FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - February 18, 2020 - 12:00am

You might have seen that horrifying video circulating on social media.

Taken apparently on a phone, the video showed Chinese policemen loading their automatic pistols and assault rifles before moving into a neighborhood. Shots are heard. There is screaming. Defenseless people are being shot.

I watched the video over and over again – aghast. While there was no way to verify what is being shown, there is no way the screams of those about to be shot could be staged. Those screams run a chill up the spine.

The note accompanying the video says a Christian pastor in Wuhan filmed it. He says the doors of infected homes are welded shut, the families trapped inside left to die a slow death. Corpses, both of those who died of the virus and those summarily executed on suspicion they were infected, are being hauled off by the busload to be disposed. The crematoriums are running around the clock.

This is an image of hell.

I devoutly wish this is fake news. But there is no indication it is.

The number being churned out by Chinese authorities about the progress of this epidemic is difficult to trust. China has a record of downplaying the toll taken by calamities. It is also a society where information is tightly controlled and where everyday life is tightly managed by the state.

Recently, Xi Jinping sacked local officials en masse in the city of Wuhan and the province of Hubei. Trusted lieutenants of the autocrat replaced those yanked from their posts. Presumably, those now in charge are the most hard-knuckled cadres of the Communist Party. Their mission is to put everything in the epidemic-hit zone under control.

There is peril in putting Leninists in charge of controlling an epidemic. When the health facilities run short, they are bound to execute the patients. The end justifies the means.

But if the epidemic continues to run rampant, how many murders will have to be undertaken? The social fabric might not survive the brutality the hard-knuckled response Xi’s men are prepared to deal.

Beijing imposes the tightest imaginable restrictions on public communications, maintaining what should be a horde of censors to monitor whatever information is being shared. Notwithstanding, things seep out. The Chinese public has learned to play cat-and-mouse with the censors.

From whatever has seeped out, we know the Chinese public is seething. They feel the epidemic has been mismanaged. They chafe at the limited information about the calamity being released. They are disgusted by how little resources have gone to public health. This is easily the most serious crisis of legitimacy confronting the Xi regime.

This epidemic is not going away anytime soon. One expert on pandemics even predicts up to two-thirds of all humanity will eventually be infected by this virus running wild.

We hope he is wrong. But as the epidemic spreads, the global economy will suffer serious setbacks. Already, the epidemic is said to be the factor that will push the whole Eurozone into recession this year.

Every week that passes, governments everywhere will be pulling in more resources to fight the epidemic. That could eventually include taking away from other social services to boost the medical frontline. Those governments that are not broadly supported could be pushed from power by angry mobs.

We are at the very early stages of this scourge. Even then, we are forced to think the unthinkable – whether this be summarily executing infected people or social institutions crumbling under the weight of an unimaginable plague. 

20 degrees

There is more bad news.

It was reported that the temperature in the South Pole has risen to 20 degrees centigrade. It is actually colder in Baguio than in the ice-encrusted South Pole. This is unprecedented.

With such high temperatures, ice will melt more quickly. Sea levels will rise faster than expected. Vulnerable island economies will be at risk sooner than they are ready. That includes us.

The world has just experienced the hottest January on record. Average temperatures have been the highest in the last decade. Each year is hotter than the one preceding. Climate change is real.

The truth about drastically changing weather patterns is, as Al Gore put it, inconvenient.

It is inconvenient because it requires us to do things we are not ready to do. Inconvenient because it requires dramatically changing our lifestyles. Inconvenient because it demands governments do painful things, such as heavily taxing fossil fuel use.

Most inconvenient, it could require that we stop growing our economies and lead lives of unfamiliar scarcity if we want climate to stop warming. Nearly all governments draw their legitimacy from inducing economic growth. When they stop doing that, they lose their importance to people’s lives.

Consider the tragedy of our circumstances. We are caught between a looming pandemic and a rapidly warming world.

We live in imperiled times. But governments do not seem ready to recognize the immensity of the challenge.

That may be due to the great challenge of trying to think through the challenges that confront us. The possible solutions are too radical to even seriously consider. The policy changes required will be so unpopular they are suicidal for governments to adopt.

It is immensely more convenient to bury our heads in the sand, to reduce our imagination of the challenges to a scale that will enable us to wrap our minds around them. Or else, we indulge in wishful thinking about an epidemic about to pass and a warming climate that will reverse on its own.

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