rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Think what we could have accomplished if we'd concentrated on global warming like we're focusing on COVID-19!

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca in its summer fundraiser today for as little as $5 per month!

Image: kris krüg/Flickr

"Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully," observed Samuel Johnson, a great wit of the 18th century.

If you doubt the truth of this aphorism, consider the coverage of the greatest news story of the 21st century, the arrival on our shores and everyone else's at the same time of COVID-19, which may be the first disease named by a committee of bureaucrats, at least if you except all those syndromes.

I am not arguing COVID-19 does not deserve either the news coverage it's receiving or the serious response it's getting from most national governments -- at least the ones that aren't led by political parties euphemistically known as "conservative."

As Jonathan Watts wrote in The Guardian earlier this week, "Like global warming, but in close-up and fast-forward, the COVID-19 outbreak shows how lives are lost or saved depending on a government's propensity to acknowledge risk, act rapidly to contain it, and share the consequences."

He noted, further, an observation that is near impossible to dispute, that, "on these matters, competence and ideology overlap. Governments willing to intervene have been more effective at stemming the virus than laissez-faire capitalists. The further right the government, the more inclined it is to delay action and offload blame elsewhere."

Johnson was a Tory, of course, but that is a variety of conservative no longer found except in headlines. Today's conservatives are all neoliberals, although that's not a very helpful designation, as the same can be said of most Liberals, New Democrats and American Democrats as well. But the "conservative" strain of neoliberalism is the most virulent and destructive. But, je digresse.

COVID-19 threatens the lives of a huge number of human beings, even if it is not as lethal to those it infects as, say, the Black Death or the Ebola virus.

But the main factor, I suspect, in the all-encompassing news coverage this new disease has received is the ease with which it is transmitted, and, in an era of international airplane flight, the speed at which it moves.

Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language was published in 1755. If a time traveller infected with a still asymptomatic case of COVID-19 had decided to sail from London that year, he or she would one way or another no longer have been infectious by the time the ship had completed the six-week to three-month voyage to New York.

The fact that COVID-19 could spread from China -- where it was first identified, whether or not that's where it originated -- in about a fortnight has indeed concentrated our minds wonderfully.

Even if the attention-deficient mind of the man charged with leading the United States doesn't recognize this reality, almost everyone else does, including the people who write our almost instantaneously transmitted news reports today. So, due to the great truth of the phenomenon Johnson noticed, we are living in a virtual news monoculture, wherein almost nothing else is reported.

Consider then the problem of global warming, which arguably presents a much more serious challenge to the survival of humankind.

Despite being well understood for decades -- its course set out in models that have proved accurate to date -- it failed for years to garner any attention at all outside academic circles, and when it finally did it was subject to a largely successful campaign of denial, delay and obfuscation by conservative governments, the fossil-fuel industry and others who saw short-term benefits in the present state of affairs.

Indeed, the government of Alberta, which fortunately seems to be taking the coronavirus quite seriously, nevertheless all but created a new industry out of denying climate change -- although not a very busy industry nowadays, judging by the output of the Alberta energy "war room," which still hasn't published a story since March 11.

Like teenagers warned about the common consequences of sex, drugs and rock and roll (which most often include babies, lack of ambition and eventual deafness), we haven't paid much attention to the genuinely catastrophic consequences of global climate warming because it's not likely to be felt in a fortnight.

Indeed, our governments' biggest concern about drugs nowadays seems to be that cannabis sales might fall. Conservatives that a generation ago warned too much pot could end civilization as we know it, have in the face of rampaging COVID-19 declared cannabis stores to be an essential service!

Imagine if we had directed the amount of attention to the problem of global warming we have to COVID-19, once confronted by the prospect of needing a respirator in a fortnight! We might not have solved it, but we would be working on solutions that would help.

Alas, Johnson's rule is an inflexible one. By the time we get around to addressing the problem of global warming seriously, we may very well be at the end of our rope.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on his blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: kris krüg/Flickr

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.