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There's a much worse global pandemic than COVID-19: global capitalism

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A refinery in Gold bar, Alberta. Image: Kurt Bauschardt/Flickr

Is the coronavirus now encircling the globe Mother Nature's desperate attempt to stop rampant capitalism from destroying sentient life on the planet?

With most of the world's political leaders still blatantly committed to abetting the reign of terror by the multinational corporations -- and with so many workers dependent on capitalism for their livelihood -- only the planet itself had the power to intervene.

The only effective way to do so was to inflict a global pandemic that decisively lowered industrial pollution. The subsequent shutdown of factories; reduction of road, air and sea traffic; and mandatory self-distancing have combined to effectively curb carbon dioxide emissions.

Unfortunately, this imposed shrinkage of neoliberal capitalism by a global pestilence has also entailed the deaths of many thousands of people. But not nearly as many as the millions who have been the victims of rapacious capitalism over the past hundred years. They have been killed by poverty, hunger, homelessness, neglect and preventable disease -- all of them the result of capitalists' colossal greed and barbarity.

This malignant global economic system has been halted by COVID-19, which has also scaled back much of capitalism's pernicious global warming assault. 

But for how long will this reprieve from pollution last? The big corporations are already planning to resume their fossil-fuel extraction, deforestation, depletion of non-renewable resources and contamination of the environment as soon as COVID-19 is subdued.

A few key questions, however, still remain unanswered.

  • Will a permanent cure for COVID-19 be created, or will it actually be a treatment that will only mitigate the ill-effects? Significantly, hundreds of people in South Korea who initially tested positive for the virus and then pronounced cured were recently found to be re-infected or suffering from a "re-activated" form of the virus.

  • If a vaccine for COVID-19 is devised, would the disease remain a seasonal scourge like influenza? The flu has never been eliminated. Shots help some people avoid the disease, but each year the flu returns and many continue to sicken and die. If COVID-19 were to emulate the seasonal flu, however, its annual outbreak, despite a helpful vaccine, would undoubtedly be much worse than the flu and possibly almost as virulent and disruptive as the current outbreak. 

  • Could such a world-wide catastrophe be prevented? Yes, it could, but only if a resumption of the corrosive climate-wrecking capitalist economic system is averted, and a planet-friendly progressive socialist economy installed in its place. 

Sadly, such a salubrious global transformation will never happen as long as the world's political leaders remain meekly compliant with the world's capitalist planet-wreckers. If they do join the big corporations in a renewed assault on the planet and its capitalist-enfeebled climate, Mother Earth's retaliation will be swift and decisive. 

If it doesn't take the form of returning COVID-19 outbreaks, she has other punitive measures at her disposal. They may unavoidably leave a planet that is much less overpopulated, but it will also be a planet completely free of capitalism and its pestilent poverty, inequality, pollution, preventable disease and global warming.  

Regrettably, however, such an idyllic outcome is really another day-dream -- just as improbable as a future in which political leaders shed their obeisance to capitalism. Both prospects naively assume that enough time is left for either of them to materialize, when in fact time is fast running out.

A few years ago, leading environmentalists and other scientists warned that the world's business and political leaders had only another 10 to 15 years in which to prevent global warming from soaring to a catastrophic level that would wreck human civilization.

Obviously, the CEOs and politicians lack not only the time, but even the inclination to take such sweeping preventive action. And even Mother Earth seems to have waited too long before imposing COVID-19 as a deterrent to further capitalist desecration.  

   *    *     *

Apologies for exposing my own uncertainty about the future outlook for humankind. As you can see, I keep wavering between mounting gloom and lingering hope, as I expect many others are as well. Perhaps, as we ponder this dilemma in the seclusion of our homes, we may arrive at a point where we can reconcile the conflicting possibilities.   

Or not. It may be more interesting just to keep altering our speculations on the future as ongoing developments of the pandemic revise and reshape them in the months ahead. 

My wife and I are glad that our two grandkids, who are also housebound, can still romp around in their big backyard in Osgood, and may even get to play in the wider outdoors with their chums during a COVID-19-free summer.

Ed Finn grew up in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, where he worked as a printer's apprentice, reporter, columnist and editor of that city's daily newspaper, the Western Star. His career as a journalist included 14 years as a labour relations columnist for the Toronto Star. He was part of the world of politics between 1959 and 1962, serving as the first provincial leader of the NDP in Newfoundland. He worked closely with Tommy Douglas for some years and helped defend and promote medicare legislation in Saskatchewan. The post originally appeared on Ed's personal blog.

Image: Kurt Bauschardt/Flickr​

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