Earth Day 2020

With the passing of an old classmate at noon and with another clinging to life tonight on a ventilator, I am particularly mindful on this Earth Day of life’s fragility, and of our tenuous place on this planet. How do you make sense of what is senseless? I am sad. I am angry. I am hopeful.

The Covid-19 virus did not occur in a vacuum. It is but the latest manifestation of the imbalance in our relationship with the natural world. While no one can be certain how the virus began, it is likely the result of human settlement pressing further into wild habitats. Epidemiologists tell us that unless we change that basic condition these pandemics will be increasingly frequent and more lives will needlessly be lost.

It is amazing how swiftly, effectively and selflessly the entire planet has acted in the face of this immediate crisis. We have shut down the world economy in order to protect our most vulnerable citizens.  While less immediate, climate change presents a far greater threat. And like the disease, it threatens the most vulnerable –in the case of climate change, the poor, and the unborn generations of children.

It is incomprehensible to me that we can react so effectively to the one threat and fail so utterly to address the other – as nations, as political parties, and in our own lives. With every new manifestation of our imbalance with nature, even after fifty years of warnings from our scientists, we continue to repeat the same pattern. We muddle through, adapt to the new normal, and go back to our busy lives. And each new normal is more compromised than the one that preceded it, until eventually we forget what the old normal was.

But something different is happening with this disease. Unlike a hurricane, or a killer heat wave, or a wave of climate refugees, nothing outdoors has been destroyed or disrupted. In fact, with no cars on the road, we can see the stars again. From our rear window we can see families spending time in their yards together again. We can see neighbor helping neighbor and communities really being communities. Paradoxically, in the midst of all the death and isolation, we are getting a tiny reminder of what the old normal was.

Could this be what it takes for us to finally break the cycle of unplanned wrenchings of our lives and of the world economy, of continual new normals, and finally take charge of our fate? Imagine if we redirect all those resources lost in reaction to every new crisis and decide instead to put them into a planned approach to achieve carbon neutrality. Far from saving a few hundred thousand lives, we might save humanity itself, and in the process return to a proper relationship with the natural world. Covid has taught us that we can act, and act effectively in the face of a threat. All we need is the will to do it.