Good Sunday Morning,
And, if it isn’t the Ides of March…
Not to be superstitious, but on Friday the 13th, Parliament adjourned. We set the date of April 20 to return, but essentially pre-approved staying out longer if required – or coming back sooner if economic and other pressing matters require it.
We are in uncharted territory.
The words I write now will be outdated by the time you read them. The global pandemic that is COVID19 hangs over us like a fog. It could cause the deaths of tens of millions of people. It has already caused a massive disruption of our way of life and our economy in Canada and globally.
The much lamented “threat” to our economy from indigenous blockades is already dismissed as a “blip” by the Parliamentary Budget Officer.
Our economy must brace for something closer to the 2008 collapse.
But, it is not COVID19 alone. The world faces something like the economic equivalent of the four horsemen of apocalypse as Russia’s war over oil pricing with the OPEC nations rides down on global economies. The death knell of the oil sands can be heard, as the US shale deposits and fracked gas sputter their last.
What do we know of COVID19? We know it is spreading fast and globally. China’s massive efforts at quarantine bought us time. (“us” being the rest of humanity.) It is a stealth virus. We can carry it without symptoms and infect many others. It can be mild in its impact on the young and deadly to those who have other health conditions, particularly the elderly.
It spreads and grows faster than exponentially. It was a shock that Tom Hanks could have it. Then Sophie Gregoire Trudeau. And Bolsonaro of Brazil. (caution caution — one must not root for the virus.)
We root for the vaccine – not yet invented. We cheer for the world’s nurses, doctors, caregivers and first responders. We know they will be weary. We pray they not be overwhelmed.
Thomas Homer Dixon wrote a brilliant piece for the Globe a week ago. He set out how this global pandemic is spread by our sameness- our uniformity. Our same airports, same banking systems and interlocked supply chains.
“When we look at this larger picture, we see a striking reality: The SARS CoV-2 virus seems well-tuned to exploit the specific characteristics of the world we’ve created for ourselves – with our massive population tightly linked together by air travel, exotic tourist excursions and just-in-time supply chains, and marked by brutal inequalities in health care and physical well-being.
“Taken together, humanity is now among the largest bodies of genetically identical, multicellular biomass on Earth; all told, we weigh nearly a third of a billion tonnes. Combined with our proximity in huge cities and our constant travel back and forth around the globe, we’re now an enormous petri dish brimming with nutrients for cultivating new diseases.”
This is a moment in which we might change how we do things. Realigning how we live and work and put together our economies to reduce the risk of pandemics-and in so doing reduce the connectivity of economies that requires the burning of so many fossil fuels.
Or it could go the other way. In panic, we may ignore the climate emergency with its far graver threats to human survival in favour of the immediate threats.
We could, if we chose to, not let this emergency go to waste. We could demand that the inevitable stimulus packages to keep the economy moving be consistent with climate action. In this public health emergency, we cannot waste $16 billion on a dilbit pipeline. We must focus on what matters.
We need guaranteed livable income – for events just such as this. We know we’ll need it as automation and artificial intelligence spread. Let’s do it now.
We know we need improved public health systems- including universal single payer pharmacare. Let’s do it now.
We know we need to fly less, communicate through cyberspace and reduce our carbon footprint. Let’s do it now.
We know we need to massively reorient our economy while stimulating it with job-creation. Let’s direct those essential injections into our economy to renewable energy, improved energy efficiency in our built infrastructure and a zero-carbon future. Let’s do it now.
I find great hope in the closing words of Homer-Dixon’s column:
“Today’s emerging pandemic could help catalyze an urgently needed tipping event in humanity’s collective moral values, priorities and sense of self and community. It could remind us of our common fate on a small, crowded planet with dwindling resources and fraying natural systems.
“We won’t address this challenge effectively if we retreat into our tribal identities and try to wall ourselves off from each other. COVID-19 is a collective problem that requires global collective action – just like climate change.”
And with that- have a Good Sunday. For the first time in many years, Canadian streets may look as though we still observe the Sabbath, but of course – from Rome to London to Tokyo – they will look like that on Monday as well.
Stay safe- stay well – and obey the most cautious advice you hear from public health experts,
This weekly blog is published by Elizabeth’s EDA in Saanich-Gulf Islands. You can sign up for it here.