A question was posed in a headline the other day, is COVID-19 the greatest crisis facing us? I wonder is the greatest crisis COVID-19, climate emergency, inequality or privilege?
Well, COVID-19 is certainly a global crisis, with more than 3,000,000 infected and more to come if the reports of the likely spread to Africa are accurate. It is stretching health systems to their limits, even if for some countries it may be that the worst has passed. It is also tragic on a personal level for thousands of people who have lost loved ones. And many are finding social isolation very difficult, perhaps exacerbating existing problems of mental health or domestic violence.
However, it is also throwing light onto another crisis – that of the huge disparity of wealth, and the general inequality across the world, between those who live comfortably and those whose life is precarious. Social distancing is not possible in many prisons or poor housing areas, ghettos and barrios that lie on the outskirts of the metropolises of the globe. Even in so called ‘developed’ nations, there are some who can enjoy relative freedom, or at least a garden, whilst others are crowded into flats or trying to survive in flood-affected homes. Across the continents there are sharp divisions between those who can access food, medication, entertainment, and other people via the internet, and those whose next meal is uncertain, health services almost non-existent, have to struggle all day with no time for rest, and whose social horizons are severely restricted.
All the attention on the Coronavirus crisis also hides the continuing threat of the climate emergency. It is reported this week that 2020 is likely to be the hottest year on record. Despite the downturn of economic and manufacturing activity, which has unexpected benefits of less pollution, (less noise as well as well as better air quality), and more freedom for other species to roam our streets, the time we have left, to change our behaviour and reduce our carbon footprint, remodel our economic systems and establish justice for the oppressed, is running out.
All this suggests to me that the greatest crisis is one of privilege. Those who have privilege, through birth, education, or good fortune are challenged to use it for others, rather than themselves. Otherwise, the structure of society and the global partnership of humanity may well fracture beyond repair, and many other life forms will disappear. Self-preservation is ultimately domed to failure, because we need each other. This is one of the clearest lessons we are learning from this pandemic. We cannot live side by side with such a disparity of wealth and opportunity and still be humane.
This crisis, like those of climate emergency, or COVID-19, affects each and every one of us. How will we respond? How will I respond? Can I find ways of putting my privilege to the service of others?