Corona: A Wake-Up Call

By: David Dunetz

The corona virus crisis has upended our lives in so many ways. It presents us with many threats, but it also has created new opportunities for change. Now is the time for the Israeli climate movement to sound the alarm, to wake us up to how best to respond.

In addition to the fear and the confusion, the corona crisis is undoubtedly a wake-up call. It is a game-changer: the very rules of the game are changing. Foundational political and economic beliefs are being shaken to their core. The price we have paid in weakened health systems has become clear, as citizens and health professionals are being left exposed and vulnerable. The weak and the vulnerable are always the first to pay the price.

As in the classic film, Wizard of Oz - where Toto the dog exposes the scam, that the fearsome wizard is nothing more than a pathetic character who tells Dorothy and her three friends "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!" – in the same way, global capitalism, which has become part of the very fiber of our being, and for several generations now has had the human race in its thrall, has been revealed in all its nakedness, with the inability of the "free market" to truly protect and further the common good and the well-being of all.

The corona crisis has given rise to important and heart-warming insights. The learning process is still underway, yet many people have reported various "discoveries" they have made as a result of enforced quarantine, regarding: the basic good-heartedness of people, connections to family and to good neighbors, and having the time to re-think what is truly important in life. About the air, which is suddenly cleaner, about the water in the canals of Venice which is suddenly purer, and the fish which are swimming again in the rivers of China. Thus, too, there has been the greatest reduction in the emission of green-house gases ever, more than all the climate agreements have been able to achieve.

Things that were considered impossible just a little while ago are suddenly quite possible, given a little political will and perseverance.

But in addition to these points of light, there are darker sides that are also gaining strength, that raise questions about the state of our democracy, human rights, the future of the health system, and what happens when the public's trust of its leaders and public institutions is worn thin by abuse.

For most of us it's not clear what sort of reality we have woken up to. Is this our worst nightmare? Perhaps. At least for a time. Let us hope that it is as short and moderate as possible. Social organizations have to do everything to help flatten the curve of fear and separation, and to reduce the social distance between us, even as we maintain physical distancing.

But when this whole thing is behind us – and that day will come – we will be left with the crucial question: how shall we act then? How can we, the citizenry, demand to have a hand in formulating the new public agenda regarding how we will address the many crises that await?

The climate crisis which has suffered from bad PR, perceived by many as something amorphous that may have some effects sometime in the future, but certainly is not a real threat, here and now, is significantly more complex and destructive than corona. And there is no way that we can successfully grapple with if we don’t wake up to it until the last minute.

That is a huge challenge for the human race and all the public institutions that until now have been directed at immediate gratification and serving short-term vested interests.

There are many reasons for concern. As soon as it can, the global economic engine will rev up again and return us to our binge of consumerism, and the fateful fantasy of infinite growth. Governments, under pressure from corporations, are likely to forego all the gains from reduced emissions, and instead of encouraging the development and use of renewable energies, will return the economy to using cheap, polluting energy, including natural gas (remarks to that effect have already been made…). There is a real fear that weakened economic systems will choose to forego human rights and worker's rights (they of course will present these types of oppressions as unavoidable), and will justify increased harm to nature in the name of economic recovery.

And what about social ties, and international relations? It may be the case, as historian and best-selling author Yuval Noah Harari said in a recent interview, that the world stands at a crucial junction: Will we have the wisdom and the will to deepen global cooperation, to remove the walls of separation, and enable well-being for all, via an equitable and sustainable "green" economy, knowing that only in this way can we deal effectively with global crises? Or will the forces spreading hate and pitting us one against the other gain the upper hand?

Corona's wake-up call sharpens this dramatic crossroads for us, and the question of the nature and the resilience of our public systems and our communities. In Israel it has clarified for everyone the democracy crisis and the social schisms harm our ability to grapple with the current crisis, and with those that will come after.

One of the crucial tasks of civil society in this period is to raise these questions, to create a public discussion around them, in widening circles, and to try to formulate answers and tools with which to approach the day after. Likewise, it is crucial that individuals and organizations support one another during the crisis, and that we create and maintain a strong foundation for the work that still awaits.

That is the junction where we are now. It is incumbent upon us – citizens, social organizations, and first and foremost the climate movement – to sound the wake-up call, and ring the bells! Let us remember, that in times of crisis, the normal order of things becomes cracked. Cracks enable us to challenge the status quo, the accepted 'truths', to say that that which was is not necessarily that which will be:

Ring the bells (ring the bells) that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That's how the light gets in                                     (Leonard Cohen)


The Heschel Center for Sustainability works to promote a sustainable Israel: a just and cohesive society, a robust and democratic economy, and a healthy and productive environment for all its residents, now and in the future.