Writing by Jamie McDonald.
We lurch out of the coronavirus frying pan back into the climate wildfire. The world may have stopped for two years of lockdown but the planet kept disintegrating. It’s inescapable: unless we get our collective shit together, at quite some speed, the Earth will become entirely uninhabitable.
But if battling the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we’re quite good at tackling serious issues at speed - when they’re problems we all face. The UK got itself vaccinated at a remarkable pace, because coronavirus deaths, months-long lockdowns, and the closure of most of the economy caused us all significant grief, inconvenience, and hardship. In the grand scheme of things, a quick jab in the arm was far preferable for the vast majority of us than another year inside.
Like COVID-19, the climate crisis is an apocalypse for us all. Rich neighbourhoods in California and poor neighbourhoods in Turkey burn alike. If the climate crisis is a universal apocalypse, perhaps we will bother to do something about it.
When a crisis becomes an apocalypse for a minority group, what do we do? When the first COVID deaths were reported, we shut down the entire world, halted the economy and pumped billions into remarkable scientific advancements. During the AIDS crisis - for many still within living memory - systematic government stigmatisation and inaction decimated a generation of queer people during an entirely preventable pandemic. In the US, one in every ten gay men born between 1951 and 1970 was killed by AIDS (1). This is a death rate unimaginable for a modern pandemic - coronavirus killed around 0.25% of the British population. Throughout the COVID pandemic, our loved ones died alone, as we were unable to give them their final embrace – for queer communities, this was nothing new. We didn’t shut down the world for them: we did next to nothing.
Once the COVID pandemic was ‘over’, we were let loose once more – we were granted, in the words of the government, our ‘freedom’. But the inherent structure of society as it exists right now represents a style of death-pandemic for those who have never and will never be truly free. For the racial and ethnic minorities, disproportionately targeted by the authorities, to the queer communities who are allowed to die, to the children of Syria and Yemen who fear blue, cloudless skies because they know those are the perfect conditions for a drone strike. The people whose lives we don’t consider it worth shutting the world down to save.
The worry is that with the climate crisis, and with the slowly decaying economic system, we’ll keep doing what we do now: that is, if the burden of ecological collapse falls most heavily on the poorest, we’ll do nothing. Capitalism itself encourages us to do this – it wants us to act in our own best interests, as market forces, as consumers. But there is cause for hope. There is the belief - perhaps naïve – that by its very nature, the human instinct for collaboration can and will prevail.
Consider the queer community. Simply by being queer, by existing, every member of the queer community shares a common lived experience with every other member. Systems of oppression are designed to keep groups of people apart, the irony being that living under a system of oppression is itself a shared characteristic. Therefore, it is a characteristic around which a group can rally – and their anger be put to good use. The anger of the queer community during and after the AIDS crisis was very successfully mobilised in one of the fastest growing social movements in history, and amid horrific suicide rates and repressive global legislation, queer youth now have at least a glimmer of hope. Brutal social conservatism did and still does everything in its power to destroy the movement and it literally cannot succeed – because queerness is a virtue of birth, an unchangeable trait, and therefore, an indestructible community.
We live on a rapidly decaying planet. We live under a particularly brutal form of capitalism which is innovating and re-branding and marketing itself to death. We should be fucking livid about hunger, poverty and ecological disaster when we know all of this is preventable. We therefore all share with every other human the lived experience of late capitalism, of environmental collapse. We have an inherent comradely solidarity with everyone else who experiences increasingly extreme and deadly weather events, who experiences the drudgery of the work week. We share the deep and justified anger about the state of our world. With effort, we can channel that solidarity to support the garment workers on little more than slave-wages, the trans youth ruthlessly targeted by the media monopoly, the people who live in this country who cannot afford to feed their families and heat their homes.
What the experience of the queer community can teach us is that communities cannot, by their very nature, die. If a community’s anger is used collectively, it is practically impossible to stop. Out of sheer bravery the queer community rallied round an apocalyptic – and preventable – event, and became stronger in the process. Isn’t it a great comfort that, paradoxically, oppressed communities can be beaten down but never completely destroyed - because that very oppression is a shared characteristic around which to organise?
We share a beautiful, dying planet. This time, when we’re dealing with two concurrent, interlinked crises – disaster capitalism and climate chaos – let’s embrace the apocalypse. Let it bring us together.