Greta Thunberg Says It’s ‘Extremely Likely’ That She Had Coronavirus

Credit…Virginia Mayo/Associated Press

Greta Thunberg, the 17-year-old Swedish climate activist, announced on Tuesday that she and her father, Svante, had symptoms of Covid-19 and that while hers were mild, it was “extremely likely” that she had contracted the virus. She used the announcement to urge young people to stay at home, even if they don’t feel sick, to protect those who are more vulnerable.

“Many (especially young people) might not notice any symptoms at all, or very mild symptoms,” she said on Instagram, where she has 10 million followers. “Then they don’t know they have the virus and can pass it on to people in risk groups.”

“We who don’t belong to a risk group have an enormous responsibility, our actions can be the difference between life and death for many others,” she said.

Ms. Thunberg spoke to European Union lawmakers at a meeting in Brussels in early March. In an effort to protect her mother and her sister at home in Stockholm, Ms. Thunberg said she and her father, who accompanies her on her travels, had isolated themselves in a separate apartment.

She said she had felt “tired, had shivers, a sore throat and coughed.” Her father, she said, felt far worse and had a fever. Sweden offers Covid-19 tests only to those who need urgent medical care, she wrote, which meant that she was not tested.

Ms. Thunberg’s solo climate strikes helped fuel a global youth movement pressing world leaders to take action to slow down catastrophic climate change. For the last several weeks, the virus has compelled climate activists to take their protests off the streets and onto the internet.

On Tuesday, in her Instagram post, she urged young people to “follow the advice from experts and your local authorities and #StayAtHome to slow the spread of the virus.” SOURCE

Oilsands projects on ‘life support’ as COVID-19 crisis looms

Oilsands mining

The federal government announced a major economic aid package Wednesday, as the country “teeters on the brink of recession,” according to an economic forecast released Tuesday by the Conference Board of Canada.

In the meantime a number of oilsands projects that have already secured a greenlight could be in limbo as oil companies face plunging prices, based on a list of approved projects that are not currently operating provided to National Observer by the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER).

The list contains more than 45 projects, including projects that have been “approved but not constructed”; projects that have been “approved, constructed, then postponed or delayed”; projects that have been “approved, constructed, began operating, then suspended”; and projects that have not been constructed “but are planning to operate in the future,” according to the AER.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced $82 billion in economic aid Wednesday to help lessen the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of Thursday morning, there were more than 735 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Canada and 34 probable cases. The Canada-U.S. border has now been closed to all non-essential travel in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.

The government’s economic response to the crisis includes $27 billion in direct support to individuals and businesses and $55 billion in tax deferrals. Targeted measures to support the oil and gas industry and other particularly affected sectors are on their way but have yet to be announced.

“We’re going to actively work with organizations in the oil and gas sector, in the airline sector in order to come up with approaches that enable them to bridge through the challenging time, that’s critical,” Morneau said.

“We’re not far enough along in those discussions to identify specific measures that we will take, but we do recognize the urgency of those discussions and are proceeding with that in mind.”

“In the current price environment that has emerged in the last week, it’s not foreseeable any of these [oilsand projects] are going to go forward at this point in time,” crude oil market analyst Kevin Birn

For Alberta’s oil and gas industry, the situation is nothing short of a crisis, one that’s left the fate of multiple project uncertain.

Among those that have been approved, but not yet constructed are Suncor’s Meadow Creek projects.

Just last month – two weeks before the Alberta government gave its Meadow Creek West project the final nod – Suncor announced it was shelving both its Meadow Creek West and Meadow Creek East projects until at least 2023.

That was before the U.S. Energy Information Administration downgraded its 2020 oil price forecast for the benchmark West Texas Intermediate to an average $38 U.S. per barrel, down from an earlier forecast of $55 per barrel this year. The WTI was above the $25.00 U.S. a barrel mark mid-day Thursday, while the price for Western Canadian Select was slightly above the $11.00 mark during the same time period.

In light of a major decline in demand brought on by the pandemic and the oil price crash triggered by the price war, Kevin Birn, a crude oil market analyst with IHS Markit, said he thinks “it’s very unlikely that… projects (will) advance at this point.”

Over the last several days oil companies in Alberta have announced major cuts to their capital budgets for 2020, prompting expectations of layoffs.

“This is going to have a very negative effect for working women and men in the energy services sector,” said Premier Jason Kenney, whose province had the highest unemployment rate of any province outside of Atlantic Canada as of February.

After years of economic stagnation, the province is “facing a triple whammy right now,” he said, and Ottawa “needs to have our back.”

While Kenney has called for major investments and relief from certain planned environmental measures to help keep Alberta’s mainstay industry afloat, others say economic stimulus measures could offer an opportunity to address two emergencies at once – the pressing economic crisis and the relatively longer-term threat of catastrophic climate change.

“For Canada’s oil and gas sector to have greater longevity, it needs to be cleaner, it needs to have lower carbon intensity,” said Dan Woynillowicz, the deputy director of Clean Energy Canada.

New projects already faced challenging conditions

Oilsands producers have been struggling under the weight of depressed prices and limited pipeline access for a number of years now.

That reality was brought into sharp focus earlier this year when Teck Resources pulled the regulatory application for its massive Frontier oilsands mine.

But even before Teck’s surprise decision, analysts were questioning the economic feasibility of such a major undertaking in the oilsands, as well as the fate of numerous other projects, approved already.

Final investment decisions have yet to be made for a number of the approved projects on the list provided to National Observer by the AER, including MEG Energy’s Surmont Project, a proposed multi-phase, in-situ project that could produce up to 120,000 barrels per day.

Though the company secured regulatory approval for the project in 2019, MEG Energy shifted the Surmont Project out of its current development plan, a move “consistent with its strategic focus on continued application of all free cash flow to debt reduction,” according to corporate documents.

In March 2019, just a few months after Imperial Oil announced it was moving forward with its $2.6 billion Aspen project, the company announced it was slowing the pace of development due to the Alberta Government’s curtailment policy.

“We cannot invest billions of dollars on behalf of our shareholders given the uncertainty in the current business environment. That said, our goal is to ensure the work we do this year will enable us to effectively and efficiently resume planned activity levels when the time is right,” Rich Kruger, the then-CEO of Imperial Oil, said in a statement.

Suncor, meanwhile, has deferred an investment decision on its Meadow Creek in-situ projects until 2023 in favour of lower-cost opportunities to improve production at its Firebag site, CEO Mark Little said during the company’s 2019 fourth-quarter investor call in early February.

“As you would expect in line with our capital discipline principles, we’re carefully evaluating future projects,” Little said. “We take into account the current environment of volatile commodity prices, market access challenges and government intervention into crude markets, while at the same time we’re making progress on new technology development, which has the potential to significantly reduce capital and operating costs, greenhouse gas emissions and water use.”

In 2015, due to low oil prices, Cenovus deferred new spending on construction for the first phase of its Narrows Lake project, which received approval for three phases in 2012, according to corporate financial documents. The project, which was initially designed to have capacity to produce 130,000 barrels per day, is now being reconceived as a lower-cost “tieback” project. Meaning, the company is looking at using its existing infrastructure at its Christina Lake site to produce the Narrows Lake resource.

While expected production would be in the 65,000 barrels per day range, the approach could cut costs by more than 30 per cent compared with the previous plan, according to an October 2019 presentation to investors. At the time, Cenovus said it could be ready to make a final investment decision in the second half of 2020, depending on market access.

Capital investments in the oil patch have declined since 2014, but just a few months ago, there was some expectation that the investment picture in the oilsands would improve this year as new pipelines came online.

“Of course, that’s all changed now,” said Pedro Antunes, the chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada in an interview with National Observer.

In the wake of the price crash, oilsands companies have made dramatic cuts to capital budgets for the year ahead.

On Wednesday, Canadian Natural Resources Limited announced a $1 billion-reduction to its 2020 capital spending budget, though the company noted in a release today that it “is well positioned through the current global COVID-19 challenges.”

Cenovus announced it was cutting its capital spending plans by 32 per cent and “deferring final investment decision on major growth projects.”

MEG Energy announced a 20 per cent reduction to its 2020 capital budget, and ARC Resources cut its 2020 capital budget from $500 million to at-most $300 million.

Husky Energy, meanwhile, scrapped $1 billion from its capital investment plans this year. “Investment in resource plays and conventional heavy oil projects in Western Canada has been halted, with a focus on optimizing existing production and lowering costs,” the company said in a release last week.

A pandemic and a price war

The novel coronavirus outbreak and related slowdown of China’s economy had a dramatic effect on the demand for oil. As manufacturing and transportation stalled, supply quickly outpaced demand, said Birn.

As more countries take steps to slow the spread of the virus, demand could decline even further. This week Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the federal government was restricting inbound international flights to just four Canadian airports and closing the borders for non-essential travel.

In its February Oil Market Report, the International Energy Agency said global demand for oil is expected to decline in the first quarter of 2020 in what would be “the first quarterly contraction in more than 10 years.”

Prices were already expected to slide throughout the year as demand fell further and stockpiles grew, said Birn. Then, the situation took a turn for the worse.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) proposed a cut in production to help address the growing gulf between supply and demand, but got no buy-in from Russia. In response, Saudi Arabia cut its prices and announced plans to ramp up production in an effort to increase its market share.

The price of oil crashed. Stock values plummeted.

“Now, typically in these situations there would be an anticipated demand response, (with) low prices, people would consume more or stockpile more in anticipation of future higher prices,” said Birn.

“But in this situation the likelihood is demand is not going to respond at all, if anything it could fall further, exacerbating the difference between supply and demand and pushing prices lower,” he said.

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic isn’t subsiding, he said.

“It’s going to get worse before it gets better most likely and so in addition to the oil market situation, extremely low-price environment, reductions in (capital expenditures), we have a broader economic issue developing.

“The impacts of this are not going to be just felt in 2020, for the oil market they’re going to reverberate into future years for certain,” he said.

Economic stimulus

Of course, it’s not just the oil industry in trouble at the moment. The situation for Canada’s entire economy “is very serious,” said Antunes.

And certain segments, “are going to be very, very hard hit,” he said.

“The tourism sector, the service sector in general is going to be really, I think, decimated in the coming quarter.”

On Wednesday, the federal government announced it would provide temporary income support for Canadians who are quarantined or caring for children and who don’t have paid sick leave, including up to $900 bi-weekly for 15 weeks for workers who are quarantined and don’t qualify for Employment Insurance sickness benefits. For those who do qualify for EI sickness benefits, the one-week waiting period has been waived. Additional income support will be provided for workers who are facing unemployment but are unable to collect insurance, low-income families, and families with children.

For businesses, the federal government is proposing to offer small employers a temporary wage subsidy of up to $25,000 per employer over three months. This comes on top of Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s announcement on March 13 that the government is establishing a Business Credit Availability Program to provide more than $10 billion in loans to support businesses. The Bank of Canada has also lowered its overnight rate target to 0.75 per cent.

CIBC economists said in a note Wednesday that the “announcement from Canada’s Prime Minister and Finance Minister today are the latest steps taken that should cushion the blow, but which cannot prevent, a Coronavirus recession that is now underway.”

“A recession is still inevitable, with a deep dive coming in Q2 due to near-mandated cuts in household spending here and in our export markets, an oil industry shock, and potential supply disruptions from domestic and foreign producers.”

A further contraction is also expected in the third quarter, the note said.

“But the measures announced today support the likelihood of a V-shaped bounce back once the disease issues have crested.”

In a report released Tuesday, the Conference Board of Canada forecasted Canada’s economy will contract by 2.7 per cent in the second quarter of 2020.

“With the economy already on precarious footing, the added shocks of the recent rail blockade protests, the arrival of COVID-19, and a collapse in oil prices have brought the country to the brink of recession,” the board’s economic forecast says.

The conference board said it expects a return to growth by the third quarter but noted “there are huge downside risks to our outlook due to the unpredictability of the Coronavirus pandemic.”

“Overall, we expect growth of just 0.3 per cent in 2020,” the report said.

Alberta’s economy is expected to take the hardest hit among the provinces, according to RBC’s March 2020 provincial outlook, which is forecasting a 2.5 per cent decline in the province’s GDP for 2020. “For Alberta, this shelves any prospect that the economy will finally recover the output lost during the 2015-2016 downturn,” the report reads.

Alberta Premier Kenney said his government is working on its own economic recovery package that could include more than $3 billion in economic stimulus. Given the instability of markets, the number of people in self-isolation, and the suspension of some industries as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the province is planning to focus on liquidity for households and businesses in the short-term, with a second-phase focused on fiscal stimulus measures such as investments in infrastructure, Kenney said.

From the federal government, Kenney asked for targeted support for the province’s oil industry, alongside enhanced access to employment insurance, including for self-employed workers, and payroll tax relief for employers. In advance of federal announcements this week, the premier had said he wants the federal government to ensure companies have access to capital, to direct funding to stimulate emissions reducing technology and job-creation focused wellsite remediation.

Last week, Kenney said the industry also needs relief from environmental measures such as the forthcoming clean fuel standard and methane regulations, which, he said, could add significant costs to “an industry that is in many respects on life support.”

Addressing two crises at once

Conference Board of Canada chief economist Antunes said measures to help lessen the burden of holding on to employees, such as relief from payroll taxes, improving access to capital, and infrastructure investments may be the more prudent approach.

“For Canada, we do have to have a social licence, we do have to set out our environmental targets and make sure that we’re on track to achieving those. I’m not convinced that we will achieve them, but it’d be hard to delay or postpone some of those measures,” he said.

As it stands, Canada is already on track to exceed its 2030 emissions target. Current projections show the country needs to cut another 77 million tonnes over the next 10 years in order to hit its target. That’s roughly equivalent to the greenhouse gases emitted by 16.6 million cars over the course of a year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

For Woynillowicz, the deputy director of Clean Energy Canada, the focus should be on finding ways to stimulate the economy today that fit with Canada’s commitments to reduce emissions and transition the economy.

The federal government can create jobs by ramping up efforts to build public charging stations for electric vehicles or by funding energy efficiency retrofits for homes and commercial buildings, he suggested.

As for the oil and gas industry, Woynillowicz said he supports Kenney’s call for investments to clean-up orphaned well sites, an initiative that would both create jobs and address a massive public liability. On Wednesday, Morneau said the federal government will make a “significant investment in orphan well remediation to help both companies and workers in the province.”

Woynillowicz said governments could also target stimulus dollars to methane-reducing initiatives. Such programs could create jobs and “help the competitiveness of the sector in terms of its climate performance,” he said.

As for the clean fuel standard, it may seem like a burden to some sectors of Alberta’s economy, but Woynillowicz said there’s an opportunity for farmers and the forestry sector in biofuels.

“There are two sides to that coin and I think it’s unfair to just narrowly look at the cost to some and ignore the opportunities and the benefits for others,” he said.

There’s also an opportunity for the federal government to direct stimulus dollars to smaller companies looking at ways to harness Alberta’s hydrocarbons as a source of hydrogen or carbon, he said.

“There is innovation happening within the sector, in terms of trying to evolve beyond just pumping oil and gas for the purpose of burning it,” he said.

“So, target the support to those sorts of things which are supportive of the industry both in the immediate term, but also are setting the industry up to remain competitive for longer than it otherwise would be if we were to just flow money into doing more of what we’ve been doing in the past.”

As for Alberta’s oil companies, after reviewing the list of approved projects the Alberta Energy Regulator provided to National Observer, IHS Markit’s Kevin Birn said he doesn’t expect the proposed projects to move forward in this current environment.

“In the current price environment that has emerged in the last week, it’s not foreseeable any of these things are going to go forward at this point in time,” he said, during an interview earlier this month.

“Eventually as the prices come up you could see some of them come back in,” he said. “But in these environments the number one priority for companies is to preserve cash because they don’t know how deep the price collapse could be.” SOURCE

The Other Emergency Is Crashing Oil Prices

Tell Justin Trudeau to Invest in People, Not Big Oil

Lessons from COVID-19: We are only as strong as our weakest link

Image: NIAID/Flickr

Image: NIAID/Flickr

There is a lot we still don’t know about COVID-19 (coronavirus) and how hard it will impact Canada. But one thing we’re learning: we are only as strong as our weakest link.

COVID-19 is exposing a number of weak links globally and here in Canada.

For starters, critical to containing COVID-19 are two new 2020 buzzwords — social distancing and self-isolation. Health officials are asking people to do their part by staying home if they’re sick and preparing to have two weeks’ worth of medicine and provisions.

While staying home is known to help curb the spread of COVID-19, it’s hard advice to swallow if you’re poor, working poor, in the service industry or self-employed.

As Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction director Tom Cooper points out in this Hamilton Spectator op-ed, the working poor can’t afford to take unpaid time off and people on fixed (low) incomes — such as people on social assistance — don’t have extra cash to stockpile provisions.

“If we truly want to keep our communities healthy and protect against the spread of illness, whether COVID-19 or anything else in the future, we need to pay more attention to the relationship between health and income inequality in Canada,” Cooper writes.

It’s not just the poor who face barriers. Precarious workers have challenges too.

Jon Shell, managing director and partner at Social Capital Partners, points out that self-employed workers will suffer from COVID-19.

“Spare a moment for the self-employed today as you focus on not touching your face,” Shell tweeted. “They can’t avoid travel, need to go to client sites, and get no income if they self-quarantine. No corporate support and our social support system isn’t designed to help them at all.

“We constantly push people to be ‘entrepreneurial’ and to ‘hustle.’ Let’s remember that the lack of an appropriate and fair safety net for the self-employed is one of the many things this crisis is exposing. We need to fix it.”

In this Toronto Star column, Jim Stanford, director of the Centre for Future Work, points to the need for legislated sick pay, better job security for workers who may need to follow the 14-day self-isolation COVID-19 protocol and better employment insurance provisions for workers who cannot work because of illness.

Legislated sick pay is key: research shows that cities and states in the United States that require employers to provide paid sick days have fewer flu cases.

Getting rid of the need for doctors’ sick notes is also key. Why flood doctors’ offices with sick people when they should be at home resting and not spreading contagion?

COVID-19 could rock the global economy

Speaking of contagion, fears over COVID-19 and an oil sell-off led to panic in the stock markets Monday, forcing the New York and Toronto stock exchanges to briefly halt trading.

In the U.S., United Airlines and Jet Blue Airlines are cutting back flights due to a drop in demand due to COVID-19 fears.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Federal Reserve and Bank of Canada have cut interest rates in an attempt to protect the economy from a COVID-19/oil sell-off downturn.

Businesses are cancelling travel, conferences and meetings in response to the COVID-19 threat.

It’s a reminder that the economy is only as strong as the health of our communities. And as Italy completely shuts down, COVID-19 is teaching us that we are only as strong as our weakest link in the global public health chain.

That’s why investments in public health — disease prevention, health promotion and protection — are so critical.

Cuts to public health hurt

It’s a lesson that seems to have gotten lost in Canada, all these many years after the SARS outbreak.

Across Canada, provincial governments have cut back on public-health spending. Just last year, the Ontario government made a move to slash public-health budgets and the Alberta government is in the process of implementing similar funding cuts. Other provinces have also seen dwindling public-health investments over the past decade.

The irony of public health is that it’s undervalued until an invisible virus emerges, making the value of public health visible. After SARS, that visibility led to new investments in public health, but over time, funding has dwindled.

This Springer article says “governments around the world underinvest in public health and public-health research.”

In the OECD, health spending for prevention is rarely higher than six per cent of the health care budget. In Canada, only 5.5 per cent of total health spending goes to public health, such as food and drug safety, health inspection and health promotion.

Trevor Hancock, retired public health professor at the University of Victoria, calls the underinvestment in public health short-term thinking.

“There are several factors at play, one of which may be that public health does not generate headlines, whereas dramatic life-saving interventions do,” Hancock writes.

“When public health is effective, nothing happens; nobody writes headlines about the hundreds of cancers that did not happen, only about the latest hi-tech drug or intervention that reduced the death rate from cancer.”

The advent of COVID-19 is helping us see public health in a new light.

When it comes to trying to contain COVID-19 spread, we have strengths. Canada’s public-health professionals took many lasting lessons from the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak and they are better prepared for COVID-19 than some countries.

Protocols were in place to quickly identify potential COVID-19 patients and the source of infection, test them, treat them in hospital if needed and, otherwise, ensure they’re self-isolating for 14 days. Even jurisdictions in the U.S. are struggling to meet these basics.

Communications from public-health officials in Canada have been steady, transparent, and reliable. In times of uncertainty, trust is key.

In order to maintain trust, Canada’s public-health system needs to be better funded over the long haul. In the short term, expect pressure on the federal and provincial governments to respond to the dual crisis of COVID-19 and oil sell-off with major stimulus initiatives.

Economists are already talking about the need to “supersize” refundable tax credits like the GST or the Canada Child Benefit, to get cash in the hands of those who need it. But this is also a moment to correct the chronic underfunding of public-health units across Canada.

If we manage to contain COVID-19, it will be because of individual efforts to follow public-health protocols and because of the expertise of public-health officials in quickly establishing those protocols.

These are our strongest links in the system. Let’s invest in keeping them strong.

Trish Hennessy is executive director of Upstream. This article first appeared on

Coronavirus Is the Perfect Disaster for ‘Disaster Capitalism’

Naomi Klein explains how governments and the global elite will exploit a pandemic.


The coronavirus is officially a global pandemic that has so far infected 10 times more people than SARS did. Schools, university systems, museums, and theaters across the U.S. are shutting down, and soon, entire cities may be too. Experts warn that some people who suspect they may be sick with the virus, also known as COVID-19, are going about their daily routines, either because their jobs do not provide paid time off because of systemic failures in our privatized health care system.

Most of us aren’t exactly sure what to do or who to listen to. President Donald Trump has contradicted recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and these mixed messages have narrowed our window of time to mitigate harm from the highly contagious virus.

These are the perfect conditions for governments and the global elite to implement political agendas that would otherwise be met with great opposition if we weren’t all so disoriented. This chain of events isn’t unique to the crisis sparked by the coronavirus; it’s the blueprint politicians and governments have been following for decades known as the “shock doctrine,” a term coined by activist and author Naomi Klein in a 2007 book of the same name.

History is a chronicle of “shocks”—the shocks of wars, natural disasters, and economic crises—and their aftermath. This aftermath is characterized by “disaster capitalism,” calculated, free-market “solutions” to crises that exploit and exacerbate existing inequalities.

Klein says we’re already seeing disaster capitalism play out on the national stage: In response to the coronavirus, Trump has proposed a $700 billionstimulus package that would include cuts to payroll taxes (which would devastate Social Security) and provide assistance to industries that will lose business as a result of the pandemic.

“They’re not doing this because they think it’s the most effective way to alleviate suffering during a pandemic—they have these ideas lying aroundthat they now see an opportunity to implement,” Klein said.

VICE spoke to Klein about how the “shock” of coronavirus is giving way to the chain of events she outlined more than a decade ago in The Shock Doctrine.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Let’s start with the basics. What is disaster capitalism? What is its relationship to the “shock doctrine”?

The way I define disaster capitalism is really straightforward: It describes the way private industries spring up to directly profit from large-scale crises. Disaster profiteering and war profiteering isn’t a new concept, but it really deepened under the Bush administration after 9/11, when the administration declared this sort of never-ending security crisis, and simultaneously privatized it and outsourced it—this included the domestic, privatized security state, as well as the [privatized] invasion and occupationof Iraq and Afghanistan.

The “shock doctrine” is the political strategy of using large-scale crises to push through policies that systematically deepen inequality, enrich elites, and undercut everyone else. In moments of crisis, people tend to focus on the daily emergencies of surviving that crisis, whatever it is, and tend to put too much trust in those in power. We take our eyes off the ball a little bit in moments of crisis.

Where does that political strategy come from? How do you trace its history in American politics?

The shock-doctrine strategy was as a response to the original New Deal under FDR. [Economist] Milton Friedman believes everything went wrong in America under the New Deal: As a response to the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, a much more activist government emerged in the country, which made it its mission to directly solve the economic crisis of the day by creating government employment and offering direct relief.

If you’re a hard-core free-market economist, you understand that when markets fail it lends itself to progressive change much more organically than it does the kind of deregulatory policies that favor large corporations. So the shock doctrine was developed as a way to prevent crises from giving way to organic moments where progressive policies emerge. Political and economic elites understand that moments of crisis is their chance to push through their wish list of unpopular policies that further polarize wealth in this country and around the world.

Right now we have multiple crises happening: a pandemic, a lack of infrastructure to manage it, and the crashing stock market. Can you outline how each of these components fit into the schema you outline in The Shock Doctrine ?

The shock really is the virus itself. And it has been managed in a way that is maximizing confusion and minimizing protection. I don’t think that’s a conspiracy, that’s just the way the U.S. government and Trump have utterly mismanaged this crisis. Trump has so far treated this not as a public health crisis but as a crisis of perception, and a potential problem for his reelection.

The shock doctrine was developed as a way to prevent crises from giving way to organic moments where progressive policies emerge.

It’s the worst-case scenario, especially combined with the fact that the U.S. doesn’t have a national health care program and its protections for workers are abysmal. This combination of forces has delivered a maximum shock. It’s going to be exploited to bail out industries that are at the heart of most extreme crises that we face, like the climate crisis: the airline industry, the gas and oil industry, the cruise industry—they want to prop all of this up.

How have we seen this play out before?

In The Shock Doctrine I talk about how this happened after Hurricane Katrina. Washington think tanks like the Heritage Foundation met and came up with a wish list of “pro-free market” solutions to Katrina. We can be sure that exactly the same kinds of meetings will happen now— in fact, the person who chaired the Katrina group was Mike Pence. In 2008, you saw this play out in the original [bank] bail out, where countries wrote these blank checks to banks, which eventually added up to many trillions of dollars. But the real cost of that came in the form of economic austerity [later cuts to social services]. So it’s not just about what’s going on right now, but how they’re going to pay for it down the road when the bill for all of this comes due.

Is there anything people can do to mitigate the harm of disaster capitalism we’re already seeing in the response to the coronavirus? Are we in a better or worse position than we were during Hurricane Katrina or the last global recession?

When we’re tested by crisis we either regress and fall apart, or we grow up, and find reserves of strengths and compassion we didn’t know we were capable of. This will be one of those tests. The reason I have some hope that we might choose to evolve is that—unlike in 2008—we have such an actual political alternative that is proposing a different kind of response to the crisis that gets at the root causes behind our vulnerability, and a larger political movement that supports it.

This is what all of the work around the Green New Deal has been about: preparing for a moment like this. We just can’t lose our courage; we have to fight harder than ever before for universal health care, universal child care, paid sick leave—it’s all intimately connected.

If our governments and the global elite are going to exploit this crisis for their own ends, what can people do to take care of each other?

”’I’ll take care of me and my own, we can get the best insurance there is, and if you don’t have good insurance it’s probably your fault, that’s not my problem”: This is what this sort of winners-take-all economy does to our brains. What a moment of crisis like this unveils is our porousness to one another. We’re seeing in real time that we are so much more interconnected to one another than our quite brutal economic system would have us believe.

We might think we’ll be safe if we have good health care, but if the person making our food, or delivering our food, or packing our boxes doesn’t have health care and can’t afford to get tested—let alone stay home from work because they don’t have paid sick leave—we won’t be safe. If we don’t take care of each other, none of us is cared for. We are enmeshed.

We’re seeing in real time that we are so much more interconnected to one another than our quite brutal economic system would have us believe.

Different ways of organizing society light up different parts of ourselves. If you’re in a system you know isn’t taking care of people and isn’t distributing resources in an equitable way, then the hoarding part of you is going to be lit up. So be aware of that and think about how, instead of hoarding and thinking about how you can take care of yourself and your family, you can pivot to sharing with your neighbors and checking in on the people who are most vulnerable. SOURCE


There Are No Private Solutions to a Public Health Crisis

COVID-19, Brought to You by Globalization

How the virus exploits traits of our economy extolled as modern triumphs.


A Viking cruise ship docked in France in 2017. Viking and Princess Lines have halted operations. Cruise ships combine urban-like crowding with worldwide mobility. Photo: Wikimedia

This pandemic, with an estimated mortality rate of one to two per cent, is not a world ender or something to be truly feared.

But it deserves our respect and it certainly has our attention.

Pandemics, which go off like improvised bombs, don’t have to be formidable killers to be bad. Even modest biological detonations can upend your day and alter your world.

As SARS-CoV-2 — the respiratory virus that causes the disease COVID-19 — begins its explosive global journey, it has proven its ability to clog hospitals and freeze economies.

It is worth remembering that SARS-CoV-2, unlike influenza, is a novel cold-like virus that Homo sapiens have never experienced before. We have no immunity and must acquire it either through exposure to the virus or a vaccine that most likely won’t be ready till the pandemic is over.

SARS-CoV-2 will play with different populations differently, making use of the demographic material at hand along with human follies such as the criminal dearth of testing in the United States for the last month.

And it won’t be the last. This particular biological invader springs from an ancient, large and diverse family of viruses hosted by a variety of wild animals, including bats and birds.

These species are particularly hard pressed by global economic forces now ruinously reducing biological diversity everywhere. As biological biodiversity declines, viruses will seek reliable hosts and jump from animals into people at any given opportunity. Peter Daszak, a pioneering disease ecologist, says we now live in Age of Pandemics.

SARS, a close relative of SARS-CoV-2, plugged up hospital systems and cost $50 billion to bring under control in 2003/2004. MERS, a coronavirus present in bats and camels, has burdened the care of patients with diabetes and heart disease in Middle Eastern hospitals for years now.

COVID-19 behaves a lot like its relatives. It targets the ill, smokers and the elderly. For 80 per cent of the infected, it appears as a cold-like nuisance; for 20 per cent, it is a life or death battle with hellish pneumonia (see sidebar). Judging by the escalating outbreaks in Australia, Spain, U.S., England and France, COVID-19 will trump the impacts of SARS or MERS by several orders of magnitude.

Still, at this point it seems COVID-19’s effect on the globe’s highly complex and fragile economy will likely be far more severe than its impact on public graveyards.

Practicing for de-growth

Because the pandemic shut down China, the high-speed driver of global growth, SARS-CoV-2 will usher in a prolonged global recession.

Viewed through the lens of climate crisis survival, the pandemic has produced some good news. Reduced economic activity in China, the world’s largest oil user, has already resulted in a 25 per cent drop in greenhouse gas emissions and blue skies. Container ship traffic across the Pacific has dropped by half to 100 sailings a month. Auto sales are down 80 per cent and exports have fallen off by nearly 20 per cent.

In this regard, the virus is readying us for what could be the new reality. To really address the climate emergency, we must slow down economic activity, reduce trade, re-localize economies and severely restrict travel.

Already, though, we see there is no smooth glide down. Dramatic decreases in oil consumption — up to four million barrels a day — have collapsed oil prices. That has given Russia and Saudi Arabia, the world’s top petro states, an opportunity to engage in a price war.

Increasing oil price volatility could have social and economic ramifications as calamitous as the virus for many oil-exporting nations, including Canada. SOURCE