The Good News About COVID-19

    A letter to the editor from 2020

    If it wasn’t for Adolf Hitler, I wouldn’t exist.

    My father’s parents met while serving in the RCAF during World War Two. They both worked in communications at an airbase in what was then considered “overseas”: in Gander, Dominion of Newfoundland.

    I bring this up to make the point that even out of the worse catastrophes imaginable, some good can come. And the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception.

    Amidst the barrage of bad news, some surprisingly positive developments stand out. Clearer canals in Venice, less smog over cities, and skies free of jet pollution. A boom in cycling, and cities making more room for bikes and pedestrians to get around safely. A sense of solidarity with your neighbours. People learning to grow their own food and bake their own bread. Backyard chickens now allowed in La PĂȘche. A turn towards local food and shorter supply chains, and away from the excesses of globalization. Telecommuting finally becoming not just tolerated, but encouraged. A deepening discussion about a basic income that would eradicate poverty. A radical reevaluation of how we run long term care homes. A reminder that an autonomous collection of businesses and consumers does not a society make; we need governments to see the big picture and steer us towards collective well being. And one country is not an island unto itself – many of the problems we face are global and nations must work together to solve them.

    In essence, much of the upside of this crisis stems from the need to shut down. In our hyper-charged culture, families are discovering the simple pleasures of spending more time together at home. I have heard from more than one parent about how their kids are now “best friends” and are getting along better than ever. And I have heard from adults who are breathing a sigh of relief during this enforced break. We all knew we were too busy, yet we seemed unable to stop. Too bad it took a killer virus to force us.

    In a way, the Earth has been asking us to stop for some time. It has 3.5 billion years of experience managing these funny little creatures that scurry around its surface, and many tools in its tool belt for reigning in species that upset the balance. You can imagine a group of advisors sitting around a control room in the centre of the Earth, talking about what to do about these rambunctious humans.

    “We tried smog, but they didn’t stop,” says one.

    “We gave them an ozone hole, and they dealt with that pretty well, but they still didn’t get the larger message,” says another.

    “I really thought climate change would get them to change,” says a third, “but they seem a slow study on that one.”

    “I know,” says the hawkish one in the corner. “Let’s send them a pandemic.”

    The others wince at the harshness of the treatment, but they know it’s necessary. “Maybe that will finally get their attention.”

    I’m in no way suggesting that the positive changes brought about by this pandemic make all the suffering people are currently experiencing around the world somehow “worth it”. But I do hope that when this virus is finally beaten, we emerge on the other side a little bit wiser, having witnessed first hand the kind of world possible when we slow down and simplify. I hope we take the lessons learned to heart: that everything is interconnected, and our strength lies in our ability to cooperate.

    We transmuted the cataclysm of WWII into a world order that has managed to avoid any further globe spanning wars, and it is my hope that we come out of this crisis with a better sense of how to live in harmony with each other and this dynamic Earth that is our one and only home.

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