Guest editorial: We aren’t a disease, and Earth is not fighting us with the coronavirus
Recently, as the economic consequences of the new coronavirus pandemic became clear, more Utahns have filed for unemployment than at any point since the Great Depression. I was one of them.
Without the commute through Parleys Canyon — or, tangentially, my work as The Park Record’s copy editor — on my schedule, I’ve got a lot more time on my hands until this furlough hopefully ends. I haven’t wanted to spend any of it putting myself through “Contagion,” “28 Days Later” or even “Osmosis Jones.” However, I did decide to knock one 20-minute, post-apocalyptic tale off of my to-watch list: “Time Enough At Last,” the iconic eighth episode of “The Twilight Zone.”
This 1959 televised story of a man who receives a near-cosmic punishment after surviving Armageddon is timeless. In 2020, it’s a clear warning.
The episode centers on Harold Bemis, a bespectacled bank teller who wants nothing more than to read his books in solitude. He believes that the main obstacles to his ideal existence are unreasonable customers, a hyper-conformist boss and a shrew of a wife.
All of them are removed from the picture when he emerges from a solo lunch in the bank’s vault to find that the bombs have dropped, everyone’s dead, and he’s got all the time in the world to spend the rest of his days reading the surviving books in the local library.
When he sits down to begin his literary binge, Bemis drops his reading glasses, shattering both the lenses and his plan for spending all of his newfound time. “It’s not fair,” he cries, as he’s sentenced to a life of atomic myopia, guilty of an unstated crime.
Bemis’ mistake was his conclusion that people were his problem. Right now, as our response to COVID-19 causes us to pause the global economy, a lot of people are coming to that same, misanthropic conclusion, whether they’re aware of it or not.
Earth is defending herself, they say. Check out the satellite imagery of the pollution we’ve cut; watch these videos of the dolphins and monkeys and mountain goats that have found a bravery that they haven’t demonstrated in years. Humans have done enough damage and a balance is being restored.
So, who is the problem?
Jason Hargrove, a Detroit city bus driver, went live on Facebook on March 21 after he witnessed one of his passengers coughing without covering her mouth. He angrily pleads, “We out here as public workers, doing our job, trying to make an honest living to take care of our families.” The video amassed almost 200,000 views and Hargrove became a voice advocating for the safety of public servants everywhere.
He later died. COVID-19 killed him. He was 50.
Was Jason Hargrove the problem? Was this middle-aged, working-class Michigander a viral molecule that Mother Earth’s antibodies needed to fight off?
Science tells us that industries, not consumers, are the biggest culprits behind climate change. And history tells us that when crisis strikes, it’s marginalized groups who suffer most, not their regional managers nor their CEOs. For example, 26% of Milwaukee County’s population is African American, yet that group has comprised more than 8 out of 10 coronavirus deaths in that area so far. It’s not hard to imagine how Summit County’s dynamics could create its own parallel.
This isn’t a moral dilemma. If you’re concerned about the climate — which you still should be — don’t make it a choice between saving the flora and the fauna or saving your bus drivers, bartenders and lifties.
People like Jason Hargrove didn’t kill the world. Whichever conclusion you draw from that fact, you’ll either be in this for all of humanity or for none of it. If you go for the latter, no one will be around to help you when your glasses break.
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