Do or Die

First published in: Sanctuary Asia, June 2020

by Bittu Sahgal

Eventually, it all boils down to the biosphere and what it will ALLOW us to do.

Yes, through any given misery – the Crusades, the many wars fought by Chelmsford against the Zulus, the Boers war in Africa, India’s bloody partition, the Korea war, the Vietnam war (all fought for naught) – there are those who learned to profit from adversity.  

But in the long haul, even the powerful are forced to kneel before the biosphere, which delivers no judgments, only consequences. This is what I gently tell the young, my constituency of last hope, who all get it pretty fast.  

An analogy then... admittedly a poorly-crafted one.  

On a sinking Titanic, the Captain on the Bridge and engineers in the ‘boiler room’ scream for help to pump the waters out and fix the hull torn by the iceberg. The ship owner continues to assure his passengers that the Titanic is unsinkable. But, as we know, almost everyone will democratically drown... the elites in the stateroom asking for pink champagne and Blue Danube... the deck-hands, callously ill-treated in sub-zero winds, who even considered burning ‘just one’ lifeboat or a few cork lifesavers and floats to stay warm. All justifiably seething at the bully-boy behaviour of the rich, haughty passengers.  

The one difference between reality and fanciful supposition is that the Titanic could not fix the hole in its own hull. This the biosphere can do… has routinely done over billions of years.  

But today, all the bets are off. No one – not the exploiters, not the exploited – can predict the outcome of COVID-19, which will take a terrible toll (much of it avoidable) before it fades. That is when the relationship between the Captain, the engineers, deckhands and champagne guzzlers will need to be re-jigged.  

None of us (no matter how much our halos pinch) should believe “we” can make the definitive rules. Temporary rules, yes, but in the long run, the rules will be stipulated by the biosphere… Thanos, if you will.  

Remember COP21 and the Paris Agreement? The false promises made and broken? The trillions of dollars politicians and economists terrified us into believing were needed to bring back climate equilibrium? The biosphere ignored all that, and laid bare a quick and effective solution that conjured blue skies, fertile soils, clean seas, pure rivers and air for us in a month.  

I was never a brilliant student. No upper-worldly insights were etched for me on a tablet. My lessons have been gleaned from thinkers like Veda Vyasa, Friar Gregor Mendel, James Hutton, Thomas Malthus, Alfred Russel, Charles Darwin, Mary Leaky, Rachel Carson, Stephen Jay Gould, Jane Goodall, Jonathan Weiner and my friend, David Quammen, author of Spillover, who wrote eight years before the pandemic struck that humankind was experiencing its do or die moment in its battle to tame an untameable biosphere.


join the conversation