from Tundi Agardy, Sound Seas:
April 24, 2020
I’m grateful to be able to consider this question, and optimistic about the answer. I see real potential for a reset and our ability to live more deliberately after the crisis. For me, the key word is ‘we’. We can come out of this not as a haphazard collection of ‘me’s, but as a true ‘we’: an interconnected set of lives — human and nonhuman — together creating a better future.
Imagine the opportunity this crisis presents for us to think about who we are, collectively, and to shape the best possible future for us all — among our families, through the generations now living and yet to come, from community to community, and across all landscapes and seascapes that together create the planet we call home. To get to a good place on the other side of this crisis, we ought to identify the linkages that connect us all, acknowledge them, strengthen them, and build on them.
The past decades have had us on a reductionist path, turning increasingly inward, me-obsessed, caring less and less about who we are and how we contribute and instead more and more about how we appear to the outside world, separate from it instead of actively engaged in it. The shallowness of celebrity worship, the desire to be ‘liked’, the loss of big picture thinkers, the growing chasm separating haves and have-nots, has all resulted in disconnection, stress, and ultimately a kind of self-induced morbidity that we didn’t see coming.
We’ve now been jolted awake. Environmentalists point out that we now have a chance to tackle the climate crisis with the same ferocity that we’ve applied to battling Covid-19. But jumping from one war to another will only result in us missing the boat, driven by the same individualistic impulse; each of us rising to the occasion to confront something we worry threatens us personally. We seem to only want to take action and make sacrifices if we think we personally are in danger, whether from warming, or droughts, or freakish storms, or massive flooding. Carbon emissions are making the planet sicker and putting us at risk, but so too are the other externalities of our self-obsessed, greed-driven, high consuming cultures. We should tackle climate change with the same sober, coordinated response we’ve had to Covid-19, but we shouldn’t stop there, and declare victory. Our connections will continue to unravel, even in the unlikely case we win this war or that.
It’s time to shove narcissistic self-preservation aside. We will all be better off, materially and emotionally, if we think long range about how best to preserve the entire web of life. In the process we will be creating strong families, resilient societies, healthy ecosystems, and a well-functioning planet. We can start by getting back to basics and zooming in on the linkages we’re weakening, day by day. The seas connect all things — so a focus on ocean health and our reliance on it is a great springboard to a better future.
Pathogens will never go away, and this pandemic will not be last, nor the worst. If we want to avoid massive losses and economic collapses each time we encounter a new disease agent, we have to do everything in our power to be as strong and healthy as we can possibly be. Instead of rolling back environmental regulations, as our horribly wrong-headed US administration has been doing, we need to double down on environmental protection. At the same time we should make serious investments in ecosystem restoration — which would create lots of well-paying jobs and lead to ample dividends in terms of natural disease control and improved human wellbeing. Let’s focus more on public health than on our individual health (though being as healthy as possible makes each of us contribute to the good public health). Let’s tackle wealth, health, and education disparities — not by doling out money we don’t have and creating deficits by borrowing from our children’s future, but by investing — long term — in evening out the paying field and strengthening connections across societies. Let’s ramp up science, and disseminate scientific information instead of falsehoods and propaganda. Let’s imagine the future we want, really taking the time to consider the consequences of our actions and the way each of us lives our lives. Let’s seize the reset and, after this long period of forced isolation, let’s reconnect to each other and to nature in such a way that no disaster will ever be able to render us apart again.