Well, here you have it. This is how slowing consumerism and seriously reducing greenhouse gas emissions looks and feels: empty terminals, slowed shopping and quiet streets. It’s a lousy way to get there, but ironically the world-wide pandemic is changing habits of consumption in ways a purely ideological approach never could match, toilet paper excepted.
Suddenly, with far fewer trucks and cars on the road, CO2 from burned fossil fuel has dropped. Same goes for airline travel; jet plane emissions are among the greatest contributors to man-made GHG, and over the past fifty years, global tourism has fueled a spike in development (think concrete, one of the major GHG contributors) and travel. Addicted to tourism dollars and the jobs tourism creates, society has been fueling a vicious cycle of debt, based upon future earnings and assumptions that tourism will continue to grow unabated. That, for the moment, has come to an end.
Speaking of economics, it’s always been just a matter of time before our debt-ridden economy had to pay The Piper. Turns out The Piper’s name is Joe Corona, and he’s traipsing through town with plans to bankrupt and drown rats. Although Republicans cried out in fear about the need for “balanced” budgets and debt reduction, it wasn’t really their concern. Building wealth was actually their highest priority, accomplished by dismantling government regulation and letting loose unfettered capitalism. In our pandemic Pied Piper story, Republicans play the part of the drowned rats.
The world economy is rat-ridden, and ordinary folks now find themselves bereft of an adequate social safety net that provides affordable health care, income, child-care and nutritional support. The suffering caused by this pandemic will fall upon the most vulnerable population, namely those at the bottom of the economic ladder. Perhaps the wealthy, drowning in debt, will fall ill from doing their own dishes and mowing their own lawns.
Meanwhile, this event provides an opportunity for everyone in America to examine their addiction to stuff. With most retail stores closed, buying more dresses, make-up, espresso makers, and the like has screeched to a halt, and the closing of bars and restaurants might actually make people realize how much money they waste. Though payrolls will drop, so will consumption, and given that American’s consume 45% of the world’s resources, that’s no mean feat. Being forced to live within one’s means and not run up high-interest credit card balances is actually good for the planet.
Our habits of consumption are earth-killing, and in a powerful and ironic way, Mother Earth is striking back. Her message is clear: “You humans need to STOP and if you won’t stop voluntarily, then I’ll force you to do it.” Pandemics are necessarily social, and infection is a by-product of intimacy. The way we’ve chosen to live is precisely the sort of over-crowded, petri-dish type situation rife for rapid infection. The capitalists treat the world as if they control it. Sorry, boys, but it just ain’t true. The Piper pandemic takes no prisoners.
This pandemic has hit the “pause button” we could not muster the courage to press ourselves. Tragically, many lives will be lost. Will we use this experience to learn about living differently? Time will tell, but if we return to over-consuming business-as-usual, and don’t fully embrace the wisdom of this event, The Piper will be back.