Crises aren't a matter of politics - Keith Roulston editorial
At the moment, human beings are facing two crises that can mean the difference between life and death, yet some people persist in thinking they are a matter of political choice.
In the short term, people around the world face immediate danger from the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 188 million people infected and four million dead so far.
Meanwhile, though the immediacy of the pandemic has pushed climate change out of the headlines, recent weather events have reminded us again that human lives already hang in the balance and things are likely to get worse.
And yet, to listen to some politicians, and some ordinary people, both the pandemic and climate change are simply a plot by liberal elites to take away the freedom of the people and crush the economy. Despite the deniers, these two threats will affect your life whether you choose to accept their reality or not.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump repeatedly played down the importance of the pandemic, predicting it would all just go away, despite 400,000 people in the U.S. dying from COVID-19 while he was in office (ballooning to 600,000 in total so far). While he boasts (with much truth) that he speeded vaccine development, he still praises those who resist getting vaccinated.
Despite having huge quantities of vaccine and getting off to a remarkable start in administering more than three million vaccines a day under current President Joe Biden’s early vaccination campaign, the pace of U.S. vaccinations has slowed. To some Republicans, this is seen as good news. When a speaker at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas last week mentioned Biden missing his vaccination goal, the crowd cheered.
Right wing media amplifies the anti-vaccine message. On Fox News one commentator suggested deadly plagues are just part of nature so vaccines were really against nature. Others said that when Biden said officials would go door-to-door to convince reluctant citizens to get vaccinated, it was really a cover – that they were really “coming for your guns and your Bibles”.
This propaganda is working. Of the states with the lowest vaccination rates, 20 of 21 voted for Trump. A U.S. poll showed 86 per cent of Democrats are vaccinated, but 45 per cent of Republicans say they won’t get vaccinated. States like Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas have fully vaccinated fewer than 35 per cent of their residents despite ample vaccines.
Meanwhile with the more infectious Delta variant of COVID-19 becoming widespread, there’s been a surge in new cases – nearly 30,000 a day, (Canada has under 500 a day) – with 99 per cent of those hospitalized or dying being unvaccinated. States with the lowest vaccination rates are having the most infections.
So ironically, by discouraging vaccinations, right wing media and Republican leaders are actually killing off Republican voters.
Other pandemic-denying leaders have also seen disaster visited on their people. Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro followed Trump’s lead in downplaying the pandemic’s seriousness. So far 536,000 Brazilians have died.
Thankfully, though there are pockets of pandemic deniers in Canada, our leaders haven’t played politics with the issue, with all governments co-operating to give us one of the highest vaccination rates in the world.
It’s not the same when it comes to climate change. There are many, particularly among conservatives, who still deny there is a climate crisis. Others grudgingly admit there is a problem but that’s for some time in the future. They say that life should go on as usual without efforts like the carbon tax encouraging us to change our habits.
But the consequences are here, now. The record-shattering heat wave that hit B.C. is suspected to have led to more than 800 deaths according to preliminary data from the B.C. Coroners Service. (COVID-19 has killed 1,770 so far.)
The day after the village of Lytton set a record for the hottest temperature ever recorded in Canada, the tinder-dry town burned to the ground, with two people killed. Hundreds of millions of mussels, clams and other marine animals died in the heat baking B.C. and the western U.S. cherries cooked on the trees.
Climate skeptics say we can’t afford to make changes. But Mark Carney, former Governor of the Bank of Canada and the Bank of England, says we can’t afford not to.
In his role in Britain he was also responsible for overseeing insurance companies. There he learned the cost we’re paying right now in weather-related insurance claims driving up insurance costs catastrophically. For instance, a hail storm that hit Calgary on June 13, 2020, did $1.3 billion worth of insured damage.
Climate change deniers are just as willfully blind as pandemic deniers. We need to smarten up to save human suffering in both crises.