How the world has changed in a month! A threat that will probably see millions of people die across the world has mobilised an extreme and rapid change in many places as they attempt to slow the spread of the disease. Rumour has it that even my father has learnt the noble art of hand washing after 83 years of refusing to accept its existence.
I’m sure the measures will reduce the death toll but there are two key questions for me:
- While a predicted 40 million death toll is significant, the death toll of extinction is, um, a little higher so why has there been so little action to tackle the twin threats of climate change and biobreakdown?
- What is Nature’s role in all this?
I will ignore the conspiracy theorists claims about the origin of the virus. Novel viruses have always spring up and some have been more deadly than others. Viruses are a rapidly mutating life form and most of us have lived through threats over the years, HIV, Swine flu, Bird Flu. My grandparents lived through the 1920 Spanish Flu which was far worse than COVID (50 million deaths out of a world population of 2 billion compared to an estimated worse case of 40 million of a population of 7 billion). That is not to underplay the tragedy of the deaths of individuals, my own parents are at high risk and I have good younger friends in that category too.
Nature is dynamic and viruses are part of Her, just as we are. Viruses don’t intend to kill their hosts, that would not be helpful to the virus which needs live hosts to survive. They are as much a part of life as we are and they do far less damage than humans. They are not ‘evil’, even if evil even exists, but they cause trouble in the right (or wrong) conditions. Conditions of social concentrations of people, high air pollution and in smokers, high numbers of more frail people and so on.
Our way of life leads to the conditions that make viruses, such as COVID, more problematic. It is that way of life that is being rightly reversed in the lockdowns.
Air pollution has dropped dramatically. Roads are almost car free with about a 95% reduction in traffic where I live. People are considering what are the most important jobs that society needs. Of course health care is important but suddenly the role of the supermarket worker and agricultural labourer are even more important. Food trumps health care in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
Governments are even trashing their economies in the face of COVID.
An immediate visible threat, particularly to wealthy individuals, prompts action. A more gradual threat such as climate change does not hit the psychological trigger point for change. Health psychology suggests that people’s behavioural change often requires a trigger, advice and knowledge are rarely enough.
So the twin threat of climate change and biobreakdown remain. They could benefit from a 95% reduction in cars. A ceasing of endless holidays abroad. a focus on real need rather than greed.
Let us hope that the thoughts prompted by COVID leave a lasting legacy in the minds of people, one that re-evaluates priorities.