wildernesses, but others about “conquering” it. And we have now multiplied to such great numbers that we encroach on wildernesses around the planet.

Humans and animals

Only the religion of some of the native North and South American peoples saw human beings as the relatives of animals. But with a few exceptions our ancestors wiped them and their belief systems out. Chief Seattle of the Squamish and Duwamish people predicted that we could end up suffocating in our own waste. He also said that: “If all the beasts are gone, men will die of a great loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beasts also happens to men. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the Earth befalls the sons of the Earth.”

Of course we evolved by being focused on our own reproduction, and dealing with short-term threats has made us able to deal with short-term dangers like coronavirus, yet less able to deal with more long-term ones like the climate crisis. Will we react only when it is too late?

Also, the political beliefs that have dominated Western economies for so long have not been concerned with safeguarding the Earth’s fine balance. Both capitalism and Marxism sought to master Nature for human gain: the first by individual, the second by collective means. Each embraced the use of technology to harness natural resources, without understanding that the Earth is a living organism with its own limits.

It follows, therefore, that the two major crises that humankind faces today, coronavirus and the climate crisis, are self-inflicted. The human death toll statistics from coronavirus are high enough. But world statistics on the death rate from climate catastrophes are absent, because they’re so difficult to prove with absolute certainty. They may be far greater.

Slow to react

Politically speaking, why have the British and American governments reacted so slowly to coronavirus in comparison with countries like Germany and China? Is it because they moved towards an increasingly free-market philosophy fifty years ago, in which Keynesian economics was relegated to the rubbish bin of history? They dismantled state protections, believing that markets would cure everything without any need for state intervention.

Our present Prime Minister showed his Thatcherite credentials recently, when he stated that he didn’t like to implement ‘nanny state’ policies to deal with the virus, until he saw that the pandemic could wipe out a quarter of the population. One glimmer of hope is that he recently said this crisis had proven to him that there is such a thing as society (the opposite of Thatcher’s famous claim to the effect that ‘There is no such thing as society’).

He had no choice but to enact the biggest state intervention policy since WW2. Surely this makes a very good case for the return to Keynesian economics. The best outcome from this pandemic would be if the free market economic philosophy finally fell and we saw our product-obsessed culture replaced with a more holistic one, that really recognises the causes of climate change.

Most governments seem to be blind to these issues though. When Greta Thunberg went on strike outside the Riksdag, a great movement began. And it seemed that maybe a very young generation could finally achieve what the hippies and the Green movement failed to. They persuaded governments to declare a state of ‘climate emergency.’ But did those governments then act decisively? The short answer is ‘not nearly as dramatically as they have to coronavirus’. And yet the same kind of action is vital if we are to survive.

James Lovelock, the great scientist (who wrote the Gaia trilogy) predicted exactly the scenario we are facing now in 1989 (in his second Gaia book). He wrote that we had fifteen years to turn things around. His and allied scientists’ theories were soon attacked and denied by vested interest groups, which slowed down potential action for a number of years. These vested interest groups have grown even more powerful since.

Lovelock and democracy

As Lovelock now says, it is essential to bypass democracy in emergencies like this and follow top scientists’ advice. He said this because advocating policies that might, for instance, lead to calls for voluntary austerity or restraining population growth would not win votes. But people also need to see that sacrificing their own luxuries for the sake of the planet is now essential.

Our so-called ‘democratic’ parliamentary system is incapable of protecting us against a long-term danger like climate chaos because all parties are focused on winning five-year terms. However, the problem with suspending democracy is that untrustworthy governments could use such a situation as a ‘shock doctrine’ moment, to entrench anti-democratic policies. They are doing so right now, by some accounts.

And in any case, can we trust our politicians? The Labour Party never prioritised green issues before Jeremy Corbyn’s tenure, probably because it was not a vote winner. And on a local government level, we see confused thinking from our own Labour-dominated council. It now states that it is in favour of green initiatives, but it wants to put two solar farms in the Country Park, thereby exposing visitors to a terrible eyesore.

Not only are there better, greener alternatives (solar panels on all large roofs in town, rewilding and tree-planting schemes), but the council even claims that the farms can increase wildflower biodiversity, when in fact all wildflower species need sunlight and solar farms create shade. There is very scant democratic debate about this, which forces people to start campaigning if they want to be heard.

This council still likes to accuse people who care about green issues like the Country Park of being middle-class nimbies – even Tories. I personally believe staying in power is their key motivation, because if anyone actually tries to hold them to account (which they invite), they try to discredit them.

To survive the climate crisis we need people to look beneath the surface, do their own research and campaign for truly green, responsible policies regarding Nature and also to force international corporations and banks to commit to them.

Perhaps the most fundamental threat to our future is our inertia on this issue.

The Weighing of the Souls (tryptych exterior): Michael Madden.

Posted 17:47 Sunday, Apr 5, 2020 In: Point of View

6 Comments

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  1. Bolshie

    Pleased to see MM has raised the issue of the local Labour party’s stance on “Green” issues. The solar farm in the Country Park is frankly a bizarre concept and can be hardly defined as “Green” given the location they are planning to use. What has come of that £80K report they commissioned for some experts who are going to tell us it is cool to cite these solar panels in the park. One of the strong promoters of this is Cllr Evans who is their top Green spokesperson on this issue. But what exactly are her qualifications and more so experience on a serious matter as this>
    Overall the local Labour party beliefs on “Green” issues has been pretty appalling when you look at the old school playing field Harley Shute entirely for housing. Then there was Labour’s endorsement to concrete Robsack meadow an idyllic tract of land next to ancient woodland. And Horntye park is another one earmarked for concreting with a blessing from this party.

    Comment by Bolshie — Saturday, Apr 11, 2020 @ 09:10

  2. dc bergen

    This article summarizes the major issue of the day, the corroding effects of climate change and unbridled economic exploitation on humanity and the natural world. Unlimited economic growth is impossible because the planet’s resources are not limitless, yet this idea continues to serve as an excuse to ignore growing climate and biodiversity catastrophe. And the related threat to democratic governing systems is real and growing, as the attack of voting rights in the US shows. Thank you, Michael.

    Comment by dc bergen — Friday, Apr 10, 2020 @ 16:09

  3. Michael Madden

    Hi Heather,
    Thanks very much for your comment. Just to say, briefly, John Maynard Keynes’ thought was that it paid modern societies for the government to finance useful infrastructure and education projects that created employment and boosted the economy. His New Deal policy was implemented by Roosevelt in the 1930s to pull the US economy out of the Great Depression. It even helped artists to paint public murals etc.
    I believe that something similar would be very useful now, after so many years of ‘austerity’, and I’m not the only one. Naomi Klein, the great American thinker, has written a book proposing a Green New Deal. In Britain and the USA, we have seen Governments that are ideologically committed to private finance and shrinking the state, and their lack of preparedness for the Coronavirus proves that this does not work.
    The UK is 1.7 trillion in debt and this figure is now increasing even faster, but the Government has no plan for us to work our way out of this hole.

    Comment by Michael Madden — Monday, Apr 6, 2020 @ 16:42

  4. Heather Grief

    As always, a thought-provoking article, but MM does not seem to realise how woefully ignorant most people are of economic matters. Even I can’t explain exactly what Keynes thought, let alone what his ideas mean in practice.
    Perhaps he’d like to elaborate in a separate article?

    Comment by Heather Grief — Monday, Apr 6, 2020 @ 15:42

  5. DAR

    Excellent article. I would add the need for global education, and the abandonment of tenets in creeds which encourage unrestricted procreation, are also essential.

    Comment by DAR — Monday, Apr 6, 2020 @ 10:37

  6. Francis Sheppard

    Welcome back to Hastings online times talented and painter extraordinaire Mr Michael Madden. Again he raises cogent points as to why things are as they are. Highlighting the state of the planet the current pandemic the reference to economics and religion. All of these headings are mentioned as being either intrinsically linked or the real reasons for the current situation. But putting the blame on the specific areas mentioned is missing the real reasons for the state of how everything is at the moment and calls for a complete overhaul of current systems and a universal concerted effort from all the worlds different countries and it’s citizens to make the changes are being heard in all sorts of places they have never been heard before. The past world pandemics has never galvanised the people the way this one is doing within weeks of this current one, people are focusing on how their lives have been suddenly impacted the internet is playing a massive part in collating information to anyone with access to it and information is coming out and being readily shared by all classes of people who are asking questions of their leaders public opinion is organising its self local communities are springing up in the smallest of hamlets and people are talking and those who thought they never had a voice are finding they are being listened to and their opinion matters and has substance. Only tonight the power of the people has spoken the head of Scotland’s medical team was forced to resign due to public indignation over her double standards. This will Be repeated up and down the UK and the politicians and ruling classes now know their time will shortly be up.

    Comment by Francis Sheppard — Sunday, Apr 5, 2020 @ 23:19

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