How could things get worse?

How could things get worse? In the last few years, a series of shocking events has left us waiting for the emergence of a brand-new superpower that could act as a ‘role-model’ for nations all over the world. The US and UK, in particular, have been caught in a downwards spiral towards their eventual demise, but Covid-19 was the nail in the coffin for their global status and ability to tackle pressing issues. These ‘strongholds’ of economic prosperity, opportunity and freedom, have been forced into lockdown and their most basic failures have been exposed. However, in our rush to point the finger in the direction of the Global North and its ineptitude in the face of a crisis, we have left those in the midst of emergency, before the pandemic, in the lurch.
          We cannot forget about mass migration, increasing inequality, overwhelming poverty and of course, the climate crisis. Many environmentalists have been pushing for governments to use recovery packages as a chance to steer our societies towards a greener future. By now I’m sure most people will have heard about the ‘healing’ process that our planet is undergoing as global industry has been suspended. I would urge everyone not to be seduced by the idea that climate change has suddenly disappeared. It is true that China experienced a cut of 250m tonnes of carbon between the months of February and March this year, it is also true however that this accounts for an 18% reduction in China’s annual emissions. Therefore 82% of China’s emissions are being released, business as usual. I would also agree with the CEO of Global Carbon Project when he was quoted in an article saying, ‘I refuse to celebrate a drop in emissions driven by tens of millions of people losing their jobs.’ Alarmingly, people are using this crisis as an opportunity to push through anti-environmental laws. The US economic stimulus bill includes a $50 billion bailout for the aviation industry, meanwhile Trump is with-holding funding for the WHO during a global pandemic. As we wait in earnest for life post-Covid, a major power struggle is occurring between political ideologies.
          Something being predicted as often as an eco-friendlier society is the rise of neo-authoritarianism. This comes from the successful tackling of the pandemic by Asian countries run in this type of regime. These countries’ ability to survey and restrict populations resulted in effective confinement of the virus. This triumph has led to a view that these countries are efficient rather than oppressive. The impact of the crisis comes in the form of increased tech-surveillance. In China the new colour-coded smartphone health rating system allows the government to assign each citizen a colour according to their infection status. Is this not an episode straight out of the science-fiction series Black Mirror? How could a system so easily manipulated and abused, pass with little backlash? As Evgeny Morozov argues in his Guardian article of the 15th of April 2020, this solutionist reaction is just a desire for a surveillance state under the guise of public protection. Solutionism is the modern method of applying technological solutions to problems after the fact. These do not tackle the root of the problem and lead to an increasingly passive society. Morozov says “Neoliberalism shrinks public budgets. Solutionism shrinks public imagination.” It is exactly this issue that lies at the heart of our current political power struggle.
          The view that we should all introduce an authoritarian regime into our countries now that we’ve seen our own governments’ fail is uninspired. It’s common knowledge that Covid-19 stems from Chinese ‘wet markets’. Recent studies suggest however that the resurgence of these wet markets comes from poorer Chinese farmers switching from traditional crops to ‘luxury’ products due to the rise of factory farming. Even more shocking is the fact that 75% of new infectious diseases come from animals according to Harvard University. It seems that this pandemic is a reaction to globalization and its increasingly detrimental effects on our eco-systems. If this crisis isn’t a wakeup call for what we could be facing in the next few decades, if we don’t tackle the source of the issue, then I don’t know what is. Our inability to look past ‘technological plasters’ for problems is being intensified by our dependence on technology during lockdown. My worry is that we’ll resort to these ‘plasters’ for all our complex problems in the future, for example, climate change. I urge people to look past the digital solutions being enforced in other countries and start to think outside the box for completely different alternatives.
          What we should learn from this pandemic is not to look for existing ‘superpowers’ but to strive to break this cycle of solutionism and become pioneers of visionary ideas of a life we could lead. Although our current system of governance doesn’t seem to be altogether successful, we shouldn’t immediately succumb to the idea that authoritarian leadership is the key to tackling major issues from now on. The fact is, it’s likely that if we lived in a community-based society focused on stewardship, we wouldn’t have a pandemic in the first place.

Éle Ní Chonbhuí
Dublin Unitarian Church