In the conversation between God and Satan in the book of Job Satan says
a man will give away all he has to save his life. But stretch out your hand and lay a finger on his bone and flesh……I warrant you he will curse you to your face’. But now at this time it could work the other way. The threat to human health may just give us the opportunity to rescue, recover and re-imagine our societies, our economies and dent our desire for domination, realising once again that there is a natural world that we are part of, humbling us and bringing us back to appreciating the gift of life and creation, and even the Creator. Covid 19 is exposing our weaknesses, the desperate inequalities of our societies, the contempt for the natural world that has rebounded on us. As Pope Francis warns usGod always forgives, we sometimes forgive, the earth never forgives’.
Looking after our health, our life, is a remarkably strong motivation; maybe it can move us in the right direction at last. We are having a shared experience of vulnerability and mortality, we are in it together even though, as ever, those who are suffering the most are the poorest. Singapore had done very well in containing the virus but suddenly there was a renewed outbreak emerging from amongst the migrant workers held in bad living conditions; maybe the inequalities we have tolerated so long are catching up with us. Not only the inequalities of our societies are exposed but also the effect of air pollution which increases the death rate of those infected with the virus, the results of policies of
austerity’ which have been so much part of late neoliberalism, cutting back on local services, health care and prevention, increasing poverty, precariousness of work for so many. The fragility of supply chains and the vulnerability of food supply in a globalised world have also been exposed; industrial agriculture producing food with its low nutritional value has been shown to lower the human immune system and make vulnerability to the virus more likely. More directly it is thought that the wet market in wild animals in Wuhan was the source of the virus, pathogens unknown to humanity before are likely to emerge as humans advance more and more into what remains of the wild. For our own health and safety we need to find a renewed respect for the earth and its creatures. We need to work on prevention to avoid similar health crises in the future. There is a grave danger, already apparent, that under cover of the crisis all manner of things are being done and undone, a cutting back on environmental protections, especially in the USA and to some extent China, human rights abuses, scapegoating, a fortress mentality and increasing competition between nations. It is almost inevitable that as restrictions are lifted there will need to be some sort of stimulus to the economy, there will surely be a recession and mass unemployment, if not worse, a depression; the decisions that are taken at this point may well affect the future of humanity on earth. We will not return to normal that is sure. It may be a choice to entrench privilege with draconian and totalitarian systems of control, technological domination and misery for most people or to embrace the alternative for a more resilient and equal society, respectful of the earth and all its creatures. We have the choice, many have already made it as they co-operative with others to bring about a more sustainable social and economic system, caring for each other and the future of our children. We need to remember that returning to what we thought normal was already a state of crisis, evident in the great fires of the Amazon forest, Siberia, Australia, California, the floods and hurricanes, the melting glaciers, Arctic and Antarctic melt, the mass bleaching of coral reefs and the estimated $500 billion subsidising of fossil fuel extraction. Evident too in the inequalities and injustices of our world where those best at defending the earth, its waters, air and forests are so often killed for the sake of agribusiness, mineral extraction, and palm oil . Could it be the end ofglobalisation’ as we know it, as we re-find the value of local community and its network of relationships as well as international cooperation? Could it be the end of neoliberalism and the erroneous idea that wealth
trickles down’ when so many lack clean water, sanitation, even a home, and health care, all essential in the fight against the virus? We are seeing the great need to invest in public works and address the deep inequalities, we have found that there are many things we do not really need, could it be the consumer society is over or at least mitigated? One thing is sure we need to resist a return toausterity’, and any corporate bail out and ensure that the cost of the pandemic is not born be the most vulnerable.
There is an opportunity for global cooperation, for instance debt cancellation for all poor countries who have so little health care resilience and who at present are having to spend more on servicing debt to the finance sector than they can on the health of their citizens. Tax havens could be closed, it is estimated that there is $32 trillion stashed away in them. A financial transaction tax could be introduced which would help to damped speculation fuelling the financial sector and distorting the real economy. Capital controls could be introduced to prevent investors withdrawing vast amounts of money from poorer countries as a result of the pandemic, and mitigating capital flows. Big Pharma with its monopoly of drugs and vaccines may need to be taken into a more public ownership, it already relies on the public purse for much of its research. The more pressure we put on the natural environment the more likely we are to have another pandemic, so the better off will need to learn to live more simply.
We have seen our interdependence, we can embrace nature based solutions and preserve natural capital with a green economic stimulus plan, working in cooperation with each other and in solidarity having refound the value of community. We can invest in green infrastructure and green jobs (some research has shown that this would provide far more jobs than an economy dependent on fossil fuels) above all – retrofitting homes and provide solar energy. We could develop a new way of doing business, valuing more self sufficiency and above all the work of care and those who do it. We could listen to our children and help them understand through education the importance of a harmonious relationship with the natural world. We could have a great awakening to the community of all life. Recently Pope Francis called for a renewed sense of the sacredness of the earth, for
we stand on holy ground’. Long ago we were given the choice. Choose life!’ we were told. We have a choice. We know that the world can respond if the political will is engaged. A crisis is a terrible thing to waste! And the consequences of doing so will be terrible.
This strange Eastertide let us renew our sense of hope in the light of indestructible Risen Life of our Lord!
Jessica Gatty r.a.
Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash