In the Age of COVID-19 Pandemic, Be Wary of Disaster Capitalism and the Climate Crisis

In the Age of COVID-19 Pandemic, Be Wary of Disaster Capitalism and the Climate Crisis

As the Coronavirus pandemic rages on, we have to be vigilant of disaster capitalism and what author and activist Naomi Klein calls the shock doctrine, an exploitation of crises to push through policies while the public is overwhelmed in order to create a “new normal.” The Trump administration has already made alarming moves to deregulate pollution in a craven use of a pandemic for private gains. 

Many of the countries that are suffering right now are doing so because of a lack of foresight and emphasis on profitability in the healthcare industry. It’s certainly true in the U.S. If we let corporate interests and greedy politicians reshape what normal looks like, we’re doomed to repeat the same mistakes when addressing the climate crisis. 

In the Age of COVID-19 Pandemic, Be Wary of Disaster Capitalism and the Climate Crisis
Credit: Charles Deluvio.

Exploiting crises to push through pro-market or anti-environmental policies is not new. As Klein tells The Intercept, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has had practice. In 2005, after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Pence was the chairman of the “Republican Study Committee,” a group of conservative ideologues who came up with these 32 “Pro-Free-Market Ideas for Responding to Hurricane Katrina and High Gas Prices.”

From suspending wage laws for federal contractors to allowing for more offshore oil drilling and allowing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, their solutions were anti-worker and anti-environment. Even as rising sea levels cause extreme weather events like Katrina, their intention was to veil the things they wanted to do anyway as relief. Saying that you intend to “streamline the environmental hurdles to building new oil refineries” is a great way to spin “environmental deregulation to help businesses that turn billion-dollar profits” if you want to make it sound like you’re helping people. 

Related Post: 5 Big Environment Stories You Probably Missed While You’ve Been Watching Coronavirus

If they were really acting in good faith and trying to help the American people afford the fuel they need (with environmental impacts aside for a moment), could they not give direct aid to the people or artificially lower the price of gas for consumers? 

One of the most insidious tools of environmental deregulators and corporate interests is the cultural belief that their “solutions” are singular and inevitable while actively contributing to the problem.

The Trump administration, and in particular the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the leadership of Andrew Wheeler, is using the pandemic to suspend environmental enforcement and hide environmental deregulation.

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Late in March, the EPA issued a directive that essentially let corporations know that they would not be enforcing environmental regulation. Companies would be expected to “comply with regulatory requirements, where reasonably practicable, and to return to compliance as quickly as possible.” But these subjective terms allow CEOs and their Boards of Directors to determine that even the slightest inconvenience would make something not “reasonably practicable.” 

The Trump administration also rolled back a 2012 standard for car pollution. The old regulation requires car manufacturers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by five percent annually. The new rule drops that to just 1.5 percent. The Environmental Defense Fund found that this change would lead to 18,500 premature deaths, 250,000 more asthma attacks and $190 billion in healthcare costs between now and 2050, not to mention the massive damage done to the environment. 

The Trump administration also:

Just like Pence and his fellow conservative lawmakers deregulated oil refineries and offshore drilling in response to a disaster that was caused in part by global warming (and worsened by irresponsible policy, racism, poverty and corporate greed), Trump’s EPA is allowing companies to pollute despite a direct link between one’s exposure to pollution and health. 

Setting aside the alarming environmental repercussions of these policies, they also exacerbate an already dangerous health crisis. We know that exposure to air and water pollution leads to many of the health risks that make the coronavirus more deadly, and the people most likely to live in polluted neighborhoods are poor black and brown communities. As I wrote in my other coronavirus-related article, more BIPOC are contracting and dying from COVID-19 than their white counterparts in America thanks to systematic racism, classism, and the intersection of the two. 

Anti-Trump demonstrators gather outside Target Center in Minneapolis, MN, to protest Donald Trump and his 2020 presidential campaign rally on October 10, 2019. Credit: Nikolas Liepins.

This kind of disaster capitalism and shock doctrine behavior seems inevitable — of course, they’re going to do this and of course, no one will stop them. But we have to keep fighting, even in adversity.

It’s essential that we pay attention, and if you’re reading this, congratulations, you’ve taken the first step. However, I can’t overstate how important mental health is right now. It’s so overwhelming to be bombarded with a stream of bad news, and no political revolution has been started by someone who’s frazzled, sleep-deprived, and panicked. We’re in this together, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned about the fight against corporate greed and for drastic climate action, it’s how important it is to think collectively. I’m not going to fix this, but we can. There are millions of like-minded people, and together, we can move mountains.

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Cover image of U.S. President Donald Trump signalling to supporters at a “Keep America Great” rally at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, Arizona in February 2020. Credit: Gage Skidmore.

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