I wish I could come up with something to write that could make you laugh. Or at least smile on this Earth Day holiday. Thirty days in, this Covid-19 pandemic and its subsequent Stay at Home order has us all grasping for humorous levity. Of course, a photo of a cute puppy or other animal might work:
Despite the pain and suffering, the worry and the fear, and the absolute unfairness this situation has caused, some of the news today makes me weirdly happy. The whole experience seems like a surreal campaign for reflection, for a change in perspective, and for a recognition of humanity and its need for simple, natural things. In short, Covid-19 has forced to the entire world to stop lying to itself.
Admittedly, it is hard not to succumb to the revengeful “I told you so,” especially if you are one of those people who did. Economists and epidemiologists and ecologists have all warned us to prepare for this. Regardless, now the unthinkable is here. As we move through the prophecy, let us use the past to visualize the future. Let us not only imagine how we will heal but how we will improve. The potential in that makes me grin.
For instance, a lot of the logic we trampled and ignored in the past is now glowing with appreciation. Closed restaurants prove that a person should know how to find and prepare food if he/she/they wants to eat. Buzzing households expose the benefits of mutual respect, common courtesy, shared responsibilities, and close family interaction. Washed hands associate cleanliness with sanitation. Less traffic illustrates how investments in technological advancements should reduce problems. Self sacrifice fuels a stronger connection to humanity. Limited consumption and shopping access reminds us to use and maintain what we already own. And closed entertainment and sport venues spark spontaneous creativity and competition and an appreciation for the talents and beautiful attractions that immediately surround each of us, things we otherwise miss. Finally, since there is nowhere else to be (at least for now), as the demands of everyday life dwindle, we are able to be content to take our time and remain in the moment for whatever task is at hand.
There are drastic, negative consequences, too. Those in poverty are suffering, as they almost always do. However, now, many at the top are poised to fall as well, yet they won’t accept their suffering so quietly. They will demand restitution. Large scale farmers, meat packers, power suppliers, travel companies, chemical manufacturers, and more will call for relief. They will make their case with payroll excuses, promising jobs, hording profits, socializing the costs.
Meanwhile, those who are small enough to employ, supply, and serve the local commonwealth will have to find resilience elsewhere. They will rely upon their customers, as they have always done, just as their loyal customers have relied upon them.
It remains to be seen how we evolve. Who will come out as winners in the aftermath, the behemoths or the benefactors? Will we still determine value by net worth or might we also recognize net contribution? Or will our ideas of success become gilded in gold while the labors of living depreciate again? The answers depend on whether or not we accept that ecology matters.
Ecology is a study that considers the interdependence of things. It deals with the relation between organisms and their environment or between people and institutions. As for the environment, Covid-19 exposed the ugly side effects of air pollution when it targeted our lungs. As for institutions, Covid-19 exposed the inflexibility of large scale farming distribution when it closed restaurants and schools and sent millions into their kitchens or bread lines.
I smile when I think that ecology might matter once again, that ecology will be considered in the healing. To think that office employees might work without a commute at least one day a week, that troubled school children might learn from home under a caregiver’s attentive eye, that legislators might count the true cost of pollution, that homemakers be valued for their work, that chefs start shopping in their neighbors’ fields, and that outdoor spaces, presently cherished for recreation and solitude, be protected from the construction of more stadiums, parking lots, and stores.
I live in a suburban setting. Walking the dog or some other cute companion through a natural space has become a staple of human existence. When there’s nothing left to do, at least we can go outside and stroll through a pretty scene. Imagine what life could be like if we all fought for the chance to take that walk, to protect that space, to make that time in the same way we, just 30 days ago, fought to get that job, to protect gross domestic product, to make the time to run someone else’s the rat race.
Ecology matters in the how this pandemic originated, how it spread, how it killed some and spared others, and how we survived the isolation and quarantine it caused. My greatest hope now is that it continues to matter in how move forward from here.
ps., If you were looking for one of those “Six Ways to Help the Earth” pieces for Earth Day, check this out.