10 months into the COVID-19 crisis, and all of us are feeling as if we are living inside a movie, the script of which no Hollywood director could ever have conceived. It qualifies as a “dystopia” by all accounts, and all eyes are now desperately fixed straight ahead, looking into the future with agonising expectation. What does the picture look like, and are we living through a “collapse” right now?
The problem I have with the word “collapse” however, is that it is abstract, vague, and most of all, full of misleading myths and stereotypes. The word itself hints towards a specific event that is sudden: a glamourised Hollywood production centered around a meteorite impact, an alien invasion etc. Something that looks so spectacular that, on one hand we can frighten ourselves while eating popcorn, and on the other reassure ourselves that surely, this looks too impossible to ever happen in OUR world. When the movie ends, the popcorn runs out and the lights turn on, we venture out into the street and get the “a-ok” that everything is still running, everything is still standing. There are people, cars, lights, all is in place. Phew. It was just a movie.
Except that now, you cannot go to the cinema. And even if you did, on your way out of the movie theatre you would enter into a dystopia. The Hollywood world, where we increasingly look for comfort movies of the pre-covid era, and the “real world” out there, have switched places. It is a complete inversion. Even so, collapse is not that simple. Our world is much more complex. I’ll get to the point, and answer the question I raised in the headline of the essay:
We are not living through a collapse. We are beginning to experience the symptoms of the collapse that has already happened.
Let me explain:
Our ecosystems, where we get our food from, have already entered a phase of accelerated collapse decades ago. You’ve now seen the David Attenborough documentaries, the newspaper articles etc that confirm what biologists have known for decades. Yes, there is still food in the supermarkets. But wait until there are no more bees. Wait until there is a virus that wipes out crucial monocultures of vulnerable genetic crop hybrids and variants, as it wiped out the original banana crop earlier this century. Wait until the climate is too risky to grow anything, which has already happened in many places of the world. Wait until the Blue Ocean Event that is only a few years away. The list of risks to the food supply is endless, and as someone with master’s degrees in food science and biology, I can tell you we are heading into the storm of storms.
But there is also a very disappointing ethical collapse among the vast majority of climate scientists, the people dealing with the biggest crisis we have ever faced, and which is widely believed to be responsible for COVID-19. These scientists were the people that were supposed to alert us to danger. They were supposed to be the whistleblowers. Instead, they are afraid to tell the truth, what they see with their own eyes in their daily data outputs. Because their predictions will make them look like “collapsitarians”, a term reserved for those like me who are dismissed as biased, unqualified, and apparently focusing on doom and gloom and ignoring the “rosy” part of life. You see, the scientific community today functions under the tyranny of the “peer review” system: if you say that the Earth is spherical and not flat, you get hanged. In modern terms, this means your work not getting published, which means lack of funding for your next project, and lack of sponsors from corporations who see that your predictions are a threat to their bottomline. Basically, your career as a scientist is over. Our scientific community is a mirror of our political class: you stick out like a sore thumb, you’ll get hit from all directions. There are of course exceptions: those scientists who actually have a conscience. There are many of them and I encourage you to find them and support them. But the vast majority of our politicians and scientists are slaves to our capitalist system: if the “truth” is seen to hurt profits, it is silenced.
Our politics have also collapsed already. We have moved from the politics of debating and challenging each other, to the politics of who spews out the most lies. We have moved from doing, to finding excuses for doing nothing. And in the age of Twitter and Facebook, the “truth” is more difficult to find and confirm than ever before in human history. If the President of the richest nation on Earth is able to give advice to COVID-19 patients to inject chlorine into their blood and get away with it, then we are living through the collapse of truth itself. We have broken every previous record. From now on, the possibilities are endless: any crisis can be turned into a “hoax”. There is even a community of people on the internet who believe Australia is a made-up country.
There is no leadership. No one is at the wheel, during the most crucial time for our world. The United Nations, IPCC and other international organisations like to shove Greta Thunberg into the forefront of the media so that they can improve their corrupt image and redeem themselves on one hand by letting someone tell the truth. Yet at the same time, keep that someone at a safe distance from the decision-making centres of power, with the reasoning that they are still technically “a child”. Nicely played.
So sit back, and watch it all go down, and hopefully learn something. We are seeing the results of a collapse that happened a very long time ago. And unlike the movies Impact or Independence Day, it won’t be sudden, or spectacular. It will be slow, and it will creep up on us, like the current situation has. As I experience the effects of the crisis in my personal life, I would like to think that the future is wide open. But by many indications, it looks like the future is “closing in”. Or, for a more balanced perspective that helps me save my own face, let’s just say that the future will be “interesting”.
(from the book Disposable Earth)