17th April 2020

Culture / Featured / Ed Faulkner

Could Coronavirus Offer Us a Glimpse of a More Hopeful Future?

66 9 mins 3

EEd Faulkner is co-founder of Sapling Spirits, Britain’s first climate positive vodka, who plant a tree for every vodka bottle sold. Each bottle has its own tracking number so you can search to find where your tree is planted. Alongside running their business, Ed is completing his Masters degree in Environmental Politics and Practice at University College London.

As with many small, young businesses, Ed has been hit hard by the Covid-19 nightmare. But in a push for positivity Ed searches for, and finds, a ray of light at the end of the Covid-19 tunnel.

Like most of us, my last two weeks have been full of uncertainty. What is going to happen to my job? How long am I going to be here for? Why aren’t European governments as competent as China, Japan, and South Korea at ‘flattening the curve’? No doubt there will be inquests across the continent into why we were incapable of acting as quickly and effectively as we should have. Perhaps the question that is most encompassing, and that has the most long-term implications for us all, is what our world will look like after the virus has been ‘defeated’.

The last month has seen some of the world’s greatest thinkers attempt to answer this question. Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens, has warned that our personal freedom is in fine balance, and if we are not careful, we could be allowing governments a level of surveillance that could change the way we live and are monitored. Slavoj Žižek proposes that now more than ever it is essential to ‘learn to think outside the coordinates of the stock market and profit, and simply find another way to produce and allocate the necessary resources.’ Naomi Klein has reinforced her caution of ‘disaster capitalism’, in which governments and the global elite use moments of crisis to further neoliberal free-market policies. While it is important to heed these warnings, in a crisis which impacts our mental health as much as our physical, it is essential that we acknowledge that the coronavirus has provided glimpses into a world far more equitable than the one we previously inhabited.

Consider two of the largest global crises of the twenty-first century; wealth inequality and the climate emergency. Both of these issues are highly complex and are contributed to by a number of factors. It is, however, difficult to ignore the fact that after thirty years of deregulated free-market capitalism both of these crises have significantly deteriorated. With leaders such as Boris Johnson, Donald Trump, and Jair Bolsonaro at the wheel, not too long ago it seemed a pipedream that we would see anything other than the same economic policies that are responsible for these crises. Coronavirus has forced an unforeseen hiatus in the economic status quo which has instigated hugely significant reductions in carbon emissions and air pollution all over the world. Satellite imagery from NASA and the European space agency has shown a dramatic decrease in nitrogen dioxide pollution across countries in which strict measures have been enforced to combat the virus. Cities which hadn’t seen clear blue skies for years are recording them as a regular occurrence. The World Health Organisation attributes seven million deaths a year to diseases directly caused by air pollution, a figure that dwarfs the forty thousand people who have died as of the end of the March.

Some have argued that mass isolation will save more lives through decreased air pollution than it will from preventing the spread of the virus.

Ed Faulkner

Moreover, we have seen the implementation of left-wing economic policies on a monumental scale. 80% pay for all workers in the UK who can’t do their jobs. 75% pay for the same group in Denmark. The US are looking at a universal cash grant of one thousand dollars for each and every citizen. They have also revealed a 2.2 trillion-dollar aid package including a large proportion specifically for the most vulnerable. Spain has allocated 200 billion dollars to the same end. Australia have offered 130 billion Australian dollars to subsidize workers who might have lost their jobs. As the saying goes, everyone is a socialist during a crisis. Viruses aren’t prejudiced. They treat everyone as equals, and for the moment, so do we.

A glaring issue with these silver linings is that they are of course temporary. No doubt we will soon return to normality and the cogs of globalisation will start spinning again while the economy begins its long hike back to the top.

Ed Faulkner

The grants will stop. Carbon emissions will ramp up, and with them, air pollution. Hopefully many of us will return to our jobs and life will trundle on. In its attempt to reorder itself, the world will move on from coronavirus and forget that it ever happened. In the worst instance, the economic depression will justify more austerity and deregulation while environmental policy is cemented at the back of the queue. Our public sector could suffer while we lose some of the valuable years we have left to find an answer to the climate emergency.

So, if our silver linings are all temporary, then why does this all matter? The answer lies in our inability, up until now, to envisage a functioning society devoid of free-market capitalism. In fact, a prominent feature of capitalist theory to emerge in the last few decades is the idea that ‘there is no alternative’. Theorists such as Mark Fisher have argued that we are unable to imagine a world different from our own, which in turn encourages inaction and acceptance of the status quo. Only when we are offered a hint of alternate realities does change become likely, but even ‘glimmers of alternative political and economic possibilities can have a disproportionately great effect’. Covid-19 has given us more than this. It has shown these possibilities enacted so that not only do we know that they are possible, but that they actually work. Although it may not seem like it, this is a huge win for all of those who support social and environmental justice movements all over the world. When the familiar pro-capitalist arguments are presented at elections and debates in years to come, it is now possible to evoke real-life examples of policy that has effectively brought people out of poverty while rapidly improving our environment.

When the cogs do begin to turn, and our economy is back in full swing, it is at this point that we must remember, despite the collective and individual traumas, the world of Covid-19 offered us genuine glimpses of hope. We must remember the possibilities of rebuilding our environment when we all act collectively to avoid an existential crisis, and that those who we helped at their most vulnerable may still be in trouble. Remembering these things is vital in the fight for a more equitable future in which each individual and our environment is prioritised over business and profit.

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Ed Faulkner
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Co-founder of Sapling Vodka, 100% carbon neutral vodka.

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