We are facing our own possible extinction, yet coolly doing little about it

  • Living
  • Monday, 14 Mar 2022

Flash floods after a heavy downpour hit eight areas in Petaling Jaya in March 2022, including here in section 51, on March 8. A new climate change report said it's 'code red for humanity', that the situation worse than previously believed: Many, many more extreme heatwaves, droughts, floods and so on, are to come. And yet nobody seems worked up about it. -- LOW LAY PHON/The Star

Overnight, we now have an army of local experts on Russian-Ukrainian relations. On social media, these keyboard warriors aggressively fire off their viewpoints. Some rage that the West and Nato (the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) have fomented this crisis that began with Russians forces moving into Ukraine on Feb 24, 2022. Or they pontificate with authority about Ukrainian history.

So much heated opinion for an issue not directly affecting us (yet). I wonder how many followed this issue previously – maybe they just Googled their knowledge last week!

Their opinions anyhow will reflect their own political beliefs and bias. That’s confirmation bias: we believe information in line with our beliefs.

I often see the same tired old narratives. It’s easy to just blame American hegemony. The truth is usually more complex and not entirely discernible. In the real world, there aren’t neat black-and-white polarities, or “good” guys or “bad” guys. Nor should being anti-West equate to supporting Russian aggression.

It’s ironic that some keyboard warriors are inciting online wars over this real world war, belligerently arguing their point rather than taking a humanitarian view.

How anyone can justify the horror of war is beyond me.

“This is politics, don’t talk about humanity,” one person told me. So the deaths and destruction are a moot point? We forget about the millions fleeing from their homes? Or children torn from their fathers – perhaps for ever?

I’m on the side of people. Always. Call me naïve, but I have no doubt that a blatant act of war cannot be justified. I stand for principles, not politics. People are just pawns for politicians, who will always have excuses for war.

What’s at stake here is a threat to world peace and a return to the old order. This war is so 20th century. Even nuclear forces have been put on high alert.

People are entitled to their opinions. But the trend of people getting more vehement and entrenched in their views from their “echo chambers” on social media is disturbing.

All too often, the comments are belittling; occasionally, they’re plain nasty. This is the “disinhibition effect” of social media. People become bolder and less inhibited because there’s no accountability and possible anonymity. In a face-to-face conversation, these people would probably not be as rude.

Globally we are seeing greater polarisation on issues and a deepening of political divides. Facts are getting misused and manipulated to support opinion, blurring the truth. This is a real problem in public health. Look at the many contentious issues around Covid-19 – and the ensuing misinformation and myths.

From the start of the pandemic, there were people who insisted Covid-19 was not dangerous. Well, it is. It is the third leading cause of death globally, with six million officially dead.

Then there’s ivermectin, the antiparasitic drug used to treat worms in cattle that was touted as a “miracle cure”. Social media groups were sharing tips on how to get it as demand – and illegal trafficking in it – soared. Locally, the drug was being sold at very high prices on a roaring black market last year.

Supporters cite certain studies as proof. But a review by independent scientists found these studies had major issues, including bias and fraud. Also, the drug did not lead to marked drops in death rates where many used it. The death rate in Peru, for example, had far more correlation with the availability of vaccines and oxygen and the rise of the Lambda variant.

A clinical trial conducted locally at 20 public hospitals in Malaysia and published in the respected journal of the American Medical Association (Jama) found, like other studies, that ivermectin did not reduce severe Covid-19 disease. Yet some people will read this and refuse to accept it. They will stick to their narrative even if it defies science or the best data.

There are also those who refuse to believe that heterologous boosters (mixing Covid-19 vaccines) result in a stronger antibody response. They ignore the scientific evidence, preferring to follow opinion on social media. It’s madness.

But you know what’s really insane? It’s that we are facing our own possible extinction yet coolly doing little about it.

We basically have till the end of this decade to prevent catastrophic climate change. Yet we have climate deniers who would rather pick on a teenage girl than concede we are in the midst of an existential crisis.

Last month, a new climate change report was released by the United Nations. It was described as “code red for humanity”. It warned the situation was worse than previously believed. We’re already seeing so many extreme weather events. Many, many more extreme heatwaves, droughts, floods and so on, are to come.

Where is the mad scramble to act? Where, tell me, is the outrage? Why are those keyboard warriors not banging away on this issue? Are we so stuck in our beliefs that we are blind to truth?

The film Don’t Look Up (2021), where people refuse to heed warnings from scientists about an imminent threat from a comet, feels all too real for me. I just hope in the real world people wake up before it’s too late.

Human Writes columnist Mangai Balasegaram writes mostly on health but also delves into anything on being human. She has worked with international public health bodies and has a Masters in public health. Write to her at lifestyle@thestar.com.my. The views expressed here are entirely the writer's own.

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conflict , Russia , Ukraine , climate change , crisis


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