The sooner we understand a thing the better – it is silly to rant that we will defeat the virus. Yes, we feel like fawns watching out for a predator and are stupefied to realize that our guns/bombs/weapons do not function to kill it. The homework is to realize that the virus and us are part of the same system.
Homework is offcourse inevitably linked to the classroom. So I will dip for some time into memory space. There were only a handful of times when my mind did not wander out of the classroom and disappear into the blues. During one of those times, our professor was teaching us evolution. My mind had offcourse gone wandering but had fluttered back for a second or so to the classroom to sip lemon tea, when I noticed a picture in the presentation. What was Alice Through the Looking Glass doing in a class of evolution?
“Red Queen’s Hypothesis”, she said. Red Queen had explained to Alice what life was like in her country – “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run twice as fast as that”!
In evolution, the Red Queen Hypothesis states that species continually need to change to keep up with competition. Take for example, the relationship between a parasite and its host. Both are involved in an arms race with each other. The host has to evolve to become resistant to the parasite and parasite has to evolve ways to ‘outwit’ the host.
So do viruses. They evolve. Through mutation. Covid-19 is evolving as we speak which can render a potential vaccine defunct. Moreover, strains of virus can unite to produce lethal forms. And, most importantly a completely new virus could evolve to wipe us out completely. If trading and looting the natural world does not stop, they will put a full stop to our history. They will.
And here is the thing again – viruses – Covid and others – were, are and will be here to stay. Try as we may we will not be able to hit them for a sixer out into the galaxy. The Waugh twins of Australia were my favourite and I relished Mark Waugh’s artistry in batting by the way. Just heard that Cricket Australia was so hard hit by the financial crisis due to Covid-19 that it will run a skeleton operation for some time to come now. And that is what we have been reduced to – doing the minimum, cutting down business.
Let us get to the root of the problem instead of running around like headless chicken trying to cull the symptoms. The normal of ‘business-as-usual’ is not good for us. We are doing business by cutting the bark we are sitting on. The natural world is our best bet to survive and we cannot afford to do business with it. If we change and demand for change, our policy makers will have to implement them.
The critical message is that virus does not need to jump from animals to humans if enough animal hosts are present which is what happens inside intact forests. But when the gluttons among us cut, burn, slash the forests and imprison animals in stressful conditions, why wouldn’t it jump? Given that we are ‘sitting-duck-type’ hosts – flying, driving and shipping around the entire world to do business with the millions of us?
So Covid is a trailer for what is to come soon – our present day practice of isolation to the point of madness, crash, mayhem and death might or might not end too soon. But if we do not become good students and recognize what the natural world is telling us, we will not be told doomsday stories anymore. Doomsday will come and take us with it.
In its wake therefore, let us be a cow. Chill, I am only asking us to ruminate like one. Ruminate on the fact that hundreds and thousands of virus are lying dormant under the permafrost. With each melting sheet of ice (thanks to accelerating climate change cause by us), with each polar bear oh-so-sorry messages resurfacing without actual action, let us take a deep breath and remind ourselves how panicked we are to face the fact that the ‘enemy’ (predator?) is invisible and coming for our loved ones. Let us also face the fact – Covid is generous. Others might not be so. Watch on Youtube how devastating the Spanish flu was, what Anthrax did.
So next time a business man or somebody happily stable and settled in life gives you gyan – ‘development has to happen, what can you do about it?’ – wonk the person. With your words. Simple 😉
Now that politicians of the world are being trained to respond to an emergency situation, it is our job to see to it that they hold their concentration levels up and do the following – conservation (which is a societal decision), tackling climate change and safeguarding our natural resources.
Have you heard that the process of Environment Impact Assessment is going to be diluted and that all sorts of industries including those who spew toxic chemicals into the environment can walk away unscathed? Yes, this is happening in India and you and I need to speak up. That’s what intellectual and conscious beings are supposed to do – act upon hearing death knells.
If we heal our relationship with nature, we will be able to heal our relationship with each other. Social inequity could be addressed. As the philosopher Murray Bookchin said – ‘from humanization of nature to naturalization of human’. This is what we want. Our politicians need to be told and they need to safeguard our future, not play bodyguard to industries.
Lastly, people who expect lullaby articles from conservationists professing hope-sweet-hope for all, need to jump off the cliff now.
If we are not ready to accept that we are facing extinction, we will be made to. Covid is just the first of many such reminders.
And imagine this – your favourite writer, painter, director, player – the wonderful creations they made will die with us. I have no children and need not worry about our future generations but I lose sleep thinking that we will die as worthless cowards if we let the best of our creations fade into oblivion without doing anything about it. I also worry that in 30 years, I will be a senior citizen left all alone to fend against erratic climate and disastrous diseases. And I don’t want that to happen. I am sure you wouldn’t either.
To think of it, Covid has not even scratched the surface of what death feels like – when an orangutan is ripped off its family and home, when a dolphin kid shouts out madly for its mom only to lose its wails in the deafening sound of water vehicles, when a tribe living deep inside a forest is infected with our germs and die out.
Covid is doing a good job ringing the alarm bells – we either evolve or die.
Conservationist, ecologist, and writer, Tiasa works for Fishing Cats and wetlands in Odisha and West Bengal. She has received a number of awards and accolades for her conservation work including Nari Shakti Puruskar, 2015, the highest civilian award specific to women in India. She is the joint secretary of HEAL.