These are unusual times. Certainly the first quarantine / lockdown of my life, although it is well worth reaching back in time to understand the role of pandemics in human history.
The Bible references plagues (though I admit to not knowing where) and the bubonic (black) plague has echoed through centuries – it took 200 years for Europe’s population to recover. 100 years ago, the ‘Spanish flu’ (not from Spain) devastated populations and killed more people than the supposed ‘Great War’ it usurped.
As historic epidemics go, this coronavirus is not as severe – yet it is a tsunami when compared to seasonal flu. The actual death rate will surely be under 1% of those infected, but has proven catastrophic is some populations. This is arguably our first pandemic in a truly globalized world.
The virus (which incidentally has no idea we exist) is spreading quickly, but news spreads even faster. There will – and should – be all the appropriate stock-taking and finger-pointing toward those who failed their responsibilities to lead, yet these times are predictably unpredictable.
Economies have shut down. Hundreds of thousands have died – even if not tested or directly attributed to the illness. People have been trapped in their dwellings for weeks and even months, and those living in remittance-based economies (dependant upon foreign workers sending money home) are teetering on starvation.
In this reality, my personal situation is luxurious. I am home in a clean mountain town, with easy access to the outdoors and time with my family. My government has come through with support and our healthcare system in not overwhelmed. There are no bodies on the streets. Our leaders are not asking us to die for the economy.
Nonetheless, as a middle-aged person in this modern economy, absolutely all my work has dried up. I have lost roughly 50% of my rather conservative investments and my industry may take years to recover. We all have something to worry about. Despite my minor challenges, I cannot imagine the pain, fear and desperate stress of those in far more precarious situations.
The Internet has rendered ‘isolation’ farcical. We are connected all the time and I personally touch base with people in at least 5 countries every day! Not surprisingly, this apparent access to information has empowered the loonies and conspiracy types – rarely do I ‘unfriend’ people on social media, but the crazies are just so intolerable at this time. I do enjoy the small-government libertarian types immediately accepting government help.
Shockingly polluted air in Mexico’s central valleys
Stepping back and accepting our species allegiance, humanity needs to rally and provide for all those in need – this could be half of our world population. This is the right thing to do and reminds us of our shocking failures to date.
We can also step back and take a look at our home – Earth.
Mother Earth, Gaia, Pacha Mama – home is taking a much needed break. No, I do not believe in a sentient planet and I certainly do not believe in any God, but I am also clear there is no Planet B. This is our only option.
This little experiment of human lockdown has offered compelling evidence of the devastation caused by our industrial economy. In a matter of months, air quality has improved globally. The huge red smudges over China dissipated. Indian communities can see the Himalayas for the first time in decades, Lima is enjoying blue skies and green grass. Even here in the rich world, air is cleaner, animals are coming to visit and we can even sense seismic vibrations from across the planet (with the lack of transport noise). Los Angeles may be considered a clean city!
I do not offer this as some panacea, but rather a self-evident acknowledgement. When WE step back from driving, burning and generally consuming, this planet recovers. This is our home and we need to manage it well. We are the only species having this conversation and we are the only species empowered to end this home.
There is nowhere else for us 7+ billion people to live. There is no other life. This pause may prove to be a moment of recuperation and health. This is the time to step back and really measure our collective impact on the environment.
A little break from pollution is a good reminder of how we should take care of our home