Wednesday, November 25, 2020

On shared obligations

There's been plenty of attention paid to the Saskatchewan Health Authority's list of the sites of known community spread of COVID-19, including questions as to both the categories used and the action resulting from the information. But regardless of any argument about how exactly to define the boundaries of a given acquisition source, there's a crucial parallel to be drawn with familiar arguments about greenhouse gas emissions (whether based on industry or based on geography).

In both cases, we face systemic dangers which threaten absolutely everybody's well-being. But in both cases, it's also true that no single industry or group's contribution alone is enough to rein in the threat.

In the case of climate change, that excuse has largely been deployed by specific lobby groups as an excuse to put off any obligations whatsoever. As the script goes, why should I be expected to help out when my actions alone won't reverse the growth of emissions from other sources? 

But if that message has been far too successful in averting action on climate change, COVID-19 should offer us a compelling example of its flaws under circumstances where the consequences are far more immediate. 

Rather than reflecting the invisible discharge of gases in ways, the community spread of a virus is plainly the result of personal actions and choices. And we're now seeing how the few people who insist on thumbing their noses at even the most basic protections increase both the compliance demands and the risk of adverse outcomes for people who are more responsible.

Of course, where there's overlap between activities which are both comparatively inessential and particularly dangerous, we should have little hesitation in restricting those first and more strongly. 

But we can't deal with the entirety of either the COVID-19 pandemic or the threat of climate breakdown by limiting our focus to one or two contributing causes. And that should represent a reason for all of us to contribute however we can - not an excuse for anybody to do nothing.

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