Celebrating the environmental “benefits” of coronavirus is ecologism at its most grim
‘I love not man the less, but Nature more’ might be the only line of Lord Byron’s poetry I know, and even then only because it’s George Monbiot’s twitter bio. But in my – probably wrong – interpretation of it I see a reflection of my politics. And those are politics which hold the environment incredibly dear. The earth, after all, is why we’re here. Nature is beautiful, and the life within it is valuable and good and to be protected.
But mine are also a politics that holds human life incredibly dear, not just because we are a part of nature, but because humans are my parents, and my siblings, and my society. Forgetting the value of humanity is a dangerous line, a line that sometimes I see parts of the green movement cross.
No more has this been drawn into focus for me than during the present crisis. This pandemic is a disaster with unspeakable human cost. Perhaps those who have lived through previous crises will not be, but I’ve been shocked by just how quickly I’ve become desensitised to the numbers. Another day brings another five-figure count of new deaths, another Guardian notification or Public Health England tweet. It feels like a new normal. Despite the desensitising magnitude, though, it is clear that we are living through a time of great suffering. A friend loses a loved one, or I worry about my own, and that fact feels ever more real.
All too often I see parts of our movement forget this. This desensitisation means it only takes a brief distraction, a lapse of focus, for the human cost to slip from the mind and a yearning for cheer to replace it. We’re animals, after all, who are motivated by joy. There’s not much joy around at the moment.
And as ecologists we feel joy in nature, in its undeniable beauty and power. So it can seem natural to celebrate when the dolphins are back in Venice, when the trees begin to green again, when we see a little of the life our politics celebrates. I see this on social media – in photos of lifted smog, or of usually rare animals, or of shouts of ‘this is what the future could look like’.
At best, these slip ups are a result of a search for any joy going. But Delhi and Los Angeles aren’t rising from the smog because of a victory of the ecosystem. They’re rising from the smog because of a pandemic – a pandemic with profound human costs. Our people are lying on hospital beds sustained by scarce ventilators. None of us need reminding of that. So we have to be careful in our search for cheer. Joy is an important thing, and find it where you can – but be vigilant for good things with bad causes.
At worst, this is the result of a politics which fails to recognise the value of humanity. I see this most in cries of ‘humans are the virus’, and in language which speaks of the pandemic as ‘an opportunity for our movement’. Crises which cost lives are never an opportunity, and we cannot forget that. A politics which sees the coronavirus as a step forward in our struggle is a corrupted politics. It’s the politics of population control and close our borders and forget social justice. It’s ecologism at its most grim and its most dangerous.
Climate justice and social justice are intrinsically linked, and we have to treat them that way. It says so in the Green Party’s Core Values and it’s at the roots of the Green New Deal. That link underpins our movement, and for good reason. Every person is valuable and has a right to life. Proclaiming wins for the environment during this time of suffering neglects that. A politics which does so is dehumanising and anti-green, and must be rejected at every corner. It’s a politics that fails to diagnose the role of capitalism and exploitation in driving forward the climate crisis, instead pinning the blame equally on every human. There can be no ground given to those who neglect the value of human life and human security. That is always true.
This crisis reminds us all of the unbeatable power of solidarity. Not the in-words-only solidarity of contemporary politics – something to be shouted to applause at the end of a conference speech or to sign off a good tweet (and I am guilty of both). I mean proper solidarity – there’s power in a union-type stuff. We will push through this crisis with the power of humans working together: with mutual aid groups, with the NHS, with unity. Humans are good and we must value them as much as nature. Don’t forget that.
Image credit: Tom Collins – Creative Commons