As we edge our way with a certain trepidation out of lockdown, we are facing into a ‘new normal’ of hand sanitizer, facemasks, and social distancing. What about beyond that, when we are out of the Covid-19 woods? Are we going to shake it off like a bad dream and keep going the way we have been? Our record as inhabitants on this planet would suggest that we will continue our onwards march towards total annihilation, but the global response to Coranvirus is cause for hope.
If anything is to be taken from this pandemic, it is an awakening to the fact that we urgently need to change our ways to avoid an even greater crisis next time. Charles Eisenstein, in his essay, The Coronation, describes the current situation as humanity at a crossroads, with a hundred paths radiating out in front of us. Some lead us in the direction we were already headed, and others lead to a more healed and flourishing world. In many ways, Covid has given us a glimpse into what life will look like just down the path we are already on.
Covid-19 is like a rehab intervention that breaks the addictive hold of normality. To interrupt a habit is to make it visible; it is to turn it from a compulsion to a choice. When the crisis subsides, we might have occasion to ask whether we want to return to normal, or whether there might be something we’ve seen during this break in the routines that we want to bring into the future.Charles Eisenstein, The Coronation
What better time to reflect on where the planet and it’s inhabitants are headed. Well, we all know where that is, we just don’t like thinking about it too much. A UN report, Our Planet: Healthy Planet, Healthy People, outlines the stark realities of the climate change catastrophe that is ahead of us. Covid-19 is not armageddon, but it’s a dry run of the one that is down the road, unless wide-scale action is taken, and quickly. According to the report, “Time is running out to prevent the irreversible and dangerous impacts of climate change”. Doomsday scenarios always seemed like an abstract concept, so hard to imagine that they were easier to ignore. Here are the world’s leading environmental experts telling us that our planetary destruction is quickly coming to a head, yet we convince ourselves that it’ll be grand. We are responsible, but the good news is that the solutions are also in our hands.
Our food system is the leading cause of climate change in the world, from deforestation to the greenhouse gas emissions of industrial agriculture, food transportation, and food waste.
At the current rate of soil degradation, there are only 60 years of farming left. Soil degradation is caused primarily by industrial agriculture, deforestation, poor livestock management, overfertilization, mono-crop agriculture, tiling, bad crop rotation. The loss of forests due to industrial agriculture has been described by researchers as ‘staggering’. Big fertilizer conglomerates produce 20 million metric tons of fertilizer a year, which is destroying the soil and polluting water systems. 25% of all greenhouse gas emissions are caused by industrial agriculture through the overproduction of the three main greenhouse gasses: Carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. Carbon dioxide released from the soil through tiling and through deforestation to grow corn and soy for CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations), methane released from factory-farmed cattle and food waste in landfills, nitrogen oxide from nitrogen fertilizer pollution. As well as the fossil fuels used in food transportation, processing, and refrigeration along the food chain. Crop irrigation is sucking the world’s Greenwater supplies dry, while the World Economic Forum has ranked water crises as one of the top global risks over the next decade.
The ultra-processed junk food we eat is so cheap because the planet picks up the tab. This is the true cost of our food system, but we are intentionally shielded from this by the anonymity of the food on our plates.
We are insulated from the implications of our diet by the anonymity of our food. Where was it grown? How was it grown? What is the health of the soil? What were the resources used to grow it? What impact does our food have on our soils, our water, the biodiversity and survival of insect, animal and plant species, the oceans, pollution, climate change, our health?Dr Mark Hyman, The Food Fix
Biodiversity loss is considered to be the most severe of all global environmental problems, with 52% of global biodiversity wiped off the earth over the past 40 years, and 1 million species on track for extinction due to human activity over the coming decades. Global warming, land, water, and air pollution, habitat destruction and fragmentation, overfishing, and an increasingly ‘consumption-intensive’ lifestyle of the human population. We live as though we are above the laws of nature, but we are just another organism in the interconnected web of life. We rely on the ecosystem to provide us with food, freshwater, and fuel sources, and medicinal plants. Human disruption of the ecosystem is also linked to an increased risk of infectious diseases such as Covid-19. Ultimately as Prof David MacDonald of Oxford University succinctly puts it, “without biodiversity, there is no future for humanity”.
Biodiversity experts have made it clear that we ourselves are to blame for the Covid-19 pandemic, ‘particularly our global financial and economic systems that prize economic growth at any costs‘. The article published last week by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) points to a perfect storm got the spillover of diseases from wildlife to people as a result of ‘rampant deforestation, uncontrolled expansion of agriculture, intensive farming, mining and infrastructure development, as well as the exploitation of wild species’. Covid-19 is not a Chinese bioweapon or a 5G conspiracy, it’s a crisis that has been foreseen for years, we just weren’t listening.
This isn’t a case of nature striking back on humanity, it’s humanity striking down on itself, for as much as we try, we cannot elevate ourselves from nature. As Terence McKenna would say, nature is not the enemy, nature is ourselves. Environmental scientists have made it abundantly clear that small steps in the direction won’t be enough to offset the damage we are doing. The only way to avoid future pandemics is a drastic overhaul in our ways. And that begins with a fundamental shift of the collective consciousness towards an alignment with the oneness of nature and the interdependence of all organisms in this ecosystem.
When the world reopens, we must not naively leave it to the global corporations that got us into this mess to get us out of it. As this blog article puts it we must prepare ourselves for the ultimate gaslighting. Big brands will lure us back to ‘feeling normal’ again by shoving their products in our faces, in their rush to getting back to business as usual. You know that inner discomfort that is awakening in us about the planet and all that? Shh, don’t worry about that. Look, buy this new iPhone, Nike Air Max, cheap flight to Italy, cool down that existential anxiety with a chilled bottle of Coke, order more stuff on Amazon. Now, that’s better isn’t it? Big business doesn’t want us demanding ethical consumerism, it doesn’t want to be held accountable to environmentally-friendly practices. That would hurt their bottom line of making big dollars. Sustainable agriculture does not suit the current model of big food companies. The health of the planet, not to mention the health of the consumer, is secondary to growth and profit. Reducing the number of daily flights in the sky won’t suit airline companies, so there’s no point in depending on them to make environmentally conscious decisions that will impact business.
It is on us to hold our governments to account. Although Ireland has a reputation for being green, The 2019 Climate Change Performance Index concluded that Ireland’s performance on climate action is the worst in Europe, and among the worst in the world. We are the most car-dependent country in Europe, and one of the dirtiest. Previous Irish Governments have done nothing to promote climate positive policies, in fact, Ireland has only gone backward. Climate activist John Gibbons exposes Ireland’s abysmal climate record in this excellent Echo Chamber Podcast Episode. He lays it down straight on how weak leadership and vested interests has left the Green agenda ‘trashed and abandoned’ in this country. The Central Statistics Office reported last year that Ireland spends €4.1 billion on environmentally damaging subsidies, annually. €2.5 billion per year on fossil fuels, and €1.5 billion in potentially environmentally damaging subsidies going to the agricultural sector. €4.1 billion, every year. Meanwhile, through Bord na Móna, the State is still generating electricity with milled peat. We are, to this day, using turf, the most environmentally damaging and inefficient fuel source there is, to generate power plants. I highly recommend giving that Echo Chamber podcast episode a listen, which really puts Ireland in its place on Green issues. Another great conversation on environmental issues from an Irish perspective is this Rebel Matter’s episode with climate activist Áine O Gorman.
Environmental collapse is not a problem for some time down the line, it’s happening now. In this country, we are seeing droughts and flooding, and 1400 deaths per year due to air pollution. Passing the buck is no longer an option. The scale of the problem can seem overwhelming, but surely the global response to Covid-19 over the past 3 months is a cause for hope and renewed optimism in humanity’s capacity to change course for the greater good. Another podcast recommendation for those inclined, is this TED Radio Hour episode, exploring how the global response to Covid-19 can act as the catalyst to fight the climate crises. Climate scientists have already figured out the solutions, we just need mass implementation on a global scale. Project Drawdown provides a road map towards climate solutions, and on how we can massively draw down carbon from the atmosphere.
Getting back to food, no sector has the power to reverse the climate catastrophe as our food system. The agricultural and food system is both the number one cause of environmental destruction and the number one solution. While extractive agriculture is responsible for the soil crises, regenerative agricultural practices restore the soil. According to climate scientists, healthy soil is the golden ticket to drawing down carbon from the atmosphere. Restoring the 2.2 billion of the degraded acres of soil through regenerative agriculture could stop the rise of greenhouse gasses. Reading Dr. Mark Hyman’s The Food Fix has been an eye-opener for me on these issues, reinforcing the importance of really thinking about where our food comes from. For our own sake, and the planet.
We are clearly at the tipping point on climate issues, it’s staring us in the face and leaves us with nowhere to hide. At the same time, it seems that more people than ever are climate-conscious. Social distancing during this pandemic has worked due to social conformity, and that’s how environmentally-friendly behaviors on an individual level are going to take hold and become societal norms. Then, young people will grow up to become conscientious adults, and there will be no more small-minded, To-Hell-With-the-Planet politicians, and no more ignorant narcissists running countries. Well, hopefully anyway.
It’s clearly a crisis of two things: of consciousness and conditioning. We have the technological power, the engineering skills to save our planet, to cure disease, to feed the hungry, to end war; But we lack the intellectual vision, the ability to change our minds. We must decondition ourselves from 10,000 years of bad behavior. And, it’s not easy.Terence McKenna, The World and Its Double (Lecture)
It is mad that multi-national corporations make a huge financial profit at the expense of obscene levels of environmental damage, and get away with it. But that won’t change until ethical consumerism forces change, and until the biggest polluters are held accountable by those in power.
This lockdown has been long enough. But we are coming out of it, and we’ll get back to hurling, football, music festivals, going for coffee. Imagine the next one is twice as long. It doesn’t take much of a stretch of the imagination. Whatever small sacrifices we need to make in the new normal in order to give us the best shot at avoiding the next global emergency seem worth it.