Coronavirus is the voice of the Earth
By Dr. Satish Kumar, Editor Emeritus, Resurgence & Ecologist
What lessons can we learn from this crisis?
The year 2020 will be remembered as the year of Covid-19. The year of social distancing, lockdowns and staying indoors even when the sun was shining, flowers were flourishing, and birds were singing their sweet songs in the spring.
I took that time of “quarantine” or self-isolation as a blessing, a time for spiritual retreat and a time for reflection. I read Rumi and Hafiz, I read Shakespeare’s Sonnets. I read Rabindranath Tagore. I thought of the word, Quarantine, with its association with Lent and I also learnt that originally the word was referred to the period of forty days which Jesus Christ spent fasting in the desert. So, for me the time of quarantine became a time of inner solitude.
However, I was fully mindful of the reasons behind this and was sad to see so much suffering in the world. The whole world was engulfed in an unprecedented Coronavirus crisis. I am 84 and I have never experienced such a drastic and dreadful situation in my entire life.
It was more than being in a state of war. Wars are initiated by humans and can be controlled or ended by humans. But Coronavirus was a show of nature’s power and beyond human control. Modern humans believed that through science and technology we can conquer nature. But through Coronavirus, nature was speaking to us loud and clear that the talk of conquering nature is sheer human arrogance.
Human desire to conquer nature comes from the belief that humans are separate from nature and have superior powers. This dualistic thinking is at the root of our inability to deal with many of the natural upheavals, such as forest fires, floods and, in particular, climate change, global heating and pandemics like Covid-19. We seem to believe that one way or the other we will find technological solutions to subjugate nature and make her subservient of human dominance.
Rather than looking at the root causes of Coronavirus, the government’s, industrialists and scientists are looking for vaccines to suppress the symptoms. Vaccines may be a temporary solution, but we need to think and act more intelligently and more wisely. Rather than treating the symptoms we need to address the causes of this crisis.
In The Guardian of the 26th of March Laura Spinney a science writer asks, “why the emergence of human infections of animal origin have accelerated in recent decades?” And answering her own question she says that “the forces putting those viruses in our path are political and economic. They have to do with the rise of industrial-scale farming and the resulting marginalisation of millions of small holder farmers. They have been forced closer to uncultivable zones such as forests, where bats - reservoirs for Coronavirus - lurk”.
If we were to address the causes of Coronavirus, rather than simply the symptoms, we will need to return to ecologically regenerative agriculture; to human-scale, local, low carbon and organic methods of farming. Food is not a commodity. Farming should not be motivated by financial profits. The purpose of farming is to feed people with healthy food. Money is only a means to an end. The end goal of agriculture is to produce nutritious food without depleting the health of the soil. farming for profit, or for making money directly or indirectly causes Coronavirus!
In order to address the causes of the Covid crisis we will need to learn to live in harmony with nature and within the laws of nature. Humans are as much a part of nature as any other form of life. Therefore, living in harmony with nature is the urgent imperative of our time and the very first lesson we, humans, collectively, need to learn from the crisis of Coronavirus.
The second lesson to learn is that all human actions have consequences. In the past hundred years human activities have been the cause of diminishing biodiversity, increasing carbon emissions and producing greenhouse gases which is causing climate change. Due to human activities the oceans are polluted by plastic, the soil is poisoned with artificial chemicals and the rainforest are disappearing at an unprecedented speed. All these negative human activities are bound to result in some disastrous consequences, such as Coronavirus in the short term and global warming and climate change in the long term.
Through the Coronavirus crisis nature is trying to send a strong message. It is a wake-up call, a call to remind us that we cannot go on producing pollution and waste for ever thinking that there are no consequences of our activities.
The modern human civilisation has inflicted untold suffering and damage on nature. Now we are harvesting the consequences. We must accept the consequences of our actions and change. We must move on to build a new paradigm. If we wish to restore health to people then we have to restore health to our precious planet Earth. Healing people and healing nature is one and the same thing. So, we need to do everything for healing the Earth. only the positive actions will bring positive outcomes. This is the law of ‘Karma’.
The trinity of Market, Money and Materialism has ruled the modern mind for far too long. Now is the time when we need to slow down and with humility listen to the voice of nature, the voice of the Earth. We need to replace this old trinity with a new trinity; the trinity of Soil, Soul and Society.
Nature is kind and generous, benign and caring. In nature everything passes. So in the long term humanity need to respond to this crisis positively and use it as an opportunity to redesign our agriculture, our economy, our political systems and our way of life. We need to learn to respect the place of wilderness. We need to learn to celebrate the abundant beauty and diversity of life. We need to realise that humans are an integral part of nature. So, what we do to nature we do to ourselves. We are all totally interconnected and interrelated. We depend on each other. We are members of one Earth community and one Earth family.
If this kind of understanding, this world view, was to become an integral part of our consciousness and an organising principle of the mainstream society then we will have different priorities and different set of values. In place of economic growth at all costs we will pursue the growth in wellbeing of people and the planet earth.
Going back to business as usual, after Covid-19, should not be an option. Before the pandemic of Coronavirus society has been gripped by the pandemic of greed-virus. And due to greed-virus forests have been dying from clear cutting to make way for industrial farming, lakes and rivers have been dying from pollution, species have been dying due to loss of natural habitat, children have been dying due to malnutrition, the poor have been dying in slums due to hunger, war victims have been dying in refugee camps. All these deaths and destruction have been the consequence of the greed-virus.
In The Guardian of 27th of March poet and novelist Ben Okri wrote, “the real tragedy would be if we came through this pandemic without changing for the better. It would be as if all those deaths, all that suffering would mean nothing.”
A crisis is also an opportunity. In the evolutionary process of nature there have been many Crises. Life has evolved through struggles over a long period of geological time. Who knows, maybe this painful pandemic of Coronavirus came to give birth to a new consciousness, a consciousness of unity of life, a consciousness of caring and sharing, a consciousness of love.
We have already seen some wonderful signs of this New consciousness. The way doctors and nurses have put themselves in harms-way to serve the victims of virus is a shining example of selfless service. hundreds of thousands of ordinary people have volunteered to help the National Health Service. And countless number of helpers in local communities have been caring for the old and sick. Even the British Government suspended all fiscal rules to help individuals, communities, charities and businesses. There has been an outpouring of solidarity, generosity, mutuality and reciprocity. We have experienced a sense of deep belonging, profound gratitude and unconditional love from all sides.
Russians were sending planeloads medical equipment to Italy. Chinese were doing the same to Serbia. Many animosities have been forgotten. Nations are cooperating, helping and supporting each other, rather than competing and fighting each other.
If these spiritual qualities can be practiced in abnormal times then why not in normal times? If we cooperate and collaborate, love and respect in normal times the abnormal conditions are less likely to occur.
In addition to this outpouring of human spirit we have also seen the reduction of pollution and the recovery of the natural environment. Dolphins have been spotted in the canals of Venice and clear blue sky has been experienced over the cities of Bombay and Beijing. The carbon emissions have gone down and people are able to breathe pure air again. If we can have good environment in abnormal times why not in normal times?
Can we dare to hope that individuals, communities and countries will learn to love each other, look after their environment and create a new world order after this dreadful Covid Crisis has passed? As the Indian novelist Arundhati Roy says: “Historically pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. Covid-19 is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.”
Dr. Satish Kumar is the author of Elegant Simplicity, which is available from www.resurgence.org/shop