By Suzanne Orme March 28, 2020
If humanity is clever it will open its heart and mind to see the current global health crisis for what it really is. A chance to learn, grow and re-set.
COVID-19 is a symptom of a much bigger problem – the inherent unsustainability of the global production and consumption system. But it holds within it the seeds to transform civilisation in a way that will enable our species to survive, prosper and flourish for generations to come.
In Australia we’ve experienced prolonged drought culminating in catastrophic bushfires followed by floods, destructive storms and now, COVID-19. These events have been thrust upon us without warning, in rapid and shocking succession – all within the short space of 6 months.
Not far into 2020 humanity has found itself at a major crossroad. At this junction in history, heart-wrenching choices are being made and its agonising to read and see images of people in difficult and tragic circumstances. We’re all in this together, trying to navigate a safe passage through troubled waters.
But I’m optimistic and see a glimmer of hope that we are experiencing the first green shoots of global renewal. Everywhere, individuals and decision makers in business and government are rising to the occasion, going above and beyond what would be expected during business-as-usual. Government policy makers are listening and taking heed of the advice of health experts and scientists. Many people are quickly adapting to change, working and communicating differently on digital platforms.
There is solidarity. More often than not individuals and businesses are reaching out to support those in need as far as they are able. We are collectively drawing upon humanity’s deep roots of empathy – the foundation of civilisation that enabled communities of people to survive and flourish for thousands of years.
But lets be forewarned. At this point in history, the direction humanity chooses will seal its destiny along with millions of other species on the planet for centuries, perhaps forever. While COVID-19 is indeed an immediate and unprecedented health threat, we must not allow it to distract us from seeing the bigger picture and its interconnectedness with other human-created problems.
Roughly 80 per cent of viruses that infect humans have the ability to jump between humans and animals, according to a 2012 Lancetpaper and humans are increasingly pushing up against animals as our cities spread. As more land is cleared, and the environment altered, wild animals are increasingly forced into urban areas.
“Exposure to wildlife increases the chance of pandemics,” said Dr Sebastian Duchene, a virus evolution researcher based at the Doherty Institute. The speed at which these viruses emerge is increasing, according to the Lancet paper. Recent examples include HIV (chimpanzees), Ebola (bats), Nipah (pigs and bats) and H1N1 Influenza (pigs and birds).
So let’s not close our eyes to the rapid decline in biodiversity, clearing of forests and encroachment of humans into natural areas. And while efforts focus on dealing with COVID-19, let’s not ignore the dangerous stock of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This issue will not go away. Let’s not forget the gross inequity between and within nations, abuses of human rights and violence, particularly toward women and girls. These too are emergencies that require urgent and decisive action.
If we do see the big picture and are clever, new shoots will emerge from the devastation of COVID-19 – those that form the basis of a new economic system. There will be greater investment in initiatives that address the immediate health threat whilst simultaneously de-carbonising, circularising and re-localising the global economy – its health, transport, food, agricultural and manufacturing systems.
I’m convinced that the best way forward is not left or right wing and not middle of the road. It is free from political, economic and religious ideology and bias. It does not divide people or put them in boxes – it unites everyone in a common purpose. This approach calls on each and every one of us to allow ourselves to let go and be free of some tightly held beliefs and attitudes…if they no longer fit. Its time to change our hearts and minds.
The new way forward can’t be defined or categorised by pre-existing theories, labels and patterns of thought. Economic rationalism, for example, has merits and tempting arguments that draw us in, but it is abundantly clear that traditional economic theory contains flawed thinking that is forestalling action and hindering real progress. A well reasoned explanation of this can be found in the work of Kate Raworth and her inspiring book, Doughnut Economics.
People today are well informed and see through the mismatch between words, promises and action – the hypocrisy and ‘green wash’ of previous decades. And they are demanding that steps be taken to create a decent future. This is a society where all people are able to prosper and flourish, living healthy, fulfilling lives, engaged in meaningful work whilst protecting and restoring the biosphere – our life support system.
It is time for us to be brave and transform our society using the best ingenuity and creativity we can individually and collectively muster. People are eager, poised and hungry for it. The time is rife for each and every one of us to play his or her part in bringing this about. Including you. As Gandhi once said, “be the change you want to see in the world”.