#Editorial

The coronavirus outbreak is part of the climate change crisis

Jun 4, 2020, 10:29 AM

The speed and scope of the coronavirus outbreak have taken world governments by surprise and left the stock market reeling. Since the virus first appeared in China's Hubei province, it has infected over 700,000 people and killed more than 33,000 across the world in less than six months.

The interconnectedness of our globalised world facilitated the spread of COVID-19. The disruption this continues to cause has made evident societal dependence on global production systems.

The pandemic has forced governments into a difficult balancing act between ensuring public safety and wellbeing and maintaining profit margins and growth targets. Ultimately, the prospect of a large death toll and the collapse of health systems have forced countries to put millions of people on lockdown.

These sweeping and unprecedented measures taken by the government and international institutions could not but make some of us wonder about another global emergency that needs urgent action - climate change. 

The two emergencies are in fact quite similar. Both have their roots in the world's current economic model - that of the pursuit of infinite growth at the expense of the environment on which our survival depends - and both are deadly and disruptive.

In fact, one may argue that the pandemic is part of climate change and therefore, our response to it should not be limited to containing the spread of the virus. What we thought was "normal" before the pandemic was already a crisis and so returning to it cannot be an option.

Despite the persistent climate denialism in some policy circles, by now it is clear to the majority across the world that climate change is happening as a result of human activity - namely industrial production.

In order to continue producing - and being able to declare that their economy is growing - humans are harvesting the natural resources of the planet - water, fossil fuels, timber, land, ore, etc - and plugging them into an industrial cycle which puts out various consumables (cars, clothes, furniture, phones, processed food etc) and a lot of waste.

This process depletes the natural ability of the environment to balance itself and disrupts ecological cycles (for example deforestation leads to lower CO2 absorption by forests), while at the same time, it adds a large amount of waste (for example CO2 from burned fossil fuels). This, in turn, is leading to changes in the climate of our planet.

This same process is also responsible for COVID-19 and other outbreaks. The need for more natural resources has forced humans to encroach on various natural habitats and expose themselves to yet unknown pathogens.

At the same time, the growth of mass production of food has created large-scale farms, where massive numbers of livestock and poultry packed into megabarns. As socialist biologist Rob Wallace argues in his book Big Farms Make Big Flu, this has created the perfect environment for the mutation and emergence of new diseases such as hepatitis E, Nipah virus, Q fever, and others.

A Guest Editorial

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