Chapter 11: Corona pandemic
Last year when I visited Davos I slept in a tent in 18° below zero. This year the organizers said that for security reasons I had to stay in a hotel.
The night before the conference starts I catch the flu. So it was quite a relief that I wasn’t sleeping in a tent. I have to cancel most scheduled events, which is something I actually don’t mind at all, since I find social gatherings and meetings that don’t lead anywhere mostly just being a waste of time.
So my stay is quite relaxing, but today I’m supposed to drag myself out the door for a meeting with the president of Switzerland. After that I’m going to go public with my plans about traveling to China. I’ve just received the official invitation to address the World Economic Forum conference which will most likely be held in Shenzhen, China sometime in the beginning of June. Visiting China is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and now it’s finally about to happen, that is, if the Chinese government will let me inside the country.
But just as I’m about to walk out the door the Swiss president cancels, as she had to immediately go back to Zürich to attend an emergency meeting. Apparently developments around the new virus discovered in China are causing grave concern.
That was my first introduction to the coronavirus crisis. I immediately put my plans of visiting China on hold. It seemed to become less and less possible to travel there sometime this spring. Instead I start planning to follow up on some other invitations, to take the Trans Siberian railway via Vladivostok to South Korea and Japan. But as the situation escalates I of course have to abandon these plans as well.
So I use the upcoming weeks to travel around in Europe, continuing to work on the documentary together with the BBC. We visit Jokkmokk, London, Yorkshire, Zürich and the European parliament. I strike in Hamburg, Bristol and Brussels. It’s the beginning of March 2020 and the world is just about to be turned completely upside down. This weekend there are supposed to be big climate strikes in France. But right here a tipping point is passed. What was unquestionable the week before has now suddenly become unthinkable.
In the Fridays For Future movement we decide to cancel everything, without hesitation. People are dying. Many are losing their family members, loved ones as well as their economic stability. The consequences of this pandemic are catastrophic. A crisis is a crisis, and in a crisis we all have to take a few steps back and act for the greater good of each other and our society. In a crisis you adapt and change your behaviour. And indeed, this is what the world does, at record speed.
So what was it that made these global structural changes possible in just a matter of hours?
Was it hope and inspiration that made us act so quickly during the corona pandemic? Something that most communication experts and news editors have claimed to be the only way forward to create change. Or was it perhaps something else?
There’s nothing positive about the corona crisis from a climate perspective. The changes made in our daily lives due to COVID-19 have extremely little similarity with the action needed for the climate.
The corona tragedy of course has no long term positive effects on the climate, apart from one thing only: namely the insight into how you should perceive and treat an emergency. Because during the corona crisis we suddenly act with necessary force.
International emergency meetings take place on a daily basis. Astronomical financial bailouts magically appear out of nowhere. Canceled events and tough restrictions make people change their behavior and approach overnight.
The media completely transitions, puts other things on hold and almost exclusively reports about COVID-19, with daily press conferences and live coverage 24/7. All parts of society come together and politicians put their different views aside and cooperate for the greater good of everyone. Well – maybe not everyone and everywhere.
But broadly speaking, people in power from politics, business and finance are suddenly saying that they will do whatever it takes since “you cannot put a price on a human life”.
Those words and this treatment of the crisis opens up a whole new dimension. Because you see, every year at least 7 million people die from illnesses related to air pollution, according to the WHO. Those are apparently people whose lives we can put a price on. Since they die from the wrong causes, and in the wrong parts of the world.
During the corona pandemic policy makers repeat that we have to “listen to the science and the experts”. Well, according to the world’s leading scientists and experts on biodiversity, the pandemic is likely to be followed by deadlier and more destructive diseases unless we halt the ceaseless destruction of natural habitats.
But these are not the scientists and experts they are referring to. Because long term sustainability doesn’t fit inside today’s economic and political systems.
This is the transcript of Chapter 11 of the Sverige Radio program aired on June 20, 2020 with the title Greta Thunberg: Humanity has not yet failed.
The full transcript was published by Time magazine on July 10, 2020. Here it is offered in chapters to make it easier to read.