Imagine all crises participated in a casting show. The jury, in big leather seats, are nation leaders from all around the world. Their job is to judge who’s the worst, who they care about the most. And so the crises perform on stage: The poverty crisis steals the jury’s food, the refugee crisis dumps a heap of asylum applications on the stage, the climate crisis floods the venue with water from melted glaciers, and the gender inequality crisis just laughs at the jury full of men. The leaders are impressed, but actually not too much. Some even appreciate the refreshing cold water from the flooding.
Then, the corona crisis comes on stage and everyone gets crazy. The presidents and prime ministers award it their maximum score when the virus starts to make people cough and die. Behind the stage, some earlier performers start to cry. They know that Corona won’t even share its prize. They also know that in comparison, they barely got any attention at all. Some jury members ignored them, some said they mattered but didn’t invest any money or efforts to combat them. The casting show has mutated into a one-man show.
When reading the newspaper these days, I sometimes feel like this casting show took place in March 2020. Before that, I could have never imagined the great sacrifices our leaders are currently willing to make. They’re throwing the economy, social interaction and trillions of dollars at the virus, hoping for it so slow down. For most of us, these are reasonable measures. Measures, that we were far from considering for our other crises.
A Marketing problem
If coronavirus had a Marketing manager, they would be the dream of any HR recruitment team. Unlike other Marketing managers, Greta Thunberg for instance, he or she has convinced leaders within weeks to take radical steps with long-lasting effects. As so often in real life, this is all about the packaging and less about the content. Many other crises with scary implications – like people suffering and dying – have the scariness potential of corona. Just look at the climate crisis that will kill and starve people, that will eradicate islands, cities and the snow in our skiing areas. Or the refugee crisis that leaves behind illiterate teenagers, nationalistic governments and drowned souls in the Mediterranean Sea. There are many such examples for all of which the jury’s reaction was almost zero compared to the casting show winner.
One might argue that the virus has unprecedented potential to achieve consent about the urgency to act. However, I want to claim that for many other crises, most humans agree on how to view them and how to resolve them. Wars, for example, are usually exaggerated reactions to communication problems or some individual’s insane craving for power. If you ask the average person in Yemen what they think about their civil war, I’m pretty sure they are hoping for a fast end to their pointless misery. Similar things are true for other crises: If you ask the average refugee about their dreams, they just want to live a decent life in their home countries. If you ask the average male, they’ll want women to have the same opportunities as they do. If you ask the average Austrian, they don’t want their glaciers to melt and their crops to die in a drought. Of course, these non-corona issues are hard to resolve. They require some important and progressive action on a global scale. Until now, I’ve always thought that such reactions were impossible, that politicians and citizens were incapable of accepting bold changes. Now, corona has proven me wrong.
No more hiding
If the coronavirus has taught me one thing, it’s that a lot is possible. That if people are scared enough, they’ll do anything. In a capitalist world, who would have thought we’d just shut down all our stores for weeks? In a society built on social interaction, who would have thought people would comply with social distancing rules? What I’m asking myself now, is what else we’re capable of. There is new hope for us to tackle our severe problems. If we were able to do it for corona, why not for the climate crisis? Imposing high taxes on carbon dioxide seems like a petty measure compared to shutting down tourism for months. While we complained about the lacking millions to extend public transport yesterday, we’re distributing billions today without blinking an eye.
Ironically, the current measures go as far as fixing some of our other problems. Saudi Arabia has declared a ceasefire in Yemen three days ago. Carbon dioxide emissions have drastically gone down with the lack of airplanes in our skies. And Turkey has stopped scaring the EU with thousands of refugees at Greece’s border. If we can do it now, why not always?
The conservative trap
Unfortunately, there’s a flaw in the whole above argument. What the corona containment measures have in common with our lack of initiative to tackle other pressing problems is a general conservative human attitude. After all, stopping the virus has the goal of getting back to normal as efficiently as possible. Social distancing and financial aid packages are nothing but a means to maintain our current underfunded healthcare system and our consumption-based economy. While the current changes are radical, the overall goal is the exact opposite: We just want to continue everything as it was. That’s the big trap for all measures that would combat other crises: They are labeled to have a long-lasting impact. Making gasoline more expensive or working hard to integrate refugees implies an alteration of our every day lives for years to come. Additionally, the change these other crises would cause in the long run are harder to grasp. Who can really imagine what two degrees Celsius more would do to us? Change is inevitable but its easier to sell change to humans if it either aims at conserving the status quo or if it has short-term implications. That’s what non-corona issues are lacking. That’s why they lose hard at the casting show.