The Hot Topic: The Paradox of the Present: Acting in Good Faith in Times of Crisis
Imagine the worst possible scenario, and if you are able enough to act according to it, do that. In the coronavirus situation then, it means that as long as you can isolate yourself, do it rather than not do it, even if it seems absurd, reactionary, and crazy. The same approach needs to be applied to climate change.
A pandemic grips the world in its claws and what seemed unimaginable just a few weeks ago is now justifiable, quick, and natural. In less than four months, more than 7000 people across the globe have died, and more than 180,000 have been infected by the novel coronavirus. Stocks have plunged around the world, the biggest of companies have been shut down or asked their employees to work from home, schools and universities are closed, and public life is limited. The best healthcare systems in the world face this unprepared: northern Italy, the worst-hit region after China, has one of the highest-rated healthcare systems in Europe but is now under immense strain. Doctors in Italy are now having to choose who to save, based on their chances of survival. Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson, Idris Elba, and the spouses of the Canadian Prime Minister and the Spanish President have tested positive for coronavirus. This is a threat that has no precedent of being dealt with in the modern world, and as Italians send messages to the rest of the world from the ‘future’, saying don’t do what we did, and act now, we must heed their call.
Yet life goes on as usual where I live. There are a greater number of people wearing masks on the street but the metro and buses run full, the weekly bazaars are crowded and as many people as possible crowd into shared auto-rickshaws. What started as a merely ‘Chinese problem’ quickly expanded to the rest of the world, but as the number of cases here in India add up to around 125, the virus still hasn’t disrupted life enough to enact stringent measures. Sure, the universities are shut, but who was studying anyway? The fact that gyms are closing down is just a new excuse to not work out. Bars and restaurants are still being frequented. While events are cancelled, anything more than that is termed an overreaction. And why wouldn’t it be? The streets are full, and that is something visible to the eye. The invisible threat of catching the virus pales in comparison to the visibility of business going on as usual.
An article in the Atlantic describes beautifully how overreaction now is needed - ‘doing something different from the norm seems shameful’, the author explains, and ‘this is the paradox of the present moment: if we wait until the problem is sufficiently visible to transform overreaction into mere reaction again, we will have been too late.’ There is the paradox - if the threat is as big and real as facts show us, and we take actions what might seem like an ‘overreaction’ at the present moment, the threat will be averted, and the actions will appear excessive later on because they saved us. Conversely, if we do not do what is required of us now, it will be too late by the time we realise the significance of it. Doomsday will be upon us. Either way, you cannot win - so what must be done?
Just act in good faith. Imagine the worst possible scenario, and if you are able enough to act according to it, do that. In the coronavirus situation then, it means that as long as you can isolate yourself, do it rather than not do it, even if it seems absurd, reactionary, and crazy. The same approach needs to be applied to climate change. Comparisons have already been drawn up between coronavirus and the climate crisis. A joke goes around saying that climate change needs to hire the publicist of coronavirus. When it comes to climate change too then, we have to act in good faith; we have to morally commit ourselves to be environmentally friendly, despite what anybody else does, regardless of what significance you attach to individual actions.
So imagine the scenario: the climate is deteriorating and there are extreme weather events, wildfires, oceans filling up with waste, cities getting polluted, biodiversity fast disappearing. It’s not even that hard to imagine, because it’s already happening. Try then to imagine the worst-case scenario: there are water wars, and you and your loved ones are suffering. You cannot walk out of the building without wearing a mask, and people you love have respiratory issues. Every year, the threat of your city going underwater gets more real, relegating you to the status of a climate refugee. You will be scrambling to secure basic utilities for your family.
Seems crazy? Absurd? Unreal? That’s what the Italians said about the coronavirus. And now they are writing messages from the future, warning the world to not do what they did, and act fast. Countries like France and the USA are thought to be only days behind where Italy is right now, and that’s why their message is all the more important. ‘I am writing to you from the future…a huge mess is about to happen…I’m also pretty sure that you’re underestimating it…the worst-case scenario? That’s exactly what will happen.’ If right now we act like the Earth is on fire, we may have a real shot at saving it.
The intention of this strategy is not to spread panic and shut yourselves in your house. Panic doesn’t achieve anything. But what is important is to take the threat of climate change seriously enough, that the duty to act for it comes from within you. To make changes in your lifestyle, inconvenient as they may be, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that people around you might not be doing so. Even when others around you do just the opposite, you must act in the good faith that your actions might just save the world. That’s what super people are made of.
Header: A banner tied on a gate indicates that the fair is closed amid concerns over the spread of COVID-19 novel coronavirus, in New Delhi on March 17, 2020 (Photo by SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP via Getty Images)