Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –
Covid, Climate and the Systems View of Life
In the course of a year the Covid-19 pandemic has infected 100,000,000 people, killed over two million, led to a massive increase in the number of people suffering acute anxiety and mental health problems and reduced incomes worldwide.. (*1) The latter has had a crushing effect on those who at the best of times find it a struggle to live. According to the IMF Covid-19 has cost the global economy, as of October 2020, £21.5 trillion, which translates into a considerable loss of money to public services.
Another cost is the curtailment on people living their life to the full as in not been able to take part in cultural and sporting events, socialise, form friendships, exchange and test ideas and provide each other with emotional sustenance. School pupils, college and university students are an example of a set of people whose education and personal development has been negatively impacted by the necessary health restrictions.
In spite of the social visibility of the virus there is a difficult to calculate but sizeable number of people who believe it is a hoax contrived and disseminated by unnamed powerful individuals to increase their level of control over people’s lives. Credence to this perspective appears to be on the basis of emotionally identifying with the source, rather than on critical assessment. Perspectives that have no basis in science act as a vector for the virus as they reduce caution.
There is another group of people who in the spirit of libertarianism say they won’t be told what to do and therefore, regardless of whether they believe Covid-19 exists or not, don’t follow the health guidelines and say they won’t be vaccinated. People with these mindsets turned out in high numbers at Donald Trump’s presidential rallies and some have protested outside Downing Street, on the streets of Dublin and Belfast, the Netherlands, Denmark and Spain.
Whatever reason people have for not believing that Covid-19 exists, or abiding by the health guidelines, it is critically important that they are persuaded that the virus is as real as the sun in the sky if it is to be eliminated. This is because the pandemic shows that we are not, as libertarians believe, discrete autonomous individuals who can behave as we like but rather are part of a symbiotic community.
Our interconnectedness pertain to an even greater catastrophe than Covid-19 which is our ruination of the biosphere through global warming, deforestation, the building of mega dams, our poisoning of the air, water and soil to mention a few of the environmental harms we exacerbate by the day. To take just one harm caused by our reckless regard for nonhuman nature, 8.8 million people die prematurely every year due to outdoor air pollution, a death rate that far exceeds that of Covid-19. (*2) Indoor air pollution also takes a heavy toll.
Covid-19 provides the world with what one hopes is not too late a reminder that individualism, long considered by western societies as a desirable character trait, is counter to the common good unless imbued with a strong sense of community responsibility underpinned by an understanding of the systems view of life. This view holds that all things are connected, share a common interest and that we, for good or ill, affect each other. It means, as Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi write in the preface to their book on the subject, “thinking in terms of relationships, patterns and context.” (*3)
Individualism is on display in ordinary every day events such as when a farmer, thinking that they can do what they like with the land they are custodians of, digs up a mature hedgerow and sets it alight. When this happens harm is caused to neighbours and passers-by who breathe in the toxic smoke and the survival prospects of innumerable creatures is undermined through the loss of habitat. There is also a cultural and aesthetic loss. People who litter may tell themselves that they have a right to behave as they want to blithely ignore the fact that they are harming the bio-community and the livelihood of farmers whose cattle and sheep are liable to swallow what they have scattered around them or thrown out of a vehicle window.
In spite of errors of judgement and decades of ignoring scientific evidence of the strong likelihood of a pandemic, governments who are acting with great urgency to address Covid-19 are to be commended. However, unless they imbue the cultural milieu through public education programmes with a systems view of life, pandemics will reoccur, the climate will continue to get warmer, air pollution along with other environmental woes will get worse and as the research shows we will by century’s end be living on a planet that is unable to provide for human need or support other life-forms. (*4) Thankfully it is not too late to adopt a systems mindset and in doing so make the world a better one for everyone to live in.
(*1) The Mental Health Pandemic, Patrick Freyne, The Irish Times Weekend Review, 23 January 2021.
(*2) Damian Carrington, Air pollution deaths are double previous estimates, finds research, Guardian, 12 March 2019.
(*3.) Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luigi, The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision, 2014, Cambridge University Press.
(4*) Increase the discoverability of your research, Conservation Science, 13 January 2021.