COVID-19: A Simulacrum of the Climate Crisis?

HACER GÖREN

31st March 2020.

Contrary to the once dominant optimism among the public that “Turkey is safe and secure”, COVID-19 has not skipped Turkey either. Yes, it is a single and “simple” virus that started to reinscribe not only Turkey but also the entire globe.

Since 11th March 2020, when the first corona case was officially declared in Turkey, uncertainty, confusion, and ambivalence has come to reign over the country, as is emblematic of the post-truth age. While Iran, Italy, and Spain were already grappling with the virus, precautions had been restricted to the gradual closure of international flights in Turkey. Several experts in mass media even alleged that “COVID-19 may come to Turkey yet would not lead to a pandemic as in China thanks to mixed genes of Turkey.” It was only when the number of tests increased and positive cases climbed that most people have come to realize that it was not something ephemeral, distant or fixable.  

Turkey has still not gone under total lockdown but instead has taken incremental measures. The Statement by the Minister of Health that “Everyone should declare their own state of emergency” has come to be the implication of this policy preference. The only exception has been curfew for those aged 65 and above as of 21st March. Recently, on the 28th March, strict restrictions started to be imposed over intercity transport and several other public places.

Such incremental measures have had wide-ranging implications over society at large, e.g. leading to several group typologies. Broadly speaking, one group consisted of those who have paid utmost attention to their self-isolation, social distancing and all the warnings made by related authorities right from the start, while the second group kept acting recklessly at their usual pace- going out, having a picnic, fishing, and organizing parties, etc. Inbetween is a third group of people -doctors, nurses, cleaners who find it difficult to reach surgical masks, gowns, etc. or construction workers, miners, and other a good number of invisible workers who have to work under precarity.

Yes, it is a mere ‘simple’ virus that has drifted not only Turkey but also the entire globe into uncertainty, ambivalence, and precarity. A virus, with its agency, or actancy in Latour’s terms (2005), has made other actors-  we, humans – dependent on itself. It is neither war, a conflict nor any single country, colour, ethnicity or sex that could be held accountable, either. Rather, it is a non-human actor which has distributed accountability, uncertainty, and ambivalence disproportionately as usual, yet with some equalizing effect this time, since it is not only people of colour or from the Global South that are being restricted in their houses or being distanced, discriminated from others. In other words, each hemisphere of the globe has found itself locked in buildings, with less to buy, consume, move, touch, sense, pollute, and to take the rights of the young and the unborn. Yet, this time it is with more to share; to share the feeling of how to sustain an autopoietic life, a life which is self-producing, self-referential vis â vis, a sympoietic one, in Haraway’s terms (2016) which refers to collectively-producing systems that do not have self-defined spatial and temporal boundaries in the web of life. The virus has also shown us the fragility of human systems, economies, and more importantly, capitalisms. It now demands us to decouple from and rethink about these systems, be it either economic, political, or ideological in which we have found ourselves immensely immersed and enmeshed. To put it differently, it offers us a window of opportunity to move away from our ‘business as usual’ and ‘taken-for-granted’ worlds.

Putting all this aside, this non-human actor has achieved something invaluable. It has portrayed a perfect simulacrum of the exacerbating climate crisis. ‘Self-isolation’, ‘quarantine’, ‘social distancing’, ‘lockdowns’ or curfews could help us for now. When the anthropocentric/capital-centric impacts of the climate crisis draw a bit nearer, it would flow in cascades, though. It would not be possible to act reactively since an antidote for the climate crisis does not lie in a single vaccine, nor in any medicine, economy, or total lockdown. Instead, climate crisis is an irresistible, irrepressible, unprecedented and unpredictable one, inextricably intertwined with any actually existing system. In the ‘simplest’ terms, each body could turn into several COVID-19s under a few degrees increase of heat. The viruses and bacteria in our guts, currently working peacefully, may bring fatality under several degrees of heating since more than 99 percent of those bacteria inside human bodies are unknown to science (Wallce-Wells 2019).

Imagine each actor of Nature speaking on its own terms, via floods, droughts, hurricanes, mass extinctions, or mass climate refugees. This may seem to be an apocalyptic, dystopian scenario even for some of us who are now isolated in our homes. Yet, it is also what sciences reiterate, based on increasing GHG emissions, extreme weather events, in short, exacerbating vulnerabilities and contingencies worldwide. As such, IPCC states that climate change is now irreversible, and even with significant emission cuts, sea levels will rise by the end of the century, with severe coastal flooding to occur hundreds of times more frequently, thereby disrupting hundreds of millions of people (Bodkin, 2019).

The climate crisis may still seem for some of us a distant, fixable, a reified problem, or as a hyperobject in Morton’s words, which is a nonlocal entity whose complexity is not easy to comprehend (Baldwin, 2017). Thanks to a mere “simple” virus, however, don’t we feel it a bit more proximate, unfixable, unpredictable, uncontrollable, or reversely, a bit quotidian?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hacer Gören is a Ph.D. candidate in Sociology at Koç University. Her research interests are the sociology of climate change; adaptation and mitigation strategies with a focus on rural development; political ecology; and STS.

Contact: hgoren18@ku.edu.tr

REFERENCES

Haraway, D. J. (2016). Staying with the Trouble: Making kin in the Chthulucene. Duke University Press.

Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social: An introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press Inc.

Morton as cited in Baldwin, A. (2017). Climate change, migration, and the crisis of humanism. WIRES Climate Change, 8: e460. 1-7. 10.1002/wcc.460 

Wallace-Wells, D. (2019). The uninhabitable earth: A story of the future. Penguin UK.

Bodkin, H. 2019. “Climate Change now irreversible due to warming oceans, UN body warns”. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2019/09/25/climate-change-now-irreversible-due-warming-oceans-un-body-warns/

DHS News Agency website.

Image One: Belgrad Forest entrance in Istanbul on 20 March of 2020, 9 days after the official announcement of the first corona case. Source DHA.

Image Two: Belgrad Forest entrance in Istanbul on 28 March of 2020, 17 days after the official announcement of the first corona case. Source DHA.

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