Over the last few weeks and months governments around the world have placed an unprecedented demand on humanity. Could this routine-shattering response to COVID-19 help us to rediscover ourselves?
In the face of COVID-19, we have swiftly adapted to a new normality that will preserve our healthcare systems and most importantly save lives. Acting with compassion and integrity, the majority have painstakingly heeded the request and are staying at home. Although morally we know this is right the thing to do, the act of distancing oneself from society, our loved ones and routine poses a great challenge.
Collectively we are all facing extraordinary times characterised by economic and social uncertainty now and for the future. For some of us, we have already experienced immense hardship and adversity from loss of loved ones to a sudden lack of employment. Individuals who are vulnerable are isolating to protect themselves from a new and unpredictable virus whilst others who live alone are facing a significant period of loneliness.
For many of us who are not working on the proverbial frontline, our work and social routines have been disrupted for the foreseeable future. The pace of life has drastically altered, leaving us with what feels like an abundance of time. The prospect can feel daunting, yet this newfound daily simplicity could offer a period of space and reflection which is long overdue.
The overwhelming solitude we are all going through has possibly opened up an opportunity to reconnect with who we really are and what has defined the human species for the majority of our history.
The throes of modernity and the structures of our urban and agricultural industries have dominated human life for over 10,000 years. Yuval Noah Harari defines modern life as a ‘blink of an eye’ compared with the tens of thousands of years Homo Sapiens lived as ancient hunter gatherers, a ‘world we subconsciously still inhabit.’ (Harari, 2011)
Urbanisation provides a myriad of benefits and resources that ensure a life of convenience and longevity, yet more often than not it can also make us feel ‘alienated, depressed and pressured.’ (Harari, 2011) Industry and technology have proliferated exponentially within the last 200 years; however, it has also removed us from fundamental aspects of our humanity.
Harari argues that in many ways our ancient predecessors led a ‘comfortable and rewarding lifestyle’ (Harari, 2011) compared with the agricultural and industrial labourers of the future. It is thought close relationships and a sense of community were a focal point of the forager way of life along with a deep and profound connection with the natural world unrivalled by that of modern day sapiens.
The intensity with which our ancient predecessors understood their bodies, senses and environment was essential to their survival and identity. Animism is thought to have been their core belief system, the idea that every natural entity (from animals, plants and places) has feeling and awareness. Animism places little importance on hierarchical structures and perpetuates a world where everything is connected and no one living thing takes priority over another.
In today’s society, the world of work and material resources take ultimate precedence. Our urban lifestyle lends itself to the misconception that we are totally exempt from the consequences of the natural world. It falsely propagates the illusion that natural resources are endless and that the world solely exists to meet human demand. We may not rely on nature in the same way as our ancient predecessors, yet it is fundamentally wrong to assume we don’t need a healthy planet to survive.
COVID– 19 is a stark example of how human activity blindly pushes the world (and people) to its ecological limits. As the global population is expected to hit a colossal 9.7 billion by 2050 we continue to place excessive and unrealistic expectations on our natural world. Currently human activity is responsible for 75% of land degradation forcing wildlife in to smaller spaces. Industrial farming, deforestation, urbanisation, illegal wildlife trade and wet markets cause people to cross over into wild places increasing the risk of zoonotic disease such as Corona Virus.
The UN Environmental Chief Inger Andersen warns that although we are witnessing nature ‘bouncing back’ this is only a temporary reality. To truly save our natural world for the long-term Andersen urges for a ‘profound, systematic shift to a more sustainable economy that works for both people and planet.’ (Andersen, 2020) The planet deserves the same ‘war time’ response to the climate crisis as we’ve seen with COVID-19.
As the world goes into lockdown we have been given a rare opportunity to reflect and reconnect with our humanity and with that, the natural world. COVID-19 is nature’s way of biting back, showing us how crucial a healthy environment is to our existence.
As with ancient hunter gatherers our innate identity is to exist in a harmonious relationship with the natural world. Rather than be at the mercy of modern expectations, human beings have evolved to live moment by moment, to cherish and appreciate each other and our communities and establish a deep mindful intelligence within ourselves.
Out of this crisis we could well see a cultural shift, a chance to remember who we are and establish a way of life that is true to ourselves and our planet.
- Harari, Y N. (2011) Sapiens A Brief History of Humankind London: Vintage Books.
- United Nations: Department of Economic and Social Affairs (2019) Growing at a slower pace, world population is expected to reach 9.7 billion in 2050 and could peak at nearly 11 billion around 2100 [blog]. 17 June. Available from: https://www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/population/world-population-prospects-2019.html
- National Geographic (2018) 75% of the Earth’s Land Areas are Degraded [blog]. 26 March. Available from: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2018/03/ipbes-land-degradation-environmental-damage-report-spd/
- Spinney, L. (2020) Is factory farming to blame for coronavirus?. The Guardian, 28 March. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/28/is-factory-farming-to-blame-for-coronavirus
- UN News (2020) First Person: COVID-19 is not a silver lining for the climate, says UN Environment chief [blog] 5 April. Available from: https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/04/1061082