I have been thinking about emergencies, as the whole world enters a state of emergency, and about the distinction between a disaster and an emergency Jenny Offill gives in Weather – “a disaster is a sudden event that causes great damage or loss. An emergency is a situation in which normal operations cannot continue and immediate action is required so as to prevent a disaster” – feeling like we are living through both a disaster and an emergency, with the actions taken to prevent disaster being also the cause of disaster, and the emergency having arrived with a suddenness the disaster didn’t share, the disaster of both the epidemic and the economic collapse being slower in the unfolding than the emergency which has changed everything with astonishing speed. Jenny Offill’s definition is given in the context of a novel about climate change, a novel in which nothing quite happens, but everything that happens has a kind of refracted significance in relation to the disaster of climate change, a disaster that is happening so slowly that normal operations are continuing and no immediate action is being taken, despite the understanding that we are, in fact, in a state of emergency. Now in the grip of the COVID-19 epidemic, extraordinary measures are suddenly being taken to save lives, measures we desperately need to take, and that almost everyone is willing and ready to take, many of them the same measures we have needed to take to prevent the disaster of climate change. For some time what we have needed has no longer been more facts and projections but a leap of the imagination, but what kind of art installation or work of literature was it going to take to make any change in policy? Inspiring, disquieting works were being produced, and a growing call for change was being heard, and perhaps it was only a matter of time, perhaps we have been preparing for emergency action for years now, but perhaps nothing would have changed and perhaps even now, we will come out of this crisis into a world in which an urgency to get economies growing will see more roads built, new coal plants built, as they already are being built in China, a renewed exhortation to everyone to buy more consumer items. I hope we can respond to the scale of the suffering we are witnessing, across a world in which the virus has crossed every border, with the solidarity it will take to meet the challenge of climate change and with the experience everyone has shared of how dramatically it is possible to change how we live, to accept extraordinary restrictions, and to redistribute, borrow and conjure up previously unimaginable funds of money, all of which we will need and need to fight for with some urgency as we look ahead to the time when we can begin to open up businesses again, put on theatre and concerts, and see the family and friends we are missing, when I will make the apple pie I have promised my son and when I hope to watch television curled up with my daughter, and then I will make my way to Auckland to be with my parents who are having to go through so much alone.
These are paragraphs without essays or books to go in.