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We sacrifice for Covid, so we can fight global warming

COMMENT

It is, in many ways, remarkable.

By taking uncharacteristically decisive and bold action, governments around the world have (sort of) succeeded in (more or less) flattening the Covid-19 curve. 

That said, I think that, by now, most of us are fairly confident that we will spontaneously bash our foreheads in with pointy rocks if we have to hear another unqualified person like me talking about flattening curves.

Anyway, it has been a fairly remarkable thing to watch. Largely because it has involved governments doing the exact opposite of what politicians normally do.

I’m referring to the fact that politicians have voluntarily triggered a recession to (we hope) save lives.

The lockdown has, as we all realised from day one, delivered a swift hammer blow to the groin of multiple economies on different continents. And this was done to help save the lives of people who our society has traditionally not valued at all. It was done to save the lives of older people, the sick and the poor — groups which we have discriminated against shamelessly. 

Granted, it can be argued that politicians did this for political reasons, but that’s the only reason that politicians ever do anything. 

What is really interesting is that we supported these measures. Many people have nothing to fear from Covid-19 unless they are very unlucky. Despite knowing this, people have made genuine financial sacrifices to try to do the right thing and save vulnerable people. 

I think one could fairly easily argue that this may be the most selfless act by a large group of people since … er … I’m not sure, because we as a species are generally not prone to selfless acts. We are generally not quick to recognise good things about our society, and perhaps we should take a moment to acknowledge this one. Humans are capable of good things. We should be encouraged when we see our society doing good and, for a second, be a little bit proud. 

The degree of this sacrifice leads one to think of another debate where the idea of sacrificing economic growth for the sake of other people has been hotly discussed: the environmental crisis.

For years, activists have been telling us that the only way to prevent climate catastrophe is to take decisive measures to curb industries that pollute, but some argue that could negatively affect economic growth. 

Yet politicians have repeatedly told us that voters will never support such measures because we are not willing to make the sacrifice involved. 

And while for years it seemed that they were right in thinking this, maybe they have been wrong.

Because the willingness with which we have entered the lockdown to save a small number of people would seem to indicate that our capacity for sacrifice may be greater than any of us (especially politicians) think.

We just have to ask ourselves if we are as willing to sacrifice to save our grandchildren as we have shown ourselves to be when it came to trying to save older people, the sick and the poor from Covid-19.

And, personally, I think we have shown that we are capable of doing big, difficult things. 

Perhaps we just need politicians to make big polluting industries — the major contributors to the climate crisis — see that. 

John Davenport is the chief creative office of Havas Southern Africa.

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John Davenport
John Davenport is the chief creative officer of Havas Southern Africa.

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