Not The End of the World

I’ve just come back from my first (cancelled) literary festival of the year due to you-know-what and have received notification that the second is also cancelled. I’m not holding out much hope for the third or fourth either. Annoying though it is, mine are minor problems compared with what some people are going through right now and will continue to endure for months. All doom and gloom? No. For a start, people in self-isolation will be reading more books! And then;

The planet gets a break. Oil use is plummeting and pollution has been recorded as clearing in both China and Italy.

Reduced pollution levels will save lives, perhaps as many as the virus will claim.

The sharp reduction in air travel is a massive planet-wide experiment. How will the lack of contrails affect the atmosphere? Will we learn how much they serve to deflect sunlight and how they have masked the true extent of global warming?

Travel habits might change, ultimately good news for local museums, craft shops and other attractions.

Our new fastidious cleaning and social distancing regimes will reduce the incidence of other illnesses such as seasonal flu. Lives will be saved. If better habits become ingrained, more lives will be saved in the future.

Many companies are being forced to ask staff to work from home or work flexibly. Some will find it has positive aspects and it will become a more widespread practice, with all the acknowledged benefits for both employee and employer.

Business travel has seized up and tele-conferencing and virtual meetings have taken over. If nothing else this saves money on travel and hours of management time wasted on trains, planes and waiting for connections. If businesses discover this works as a practical model for normal times too this is a win/win. With less business travel, the planet also wins.

Ideologies are irrelevant when humanity is under threat. The virus hits capitalists and communists, black and white, Arab and Jew alike. Our petty squabbles are thrown into sharp relief.

Local wins out over international and community spirit is rediscovered, as well as brilliantly biting humour in the face of crisis. Those posts harking back to the Blitz are reminding us of how we were once less selfish, less self-absorbed and more concerned about our neighbours and family. Loo-roll hoarders and sanitizer spivs are held in the same regard as the black marketeers of old.

Globalisation has taken a knock. ‘Just in time’ supply chains relying on cheap goods from China have been shown to be fragile. This should encourage companies and countries to be more resilient and think locally again. If consumers see what shortages really look like and get used to paying the real price for what they buy perhaps we will value things more and waste less.

Science has become mainstream again. They’re not just geeks in white coats – smart women and men who have devoted their lives to their disciplines are our defence against extinction.

We have rediscovered the value of international scientific co-operation. Let us not forget it.

Reasonable doubt and mathematical models are being hammered home daily, and it is to be hoped that people start to recognise the scientific method exists. Gut feel and ‘common sense’ are poor guides in a novel situation. Perhaps we will see more appreciation of the subtleties that underly complex issues such as climate change so these do not remain simply a battle between belief and denial.

Even the most diehard Tories are grateful we have an NHS in Britain. Coming out of the crisis we should see a reconfiguring of national priorities. On a purely practical level we will see which world health systems coped best with the emergency. There will be hard, indisputable, evidence as to how effective the NHS is and where it must be improved (rather than blindly chucking money at it based on sentiment and lobbying). “Lessons will be learned” across the world.

The Age of Stupid may come to an end. Can we now eliminate the denial of facts that don’t suit the dogma? The reckoning is here for world leaders who ignore science, maths, economics and the lessons of history. The devastation caused by this crisis may be the final, if costly, proof that Trump is unfit to lead the world’s most powerful nation.

Can we hope that certain Asian countries will stop decimating wildlife for ‘delicacies’ and ‘traditional medicine’ before a pangolin-meets-bat virus kills a billion people?

Perhaps we realise that this planet is not ours to do with what we will. Nature is more powerful than any government.

Finally despite this onslaught against humankind almost all of us will survive, and next time we will be better prepared. We are in this for the species;

“These germs of disease have taken toll of humanity since the beginning of things — taken toll of our prehuman ancestors since life began here. But by virtue of this natural selection of our kind we have developed resisting power; to no germs do we succumb without a struggle, and to many … our living frames are altogether immune… By the toll of a billion deaths man has bought his birthright of the Earth.” (H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds)

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