Eyes Wide Shut - The Ultimate Clarion Call to Take the Red Pill
The author Anubhav DB is a second year law student at St. Joseph's College of Law.
It is indubitable that there have been some truly remarkable consequences of the pandemic, despite the casualties it has left in its wake. The deeper question is this: How tacit is the impact of the pandemic truly?
The essay tries to examine, through a scientific and sporadically philosophical lens, precisely the conditions that might have led to the inception of the disease and its inevitability. Furthermore it delves into the cloaked powerhouse which facilitates such disasters, and the environmentalists window of hope which is choked by apologists of the system.
“No world revolution? No problem!” sardonically exclaims the pandemic, “From environmental catastrophe I have come, but to that I shall not return.”
The COVID pandemic is a human creation, in many ways. Our own creation. Not in the manner in which some media outlets jumped on the bandwagon to call it a “Chinese military lab experiment gone wrong”, which was rather quickly debunked, vanishing almost as soon as it appeared, but in a multifaceted labyrinthine mass concoction, for which the whole of our political, economic and social structures and policies are to be blamed. And this can be argued only through a complex set of scientific, and sporadically philosophical, lenses. The pandemic has indubitably been portrayed by mainstream media to the masses as a “one-off incident”, an accident even. Most media houses have left the issue in the dark, or casually leaving the answer to a mere ‘bat phenomenon’, which has resulted in nothing but a source of memes, and fuel for unnecessary hatred towards China. This portrayal of the ‘spectre that haunts’ the global populace, i.e. the virus, being reduced to a mere anomaly of some sort is exactly the reason explaining the perpetual symptoms of the doomsday the 21st century faces and will continue to face in the form of earthquakes, cyclones, tornados, droughts, wildfires and further pandemics. The pandemic isn’t a vacuous creation, just as nothing substantial ever is.
However, the impact of the pandemic cannot be simply measured in the terms of the visible changes it has made with respect to the environment. The larger impact is not exactly tacit. This has come in the form of an awakening conscience for environmental protection. The pandemic has offered us a grand choice, a choice of two pills: to take the blue pill and return uncritically to the same set up which led us to this point, or, to take the red pill and understand what exactly is at work which led us to a point of colossal danger and to bring out what exactly is antithetical to the miracles which the environment has been witnessing of late. The rest of the essay should closely resemble the sensation of taking the red pill.
Why is environment protection such a big deal here anyway?
One can argue a lot of the diseases we witness and suffer through at present were not even endemic to those regions, historically speaking. Most diseases, in the form of viruses or the like, need a medium to spread through, which are usually animals or even minuscule, like bats or mosquitoes. Mosquitoes are perhaps the most innocuous looking, but have terrorized generations of humankind and have proven to be existential threats, killing billions till date. Facing the brunt of the attack were ideally only the Tropical zones, such as Africa, Central and South America, India etc., because mosquitoes breed in hot and dry climate. However, with the rise in global temperatures, mosquito breeding has had a global spread and reach. Bats, just as mosquitoes, fare much better in a world with higher and rising temperatures. The growth in carriers of diseases has been exacerbated by global warming and sloppy environment protection. The bulk of research on this subject has been carried out by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), revealing insightful data on the correlation of human activities on nature and climate, which in turn climax in large spread diseases due to rising temperatures.
In fact, environmental degradation through deforestation not only disturbs the ecological balance, but also forces destitute wild animals, carrying a variety of viruses, to come in contact with humans living on the peripheries of such forests. This starts the spread of zoonotic diseases. A strong parallel can be seen in the case of Ebola epidemic in West Africa, where the transmission of virus from the bat onto gorillas and wild animals coexisting with people in forests, rolled onto visitors from the city, thereon perpetuating a domino effect.
The summation of the above arguments reveals one irrefutable fact: this pandemic was a subsidiary consequence of callous environmentalism that has taken shape over the course of industrial and post-industrial activities. To hold the unfolding of the current pandemic as unconnected to the consequences of the ailing nature is foolish and unscientific. Avoiding this clarion call for a better environment will be same as vaporising in a nuclear war.
The grass is greener on the other side. No, really.
Eco fascists have had the last laugh in a weird manifestation of events. In fact, most environmentalists and green thinkers can, at least for the moment, breathe a sigh of relief. The pandemic has wreaked havoc across the World, but the havoc has been confined to human lives. In an unprecedented transposition, Mother Nature seems to be living life finally, as humans have been strictly reduced to insignificance and docility by nature’s own creative juices, in a way to remedy her lost flora and fauna.
A few pictorial representations of these have recently flooded our screens: of Gangetic dolphins being spotted from the ghats of Kolkata; of clean water flowing through the canals in Venice; of Mount Kanchenjunga being visible from Siliguri; of rare sea turtles thriving on beaches of Thailand to coasts of India. The Pandemic has directly been effective in bringing down pollution levels to all time lows in major industrial countries of the World, including China, Italy, France, Spain, USA where their respective space agencies recorded 20-30% reduction in nitrogen dioxide. A Delhiite breathing clean air during the lockdown is just as paradisiacal as the sterile water in which marine life is finally recovering. The lockdown has been the saviour Mother Nature not only deserved but also direly needed.
It’s almost impossible to continue without naming the elephant in the room. What is the Pandemic actually protecting the environment against?
One only needs to attentively look at the events leading up to these miraculous changes in nature and connect it to the daily mechanisms of life, mechanisms which are now missing. That mechanism is globalization, and the engine driving that train is capitalism.
The rabid support globalization receives has good reason, and the devil must be given its due. Globalization has been essential in bringing immense joy to households which had never had a glimpse of it, by making goods and services available at a cheap rate, allowing (at least theoretically) a larger market, i.e. the rich, and now the poor, to buy them. This is the rosy and innocuous appearance which globalization carries, but reveals only one side of the coin. What the environment suffers at the behest of market forces is unfathomable and is usually pushed under the desk, but this is easily discernable if we look at some of the well known sub-mechanisms of globalization debilitating the environment incessantly, which, for now, have been halted by the pandemic.
Oil is perhaps the most essential commodity in trade and globalization, and its uses are far too many to be cataloged here, but the ramifications of hydraulic fracking to extract oil itself are multifarious: it contaminates water resources, pollutes air and triggers earthquakes. Fossil fuel burning creates feedback loops and results in droughts, heavy storms, colossal wildfires and recurring heat waves. One of the traits of globalization is using the cheapest labor available in production to minimize costs, meaning constant transport of raw materials, semi-finished goods all over the world to reach the hands of lowest payable working force. A popular case is that of an iPhone. This indicates the kind of land and air travel needed, and the amount of pollution generated as a result which depletes the ozone layer, thereby allowing harmful UV rays into the atmosphere. The constant use of aircrafts also creates contrails of smoke in the sky, which trap the heat coming off the earth, making the earth a warmer place which melts the icecaps of the World, raising the sea levels and eroding coastal lands as a consequence. Another consequence of this immense overproduction process is the generation of industrial waste which is dumped in oceans. This is the same pollution which is now missing in the industrial cities, polluted oceans , and the depleted ozone layers over the Artic, which now seem to be healing, all thanks to the pandemic.
Is it still easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism?
‘Climate change and the threat of resource-depletion are not being repressed so much as incorporated into advertising and marketing. What this treatment of environmental catastrophe illustrates is the fantasy structure on which capitalist realism depends: a presupposition that resources are infinite, that the earth itself is merely a husk which capital can at a certain point slough off like a used skin, and that any problem can be solved by the market.’
A line of thought which can be understood from Fishers’ deeply analytical explication is that the fundamentals of capitalism rely solely on profit, which leaves the working out of things on market forces. This essentially drives consumption of certain commodities out of bounds, with no one to really bat an eye whether the natural resources deplete to a level of existential threat. In fact, capitalistic models are so insidious that the very threat of the breakdown of the ecology is ‘advertised’ to be okay, and something which can be dealt with eventually, in spite of being cognizant of the fact that nothing much will be left to be remedied at that point of time. In fact, it’s almost illogical to blame a corporate manager- they are only replaceable cogs in the wheel who will be replaced if they align by anything but profit making.
Perhaps nothing is more real and ground breaking than this pandemic itself. Not only has it allowed us to visit a world which has little or no globalization, but also glaringly portrayed the kind of good that comes out of it. What the pandemic has essentially brought, despite leaving wreckage in its wake, is a window. A small window of glimmering hope and evidence of the larger reality: that under the current scheme of things we are well on the highway to hell. This short lived pandemic, which may extend up to a year maybe, will continue to pinpoint the ills of globalization and free market economy. At this point, Mother Earth cannot possibly speak louder in its action than it already has. Not only has this highlighted every real possibility of a green world with no combustion and no overproduction, but also a clear and immaculate vision for renewable energy.
‘BAIL OUT THE PLANET, NOT THE OIL COMPANIES’
As the lockdown continues, authoritarian leaders like Trump have flabbergasted environmentalists by bypassing environmental laws to accelerate fossil fuel projects, exacerbating the criticality of pollution. This is a general trend in countries which share a strong affinity with oil interests and the Middle East. The goal of the public, as noted political activist Noam Chomsky has always remarked, is to deal with existential issues such as this by participatory social planning, where the people form lateral organizations and push for an alternate world, as opposed to one planned by big corporations. To take the baton which the pandemic has shone light on and to coalesce for a sustainable future is an existential need. A greener and safer environment corresponds to a sustainable life form. At the twilight of the ailing earth, the call has to be for a fresh macro-system of operation. With or without the pandemic.
One thing which can be accorded to this pandemic is the sheer impact it can have on the environment through the actions of the people. The short break has revitalized the environment to a substantial degree, but rejoicing now is dangerously myopic. To deny the challenges of global warming and environment degradation the pandemic has dealt with which the State always overlooked, is the same as taking the blue pill. This transient window the pandemic has offered can only be utilized if the masses take the red pill and really open their eyes. There lies the true impact.