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  • Elliott Chapman

Stop saying ‘humans are the virus’ – the need for systematic change

Due to the current climate we are in, with COVID-19 having an impact on our personal lives and the system under which we live, the sentiment that ‘humans are the virus’ seems to have prevailed on social media despite limited examples of protests against government orders, individual irresponsibility and animals returning the areas usually ridden with tourists. Of course, all of these issues will need addressed, however in this article I want to address the incorrect conclusion that ‘humans are the virus’, and the illusions of the burden of individualism under a saturated capitalist system.


With examples of panic-buying being shared around, gloves strewn along pavements as well as masks littered in the streets and public places, it is no wonder that human behaviour should be a point of discussion, though the extent to which this consideration is given thought seems to end at clicking a like button on Facebook in approval of such a sentiment; this should not be the case. Humans aren’t the virus, and we should use this discourse being pushed to allow us to ponder the utility of capitalism, its preparedness for pandemic, capitalist conditioning, as well as long-term sustainability and survival via such a system. As put more astutely and in better terms by Slavoj Zizek in his latest book ‘Pandemic! COVID-19 Shakes the World’ – “What is wrong with our system that we were caught unprepared by the catastrophe despite scientist warning us about it for years?”.


In this regard, can the same not be considered about climate change? Despite the severe urgency of scientists worldwide, little seems to be done about trying to lower the emissions, partly because, in my opinion, achieving sustainability without systemic change is not possible. The topic of science flows nicely into my next point, that CO2 levels have begun to drop due to lockdowns, and again a change in individual behaviour. This is a mostly baseless claim with many sharing articles dating back to 2016 regarding falling emissions and others sharing articles with misleading and mostly speculative headlines. With a large portion of the world in lockdown and unable to complete daily duties that require things such as cars, or travelling via air for business purposes, it would be presumed that oil usage, or C02 emissions have dropped, but the reality is that individualism barely touches the surface of the problem. The Scientific American notes that cargo shipping routes remain somewhat constant and even in countries with severe lockdowns, manufacturing has continued, or in other cases has been slow to shut down “Beijing even recorded a severe smog day during China’s lockdown. Many steel and coal plants continued to run throughout the shutdown, though often at reduced levels”. Even in economies where emissions have lowered due to the reduction of manufacturing, there is little evidence to suggest that these reductions will hit the targets considered necessary in creating a sustainable planet.


So, if a considerable change in human behaviour cannot save the planet then the answer to the need for systemic change seems clear, however there are more factors that are worth explaining. Capitalism demands that we rely on its methods of exploitation to survive, thus nulling the claim that individual change can make a large impact; this is not me discrediting individual change, as ecological awareness is a step in the right direction, I just wish that the energy and passion put into individualism could be directed towards demanding a change of system rather than a moral hierarchy being created between those who take independent action, and those that don’t. How can those vulnerable and locked away in a pandemic not rely on delivery services such as Amazon that continue to pollute the planet with mega warehouses and mass transportation as well as being a key proponent of worker exploitation? The same can be said in less luxurious terms regarding home deliveries of essential food items. This dependency on capitalism is again not the fault of the individual but a society that has cultivated our reliance on convenience, commodity and consumption.


Finally, we’re constantly told that our behaviours are damaging to the planet, and whilst this is true, our behaviour & attitude towards consumerism is conditioned via a capitalist sense of greed, again stressing that an overhaul of system is needed to ensure permanent change. Big industries push a sense of individualism on the general public, making us feel responsible for climate change whilst wars are fought over planet-polluting fossil fuels and the upper-class continue to fly in private jets in the name of convenience and exclusivity: when this is over, normal shouldn’t return, maybe it will, it is likely it will, but it shouldn’t. Humans are not the virus, the system we live under is failing us.


The Justice Edition

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