As I write this, almost every single country on this planet is dealing with some sort of “environmental” disaster. Floods and wildfires, both “fueled” by weather patterns pushed to the extreme by, let’s just get this out of the way, human made climate change. The extremes of 2021 may be a very seldom outlier on the historic scales of humankind, but if you have read the IPCC report carefully, we can almost guarantee it won’t be an outlier for very long and the extremes of this year will feel muted to us in the not so far distant future.
Well, let’s talk about something different, something more fun, shall we?
The corona virus is a global pandemic that has caused, so far, around 4 million deaths (that we know of) globally. It has disrupted our lives in a way only very few events can, and I would go as far to say that it probably has affected more humans (absolutely) than any other previous event. Okay, that’s easy. In 1918, we had probably around 1,6 Billion people - We’re now close to 8 Billion.
So, what do these events, apart from the horror and pain they stack on top of each other, have in common?
Well, lots of things but I want to highlight something very specific today: They both highlight very elegantly a problem that to me is one of the fundamental questions at the heart of our modern democratic, capitalistic societies. A question that is not very often discussed or even asked - and if so, it is done in specific circles and the discussion never really reaches the main stream discourses.
Your losses, my gains.
The question is this: Are we okay, as a society, with the fact that dramatic losses and costs, such as rebuilding cities after floods, keeping companies (and citizens) afloat during a ranging pandemic, vaccinating close to 8 Billion people, keeping an expensive fire service to fight wildfires (as you can imagine I could go on forever) will always end up being paid by the general populace via taxes, while private companies (and even individuals) are able to benefit by enabling online shopping when physical shopping is not possible during a pandemic, selling gasoline guzzling SUV monsters, sell life saving masks and other PPE at a premium when they are scarce, buying up land (with people living there) cheaply to produce more dirty coal that can be burnt in power plants they will get a huge payout for when they eventually will have to shut them down (as you can imagine, I could go on forever).
In essence, the old adage: Socialize losses, privatize gains.
The official answer, for the last 50 years at least, has been more or less an unequivocal yes. It has produced, with the help of a bunch of other questionable policy decisions, a rather small number of really powerful multinational corporations. It has produced a large number of nation states that seem to be always at the brink of defaulting, with broken, decaying infrastructure. Among other things…
Change is needed
I did ask this as an openended question, but of course, if you ask me personally, I would reframe the question as “Why are we okay with this?”. There are of course good answers to this reframed question. Good in the sense that they explain the why very well. Probably less good in answering it if I, again, reframe it a tiny bit: Why are we still okay with this.
It is my belief that, unless we start asking this question again and start, as societies, to answer it differently and the pull through with the implicated actions that should follow a “No, we are not okay with this”, things will not get better.
I’ll let y’all figure out what “implicated actions” should mean. For now, let’s not involve guillotines, that’s just too messy and instagram would block the images anyway.
(I’m being too cynical here. Let’s try to fix it with laws first. Laws that don’t include capital punishment, preferably.)