These times are strange but not unprecedented. Scientists have long warned about the possibility of a severe pandemic. We have already seen multiple outbreaks of similar viral contagions, those which have jumped from animals to humans – SARS, Ebola, MERS. Many researchers have been watching and waiting, as the destruction of the natural world wipes out the natural viral hosts. The virus in turn, makes the jump to humans.
A fifth of the world’s population has been placed under state interventions to limit social mobility. Governments are stepping in to prop up economies – critical systems of food and healthcare are being tested like no other moment in history. Globalisation, so reliant on materials, chemicals, production and sustenance delivered between countries, within tight time frames to maintain consumption. Coronavirus has not yet peaked, and already our supermarkets have bare shelves and healthcare workers are without the correct protection. This is not an equal model and in the UK we are lucky. Covid-19 has not yet penetrated deeply across Africa or India.
As we move forward during uncertain times, communities are reforming hyper-locally. Mutual aid groups have manifested organically street-by-street. Meetings are being organised and coordinated online, people are checking-in with neighbours and volunteers are building new activities to support the most vulnerable. This effort has been repeated nationally, with over 400k volunteers have signed up to support the NHS in 24 hrs.
Our environment too, is already improved. Air quality is instantly better, wildlife is creeping into urban spaces without humans. Spring is released and the normal taming of nature by pesticide, herbicide, mowing and chopping has been halted – it is free. Can our local living world seduce a now still population?
The future is open. We can choose how to rebuild the economy, valuing those who are currently providing the most essential infrastructure. We can create local food systems and employment through the redesign and improvements to homes, building and transport systems. By keeping our eyes on climate change, we can use this tragic disruption to reflect on how we can achieve pollution free, sociable, beautifully designed and healthy communities.
This is a warning shot. Life before and life after should be very different – we are all humans and ourselves dependent on the most intricately woven web of life. Our care and stewardship of the living world now, will reap rewards far into the future.