Reclaiming our humanity


    It’s been a long time since those of us who worry about these things have had any certainty that the human race will be able to avoid the train wreck that is the planet’s environmental crisis. It’s been roaring down on us, seemingly unstoppable, as despot after despot ascends to power with a Trump-like belief in their own omniscience, trashing science, morality and kindness in the public sphere to the drumbeat of ‘‘austerity’’ without end. Covid-19 will no doubt break much that we regret before it’s done, but it’s giving us clarity on what it really is to be human and coming at us as a challenge. And everywhere there are signs we are rising to it. The seethe of individual entitlement and mindless, ant-like time- filling that gave us the Ruby Princess and a million other distractions from the preciousness of life itself won’t easily make a comeback. Globally, Covid-19 has turned us into caring neighbours and, as columnist George Monbiot wrote a fortnight ago, we can now watch neoliberalism collapsing in real time. “Governments whose mission was to shrink the state, to cut taxes and borrowing and dismantle public services, are discovering that the market forces they fetishised cannot defend us from this crisis. The theory has been tested, and almost everywhere abandoned. It may not be true that there were no atheists in the trenches, but there are no neoliberals in a pandemic,” he said. “Power has migrated not just from private money to the state, but from both market and state to another place altogether: the commons. All over the world, communities have mobilised where governments have failed.” Formerly invisible armies of poorly paid people are emerging as heroes, and one of the extraordinary features of the response to Covid-19 is that, during this near-global self-isolation, many people – especially the elderly – feel less isolated than they have done for years as neighbours rally to ensure they are not alone. From India to Johannesburg to our own backyard, groups of all ages and demographics are mobilising to bring care packages to the poorest. Racial and financial divides seem irrelevant in this challenging and no doubt often painful new world order. Last week, we again brought Waiheke both on-line and printed versions of Gulf News, again to reach those locked down in isolation, those without reliable internet and generally all the rest of us who need to know as much as possible about getting through the lockdown safely. It was a near-run thing, as community papers, like magazines, were rather randomly reclassified as non-essential, but by Wednesday lunchtime we had an exemption to the ban. By Thursday, Bauer Media had exited the New Zealand magazine market it had been buying up since 2012 in a way that, as with the dailies two decades earlier, should have had alarm bells ringing in the Overseas Investment Commission. But did not. There were no offers to senior staff to take over titles with 80 years of service to the country and very fair business models, no thought to the intellectual property over which they had stewardship, no reasoned lobbying of the government to allow production through the crucial lockdown month when we need in-depth professional journalism, not merely ‘news’ and British quiz shows. On Sunday morning, one could only be grateful that we still have Radio New Zealand. MediaWatch ranged in depth on the issue of both Bauer and the role of print media, including ourselves. It was followed by one of the national programme’s brilliant longform interviews with Darrel Bricker, co-author of Empty Planet : The Shock of Global Population Decline published last year. It seemed entirely relevant in the context of the current crisis, the Canadian author pointing out that geopolitical upheavals were coming anyway and that the world’s population is likely to peak and stabilise at fewer than 10 billion. That’s far lower and sooner than the most commonly used figures from the United Nations, but right now, he said, India’s reproductive rate for couples is down to 2.1. New Zealand’s is 1.8 and in no country in the world, except Israel, is the birth rate going up, he said. We are getting used to images of a quieter Earth and eerily empty cities, including our own, where millions of people have literally disappeared into their homes to counter a great pandemic. Within days, pollution from the northern motorway had dropped by 80 percent. There are lessons and we can watch and choose what we want to keep and what must go. • Liz Water

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