We’ve just begun to grasp the scope of the epidemic and the profound transformations that await us in its aftermath, but one important question remains: how did this all start? Beyond the obvious epidemiological and public health issues, it can be argued that this epidemic is essentially the fruit of our voluntary blindness to overconsumption, and to our inability to make concessions in our lifestyles. It’s the price that we’re now paying for unrestrained, ignorant and asymmetrical globalization.
How long did we expect to maintain this rhythm? We queue up at the summit of Mount Everest like it’s Ikea on a Thursday, build hotels and water slides on the world’s last pristine beaches and protected areas, and clear-cut our remaining forests in the name of “profit”. We’ve lost sight of who we are, and our actions are dictated by our wants, by “Everything now,” as aptly sung by my friends of Arcade Fire. While we could have invested our resources and intelligence into research, healthcare, education, prevention and foreign assistance, we chose cheap plastic, jet fuel and clientelism. The virus’s propagation is the product of anthropocentric thinking and blind globalization. The speed with which is spreads attests to none other than our frantic desire to travel, whatever the cost.
While an important book fair in Belgium should have been cancelled under current conditions, it remained open to avoid financial losses, at the expense of hundreds of lives. Thousands of planes are still airborne as you read these lines, carrying unsuspecting COVID-19 hosts that are fulfilling personal travel plans and commercial deals that should have been postponed. Greed is the primary means of transmission of the globalized virus that now ails us.
You’re not convinced? Why then, are we impatient for our quasi-existential crisis to end, to return to “normal life”? We’re stationed at our computer waiting to be told, “This is it! It’s over!”, upon which we’ll click on the checkout button of our shopping cart, and reinstate the travel plans we’d put on hold. This will confirm our collective lack of awareness.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
There are many solutions, but all of them lead us down the same, painful path: a radical overhaul of our lifestyle, of our consumption and travel patterns and a redesign of our social investments. Salvation will come from our educational system, which must teach us how to think critically. Universities, in particular, must stop the blind perpetuation of self-destructive systems. Tomorrow’s leaders must be trained differently.
Salvation will also be achieved through enterprises which value human ingenuity at the service of public interest, rather than shareholder profit gained through the marketing of useless overpackaged merchandise. It will come from politicians who refuse to be influenced by clientelism, who respect science and build a strong public administration which prioritizes populations’ needs.
Most of all, salvation is achievable through a global governance reform. Drastic remodeling is needed to support solid institutions, such as the World Health Organization, in ensuring that countries engage in dialogue, reflection and anticipation, and identify solutions to archaic globalization and demographic issues. The world is in dire need of greater international cooperation.
Sadly, the overhaul of our globalized system hinges on the kind of strong, positive political leadership that is sorely lacking today. We certainly can’t count on our neighbours to the South, which are prey to this “coronavarice” under a bipolar administration. The G20 is paralyzed and the United Nations is undergoing a legitimacy crisis. What’s more, most heads of state in the West are themselves products of the clientelism that has caused a system failure. Let us not forget that we elected them! Today, we are so far removed from Wilson’s idealism, as evidenced by the ungenerosity of the world’s greatest fortunes, including ours, in the COVID-19 crisis.
Truth be told, salvation will come from the humanity of the post-epidemic generation, which will take the helm of an ailing planet. Biologists tell us that living organisms find solutions. And in the humanitarian field, we often say that we must never underestimate a population facing a survival crisis. In that case, let’s hope that the slap in the face that we’ve just been dealt by blind neoliberalism, by our own greediness, is strong enough to wake us up, individually and collectively. Otherwise, the next epidemic could very likely be the last.