There are moments in life that are etched into our memories forever. The world grinding to a halt to help slow the spread of Covid-19 is undoubtedly going to be one such moment, and it is precisely moments like these which change how we think about the world and about our place in it.
It is easy to feel invincible in a modern society in which we live longer than ever before and yet, despite all of the technological advancements of the last century, we are still powerless to prevent floods, fires, earthquakes and viruses.
What is now clear is that the story of Covid-19 is a story of humanity’s ever-encroaching relationship with all other living things on this planet. We have to do more. It’s not enough to sit back and watch. We must be proactive.
In an article in The New York Times in 2012, environmental journalist Jim Robbins wrote about a developing model of infectious disease that shows most epidemics are a result of things that we do to nature. Robbins wrote, if we fail to understand and take care of the natural world, it can cause a breakdown of these systems and come back to haunt us in ways we know little about.”
In the case of Covid-19, the virus is thought to have originated at a wild animal market in Wuhan, China, where it may have made the leap from bats to pangolins (a small species of mammal) to humans.
As we push into increasingly remote places to extract oil, gas, minerals and trees, we come into contact with new species and drastically increase the likelihood of the emergence of new diseases. A warming world is also linked to an increase in the spread of disease.
In a recent article in The New York Times, February 2020, Peter Daszak, a disease ecologist argues that as the world struggles to respond to Covid-19, we risk missing the big picture, writing, “pandemics are on the rise, and we need to contain the process that drives them, not just the individual diseases. Plagues are not only part of our culture; they are caused by it.”
There is no doubt that unprecedented road building, deforestation, land clearing and agricultural development, as well as globalised travel and trade, make us increasingly susceptible to pathogens like corona viruses.
While it is easy to concentrate on the constant stream of bad news there is a much larger opportunity to transform the way we think about our place in the world as one of the many living creatures that inhabit this planet.
As human activity wanes, due to the global lockdown we are seeing the natural world react to the slow-down in all sorts of ways: deer wandering the streets of Japan, fish returning to the canals in Venice canals and greatly improved air quality worldwide.
Not only are these reminders of the impact humans have on the world but also of the natural world’s ability to rebound and our ability to change our behaviour when we absolutely must.
Much has been written about what this all says about our ability to fight climate change, but a temporary decline in greenhouse gas emissions because of the virus doesn’t tell us much about whether this pandemic will bring lasting behavioural changes. We must think about the world after Covid-19 and start changing our choices to fit in with the natural world.
We as individuals must share responsibility and take stock of the simple things and re-adjust our priorities moving forward. Change is possible. Moving back into our lives, post lock down, politicians must have measures in place, we must change our lives for us to save the natural world. They need our help. We must all work together.
The pandemic will leave an enduring mark on all of us as we contemplate the fragility of life, the cracks in our globalized economy, our inter-connectedness with all living things and, ultimately, our ability to see a future different from the status quo.