Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Covid-19 and Capitalism. Why we need a new sustainable normal

Covid-19 in humans resulted when a virus jumped from a wild animal to humans, possibly via an intermediate host species.  Since 1957 there have been numerous new viruses including SARS, MERS, Ebola, HIV and several flu strains where-as in the previous 1800 years there were far fewer major new viral outbreaks.  This begs the question why we are seeing such an increase in new viruses?  These outbreaks have coincided with a time of greatly reduced natural habitats across the globe leading to wild animals coming into much closer contact with humans so increasing the chances of a virus jumping across species barrier.  Some viruses are able to then make the deadly jump of being able to pass from human to human rather than just from animal to human.  When this happens in overcrowded urban areas the virus can spread quickly amongst the human population.  Add to this how much we travel around the world and it is easy to see how a pandemic such as Covid-19 was a disaster waiting to happen.

Covid-19 and Capitalism - Habitat destruction - loss of biodiversity

You may question why Italy became the first European country to be so badly affected when other countries closer to China have fewer cases.  Northern Italy and China have build strong business links through Italy's fashion industry and brands such as Gucci and Prada which are located there.  In a bid to keep down costs and raise profit margins many fashion houses outsource manufacturing to China, notably the Wuhan region and opened up the first international flight routes between Europe and mainland China.  Over the Chinese New Year many families flew between the 2 countries, some of whom were unknowingly infected.

With Covid-19 affecting the respiratory system anything that weakens it will lead to a worse infection and greater likelihood of getting life threatening secondary infections and pneumonia.  High levels of air pollution as seen over large urban areas make the effects of the virus worse. These areas will have more people with asthma,  lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and emphysema. Anyone with any of these conditions will find it harder to fight off Covid-19. 

Air pollution disproportionately affects poorer people who live in overcrowded urban areas, many of whom work in factories supplying goods for people around the world, be that cheap goods or designer goods.  Economists often say we need economic growth to prevent recessions but the bottom line is that capitalism creates economic inequality: a few people get extremely rich from it and many more are left in poverty where their need for any work is exploited and their human rights are eroded.

Where is this air pollution coming from? It comes from particles and gases that are emitted from vehicle exhausts, factories as well as "natural" sources such as forest fires, pollen and volcanoes.  The pollution that hangs over cities is primarily human derived. As well as these visible forms of air pollution that can be seen as a haze over cities there is another form of air pollution, the increase in greenhouse gases.  Some of these gases come from natural sources (volcanoes, animal respiration etc) but the vast majority have built up since the mid 18th century due to man-made activity:  burning fossil fuels for electricity and vehicle fuel, through agriculture (arable and livestock) and deforestation, by the creation of refrigeration gases and plastics plus a plethora of other man-made sources.  The result of these increased levels of greenhouse gases is far reaching - rising sea levels, increasing extreme weather conditions, loss of biodiversity and changes in global climates which affect agriculture and the spread of diseases.

So what if the Covid-19 pandemic could act as the catalyst we need to restructure our lives and our economies. We don't need the mega-corporations that, through their businesses, are destroying the planet.

We have power through what we spend our money on. What if we move away from the likes of Amazon, Coca Cola, NestlĂ©,  etc. What if we start to fully support local businesses who pay their employees living wages and acceptable working hours. What if we didn't buy so many new cars, phones, TVs, wardrobes full of fast fashion items, imported out of season food, excessively packaged goods etc but were happy to make things last, mend them and share with friends and neighbours. What if we bought fewer things but that they cost a bit more and they lasted longer.  Businesses would survive but quality over quantity would be better for the environment and for the workers in factories producing these goods.  The CEOs and shareholders would not be quite so stupidly rich but the poor would not be so stupidly poor. And more importantly the earth could begin to heal.

In a post Covid-19 world we will remember that most of us survived under lockdown and for the most part our worlds did not fall apart because we couldn't fly around the world, buy useless tat on everyday trips to the shops or upgrade our phones etc. We discovered the power of our local communities and of small independent shops. We marvelled at the simpler things and saw pollution levels drop.  This lockdown Easter a friend bought her son just one high quality chocolate egg which he got in place of large numbers of lower quality ones he usually received from family and friends. They had a low key family day, playing games and making Easter  decorations. Her son voted Easter 2020  "the best Easter ever"!

Do we really need to fill our houses and lives with so much tat? With less comes a greater appreciation of what we already have. Not only was the one quality chocolate more appreciated by its recipient but it was also better for the environment and better for the chocolatier who made it.

Capitalists tell us we need growth.

Do we?

Yes, we need jobs but what sorts of jobs and the way we work needs to change ... as lockdowns continue the world is able to breathe again and we must not lose this opportunity to do the right thing for future generations. Surely businesses can see that at least some home working and online meetings are perfectly workable options.  Individuals can make sustainable choices and Governments can support those who actually keep countries running.  In lockdown we valued key workers in essential services and this must continue because it was in lockdown when we realised we didn't need the the bankers or CEOs with their fat cat salaries nor the super rich, many of whom flew away in their private jets to their private hide-aways.

As I write this much of the world is still lockdown so I urge you to stay home and stay safe.  I hope you can use this time to work out how you can become more sustainable. For the sake of the future of humanity and for something positive to come from those who died from Covid-19 we have to change. We cannot return to normality because that normality was fundamentally flawed. We need a new post Covid-19 future: a new sustainable normal.

Covid-19 and Capitalism. Links with habitat destruction and fashion items


  1. Thank you Rosie. You have pulled together many of the thoughts that I have about the way we all live, and condensed them into an informative and constructive blog. I hope your words spread far and wide.

  2. So well said Rosie, you put into words what so many of us are feeling.

  3. I've been thinking a lot about how COVID-19 has shone a light on all the horrible downfalls of late stage capitalism, thank you for constructing your argument so elegantly. It is all our low paid "essential" workers that are paying the price literally and frustrating


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