A time for planetary solidarity-THE HINDU-23-04-2020
The microscopic SARS-CoV-2, by causing a global pandemic, has forced much of humanity to cease everyday practices and jump-start new ones. Even so, in the present instance, their fate is especially dire. Any person whose livelihood is directly connected with their physical labour has been left with zero options unless they are somehow connected with health care, food or sanitation.
The drastic reduction in flights, for instance, has affected the airline industry adversely but also highlighted the fact that many flight trips during ‘normal’ times are in fact unnecessary. Before the pandemic, business meetings, including international conferences and climate change meetings, were responsible for a bulk of flight travel. For example, a return flight, economy class, from Delhi to New York releases about 0.9 tonnes of carbon dioxide . This is half of India’s per capita annual emissions.
The lockdown has shown that up to half of these trips are dispensable, especially if commuting and education trips can be cut down severely.
Life under lockdown has already demonstrated that there are essentials, superfluous items and luxuries. Responsible consumer action and new social norms to limit the last two can make a dent on greenhouse gas emissions while promoting simpler and potentially happier ways of life.
There are many encouraging signs of truly ‘green’ alternatives to the current economic system and the beliefs that govern it. Sustainability will need not just decoupling economic growth from pollution but ultimately decoupling planetary welfare from economic growth while fostering social progress. Such change requires bold measures to reduce financial speculation and the hoarding of wealth by the rentier class by reintroducing the estate tax and putting brakes on high-speed trading, for instance. In addition, social measures must be strengthened to protect the health and safety of the poorest.
Public hospitals need to be improved and have the capacity to respond to pandemics and related crises. By focussing on the delivery of basic services, we will discover new opportunities for equitable action. What is also quite clear, and shared with the climate change crisis, is that if you ignore science, it will come back to bite you. Mixed and confusing messages from the government add fuel to a flaming pandemic.