Mark Beeson’s latest article about the Covid-19 pandemic, “Gaia’s vengeance?”, is a bewildering that is read.
Beeson suggests that Covid-19 is, like climate change, ‘a product of changes in the natural environment’ and ‘in part a consequence of human activity and our collective impact on the biosphere’.
Of course, the pandemic we face is partly a consequence of human activity, but it would be more appropriate to identify the role played by the ‘wet market’ where everything can be consumed. There was a time when this kind of cross-type outbreak would basically kill local people before it died down, but in our global world this is a threat to us all.
The common thread connecting the novel coronavirus and climate change is what Beeson ignored. As we have seen, the response to Covid-19, which according to Beeson is not far enough, already has dramatic economic consequences. Almost overnight, thousands of Australians found themselves losing their jobs, including many who had worked full time for their entire adult lives.
The health crisis is closely related to the economic crisis, and that is the connection that must be taken with climate change. It will always be possible to ‘do more’ to combat climate change, but the economic consequences for many Australian workers will be catastrophic. Like the response to Covid-19, the responsible government needs to balance the various factors involved. The government can lock the entire country overnight to minimize the further spread of Covid-19, but at the cost of wider damage to the economy. Similarly, Australia can take more radical steps to reduce CO2 emissions, but that will come with substantial economic costs, with enormous implications for working Australians.
The Australian Government responded very well to Covid-19’s great challenges, better than most others. In a perfect world, Australia must be prepared for everything and can immediately implement policies that solve emerging problems. However, in the real world, unexpected developments can create even an unprepared balance, and exchanges must be made between different priorities.
This is the approach that underlies the government’s response to Covid-19 and climate change. It aims to strike a balance between managing risk and reducing the costs of those actions to maintain a strong economy and protect the livelihoods of working Australians.
Covid-19 shows that taking extreme action on climate change or other things, including a pandemic, will have severe consequences. Australians see this as an economic response to the health crisis, in failed businesses and their impact on those most vulnerable to economic decline. We are left to wonder what might happen if extreme climate change measures are implemented without regard to economic consequences.
Australians now know the consequences of an unbalanced reaction to developments that are effectively beyond our control. They are more likely to support a balanced and measured approach to climate change because they are now increasingly aware of the consequences of unbalanced action.
Beeson acknowledged that the Chinese government was “irresponsible and authoritarian”, but he said he had shown what persistent leadership could do. He considers that as a result of the crisis, “the American political and economic system can be thrown into sharp comparative assistance and does not flare up with China.”
That is a bold claim, given the evidence that the regime’s efforts to cover the plague at an early stage were the main contributor to an uncontrolled increase – not to mention more recent signs that official statistics on China’s infection rates are being falsified to put things in the best light. One can also consider stories in the Nine media groups such as Chinese companies engaged to tear apart Australian medical supplies, including surgical masks, thermometers, antibacterial wipes, hand sanitizers, gloves and Panadol, before the pandemic reaches the Australian coast.
Now we see China promising support to the Middle East and elsewhere, including donations of medical supplies, hoping to use the pandemic to win new diplomatic allies. One wonders about the source of supplies that are now generously donated.
Even when considering deficiencies in the American response, I, like most Australians, will always support governments that are committed to openness and transparency, who will not intentionally falsify numbers, and who will not use health crises for self-serving geopolitical purposes. . This shows that, regardless of the rhetoric about building ‘Public health community for humanity’, competitive struggles between countries continue. Maybe the ‘expensive military hardware’ that Beeson was mocking was still needed.
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