It has been more than a year since the world seemingly stopped revolving as most of the population rushed into their homes to self-isolate, a safety protocol that should have ceased the transmission of the coronavirus. The global community was witness to the varying immediate reactions of different governments at a scale humanity has never seen before. Wide-ranging policy measures were brought into effect in such an incredible short amount of time, considering how there has been a much more threatening, more long-running crisis needing urgent global action for decades: climate change.
According to Brazilian government data, deforestation in the Amazon rainforest hit a 12-year high in 2020 since President Bolsonaro drained environmental agencies of funding in the year prior. The Arctic sea ice where polar bears hunt has shrunk by 13 percent each decade since 1979. As early as February 2021, 435 wildfires have ravaged through more than a thousand hectares of land in California. Moreover, the Asian Development Bank said Metro Manila could generate 280 metric tons of medical waste per day during the pandemic. All these environmental headlines, and certainly more others, were reported as the world grips the reality of a global health crisis, which happens to be humanity’s reality check for proper climate policies.
“Most efforts to prevent the spread of new diseases tend to focus on vaccine development, early diagnosis and containment, but that’s like treating the symptoms without addressing the underlying cause,” said Peter Daszak, a zoologist at the non-governmental organization EcoHealth Alliance in New York. Officials from the World Health Organization, United Nations, and World Wide Fund (WWF) all stated that the illegal wildlife trade and deforestation were driving forces behind the increasing number of zoonotic diseases: illnesses, like the coronavirus, that have leapt from wildlife to humans. According to the WWF, approximately 60-70 percent of the newly emerged diseases in humans over the past 30 years have had a zoonotic origin; HIV emerged from primates, Ebola from bats, and MERS was traced back to camels. These emergencies have common roots, the biggest among them all being capitalism.
Unilever's chief executive officer Alan Jope said, “Certainly, there’s a lot of good that has come from capitalism. The innovation drive and the competitive spirit of capitalism are very important. However, the single-minded pursuit of profit is damaging.” The world’s current economic model is dangerous; its success relies on perpetual economic growth as we go beyond the limits our planet can take. Furthermore, there exists this belief that one’s bank account wealth equates to a right to own natural wealth. Continuous environmental exploitation, brought upon by the need to earn and live through material goods, is tied to our current health crisis. If we are to survive, society should take a step back and begin to take a closer look at how we actively shape our planet.
An “ecological footprint” is a method or concept that compares the total natural resources consumed by an individual or group, against the planet’s ability to renew it. The ecological footprints of the rich are thousands of times greater than the global average. An Oxfam study finds the world’s 10 percent best off (630 million people) responsible for an estimated 52 percent of carbon emissions. The richest one percent produces 15 percent of carbon emissions–twice those produced by the world’s three billion poorest people. A medical journal, The Lancet, found that high-income countries, the most industrialized of nations, are responsible for 90 percent of excess emissions. It is vital to our survival to be able to quantify our environmental impact, not only finding out the human activities, communities, and countries that are the most responsible for climate harm, but also recognizing who among the entire world bears the brunt of it all.
We must seek the courage in knowing the truth: we are not all on the same boat. Majority of humanity are on fragile paper boats as the 1 percent relax on their luxurious yachts. There is a vast inequity that continues to thrive in our society. By acknowledging the unjust institutions that are the driving force of the triple threat to the world, and opening all channels of stable communication across nations, we can tackle them together. Solidarity is fundamental for humanity. If anything, the continuous challenges humanity has faced revealed to us what aspects of society we need to develop in a much more sustainable and just manner. The world should not only learn how to survive in the “new normal,” but we should strive to build back a better normal for all.