The Corona era has facilitated a period of introspection and re-calibration of values and priority, micro to macro. In months or a year or two, the disease itself will recede and largely disappear, but its impact will resound for decades. Faced with danger and difficulty, isolation and time, we are taking stock and many of us have resolved to improve ourselves, post-corona.
Of all of Corona’s impacts, I believe that the most crucial to explore is the central role that nature plays in our lives. For much too long, the vast majority of mankind has been blind to our dependence on the natural world to the point where we have lost all touch with the importance of respecting and protecting our habitat.
It is commonly estimated that around 60 percent of the world’s population lives in urban centers. However, using updated parameters a report recently released by the European Commission estimates that 84 percent of us are urbanites. And even then, a vast number of rural dwellers are not truly connected to the land. Consequentially, almost everyone living off the earth’s air, water, food and other natural resources have almost zero mindfulness as to our ecosystem and the imperative of consideration and preservation of this most valuable resource. We eat packaged, processed foods, our home and work environments are industrialized, we travel in metal, manufactured devices. For most of us, the view from our glass windows is anything but green. In the rush of the day, how often do we pause to consider where all this stuff comes from and how its production and disposal impacts on our habitat?
So what has Corona got to do with the environment?
It is more than probable that wild animals sold at the Wuhan Huanan market in China are linked to the first cases of the coronavirus pandemic. Human infectious diseases in the recent past such as HIV-Aids, Ebola, Mers, Rift Valley fever, Sars and others, all crossed from animals to humans. In 2007 a study of the 2002-03 Sars outbreak concluded: “The presence of a large reservoir of Sars-CoV-like viruses in horseshoe bats, together with the culture of eating exotic mammals in southern China, is a time bomb.” These animals are transported over large distances, crammed together into cages, excreting pathogens. With people in large numbers in markets and in intimate contact with the animals, you have the perfect conditions for disease transference.
In addition, increasing encroachment into forest, jungle and other land expropriated by mankind for food production and habitation brings our species into closer contact with wild animals, increasing our exposure to these diseases.
I cannot help but wonder whether there was some natural antidote, vaccine or cure for Corona that we have rendered extinct by our behavior in the past century. I also cannot help but wonder if the virus is nature’s evolved method of fighting back against the massive devastation mankind has wreaked upon the planet.
Looking beyond these direct connections, this is the time for all of us, from the person-in-the-street to world leaders shaping the state of our future, to consider the conjoined relationship between nature and our kind. We have been given a loud and clear reminder that as much as our environment depends on us, our future existence depends on our environment.
Inger Andersen, executive director of the UN Environment Program, says “There are too many pressures on our natural systems and something has to give. We are intimately interconnected with nature, whether we like it or not. If we don’t take care of nature, we can’t take care of ourselves. As we hurtle towards a population of 10 billion people on this planet, we need to go into this future armed with nature as our strongest ally.” Certainly, pandemics are not the way to reduce damage to our eco-system but it is a fact that around the world, simultaneous with quarantine and the massive decrease in industrial activity, nitrogen dioxide and carbon dioxide levels have dropped drastically.
On the macro level, this crisis provides world’s leaders with an opportunity to review its values, make changes and shift convenient short-term policy toward difficult long-term environmental recovery.
On an individual basis, if we are committed to bequeathing the earth to our children and grandchildren as a viable living space we should all be thinking of adjusting our consumption and life-style behavior to a little less convenient, but a lot more eco-friendly. As Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks wrote recently, “I believe that we need to recover a sense of limits because, in our uncontrolled search for ever greater affluence, we are endangering the future of the planet and betraying our responsibility to generations not yet born.”
Just one example where changes in behavior may occur is in the frequency of business travel, which is a material polluter. For months now, regular travelers are discovering that while a Zoom meeting is not as comfortable as a face to face conference, the inconvenience is mitigated by the cost in time and money of flying from Tel Aviv to Los Angeles for the same meeting.
As we go forward we need to see nature as a partner to be cultivated, rather than a resource to be plundered. At this critical junction of our lives, while we contemplate our relationships with our families and friends, our attitude to faith and the future, we must also resolve to be kinder to our planet.