Do extreme times encourage or exacerbate extreme behavior? How unaffected in the long term can entire populations remain from almost Biblical phenomena such as the recent floods in Germany and other parts of Northern Europe? And we don’t just mean the impact of natural disasters on national economies, which, at the end of the day, can be addressed one way or another with a number of different measures.
The impact of climate change, in tandem with the pandemic – which is back in force in new and more dangerous mutations that are taking new cases in Europe up to half a million and threatening a further fivefold increase – have a direct effect on people’s mental and emotional balance and health, and this may be manifested in the way they think or how they act, or both. In short, the more that our sense of security shrinks and the constants we take for granted collapse (metaphorically and literally), the more people will grow angry and frustrated, and the more they will be open to outlandish theories, seeking to lay blame and embracing baseless and irrational beliefs.
Images of houses disintegrating under the force of muddy floodwaters in highly developed European countries may not be unprecedented, but they are certainly unusual. And as houses collapse, governments will be called upon to rein in an increasingly uncontrollable and disobedient portion of their populations – and not a negligible one either – people who turn their backs on science and on vaccines, which are the only bulwark we have right now against the deadly onslaught of the novel coronavirus.
The battles lying ahead are huge and we’re running out of stamina as conditions test our limits. And the more unpredictable the new normal becomes, the more governments need to step up with forward-looking policies designed to avert dangers before they appear. The times demand governments made up of a diversity of people, with well-honed skills. Woe betide the political microcosms that rely only on ideological fixations out of ineptitude or arrogance; they will be swept away in a tide of change as powerful as Northern Europe’s floods.
As long as our lives are increasingly defined by extreme phenomena, the extreme elements of society will rally and grow. The anti-vaxxers will raise their banners and the unsuspecting will spin all sorts of theories with the backing of the unvaccinated.