Coronavirus is a warmup
While there are still people who say that the world is overreacting to Covid19¹, the majority of us are swept up in either the actions of our governments, the people around us and the voices in our heads.
Clearly, this is not a drill. It is the real thing, but is also a warm-up. A warm-up for what? There are a lot of opinions about this. I will cover two, and leave you with a positive one at the end.
The people who talk about this all being over reaction currently still have an argument. At the date of writing the known mortality from COVID19 is 8972 deaths in about three months. By contrast, mortality from snakebite over this period is likely to be about 20000, and 650000 from diarrhoea of which a high proportion were under 5 years of age. Compared to these figures COVID19 seems lightweight.
However, we are also seeing a pretty much 25% increase in cases per day in many affected areas. We can expect the mortality figures to go up pretty fast.
The difference is that we have become used to those other mortalities. They are slowly decreasing, and mostly ‘over there’. Personally I am not concerned that the country I live in will be flooded by Russell’s Vipers² sneaking onto planes. However, this is not the place to debate the strange maths by which we are concerned about some causes of mortality above others.³
COVID19 numbers are mounting. While I am fairly confident in my health I’ve seen the stats for older people. Without drastic action it’s likely not a question of if I will lose someone to this, but when, not whether, but whom.
Meanwhile, at international, national and personal scales we are feeling the economic pinch, or for many the economic crush.
Those countries with something like a national healthcare system who already have systems for sick pay in place have less bullshit to negotiate to take care of their citizens. Not that any country has got its response entirely right.
As supply chains are likely to be stretched. A new understanding of how interconnected we are globally is growing.
So what is this a warm-up for?
The obvious answer is future pandemics. The 1918 Spanish flu killed between 25–100 million people it passed one season in a mild form, then mutated and reaped young and old alike.
From the ‘next pandemic’ perspective, we are lucky that COVID19 while difficult to control from a contagion perspective is relatively treatable in most cases.
Given that this Coronavirus will have had a much larger pool of hosts than the previous outbreaks of SARs and Swine flu the chance of a jump in virulence is much higher than in other recent disease scares. This jump in virulence outcome is not guaranteed, but higher. So what happens now is a warm-up for that possibility.
The changes we make now could be a warm-up for something else too.
The immense mobilisation of resources that this pandemic has triggered is a sign that given the right kick, our systems will make changes.
Unlike the banking crash of 2008 this crisis was not created by the bizarre worship of economics. COVID19 may serve as an example of harnessing the economic system in the service of humans, rather than to prop up banks.
Those governments that screw it up will not be forgiven. If they let small and medium businesses collapse the resultant fallout will end them. They will have to use the powers to alter the agreed-upon fiction of “the economy” but for people and on an unprecedented scale.
What we see now can be a warm-up for action on the climate crisis. Excuse my use of the word warm in this context.
It is just such a change of focus that the climate crisis requires. The disruption we are experiencing now is a fraction of what is likely as temperatures rise, coastlines are remodelled by rising oceans and the ecosystems we depend on are thrown into adaptive chaos.
The economic arguments that reductions in CO2 will ‘cost too much’ will be contrasted with what we did to prevent the spread of COVID19.
The difficulties that we collectively face with COVID19 will for many of us underline how we are all in this together, that many global issues cannot be solved without both global cooperation and local action.
I want to believe that what will remain after this viral crisis passes will be an appreciation not just of the disruption that is just around the corner if we let global temperatures rise, but also that we can put things in place to avoid what could be the worst disaster in human history.
At present, the momentum of the world’s economy is reduced. This is an ideal time to push it in a new direction.
While you are self or socially isolated as well as bingeing online series⁵ there are plenty of other ways you can act. I have written some suggestions below. ⁶ In these times of anxiety, one way to remain sane is to focus on making your situation meaningful. I can think of nothing more meaningful than taking steps to restore a world biologically rich world stable enough for humans to thrive in, can you?
¹ Currently in the US the virus is spread extremely unevenly — some states are almost virus free, and I can imagine that in those places it’s easy to dismiss this all as another conspiracy, for now. For me, locked down in Paris while hospitals go into overwhelm it is a very different picture. On the day of writing (19th March) total US cases just overtook French cases, though France has 140 cases per million and the US 29 per million. This is likely to change in the next few days without social distancing measures. https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/
² Snakes aren’t really relevant, but I like them so I write about them, it’s a personal quirk. Russell’s vipers are responsible for more snakebite incidents and deaths than any other species, due to a mix of wide distribution, potent venom, sharing habitats with humans, excellent camouflage and getting stepped on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell%27s_viper
³ Not debating, but here are recent statistics (they do not differentiate how much cardiovascular mortality is related to air pollution) https://ourworldindata.org/causes-of-death#
⁴ I have also heard others saying it is the next step towards a hyper-controlling government system. I keep a small part of my mind open to paranoid possibilities, but overall it’s not where I want to put my energy.
⁵ No, I’m not offering series suggestions. I just want to say it can be disorienting to be stuck at home, and best intentions can slide. It has taken me a week to finish this article. Take care of yourself and don’t add unnecessary guilt to whatever else you may experience.
⁶ Things to do — this is a limited list. You may have other priorities and other ideas. I welcome your ideas in the comments.
- Educate yourself — pick an area of action that you can contribute to, learn about it. We still have internet, so use it.
2. Reach out and connect with others in the area you want to contribute to.
3. Put your house in order — my neighbours would probably not appreciate me doing noisy DIY right now, but perfect time to sort out the plants on the balcony. Permaculture your place! If you are lucky enough to have a garden even better.
4. We are seeing a first line of lobbying to protect jobs. Let’s start a second one to channel human energy into ecosystems restoration. There are all kinds of murmurs about variations on universal basic income to deal with widespread job losses. The human energy made available could go in any direction. How can we make it easier to go towards clean air, clean water, biodiversity, carbon sequestration etc.