Like most people on the left, I have thought deeply about human rights. Poverty, racism, patriarchy, slavery (which goes by many names) are horrible things to endure. But as the camera pans away from street level and I take a look at the landscape, I see that what one group of humans is doing to another pales on the injustice scale, when we compare it to what humans as a species are doing to other species. We are bringing about loss of habitat, starvation, and extinction on an enormous scale. If we did this to a group of our own species, we might call it genocide. We don’t have a word which describes our systematic destruction of the passenger pigeon or the northern white rhino. We just call it “too late.” “Too bad.” We don’t call it criminal.
But there are worse things than being dead. There is having your family broken up because humans have decided you are taking food from their cattle. There is the constant agony of a belly full of plastic, and not understanding why your chicks are dying on the nest, when you think you are feeding them. There is being shot, because you went into “town” and treated a human as prey, in the exact same place where a year ago you were in the woods feeding on deer.
It’s 2020 and suddenly no one cares about Brexit or the coming US elections. Whatever little gains or losses of human rights might result from these things is off the table, because some extra humans are going to die this year, and it’s not necessarily going to be those other humans who usually die, like the old, or the poor, or the refugees. This time, it could be us! The camera pans down to street level. Everyone has either gone indoors, or is working to maintain those who have gone indoors; except for the medics, who will attempt to prevent the death of those who catch the virus. Just like that. Everybody falls into step. We have to stop the enormous death threat!
The camera pans out a bit. 250 humans are born every minute on earth. It’s quite possible that 250,000 people will die of COVID 19. It will take us less than a day to replace them. If a million die, it will still take us less than a week. That’s the big picture. It hasn’t even noticeably affected our growth rate. We are in no direct danger, as a species, from this virus, or probably from any virus. As for the danger to other species from out activity, it’s higher – we just don’t know how much higher.
What if we all stayed indoors for a couple of months so a massive effort could be made to study that question? What if we were all asked to stay indoors for a couple of months in order to save giraffes from going over the extinction cliff? We all know the answer. We wouldn’t do it. So much for ethics.
We aren’t even neutral. Oh, yes, we are so proud that air pollution has dropped while we all took a holiday from driving and flying, but when it comes to all the plastic being used by the medical industry, we are not only fine with that, we are shouting for more to be produced. Just our careless movements around the globe, and the way that animals are involuntarily moved around, is a vector for diseases which devastate plant and animal populations. Our movement is also a vector for invasive species, which do the same.
The bad news is that there isn’t some overarching “Mother Nature” figure, some sentient “Universe” who is just waiting to teach the silly humans a lesson. We hear that one every time there’s a bit of rough weather or a volcano erupts. This is no different. Do you seriously think, that if any beneficent being had the power to “teach humans a lesson” that they would have waited until we got so far with wrecking things?
Mama isn’t coming to tell us off, or to drown a couple dozen of us while putting out the fire. We tied Mama up in the basement and threw away the key so long ago that we don’t even remember doing it. (And, yes, I believe this is part of the message of the sovereignty goddesses.) By the time the fire is out, it won’t just be us burned to a crisp, it will be most of what we think of as nature. Yeah, sure, the earth will still be here – but not the giraffes.