We are living in difficult times. Understandably, there’s a lot of fear and anxiety at the moment – fear for our own health, the health of our loved ones, possible loss of income, and uncertainty as to what the future will hold. My heart goes out to all those who are struggling with the horrible consequences of this novel virus, to those who are sick or who have loved ones affected, to those who cannot work from home and may lose their jobs, to those working in the health and social care fields putting their lives on the line to care for others, to those who are isolated at home and feeling the strain on their mental health, to those worrying about how they will pay their rent, to those whose lives have been made more difficult in all manner of other ways. Nothing of what follows is intended to minimise the very real human suffering going on around us right now, merely to try to also find some hope and reasons to stay positive in this scary situation.
I’ve been thinking a lot over the last few days about the permaculture principle “The problem is the solution”. When I was introduced to the principles of permaculture, this was the one that took me the longest to really grasp, it didn’t seem to make sense. It all seemed far too zen and cryptic. But eventually I realised that what this really means is ‘rather than spend time wishing things were otherwise, take what is and find ways to turn it into an advantage.’ The example the textbooks often give is ‘rather than try to grow anything in that marshy bit of low lying ground at the end of your garden, make it into a pond’
“You don’t have a snail problem, you have a duck deficiency”Bill Mollison
And in so many small ways, this is what is happening. People are realising they need to help each other in this unprecedented situation, friends are reaching out to each other and to those who might be more vulnerable and need help. People are leafleting their neighbours, offering to fetch groceries for those who may not be able to leave the house. Every time I see a video on social media of Italians singing together from their balconies, or Spanish people cheering from theirs in appreciation of their brave health care workers, I cry a little, because it’s beautiful. Perhaps the sense of community that we build together as we realise that we need each other will endure, long after the threat has passed.
“It is no mere coincidence that there is both an historic and a present relationship between community (people assisting each other) and a poverty of power due to financial recession”Bill Mollison
We have known for many years that the system of capitalism is unsustainable, that it must eventually collapse in on itself as the resources run out, the myth of unlimited growth on a finite planet is exposed as fantasy and the wealth gap between rich and poor becomes more and more outrageous. And in this situation, as the markets collapse, governments are realising that unchecked capitalism will result in catastrophe. In the USA they plan to send at least one monetary payment to every American, in England they’re debating a universal basic income at last, EU countries are offering to postpone mortgage and rent payments to help those in financial need. Socialism is revealed as not the lurking evil the press make it out to be, but a safety net for all, a more humane way to live.
And those people who are forced to shut themselves inside may find that they suddenly have time, time to take a breath, to reconnect with their family, to write and create and step away from the madness of the system for a while. Who knows what beneficial effects that may have? As people realise home working can be feasible, that zoom and skype can host meetings, that university courses can be online and accessible to all, that the environmentally disastrous HS2 isn’t really needed after all, that all those international flights weren’t strictly necessary, that lifestyle adjustments can be made when we really need to. That we are capable of the changes we need to make to fight climate breakdown and ecological collapse.
Already our Mother Earth breathes a little easier. Two months of reduction in air pollution due to virus control measures “likely has saved the lives of 4,000 kids under 5 and 73,000 adults over 70 in China,” according to a Stanford University scientist. NASA images show a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Pictures are circulating of fish and dolphins playing in the suddenly clear waters of Venetian canals… And it’s all happened so quickly.
‘Imagine what we could do if we didn’t return completely to business-as-usual but kept people’s health and wellbeing front and centre in decision-making.’Friends of the Earth
These changes could all be temporary if the industrial complex picks right up where it left off when the epidemic dies down, but maybe we don’t have to do that. Maybe we can learn something from this period of fear, suffering and uncertainty, and come to realise on a deeper level that our health and the health of our planet is intimately connected. And maybe we can make the problem the solution.