Humanity has reached a demonstrable tipping point and now has an urgent decision to make. Said decision comes down to a choice between continuing down the path of ecological and planetary ruin, or rapidly changing course in the direction of a sustainable future not just for the human species but for every species that inhabits a planet upon which history confirms we have been a blight.
Don’t believe me? Think that I’m guilty of vacuous hyperbole? Well, in that case hark, the sentiments of Yuval Noah Harari, author of the internationally bestselling work Sapiens:
If we combine the mass extinctions in Australia and America, and add the smaller-scale extinctions that took place as Homo Sapiens spread over Afro-Asia — such as the extinction of all other human species — and the extinctions that occurred when ancient foragers settled remote islands such as Cuba, the inevitable conclusion is that the first wave of Sapiens colonisation was one of the biggest and swiftest ecological disasters to befall the animal kingdom.
This pandemic has arrived as a timely reminder that humanity has not been divinely chosen to own this planet or control it, despite exerting a tyrannical rule over it. And when I say ‘tyrannical’ I really do mean tyrannical, because the cruelty and barbarity of our treatment of other species deemed to exist entirely for our benefit and at our whim is beyond measure. On any given day tens of millions of animals are slaughtered in the most cruel fashion, while millions more are forced to live in horrific conditions of privation and misery, all for our dietary needs — though here may I suggest the correct word is wants rather than needs.
Ironic then that this deadly strain of coronavirus (Covid-19) originated in a ‘wet market’ in Wuhan, China, where both live and dead animals were sold and where live animals were butchered on site. The original host is thought to have been bats, which are a delicacy in this part of China, with human beings subsequently infected by a second animal host.
The wider point is that human greed — for profit, for growth, expansion, consumption, for more than we need — has come at huge and perhaps now irreversible ecological and environmental cost. And when we talk about human greed we must needs also talk about capitalism, an economic model predicated on greed regardless of the propagandistic guff about enterprise and prosperity to the contrary.
Though I hesitate to describe this pandemic as Mother Nature’s revenge or retribution, there is a whiff of poetic justice about the way Covid-19 has placed our species on notice. And while no one in their right mind would come even close to relishing the suffering and deaths of those unfortunate enough to have been stricken by this virus, we are entitled to be rather less sympathetic towards the vertiginous plunge of stock markets that occupy the role of economic deity in the hearts and minds of capitalism’s true believers.
The stark reality is that there’s been a pandemic in our world for generations. It’s known as global poverty and its various maladies of starvation and preventable disease, which have and continue to kill thousands on a daily and annual basis. The world has also struggled with a unending pandemic of war and conflict, most of which have ben unleashed by the West against the rest. The only difference between the aforementioned pandemics and coronavirus, it seems to me, is that the latter impacts the rich as much as it does the poor.
Martin Luther King once claimed that ‘We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered’.
Surveying the world today with its multitudinous crises and injustices, its ecological and environmental emergency, its refusal to budge an inch from a status quo ante of greed is good, the urgency with which MLK spoke those words is more acute than ever.
If Covid-19 teaches us anything it’s that for all our conceited belief to the contrary, we are masters of nothing and slaves of a species-arrogance that will eventually and likely be the death of us all if left unchecked. What no one should be in any doubt about is that when the day arrives that we are reduced to an evolutionary footnote, neither the planet nor its remaining fauna and flora will miss us for a second.
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