By Kumar David –
There are two schools of thought, one says that the world will gradually return to “normal” (its former self) sooner or later. The other more sombre view which I subscribe to is a premonition that things have snapped for better for worse and it won’t be the same again. Not every portent that I sense will come to pass, but many of these changes cannot, not happen. Covid-19 was the last straw that broke the camel’s back; it was one gigantic straw but actually many pressures accumulating over the years combined and blew. Covid is a catalyst whose long-term implications will be far-reaching in geopolitics, governance, economics and culture.
First ecology; the damage that humans wreak on the planet is unsustainable. The pandemic brought us face to face with catastrophe. The virus did not jump from bat or civet to humans; quite the contrary we raped and ravaged the forests, the waters and the mountains, and nature having nowhere to turn came home and nestled in our bosom. Second the earth’s carrying capacity. There are too many humans and to say we breed like rabbits is an unconscionable denigration of rabbits. Third the global economy in the last two decades has been characterised by a widening gap between haves and have-nots and for the first time since WW2 absolute poverty is on the rise if we take China out of the computation. Governments have become more repressive in the Twenty-first Century. And worst of all is ever increasing intolerance between communities. Is barbarism among humans the sum total effect of this melt down? Will the jolt 2020 delivered shake us up before calamity becomes apocalyptic catastrophe? I cannot paint the whole canvas from ecology, to population, to economics, to social inequality and political tumult today. I will be selective.
Allow me to preface this with the comment that for the next decade – to look beyond this horizon in this essay is not sensible – what happens in America will be the decider. I have often said in this column that in the early 2030s China will become the world’s largest economy and a diplomatic and military power on par with the US, but that does not contradict my assertion here that as an exemplar and moral influence the American legacy will last long. While the PRC’s development strategy will overdetermine the economic model adopted by developing countries, China’s moral influence will be crippled until and unless the Communist Party, at least in this its centennial year, becomes sure footed enough to tolerate other mass organisations, especially in Xinjiang Province. The next four years of Biden Presidency is crucial. His team is conventional, decent, reliable, tried and tested but it certainly does not sparkle with brilliance; pedestrian like the boss himself but I guess it is just this that warms mundane liberal hearts. But the liberals have a point. The next four years is course correction; dull plodding to undo a maniac’s domestic and international ravages but above all else also to address the economic hardships of Americans in the lowest income quartile and banish the raison d’etre of the Trump Base. Biden’s success will not be measured in the stratosphere but on terra firma, by which measure Obama – glittering intellectual compared to poor old Joe – presided over a failed second-term.
Youth-led climate activism is the most influential force in the formative days Biden’s Administration. The movement has notched high-profile victories; Deb Haaland, a Native American will lead the Interior Department and Gina McCarthy an environmental health and air quality expert, the Environmental Protection Agency. Former Secretary of State John Kerry who helped craft the Paris Accord will hold Cabinet-rank position as climate Tsar. There are expectations that Biden’s USA will be a world environmental trailblazer. But the team will be greeted by the grinding realities of obstruction from Washington Republicanism and moneyed vested interests. The outcome of this tussle will shape the planet’s climate in the decade of the 2020s and American youth mobilisation is the key that will influence environmental youth movements everywhere.
Population will decline but not fast enough
The population of the world on 1 Jan 2021 was 7.83 billion and the number of births in the first ten days of 2021 was 2.9 million. Far too much for the global resource base to carry; humans create too large a footprint before finally, they their “hiatus make”. A recent BBC programme says population will peak at 9.7 billion in 2064 and decile to 8.8 billion by the end of the century; still too large and the rate of decline too slow. It would be better if in two generations global population declines to below 7 billion and if thereafter stabilises at a steady four billion. Humanity has intelligence, technology and the skill to enter this ‘noosphere’. Stripped of mumbo-jumbo a ‘noosphere’ is a term coined by Vladimir Vernadsky and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin for when reason and science come together to create a higher consciousness.
The population of different countries in million in 2100 is projected as follows (2020 population in paracentesis): China 730 (1390), India 1090 (1325), Nigeria 790 (214), USA 335 (330), Japan 60 (125). China’s decline to nearly half and Japan’s to less than half is remarkable, but more than threefold explosion in Nigeria is astounding and alarming. Sub Saharan Africa, about one billion in 2020 will rise to 3.36 billion by century’s end, while Latin America and the Middle East also buck the declining trend. LA’s 630 million in 2020 will swell to 750 million – the Catholic Church wants them to procreate around-the-clock. The Middle East cum North Africa, now 600 million, will rise to 1 billion by 2100; myopic education and oppression of women lie at the root. The worst of the pandemic has still to devastate Africa and the Middle East and I am optimistic that the crisis will ameliorate this social bigotry. Only dramatic change can avert famine, devastation of forests, despoiling of open-spaces and pollution of the waters.
(Sri Lanka’s population in 2020 is 22.2 million (I hope 2 is a lucky number) and falling, but too slowly. Experts estimate a decline to 15.3 million by 2100 with a bulge of 55-85 year olds; the fattest part of the bulge being 60-70 year-olds).
Only a tiny percentage of capitalism’s accumulated loot comes from value creation
Greece’s former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis declares: “We thought globalization had defanged nation states. Presidents cowered before bond markets, prime ministers and finance ministers behaved like Goldman Sachs knaves and IMF lackeys. Media moguls, oil men, financiers, and left-wing critics of capitalism agreed that third-world governments were no longer in control. Then the pandemic struck; regimes grew claws, bared teeth, closed borders, grounded airplanes, imposed curfews and closed theatres”. In his verbal gush Varoufakis does not appreciate this is necessary, but to forbid burial the dead was vengeful and give all power to the military is dangerous. Since he is long-winded – let me summarise from his “Seven Secrets of 2020”:
Governments retain power and exercised it during covid to reap corrupt profits. Lankan’s I meet in Los Angeles say that compatriots who wish to travel home are compelled to buy their tickets from Upul Travels, whose proprietor, a Gota buddy, has been made head of airports and aviation. Compulsory hotel quarantine has to be at another buddy’s hotel chain. The worst was when, according to the Sunday Times, the tourism regulator was told that “Udayanga Weeratunga, former Ambassador to Russia who now gives his official address as Temple Trees, intended to bring large numbers of Ukrainians to the country”, He was allowed to bypass official guidelines but all he brought was a bunch of covid-positive cases!
However, it is not only in Sri Lanka that covid is a lucrative avenue for acquiring and sharing corrupt monies by regime and businessmen favourites; it is global. The public must rise up though in this country army types have been appointed as satraps in the guise of covid-fighters in every district to crush unavoidable future dissent. Western governments that claimed to be broke when called upon to pay for health, education or welfare have discovered oodles of cash to support financial markets, airlines and big companies, or stoke stock-markets to unheard of heights. Inequity in wealth has become obscene thanks to “stimulus” money printing. It has exposed the ugly truth that mountains of concentrated private wealth have little to do with entrepreneurship but rather a knack for cornering benefits. Only a tiny percentage of accumulated loot comes from value creation. Covid has shown up how degenerate modern finance capital is.
The record-speed development, testing, approval, and rollout of covid vaccines, reveals that science depends on state aid. Commentators waxed lyrical about the market’s capacity to respond to humanity’s needs, but the “irony is that Congress in the country of the most anti-science president ever, who ignored, mocked, and intimidated experts during the worst pandemic in a century, allocated $10 billion to ensure that scientists had the resources they needed”.
“Year 2020 is not a banner year for capitalism whose unintended consequence should be that profit-seeking individuals who have no regard for anyone else end up serving society. The key to converting private vice into public virtue is competition, which impels capitalists to pursue activities that maximize their profits. In a competitive market, that serves the common good”. By 2020 however competition has been replaced by giant monopolies in new industries, Alphabet (Google), Microsoft, Facebook and Apple.
Looking ahead the silver lining to the dark post-covid cloud is renewed universal environmental and climate-change sensitivity. The second matter about which I am cautiously optimistic is that there will be a push back against authoritarian governments worldwide. Trump’s deserved crushing defeat – the GOP has lost the presidency, Senate and House – will weaken dictators and would-be dictators elsewhere and restore some decency in politics. Nevertheless challenges should not be underestimated; Democrats barely won the two Georgia Senate run-offs last week and here at home Gotabaya’s autocratic power remains undiminished. As I write these lines on 6 Jan an insurrection, instigated by Trump, has overwhelmed Capitol Hill (the seat of Congress, equivalent of out Kotte Parliament premises), the security people have taken away the VP and members of both Houses which were in session, and brought much vaunted American democracy to its knees. Biden must completely demolish the Trump legacy.