It feels like we’re heading for extinction

Cryptocurrencies, NFTs, the Metaverse, right wing authoritarian governments, unending talk about GDP growth, and a global population seemingly getting stupider and more unhinged by the day. Even if we can reverse course from here to create a better future; you can’t deny that what we’re seeing right now looks like the demise of the human race.

It seems like everywhere you look, you’ll struggle to find anyone speaking much common sense about Covid-19, about ending pollution, about making a fair society. It’s a massive shock when you do hear someone speaking logically. I feel like I must follow them on Twitter. There aren’t that many of us now so we have to band together. That’s perhaps overstating it a bit, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that’s how it goes considering the trajectory we’re on.

The thing I don’t understand is that not only are we not making a dent into the environmental and societal crises we have chosen to get ourselves into, but we’re actively going backwards in almost every respect. Things like NFTs are so bonkers that it’s hard to even comprehend. People pay huge amounts of money to “own” a picture or video of a real item, when those things are both widely available online for everyone. There’s no value whatsoever in these things, and it uses giant quantities of electricity to complete transactions. It makes absolutely no sense.

And then there’s the Metaverse. It’s basically a VR world where people can meet and have avatars, virtual homes and possessions etc. It’s like Cybertown meets Second Life, PlayStation Home and presumably countless other similar ideas, except with VR headsets and higher resolution virtual homes and furniture.

It feels like Mark Zuckerberg is reaching his ultimate form. People have always talked about how nefarious he might be or at the very least mocked his awkward nature. But now it really feels like he’s embracing it by going with the Meta brand and Metaverse concept; even if it’ll most likely be about as successful as 3D TV.

When I think about it, I just imagine the scene in the film Wall-E where the obese people on the space ship are sitting there in VR. Why would anyone want something like that? I can see some good uses for VR, but the particular desire to have a whole separate existence just seems unnecessary and dystopian. We need to stop this madness and just focus on what VR is actually good at. Allowing us to do and experience things that we can’t in real life, not trying to replace real life.

We have to focus as much as possible on our real world in order to want to save it. Video Games are one thing, which in moderation are great. The Metaverse is something totally different, that I have a hard time believing has anything beneficial to offer society. It’s the type of thing you create when you’re out of ideas for things that really help society. When Facebook started, you could make a pretty good case that it made a positive impact on society. Who can say that now? How many of us still use FB as it was originally intended? To keep up with friends and make communities around common interests? I do, but it mostly seems to be just a breeding ground for far-right views and misinformation. Even though I do use it for a couple of good reasons, I wouldn’t miss it if it was gone, and I doubt many others would either. And that just shows how badly it’s been developed over the years.

But it’s not just these particular dystopian trends. It’s everything in society that needs to change. We need to immediately stop all of this nonsense and reverse course before we set off all of the cascading feedback loops in the climate system.

I really don’t know how, but all these products and concepts have to end, and soon. We have to start thinking about what really matters to us. Is it the ridiculous gadgets and gimmicky services? The endless pursuit of economic growth when we all feel miserable? Or is it the wonder of nature, the simple pleasure of a bike ride, relaxing and enjoying the slow life? If we’re going to avoid extinction, it’s crucial that we stop this trend of doing the worst possible things at the worst possible time. We need to wake up fast and reassess everything we’re doing, because the vast majority of it is the opposite of what we should be doing.

Covid Restrictions haven’t worked. Only System Change can

Last year I wrote that Covid won’t end unless we act on the climate and end capitalism. That prediction has proven to be pretty accurate unfortunately. The problem we’ve seen more and more is that people get tired of the restrictions and measures. Maybe most people will take the vaccines, but many wont. You could get around that if people were all willing to keep wearing FFP2 masks, distancing, working remotely and so on. But in almost every society, we see that people eventually get frustrated and give up fighting the virus. And governments inevitably decide that economic growth is more important than lives and long covid misery. And this whole process is expedited when the restrictions are half-hearted and ineffective, which you see more in countries with the furthest right wing leaders.

Take Australia or Japan for example. They did such a good job for so long in keeping cases and deaths low, but eventually many of the good people who always followed the rules to look after everyone else as well as themselves got fed up and gave up. And the cases skyrocketed. Of course it’s going to happen when normality as we’ve known it is the target, and you slip back after making slow progress for months. Why would you keep going when the illusion of normality is within touching distance? Unless you obsessively follow the latest terrifying science as a tiny minority of people like me do, you wouldn’t.

When the virus of stupidity has taken control of the world, the majority of people are incapable of thinking “let’s go for one last push with tough restrictions so we can come out the other side of this pandemic”. Instead they think “fuck these restrictions, I want to live!”; even though a rational person would realise that’s a counterproductive strategy after thinking about it for any significant length of time.

So with that said, clearly we have to stop making the end goal to return to how things were in 2019. We’re effectively trying to make a fad diet work rather than making a permanent lifestyle change that we can maintain. It’s not just about ending capitalism and economic growth, but that’s certainly a great starting point. If we change the way society works to a degrowth style model, we can eliminate covid without any restrictions as we know them. We wouldn’t be trying to return to a previous time. We’d be moving forward with a better system for humans and all other life on Earth.

That just leaves the problem of trying to convince people that a degrowth economy is in their best interests, and that’s where selfishness and individualism come into play. The rich will presumably not want to give up their luxuries; but really, that’s our only choice now. We’re not going to return to how things were pre-pandemic by vaccines and restrictions. It’s going to either be continued chaos, new variants, endless boosters, and prioritising growth over lives or long covid misery for millions; or a new system that benefits all of us and gives us some chance of a future on this planet as an added bonus.

Degrowth may not be enough to stop human extinction. Certainly Prof. Guy McPherson doesn’t think so (barring the rapid deployment of the MEER mirror system for reflecting heat away from the planet). But it’s the only economic system which at least gives us some chance. Continuing with our current insanity as usual model is not an option. But regardless of what happens with the climate, I’d like to experience a covid-free, fair, friendly and logical society before the apocalypse comes, if it comes.

What are you NOT doing to fight the Climate Crisis?

Just do less

What are you doing to fight the climate crisis? That question drives me nuts. Are you driving an EV? Are you buying sustainably manufactured products? Are you powering your five bedroom detached house with renewable energy? These are the questions you hear all the time.

What you never hear is “what are you doing less of?” Are you switching from working full time to just a couple of days a week? Are you buying less clothes, less shoes, less tech, less stuff? The focus almost always seems to be on “sustainable consumption”, which is basically an oxymoron. Yes, we need to consume certain things to survive, but that’s not what people mean when they say that. It’s about continuing to over-consume things we don’t need, but in a slightly less bad way than before. That’s not going to do anything to stop our climate predicament getting out of control.

We’ve been hearing recently about 4 day work weeks and UBIs. I’m certainly in favour of both of these policies, but while they promise positive things for quality of life, mental health and reducing poverty; they don’t really do anything about our rampant over-consumption. A 4 day work week with the same pay as now would reduce emissions from commuting, but presumably it would lead to an increase in leisure consumption and long weekend travel.

As far as a UBI, I think that concept is something that would have been great if it was implemented decades ago. Now, it feels like far too little, too late. It’s not about providing people with a great, simple, high quality of life. It is intended to allow people to actually get by when they’re unemployed. It’s basically a decent level of unemployment benefit similar to what you can get in numerous countries now.

I think what we need now is more like a full universal income that can provide people with everything they need to live a healthy and sustainable life, rather than an unemployment safety net. And I think that should be the way everyone lives. The only people who will work in this scenario would be people who make a real positive difference to society, and they wouldn’t be doing it for money. We would all live in a broadly similar way, with different hobbies, interests, opinions and so on to differentiate us. We could get rid of currency entirely. I’ve talked about that before.

The general point I’m trying to make is that it’s the big things that we don’t talk about reducing or eliminating. To be fair, we do hear people talking about eating less meat and dairy or flying less, or even eliminating those things entirely (very rare when it comes to flying). But when do you ever hear people talk about how we need to have less kids to reduce the population, or live in the smallest homes we can? I don’t hear it. Sometimes you see people talk about the insane emissions of the richest 1%, and how we need to tax them 99%; and that’s true. But people never talk about how not only do they need to live like the rest of us; but that we all need to live much smaller and simpler lives than almost any of us do currently.

Many people get frustrated when activists like Greta, scientists like Paul Beckwith, or nobodies like me tell them how bad our situation is. They want to know what they can do. Well, here you go: just do less. While it’s true that certain elements of sustainability require you to do something differently, like ride a bike or use reusable containers, fundamentally it always comes back to living simpler, smaller, and more local lives. All of the things we need to do differently come naturally once you’ve made that decision to just do less.

It’s really that simple. The media, politicians and neoliberal economists want to make it sound so complicated, but the truth is that it couldn’t be simpler. Just do less.

Have the vaccines helped or hindered the fight against Covid?

Before I start, I want to be clear that I’ve had two doses of AstraZeneca, so I’m not anti-vax. But when you look at everything that’s happened over the last couple of years, you have to wonder how much the vaccine has helped rather than hindered. Especially now we know the booster won’t get us back to full immunity, and we have yet another variant on the way. Do we want to be perpetually stuck in a cycle of booster jabs in a slowly collapsing capitalist hellscape? Or do we want to actually end covid once and for all?

When we had the first lockdown, we had over a thousand deaths a day for quite a while, but when the lockdown really started taking effect, the numbers of cases crashed, as did the deaths a couple of weeks later. Probably the best case for the vaccine was in the winter of last year and early 2021. In the Autumn, we had a rise in cases which eventually lead to the circuit breaker, which was too late, and didn’t get the cases down that far. The government ended it despite that, and cases quickly rebounded to go far higher still into winter, where the vaccine started to play a role in bringing down cases and deaths. But by that point, the government, and the public at large were treating the vaccines as the magic bullet that would solve everything; and that has continued ever since. Culminating in the disastrous and reckless “Freedom Day” in June where the Tories ended all restrictions. If you look at the data now, you see that the UK has had continually high cases since when compared to other similar countries; but the UK has gotten away with its gross mismanagement because the cases and deaths have been consistently in the 40,000s and 200s respectively. It is obviously crazy that we’ve come to accept this as ok and “the vaccine doing its job”, but that’s where we are.

So, if we didn’t have the vaccines, how would this have all played out? Presumably we would have still had the Autumn surge, followed by a circuit breaker. People were growing wearing of the rules and looking after each other by that point (the clap for carers charade had ended). You’d have to assume that there would have been a stronger lockdown long before Christmas if there wasn’t a vaccine rollout. And I think it’s virtually certain that the cases and deaths would have been lower this year had the vaccine not existed. BoJo would never have been able to call Freedom Day and we would have never left the basic restrictions of mask wearing, social distancing and so on.

You only really have to look to a country like Japan for an example of how to do it mostly right. They did have small surges from time to time, but they were always able to bring it under control relatively quickly and it never got to the ludicrous levels seen in other countries. The only time it got quite scary was when cases hit about 30,000 a day during the Olympic period. At that point, the vaccine rollout wasn’t where it should have been, but they avoided cases getting up into the 40, 50, 60k range. And remember, this is a far more populous country than the UK, with massive cities where everyone is crammed in together on public transport. There was no reason it needed to get as bad as it did here.

The idea that 40,000 (now 50k) people can get the virus every day and 150-200 can die, and that be considered a success is truly obscene; and yes, perhaps very few of those people dying are vaccinated. But it’s the fact that we’ve allowed the virus to keep spreading in the community, especially among young people in particular for so long that is most obscene. You have to adapt to the situation you’re in, but they didn’t act to offset the 15% of adults who haven’t been vaccinated. The virus kept circulating widely, presumably causing an increase in asymptomatic transmission among vaccinated people. And we’re seeing the result of the continued spread around the world yet again now with the Omicron variant.

It’s clear that the only time most neoliberal governments act quickly is when there’s a threat to capitalism. In this case blocking travel from South Africa, not that it’s going to make any real difference now that it’s inevitably already spread all over the world. They couldn’t care less about public health, but they’re incredibly concerned about the health of capitalism. Nothing is ever said about how returning to global travel meant this was inevitable. This is really the crux of what this whole thing has been about. I’ve written before about how covid will never end until capitalism ends, and we just get further confirmation of that fact every day. And that brings us to the other problem with covid vaccines, which is that they prevent most people from realising that capitalism must end. The longer the period of time where people can stop and think, the less likely they are to want to return to how things were before. It’s kind of amazing when you think about it how most people wanted to jump back into “normality” considering how great it was to slow down and enjoy nature, clean air, peace and quiet for a while. But I do think that the capitalist establishment were lucky. If capitalism, covid, consumerism and the climate crisis had been able to marinate in people’s minds for much longer, we could quite easily have seen the massive change we need to see. The massive change that Graeme Maxton and his wife Bernice Maxton-Lee wrote about in their book “A Chicken Can’t Lay a Duck Egg”. It’s such a huge travesty that we’ve missed the most golden of golden opportunities for change, but I think it’s still possible. Every new variant, every new record breaking extreme weather event, every day people think more about unrelenting consumption that goes by, the better the chances that we’ll finally snap out of this.

So far, the government have been able to maintain the false notion that the vaccine alone will end the covid crisis without really being challenged in the mainstream. But even if everyone in the world was vaccinated, would it end? I can’t see how it would. What about adding universal masks and distancing? If we did that, and presumably it was the original intention of the epidemiologists, then yes, that seems plausible. But I don’t personally see that happening in reality unless capitalism ends and we pay people to stay at home. Mandating citizens to take the vaccine I don’t really agree with, but paying them to stay home and follow other rules I think is fine in the circumstances. It’s not as if people won’t be able to enjoy outdoor activities.

But one thing is for sure; whatever it is that we’re doing now clearly isn’t working. Booster shots for some, a dizzying mix of 1, 2 or no vaccine doses for others; plus a different set of restrictions and guidelines in every country when we live in a global world. It’s no wonder we’re still stuck in a loop after almost 2 years of this nonsense.

We have to all realise that we have to do something different. If you’re going to do boosters, combine them with lockdowns or at least heavy restrictions, so we can make this the last dose. But then, is it worth wasting a third dose when it doesn’t boost protection by that much? Maybe focus on vaccinating people for the first time, end capitalism and pay people to stay at home. The data shows it will be far more effective than any vaccine.