Well, it appears that the world turned upside down since the last issue. I’m sure we are all amazed at how quickly and how completely things can change due to the presence of something that most of us have as yet to personally see any evidence of—a mighty civilization laid low by the tiniest and simplest life form. Some of you are disproportionately impacted by loss of income and/or extra family duties. Everybody is impacted by fear of a mortal threat, and all of our routines have been suspended for the indeterminate future.
I’ve often thought that what we needed to stop the destructive juggernaut of our society was a massive and prolonged brownout (partial failure of the electric grid) to give all of us a “timeout” to stop and think about what we are doing to ourselves and the planet. This pandemic has done this much more thoroughly than anything I could imagine. I don’t mean to discount the great pain and loss this pandemic will cause, but I do want to make a little lemonade out of the lemons. Considering the axiom, “every crisis is an opportunity,” I’d like to talk about some reflections I’ve heard concerning both the origins of the pandemic and the opportunities it presents.
Because of this virus, the wealthiest person in the world knows that their life could depend on the welfare of the very poorest. Nothing like a pandemic to make it clear that we are all in this together. If we learn only that lesson, we will have progressed mightily.
In an interview yesterday, Dr. Michele Barry, a disease expert from Stanford, related this pandemic to the climate crisis. She was looking at this holistically, as we should view all life systems. That means that any change in one element will have reverberations in all others. Dr. Barry noted that often these novel viruses arise from imbalance in the ecosystem. Things such as human land use, deforestation, habitat destruction, and human waste deposits bring animals in closer proximity to humans, and natural checks and balances in ecosystems are upset. As a result, previously harmless pathogens pass over to other species and become deadly.
In this light, we can see this virus as yet another indication, along with population growth, energy use, resource extraction, the climate emergency, etc., that we humans need to fundamentally change our institutions, philosophy, and lifestyle. The virus is much more than an indication; it is nature itself directly attempting to right the imbalance we have caused. Whenever a species has overstepped its boundaries, nature brings about a die-back, either by starvation, predation, or disease. Dr. Barry was implying that viruses will remain a feature of our world until we create a paradigm of human culture that lives in balance with the rest of nature. Mind your Mother!
This brings me to considering the opportunities. For fifty years, we have been trying to alter our behavior. Surely, if this pandemic doesn’t get our attention, nothing will. When people all over the world are immobilized, we have time to think about what is really important. We have a chance to see that many things we thought were essential to our happiness really aren’t and may even have been contributing to manic escape in many, mostly detrimental, forms. Economist Ken Roggoff said recently that many of the non-essential industries that have been idled by the pandemic may not be revived, because we will have dialed back our needs. Maybe it will be the beginning of a static state economy and an authentic address of the climate emergency.
Another advantage to being cut off from our supply lines, besides learning to do without, is learning to be more self-reliant and resourceful. When we have a lot of time on our hands because we aren’t commuting and can’t attend social activities, we might decide to use our noodle and invent or fabricate something in our shop or kitchen. I’ll admit not everything can be made at home, but every improvisation will make you and our community stronger and safer. We can also use our time to help all those in our community that need a hand. Improvise!
Lastly, we need to be more food self-sufficient, not just because of the pandemic, but also because of the many other dangers in our world that require our resilience. If you don’t have a garden, put one in if you have the space. If not, you can still fill a couple planters. You’d be surprised at how much food you can grow in a small space. You can rely completely on the safety of the food you grow yourself. Even so, get take-out food once in a while from one of our restaurants so that they are still there when we can come out again.
The book study group I announced last week to start on Mar. 30 at the Land Trust is cancelled. The book, Climate: A New Story by Charles Eisentstein, is worth the read, and I recommend it, even though we have postponed the study group. Let’s be our best and come through this together.