15 March 2020
Some of you might know that I recently came back to Namibia for a few weeks to be
with my friends and family. When I arrived back in Mexico a few days ago, after many
connecting flights, I came down with a simple and mild cold. I had been privy to many
discussions about COVID-19, the novel coronavirus strain, over the past couple
months, but it was only recently that I saw how important it was to take it
Here I was back in a country where my language ability is limited,
I am without my support structure, and there is a stigma involved in having it
(especially with massive media attention and not enough knowledge about it among the population). Oh, how easy it would be to just go on
with my life, go to work, see my friends, and get back into the swing of things
here in Mexico. So the first few days I did. I mean, doubtful that this "common cold" is due to the coronavirus. After all, I was not coming from
Europe, and Africa and the USA had not really had many cases. Little did I know
that for the US especially, there had been massive underreporting
reasons, mostly economic). When I had some chest pain and slight breathing
difficulty (and the onset of a slight fever) yesterday I had to make the hard
choice. And it dawned on me. What is in fact the right thing to do? The right
thing to do is to make sure not to infect anyone.
So that is how I should go
about it. Now there are two choices in doing this. I could quarantine myself in my house for a minimum of 15 days, or I
could go get tested. This decision depended on the level to which the health
facilities here in Mazatlan, where I live, were already overburdened, or not. See, if all of
us at once rock up at a health facility demanding to get tested, it would
overburden the system, create unnecessary stress and even potentially spread the disease further. I
am a healthy young woman generally, so I am not a priority. I could easily
bunker down in my apartment and survive through it. The statistics show me
that. However, this would be more than two weeks of quarantine. Could I afford
this level of quarantine if I do not have it? Now the pandemic had not spread into Mazatlan
yet – people were business-as-usual. So I knew that the system was not overburdened...yet. So I had a dear friend call around for me to find out what
the most efficient and safe way was to get tested. And so she ended up picking
me up and driving me to the hospital. No contact other than me in my mask sitting
next to her in the car. She went into the hospital and they cleared a hallway while I waited in the car, and then let me pass into their isolation room, where they spent the next five hours
doing tests on me. My blood work was perfectly fine – I was otherwise healthy.
Then the actual saliva and nasal test. It would take 48 hours for those results to come back. Luckily, Mexico has a
protocol in place. In cases where the individual is otherwise healthy, they get
sent back to their home and quarantined. (Most of us, if infected, will fall into this category.) And the hospital is supposed to call every day to see what
symptoms arise to assess next steps. Those struggling with high fever and other
more dangerous issues are quarantined in hospital, some on ventilators. So, I
am back home, and confined to the walls of my apartment until the results come
back. If I am positive, I stay in doors for another 8 days. If I am negative, I
am free to get over my cold/flu without quarantine. What was important was that I make sure not to infect anyone else - the biggest regret I have was that I did not do this sooner. I will be fine either way.
If I have it, my main power and responsibility is to contain it as best I can.
The situation in the hospital made me think about my decision to get tested versus quarantining myself at my own volition. It
took five hours, and generally the staff were unprepared for my arrival. They
had only one small room with one bed. Of course, most Mexicans are under the
public and national health system that offers many other solutions, but still.
Imagine 100 people arrived there at once? I am sure in Namibia we will be
equally strained with service capacity given our overall budget limitations. I
think in the event of it spreading further (and it will) my advice to anyone would
be to ask yourself where you fit in in the current demographic. If you appear
to have some symptoms but are otherwise healthy, and can afford to stay in your
house, then do this, and do not overburden the system. Even if you do not have
symptoms, minimize your social interaction as much as possible in the coming
weeks. It is too late to stop the coronavirus from entering your town, but you
can help stop its spread, and you can help stop the burden on the services that
are put in place to save lives and maintain social support structures. Social distancing is key right now. Buy only what you need, do not go hord things off the shelves. Remember, you will be taking resources from other people, and this behaviour will decide the level of social unrest we have.
See, the thing about the Coronavirus is that it is not about you
or me, it is about us. It is about how we support each other and stand
together. How we use the qualities of humanity that make us good – altruism,
cooperation, trust. And in the bigger picture, it is about how we choose to
move forward as a human species.
Five years ago, an independent panel of distinguished scientists called
the Commission on a Global Health Risk Framework for the Future, published a landmark report
which stated that the world will experience at least one pandemic (among many
other feedbacks of collapse in other areas of the global system).
As Richard Heinberg from the Post-Carbon Institute discussed in
his recent essay
“this particular pandemic has already offered us insights into how networked
our modern world really is, and how we have traded resilience for economic
efficiency. We focus very much on the economic repercussions of the pandemic
but this was an inevitable conclusion in an economy that prioritizes rapid
growth of shareholder value and the profits of the investment class. To put it
more bluntly, an economy that is based on a fundamentally flawed understanding
of reality – the implicit assumption that growth in resource extraction,
manufacturing, and waste dumping can continue indefinitely on a finite planet.”
In the coming months, the system fragility will become
increasingly visible, and will come to define the scope for societal
decision-making in an even bigger way than the virus itself.
The coronavirus will change the world. No question about it. But the
biggest impact will not be the virus itself, but how we choose to respond to
As Nafeez Ahmed, a systems journalist, writes, “the coronavirus is
a symptom of a global phase shift”. A global financial correction was long
overdue. The system was largely running on debt fumes [for further elaboration on this,
read this article
The coronavirus has hit the global system at a point when its energy-economic vulnerability
is extremely high. The most immediate impact is on the global financial
markets. But the economic impacts are far beyond the stock market and surface
measures such as GDP. Massive containment in China, and escalating now into
other countries, have meant that economic demand pressure on the global fossil
fuel sourced energy system is alleviated and oil prices will stay low. But this
means that e.g. US shale oil and gas producers will end up needing to massively
expand debt to continue financing their activities. So, a country like the US,
well – there is a question as to how long the US system can finance both government
(response to health crisis) and its oil industry debt before it hits tipping
point. Given that growth in US shale is underpinning global economic growth,
any oil sector crisis will have a global impact on the world economy.
Tourism is of course hugely impacted. Global supply chains, like
food, drugs, and others will feel the strain given our intense reliance on
China, and generally imports from other countries. Much of the real risk comes
from supply chains and if self-fulfilling prophecy of panic-buying will lead to
empty shelves and disruptions in availability of key food items
. At worst,
managing that sort of disruption could see national security agencies stepping
in to maintain public order.
Politically, we will likely see extreme nationalist groups exploiting
the crisis to justify calls to close borders and increase hate crimes and
Overall, we will see wide-spread disruption for the next year.
But even if we see evidence of the coronavirus crisis of old
structures experiencing systemic failures that strain them to the brink, these
processes are merely symptomatic of the fact that industrial civilization is
moving into the final stages of its life cycle. This stage creates wide new
spaces for societal and civilization renewal.
As Nafeez Ahmed says, the “coronavirus outbreak is, ultimately, a
lesson in not just inherent systemic fragilities in industrial civilization,
but also the limits of its underlying paradigm. This is a paradigm premised on
a specific theory of human nature, a neoclassical view of Homo Economicus,
human beings as dislocated units which compete with each other to maximize their
material self-gratification through endless consumption and production. That paradigm
and its values have brought us so far in our journey as a species, but they
have long outlasted their usefulness and now threaten to undermine our
societies, and even our survival as a species.”
Getting through this virus will be our lesson in building societal
resilience and relearning and encouraging the values previously rendered “useless”
in our current and crumbling economic system: cooperation, compassion,
generosity and kindness. We will start building systems that institutionalise
these values. In a global phase shift, systems which fail to incorporate these
values into their structures will eventually die.
The coronavirus shows us how self-defeating it is to adopt a raw, “each
to their own” approach. Such an approach will lead to wide-spread panic,
disorder and rapid dissolution of established governance and distribution
In the short term, we need to remember that this is not
fundamentally an economic crisis. It is a public health crisis. While economic
growth in its current form is structurally beyond salvage, the lives of human
beings from the spread of this virus are not.
Right now, the imperative is for people in all sectors of society
to pull together, work together and help each other in implementing radical
action aimed at slowing and preventing the spread of the virus
For instance, a study
done in 2014 that modelled effects of school closures in hypothetical flu
epidemics, found that depending on the assumptions, school closures could lead
to reductions in 20-60% in the peak incidence of an epidemic.
The danger is that if we do not move collectively to wider social
distancing measures urgently, we will be forced into doing so in far more
draconian ways in the coming months.
I have for a long time been struggling with deeper levels of feelings
of big change. We have been destroying, for a long time, the very living things
that have given us life to begin with. The connections that we have with life
on this planet we have sacrificed for short-term gains that have not brought
our populations the promised happiness, even to those who have seemingly
benefited. There is much evidence to support this. As many ecologists have
been warning for many decades, a system shift will be forced on us if we do not
do it ourselves. The current pandemic is part of this forcing. We can choose
now to do something that will benefit the survival and wellbeing of our
species, or we can decide to keep protecting the current system. The reality of
it is that the first choice is the only choice we have.
I find the following piece, written by Ahmed in one of his recent articles
, an appropriate ending much better than I could possibly have worded it:
Bunkering down and preparing for the coronavirus is just the
beginning. The coronavirus is not just a blip in the matrix. It’s a symptom of
an entire system coming up against planetary boundaries. The coronavirus has
erupted as a result of fossil-fuelled global industrial expansion, driving and
driven by endless economic growth for its own sake, that has torn through
natural systems, accelerated climate change, escalated resource depletion,
entrenched inequalities, encroached human cities increasingly into animal and
wildlife habitats, and massively increased the risk of disease pandemics.
And the novel coronavirus has just tipped that expanding bubble
over the edge. It does look like the virus may indeed be here to stay — at
least until a vaccine is created within a year to 18 months, but even then, no
one has created a vaccine for a coronavirus before.
The most important thing to understand is that we don’t get
through this alone. Society doesn’t get through this when each of us only cares
about ourselves. The consequence of narrow self-interest, preferring
business-as-usual to saving lives, is near-term global socio-economic collapse
. Meanwhile, millions of lives are at stake. To that extent, millions of lives
depend on the decisions each of us, particularly those in positions of power
This calls for a fundamental shift in mindset. The next quarters’
returns are not the driving issue anymore. Stock prices, oil prices, all that
good stuff — these metrics are not going to save lives.
Lives are at stake.
When lives are at stake, and when you realise that you value life
— life itself, for life’s sake (yes, this is called love) — you are operating
to a different wavelength, one that transcends the limitations of the machine.
That doesn’t mean there are no limitations, but it means that
suddenly we act not
from the parameters of how an existing,
broken global system limits and prevents us from saving those we love.
It means that now we don’t care about those socio-structural
We care about different limits. We care about natural limits
which, if we respect, allow us to protect the ones we love — our fellow humans
and other lifeforms.
That internal shift translates into a completely different
orientation of consciousness. When we want to save the life of the one we love,
we will move mountains to do so.
In this case, as we contemplate the spectre of horrendous deaths,
who do we love? We love our elderly grandparents, parents, relatives and
neighbours. We love our vulnerable, ill, and disabled. We love our poor, our
homeless, our workers, those of us who live hand-to-mouth and can’t afford to
panic-buy surplus cans of tinned food, let alone extra toilet-rolls. We love
our kids, who will look up to us for guidance, protection and leadership at
this time, who will follow in our footsteps in building the world to come.
And we pull out all the stops to help the ones we love. We share
with them; we take care of them; we watch out for them; we check up on them; we
put aside what we want; we invest ourselves in them; we sacrifice.
This is an extraordinary crisis that calls for an extraordinary
human mobilisation, of which you are a potential agent and enabler, no matter
where you are, what your context. And so ask yourself. At this time, what can
you bring to the table? In your context, what do you offer? What is the manifestation
of your love?
The potential end-result of this shift in consciousness is the
capability to act beyond the broken structure of prevailing systems, and to
begin to radically reshape them. The post-COVID19 system that could emerge from
this crisis is one that is no longer motivated narrowly by a superfluous
obsession with GDP — that measure of endless material throughout which no
longer tracks with levels of happiness and well-being — but instead is inspired
by the web of life.
Politicians that fail to act at this time, along with the
predatory systems they preside over, will go down in history for their failure.
They will be remembered for their obsession with material wealth over lives.
The question you need to ask yourself right now is, where do you
stand? With the old, narrow system that is crumbling before our eyes, or a new
one, weaved from the love that we hold for each other?”
[Image source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/12/nyregion/nyc-coronavirus-help-volunteer.html