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Alternet - June 8, 2020

The pandemic has deftly illustrated two lessons that we, as a civilization, must learn in order to survive:

  1. Science does not care about your political ideology.
  2. The economic status quo — namely, free market capitalism — is fatally flawed, in ways that the coronavirus pandemic has brought to light.

The first lesson was evident in President Donald Trump’s initial response to the coronavirus. Despite being warned as early as January that it was an existential threat, he dismissed his advisers’ concerns as “alarmist” and did everything he could to ignore and downplay the problem so that the stock market wouldn’t be negatively impacted. It took him more than ten weeks to declare a state of national emergency and, even then, America’s ability to respond to the pandemic was weakened by the various budget-cutting policies he implemented prior to the pandemic that ignored expert advice and made it more difficult for the Centers for Disease Control to do its job.

A similar point could be made about man-made climate change. Even though the scientific consensus is clear — global climate change is real, caused by humans and poses an existential threat to our planet — Trump continues to deny it solely because fossil fuel companies and other special interest groups don’t want to lose money.

There in an additional factor in both the coronavirus and climate change denialism, of course: A distrust of intellectuals who use pesky, inconvenient facts in disciplines like epidemiology and climatology to make arguments that go against conservative, free market doctrine. After all, a strong centralized government is needed to regulate the economy in ways that will protect the planet from climate change and to save lives as the pandemic worsens. Because right-wingers don’t want to believe that the federal government should have this power, they cannot acknowledge that it is necessary on these occasions — and certainly not when doing so would seemingly concede a point to the left.

Yet scientific realities don’t change simply because right-wing egos would be wounded if the left is proved correct about pandemics and ecological apocalypses. That is why the pandemic reveals that science must always take precedence over ideological whinging when it comes to shaping key policy decisions.

“Ultimately, of course, the science is a key part of any decision, but the science alone does not determine what that decision should be,” Dr. Kevin Trenberth, a distinguished senior scientist in the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told Salon. “And the politicians are supposed to be the ones who assimilate all of the information and time it and including the science, but also all of the possible consequences in all ways, shapes and forms including health, economics and society. And so on.”

He added, “The problem is I don’t think most politicians actually recognize their role, and it’s much worse in the United States than it is in many other countries. And the reason it’s much worse is because of advocacy, because of money in particular, because of Citizens United and the nasty politics that gets involved with using so-called dark money, television and all sorts of things like that.”

This brings us to the other fundamental truth that has been illustrated by the pandemic — namely, that our free market capitalist system is inherently unsustainable.

Part of that unsustainability is rooted in ecology.

“I think that there are larger lessons and messages here about the sustainability of a global population of nearly 8 billion and growing people on a planet with finite resources,” Dr. Michael E. Mann, a distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University, told Salon. “And what COVID-19 has laid bare is the fragility of this massive infrastructure which we’ve created to artificially maintain consumption far beyond the natural carrying capacity of the planet. And continued exploitation of fossil fuels, obviously, is inconsistent with a sustainable human society.”

One of the chief problems with free market capitalism — or, for that matter, the global economic system in general — is that it depends on constant consumption in order to sustain itself. If that consumption is disrupted even for a brief period, the entire system grinds to a halt, with people losing their employment and poverty skyrocketing. As the coronavirus pandemic has revealed, this is not always because people need to be poor. It isn’t as if we experienced a famine or the sudden depletion of a vital natural resource. The fundamentals of our economy remain as strong as they ever were; the problem is that, because people are not able to continue consuming, the edifice built on top of that foundation has begun to crumble. ...
Read full report at Alternet