Pondering the Post-pandemic World as a New Beginning

In its heyday, IG Farben was the largest company in Europe and the largest chemical and pharmaceutical company in the world. Three of its scientists became Nobel laureates. Should those working on making aspirin have worried about the Zyklon B gas that their employer was also manufacturing? What are the contemporary parallels, and should people always accept employment even if the company might be doing harmful things to other humans and/or to the environment?

As politicians promise jobs and back to work incentives “just as soon as medical professionals ease up on Covid-19 isolation requirements,” my thoughts fly to Germany.

The Nazi Party’s popularity increased in the early 1930s partly because of its pledge to do what no other political party had been able to accomplish: pull Germany out of the Great Depression and put Germans back to work. In his first radio address as chancellor, Hitler promised to overcome unemployment in Germany within four years.[1]

What do we manufacture in Canada, and what work will Canadians be willing to embrace? Are all jobs created equal? Does the job matter if there is a paycheck at the end of the week? I think of this as I gaze upon a dozen empty freighters siting in English Bay, their hulls riding high above the ocean. Will some be leaving heavily laden with raw logs that we continue to export? Will other ships carry bitumen or coal and minerals torn from the ground? As a nation, how far have we moved beyond the “rip and ship” attitude of the French and British colonizers of this country? Aside from wheat and canola oil from the prairies, what does Canada export?

Photo courtesy Leslie Nelson

A bit of research reveals that our top five commodity exports are the following: Crude Petroleum ($39.5 billion), Gold ($12.5 billion), Wheat ($12.5 billion), Aluminum ($5.04 billion), Rapeseed ($4.28 billion). [2] Strangely, coal is not mentioned, despite the fact that in 2018, Canadian exports of coal were valued at 7.5 billion dollars. And finally, while the current government of BC has promised to curtail the export of raw logs, no recent articles indicate that the practice is now history. [3]

Covid-19 strikes me as a giant wake-up call, not just to us as a nation, but to each of us as individuals. Homo sum. Humani a me nihil alienum est. As humans and as individuals, we each need to ask what we would or would not be willing to do to generate money and to put food on the table.

Do the consequences of our work matter? If it’s the life or well-being of some other group, clan, tribe, culture, religion, nation, can we be more lenient in our standards?

An example. We know today that coal both pollutes and affects our health (impacts can range from asthma and breathing difficulties, to brain damage, heart problems, cancer, neurological disorders, and premature death). Why would we consider curtailing coal usage in Canada while blissfully exporting it to other lands? Does the death of an asthmatic Chinese child matter less than the death of a Canadian? And yet, in 2018, Canadian exports of coal were valued at 7.5 billion dollars. The major destinations for those exports were South Korea (25%), Japan (22%), India (13%) and China (9%).[4] Ironically, those are among the very countries blamed for pollution, and that politicians use as excuses for not cutting back “excessively” on our own carbon emissions.

Clearly, others also see Covid-19 as a wake-up call. “YES!” I shouted when I came across this exchange between Thomas Friedman and Dov Seidman, founder and chairman of the How Institute for Society.[5]

TF: This virus has triggered a global pause. You once remarked to me: “When you press the pause button on a computer, it stops. But when you press the pause button on a human being, they start — that’s when they begin to rethink and reimagine.” Is this such a moment?

DS: In the pause we have the opportunity to reflect on all that this tragic pandemic is revealing about ourselves and our society. A pause can lead to a new beginning, to a reimagination of how we want to live differently — less unhealthily and less unequally — in the future.

Upon reading the above, Martin Luther King’s words sprang to mind: The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. May each of us find ways, large or small, to ensure that the post-pandemic world is indeed a new beginning, one that leads to a better world for everyone.

[1] http://Facing History and Ourselves. Holocaust and Human Behavior. The Battle for Work.

[2] https://commodity.com/canada/#Canadas_Top_5_Commodity_Exports

[3] Since 2013, the year Premier Christy Clark led her government to re-election, almost 26 million cubic metres of raw logs were shipped from the province, with a combined sales value of more than $3.02 billion. No government in B.C. history has sanctioned such a high level of valuable raw log exports on its watch, or been so silent about the consequences. Last year nearly 6.3 million cubic metres of raw logs left the province. Had those unprocessed logs been milled in B.C. instead, an estimated 3,650 more men and women could have been working in the province’s neglected forest sector. Moving up the value chain and making even higher value forest products would have added even more jobs to the tally. By Ben Parfitt 27 Feb 2017 | TheTyee.ca

[4] www.nrcan.gc.ca coal-facts.