Airplanes are grounded. Roads, deserted. The skies are clear and fish swim once again in Venice's canals. Covid-19 has achieved in three short months what Greta Thunberg and her ilk could only dream of. Will it last?
Spreading exponentially throughout the world since originating in the Chinese province of Hubei before Christmas, the Covid-19 coronavirus has claimed more than 8,000 lives and infected more than 204,000 people globally. Governments struggling to contain the rampaging virus have closed their borders, restricted social gatherings, and shuttered non-essential stores and businesses, in an unprecedented crackdown that British researchers say may last up to 18 months.
Remember Greta Thunberg? Before Covid-19 threatened to wipe us all out, climate change was the apocalyptic story of the last few years. Thunberg spent the guts of the last two years shouting at our leaders to avert the coming "mass extinction," as her followers took to the streets to demand the state outlaw cars, meat, air travel and even our beloved pet cats and dogs. "Go vegan or die," they said, warning us that we have but 12 years to change our ways or perish in the coming eco-holocaust.
That's the line they pushed, and the mass media dutifully repeated it. But climate hysteria has been relegated to the back pages by coverage of Covid-19. Thunberg and her devotees can find some silver linings though: not only does she not have to return to school (nice timing, G), but the virus has helped Mother Earth recover in ways that screaming, crying, and gluing themselves to trains never could.
Doing Greta's work
In Wuhan - the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic - the streets are deserted and industry has been shut down. The corresponding drop in air pollution has been dramatic. One Stanford University researcher calculated that the improved air quality may end up saving 20 times as many lives as were taken by the virus. Satellite photographs from NASA show just how pronounced the drop-off has been:
China as a whole has seen its carbon dioxide emissions drop by a quarter in February alone.
Worldwide, at least 24 airlines are suspending operations completely. In a snapshot taken by FlightRadar 24 on Monday, 500 fewer planes were in the sky over Europe than on the same day a year ago. Quarantine measures and closed borders mean the downward trend will continue, according to FR24. Commercial aviation accounts for two percent of all global carbon dioxide emissions, meaning that even a 50 percent drop in air traffic would be equivalent to the entire CO2 output of Mexico.
Demand for oil has fallen, and fewer automobiles clog the streets of even famously gridlocked American cities like Seattle and San Francisco. But perhaps the most noticeable change is visible in Venice, where harsh lockdown measures have kept the normal throngs of tourists away. The city's once-murky canals are now clear, and Venetians have spotted fish swimming in the waterways.
All of this is exactly what Thunberg wanted, albeit under different circumstances. A world without car and air travel is implicitly proscribed by Thunberg, and explicitly written out in the ‘Green New Deal' - an ambitious piece of climate legislation pushed by the youth-led Sunrise Movement in the US and sponsored by more than 100 members of Congress. The Green New Deal also calls for the dismantling of all polluting industry and commerce, and would grant the government power to decide what you eat, how you build your home and how you travel.
Changing your habits by force
Few will quibble with travel restrictions during a pandemic, and people will accept some lifestyle changes. But would we accept a life of isolation and deprivation as the ‘new normal', all in the name of saving the planet?
Like hell we would. Even with a modern-day plague at our doorsteps, governments around the world have had to physically force people to remain at home. Hazmat-suited guards kept Chinese citizens in their apartments during the peak of the crisis in Wuhan. Italy has taken to fining or jailing citizens who break their quarantine. Spain and France have also fined their citizenry for breaking isolation rules, and deployed police to herd tourists away from popular spots.
In Ireland, revellers threw common sense to the wind and danced Sunday night away in the only pub in Dublin opting not to voluntarily close. In France, looting and fighting has been reported. The point is that even with the lives of their families at stake, people will still attempt to defy the advice of their leaders.
And so it would go in the green utopia envisioned by Thunberg and friends. Even with the growth of "flight shaming," people will still take to the skies, unless forced not to. People will drive until their cold, dead hands are pried from the steering wheel. Despite the best efforts of the liberal media to shame readers into literally confessing their "climate sins," people will still choose to live a life of modern convenience over a life of self-imposed eco-asceticism.
When the coronavirus is eventually controlled, governments will hand out massive cash bailouts to get the world economy back on its feet. US President Donald Trump promised a trillion dollar stimulus package on Tuesday, including $50 billion to the airline industry.
But once things are back to normal, the environmental debate will likely start anew. This time, the Greta Thunbergs of the world can point to the current, virus-induced environmental uptick as proof that we can - when push comes to shove - give up our carbon addiction. However, remember that if your leaders are serious about meeting the climate goals they promise to, the lifestyle changes they ask of you will need to be enforced with the machinery of the state.
In ‘Discipline and Punish', postmodern theorist Michel Foucault noted that in the Middle Ages, the bubonic plague could only be controlled by "omnipresent and omniscient" surveillance, coupled with draconian punishment for those who violate the lockdown. Foucault called the plague a "political dream," which gave the powerful justification to regulate the "smallest details of everyday life."
State-enforced travel bans and mandatory isolation are extreme measures for a desperate time. Don't let the environmental crusaders make them a blueprint for the future.
And while you're at it, ask Greta whether the current drop in emissions has pushed back that ‘12 years to doom' prediction we heard so much about.
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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.
Graham Dockery is an Irish journalist, commentator, and writer at RT. Previously based in Amsterdam, he wrote for DutchNews and a scatter of local and national newspapers.