Crack out the banging tunes and warm slippers, for January 2022 is here and it’s… a bit meh? I mean, way less meh than January 2021, which was a significant stinker of a start to a year, and was there even really a time before March 2020 anyway? Don’t get me wrong – I am incredibly grateful that we’re not where we were this time last year, but still, not gonna lie, I’m going into 2022 feeling distinctly anxious. And yes, as is my wont, I’m gonna write about why.
1. The variant named after… a transformer?
Firstly, let us all take a moment to enjoy that the flavour text for Omicron the Transformer is this: “Omicron is a loyal, hard-working Decepticon who is respectful, yet not afraid to challenge authority. He will do what ever is necessary to further the Decepticon’s conquest of the Universe, even if it costs him personal harm.” Yes, with Covid mutating as it always would, science took a look at the Greek alphabet and thought, “Hum, Omega? Sounds a bit… end of days, doesn’t it? A bit 1980s Hollywood Thriller, sweaty shirt and conspiracy theory gumpf?” And thus Omicron was named.
As news goes, Omicron is potentially… not that bad perhaps? We’re still waiting to work out if that’s the case, but right now a variant which a) spreads like an absolute bastard and thus out-competes all others but b) causes milder infection… seems… better maybe? There are enormous caveats to that of course, such as how that milder infection is very much linked to a vaccinated global population and we need to protect the most vulnerable in our society by not acting like dickheads. Also, while we’re at it, the utter failure of the developed world to help roll out vaccines to poorer nations is categorically always going to allow mutations to flourish and who knows what the next one will be like if we carry on like this?
Positive call to action! If you are thinking “good point, Covid will never be beaten while it can flourish internationally in this inter-connected age, I wonder what I can do?” then the UN Vaccine Programme is just a click away….
Meanwhile, I am still going to wear my mask, feel incredibly lucky to have got a booster and am just generally going to play things as safe as I can until we have more data. Maybe we can get to a place where Covid becomes much like a seasonal flu, and every October/November we all just go get our seasonal flu/covid jabs and it’s… maybe ok-ish…? Touch wood, spin five times etc.? Goodness that’d be great.
In fact my current source of anxiety re: Omicron is less to do with epidemiology, and more of a psychological thing. Ever since this thing began I have been pro-lockdown. In previous waves, nations which locked down sooner and better (large swathes of basically the whole world) have had fewer cases, spent less time in lockdown overall, done better economically and most importantly, not suffered nearly a hundred and fifty thousand Covid deaths. (The UK currently stands at 30th in the world for deaths per millions of population.) Yet Omicron spreads so, so fast, that I find it hard to picture a lockdown in which we get cases down to the zero required to actually prevent transmission, let alone hold cases at zero for more than five minutes. Courtesy of vaccines, deaths – each one still tragic and cruel – haven’t increased that much even as cases have soared, and reports seem to suggest that hospitalisations are milder than they’ve ever been before. This is not, I hasten to add, me saying that we should just throw open the gates and skip merrily into tomorrow-land whistling a happy tune. Far from. Science needs time to work out what the hell we’re dealing with here, and until there are clear answers backed with solid data, I’m gonna continue to act as safely as I can.
But with previous waves, there was almost a comforting solidity to what needed to be done. We needed to socially distance. We needed to protect our community and others and stay home. When all else was chaos – and goodness wasn’t it – the simple, clear necessity of previous variants was at least a kind of emotional touchstone. Now I just dunno. No one does. And that… is categorically a strange and disconcerting feeling.
2. My energy bill has doubled.
The above statement is a place-holder for the general sense of “oh fuck” that I suspect many, many people are feeling going into 2022. The cost of food is climbing, inflation is up so what cash we have will buy less – let alone those savings that have been on 0.1% interest since 2008 while wages have stagnated – and as we look around at the world at large and wonder why, we find Putin threatening to invade Ukraine, Hungary and Poland demolishing their judiciaries and human rights from within the EU itself (hey, freedom lovers! Isn’t it great to see that you can be a part of the EU yet freely behave like a fascist?), Trump still somehow making noise, and conspiracy theories abounding on each and every street corner. Not to mention the UK government attempting to introduce voter ID (costly, pointless, anti-democratic), take away the citizenship of British people they don’t like in astonishing violation of international law and basic human rights, and demolish your fundamental right to protest. And while I loathe the anti-vax protests that have been taking place across many nations, I will defend the right of people to peacefully protest, even if I sigh at the content.
Not to put too fine a point on it – across the world, some pretty basic things like freedom of speech, freedom of protest, freedom to vote, freedom of self-expression – are being systemically attacked and torn apart. Economic inequality in the UK is the highest it’s ever been since the 1890s – and every time we ‘celebrate’ a new billionnaire I feel my soul shudder inside, for no one got rich except by the labours of, for example, tens of thousands of people on minimum wage in Amazon warehouses who aren’t given the right to pee.
Positive note! Do you know people who say “oh but we mustn’t tax the rich, that would be bad!” Feel free to send them to https://millionairesforhumanity.org for some lovely arguments in favour of a wealth tax from the very people who would be taxed.
I am in an incredibly privileged position financially, but with gigs in a state of ?!?!?!?!!! and book sales having been hit hard during the pandemic – as well as all TV/film schedules up in the air – I am looking at the coming months with a knot in my stomach, and shudder at how much worse that experience is for so much of the country trying to juggle the minimal margins in a family budget. Covid has left the UK in astonishing debt, but the Conservative government still refuses to tax the astonishing wealth of the top 1% of the country (who, a reminder, own roughly 50% of all UK wealth) while across the nation bills and local taxes (always the most unfair) soar.
Wanna do something about it? This year across large parts of the UK there will be local council elections! Local councils control huge budgets and have huge power over local welfare, support for the elderly, kids and climate initiatives – check whether your area is voting and make sure your voice is heard!
Sure, it’s not quite the same as voting out our current government of lying, two-faced leaders, but it’s not a bad start.
3. Climate change
I know. There’s been a lot on. But climate change is still happening. Cop19 came and went and was… frankly, disappointing. It is ok to be afraid, to be anxious about the future. It is ok to look at the clock and think “oh shit, 2030 is only 8 years away and global carbon emissions are increasing, not decreasing, well fuck”. It is absolutely ok to feel sick inside, to feel grief. These things are real, fair and valid. But being afraid never helped anyone get off the starting block, so if that’s you, here’s how you turn that fear into something good, one little choice at a time.
It doesn’t have to be big. It doesn’t have to be huge, loud or hard. Buy a keep cup for your coffee (a lot of shops will give you a discount if you do, so it works out cheaper in the end). Experiment with cooking more veg, less meat. (Healthier, works out cheaper.) Instead of buying lots of cheap disposable things, buy a few good things you like and will keep forever. (Works out cheaper in the… look, basically everything I’m gonna say here works out cheaper in the end, it’s a thing.) Buy someone a tree for Christmas. The internet is soggy with lists of easy immediate things you can do.
And for those of you who’ve run the maths and know that the personal changes you make to your life don’t mean shit to global emissions – you’re right. Even if you and I go carbon neutral today (which is a) doable and b) works out cheaper) the difference our lives make in a planet of over seven billion is nothing. But here’s the thing – it’s also not. Because every time someone sees you cooking something seasonal, or wearing that beautiful vintage dress from the second hand shop, or parking your electric bicycle, or using that renewable coffee cup, you are communicating something vital. You are communicating that the change to a sustainable lifestyle is easy, it’s cheap – it can even be fun, fulfilling, healthy. And maybe then you bore someone with how your new electricity provider is 100% renewable and how easy that switch was, or maybe you take five minutes out of a conversation to harp on about the holiday you took with the kids by train, the adventures you had together, or how that sweet smell coming off you is your eco-friendly shampoo bar that you got at this little local shop that’s all about zero-waste… and yes, I’m not gonna lie, you are now a hipster wanker. But you’re also right. And every time you communicate with your actions, as well as your words, the positive side of sustainability, you can spread that message. First you, then your neighbour, then your neighbour’s neighbour. Politics is taking forever to get its arse in gear and act, but we are also a culture, and that culture evolving fast. The changes you make can change the culture of the people around you, and that culture can – and already is – change everything about our conversations, our economy and eventually our world.
4. So that’s it!
Do I feel anxious going into 2022? Yeap. Deeply. But I grudgingly accept that agency is also the single best way to bust anxiety down, so with what I’ve got I’m gonna do my best to get up and stand for things that matter to me, and keep on supporting my community and the ones I love where and how I can. And when not doing that, I guess I’m gonna curl up and watch Pixar movies with a blanket and a hot chocolate, ‘cos that’s pretty nice too.