The latest fu**ery to emerge out of the COVID-19 pandemic currently sweeping the world?
It’s something that’s been rising to the surface recently anyway thanks to the looming climate disaster facing our planet, but the outbreak of coronavirus, and the startling imagery that it has produced, has brought some of it to the fore. I bet you can tell what it is!
How so? Well, naturally one of the side effects of this pandemic forcing (some) nations and their industrial outputs to grind to a halt is…well, that industrial output is grinding to a halt. Take China, for example, which took harsh and decisive action as the COVID-19 problem ballooned by shutting down entire regions and swathes of economic activity. The difference that made to the levels of air pollution were stark:
Similar reports have been coming in from all over the world. Stories of the planet adapting to an environment suddenly subject to a dramatically lessened amount of human influence. One of the most eye-catching came from the European epicentre of COVID-19: Italy. Specifically, Venice. Venice, that ancient floating marvel and jaw-dropping testament to humanity’s aesthetic yearning. Venice, that sinking, tourism-blighted, cruise ship pollution-choked monument to the ruination of beauty. Venice, now deserted thanks to a COVID-19 induced lockdown, showing signs of that oh-so-popular post-apocalyptic movie trope: Natural reclamation.
Dolphins are returning to the coast of Italy now that cruise ships and other human activity have halted pic.twitter.com/jRSaLmalN9— Chris Robison | 👨🏻💻.eth (@CBobRobison) March 17, 2020
Boars in the middle of my hometown, dolphins in the port of Cagliari, ducks in the fountains in Rome, Venice canals have now clean water full of fishes. Air pollution dropped. Nature is reclaiming its spaces during quarantine in Italy. #COVID19 #COVIDー19 pic.twitter.com/dr6QILfF9V— Francesco Delrio (@Cosodelirante) March 15, 2020
The earth always knows how to find a balance. Less vehicles, less pollution, Side effect of the pandemic. Venice is clear for the first time in forever. The fish are visible, the swans returned. Even dolphins are reappeared in italy. #CoronavirusPandemic pic.twitter.com/bG2VdQHTM1— AFSHAN 👑 (@QueenAfshan) March 18, 2020
Truly heartwarming sights, context be damned.
But of course, as sure as night follows day, there have been efforts to frame this in The Matrix-style, ‘humanity is a virus’ kind of ways:
Wow… Earth is recovering— Tom (@ThomasSchuIz) March 17, 2020
- Air pollution is slowing down
- Water pollution is clearing up
- Natural wildlife returning home
Coronavirus is Earth’s vaccine
We’re the virus
Which is, of course, an example of missing the point in spectacular ways, and an easy emotive reduction to a quasi-Malthusian view of the world.
Edging closer to the truth were tweets like this:
Citizens of Wuhan can finally hear birds chirping after years, Venice’s water canals are clear and full of fish, and you can even see the Tatra mountains from Kraków because the smog has lifted.— ★·. olimpia .·★ (@hell0pia) March 18, 2020
This isn’t an apocalypse. It’s an awakening.
And then finally hitting the nail on the head were takes like this:
Humans are not “the virus.”— Lakota Law Project (@lakotalaw) March 18, 2020
Indigenous people have shown that it is possible to live in balance with nature.
Colonialism and extraction for profit, those are the virus. https://t.co/WUucf9DySt
"Someone once said that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism. We can now revise that and witness the attempt to imagine capitalism by way of imagining the end of the world."— Andray (@andraydomise) March 18, 2020
— Fredric Jameson https://t.co/WizjuTtYzj
Coronavirus is not mother nature's 'cure' for 'evil humans'.— Please join a socialist party 🌸 (@SocialistWitch) March 18, 2020
The Earth doesn't suffer from humanity. It suffers from a handful of multinational firms, run by a handful of billionaires, and the military industrial complex.
I'm tired of the ecofascism, so here's a thread.
That the coronavirus has reduced air pollution, water pollution and so on DOES NOT demonstrate that "wE'Re tHE ViRus", people are the problem or any other number of absurd eco-fascist conjecture.— GlumBird (@GlumBird) March 18, 2020
Capitalism is shutting down. It demonstrates that capitalism is the problem.
TIRED: venice is clean now and that means humans are the virus and should die— Rebecca Harding ✨ (@itsSupercar) March 19, 2020
WIRED: venice is a sign that drastic measures can have a surprisingly stark impact on the environment— even accidentally. which means there's even more we could do via purposeful collective change
One of the very first pieces I wrote for this site was a news piece about how the area around Chernobyl—evacuated of (almost) all human life after the worst nuclear industry disaster in history a few decades ago—had since seen an explosion in the abundance of other animal species:
According to new reports, the exclusion zone around Chernobyl has become a de facto nature reserve, as a few decades’ respite from humankind has led to soaring populations of red deer, roe deer, elk, wild boar, and other species. The European lynx has returned to the area. Wolf numbers have increased sevenfold. And an animal not seen in the area for almost a century — the European brown bear — has also been spotted.
Or, to put it another way: the worst accident in the entire history of the industry that is the cousin to the most devastating weapon ever unleashed has proven to be less harmful to the planet than humans just going about their business. A few hairless apes farming, chopping down trees, and posting shit on Instagram? “Hmm, no thanks,” nature scoffs, “I’ll take irradiation with caesium-137 instead.”
Amidst the blasted and abandoned ruins of human ingenuity, hubris, and stupidity, nature has stepped in to reclaim its space, and where we sowed death it has reintroduced life.
In my phrasing there, I was guilty of the same reductive fallacy as the ‘humanity is a virus’ people on Twitter. ‘Humanity’ in and of itself is not the problem. That’s too easy. It’s our incredibly toxic, extractive, short-term systems that are to blame for the state of the planet, and of our own species. It’s the choices we have made. Or, more accurately, it’s the choices a few at the top have made on behalf of all of us. It’s the fact that the entirety of modern capitalism is premised on the idea that the planet’s resources are infinite, that any environmental damage is a spreadsheetable ‘externality’. Similar to the fact that it’s not ‘overpopulation’ that is the problem by itself, it’s the ludicrously criminal unequal distribution of the resources available to us.
That last tweet above really gets to the heart of the matter. COVID-19 could be a truly paradigm-shattering thing. People are waking up to the rotten underpinnings of our broken society. Class consciousness is stirring like it hasn’t in a long time. If married effectively to an ecological mindset, it has the potential to build a better world for everyone. If we seize the reins effectively and decide en masse to do away with the exploitative capitalist model that has led us to this point, and we have the courage to face up against the elites who will do everything in their power to fight back against us, then we have a once in a lifetime chance to turn this ship around, and to make the human experiment into something wonderful, instead of down a tragic dead end. Because let’s not forget, all the chaos and horror being caused by COVID-19—all that uncertainty and fear and dispossession and death? All that is just a minor dry run for what is to come.
Feels like we're at a crossroads where either this crisis is seen as a foreshadowing of climate collapse, and we transition away from this rotten system, or the human project is stillborn. Have a great Wednesday everyone!— Frankie Boyle (@frankieboyle) March 18, 2020
Remember how for the first few months of the coronavirus pandemic we didn't act quickly enough? Even tho we knew the science and what would happen, and now it's too late and everything's shutting down?— hsna (@BlazeQuark) March 18, 2020
That's us with climate change. Except it'll be 100000x worse
As a bonus and in an attempt to inject some joy, please enjoy these elephants:
While humans carry out social distancing, a group of 14 elephants broke into a village in Yunan province, looking for corn and other food. They ended up drinking 30kg of corn wine and got so drunk that they fell asleep in a nearby tea garden. 😂❤️https://t.co/Xm1Mou497o pic.twitter.com/lmByfcD1sg— Liquid Faerie 🇵🇹🇪🇺🦄🕷🦄🇪🇺🇵🇹 (@LiquidFaerie) March 18, 2020
Image sources (in order of posting): Getty Images, NASA