During this pandemic, nature and Mother Earth have been strongly on my mind – not only in terms of providing entertainment (hiking, walking, and gardening), and companionship (visiting with the flora and fauna in my yard an nearby parks), but also in terms of the pandemic’s consequences for both humanity and Earth. Not only are we taking more time to enjoy nature en masse, but pollution and consumption, both which stress the planet, are decreasing. Public health data also suggest that communities that are exposed to the most pollution are also most at risk for disease and death, including from COVID-19.
In total, COVID-19 is forcing us to help heal Earth, heal ourselves by spending more quality time with nature, and to face the ways that Earth and community health are intertwined. These, and other lessons and opportunities, are confronting us in a way that we can no longer ignore.
The pandemic is inviting us to reflect and think deeply about our beliefs and habits that have made the quarantine so painful to us. Mental anguish, though unpleasant and uncomfortable, reminds me that I am overly attached to something – whether a thing, a part of my identity, a person, or a situation. My freedom to come and go as I please, do what I want, see who I want, and buy what I want, have all been assailed by the pandemic and have been causing psychic pain because of what has been an unhealthy attachment to things I have always taken for granted.
A particular pain point seems to be around our collective attachment to the consumer mentality that props up an unsustainably expanding economy. Encouraging mindless and expanding consumption promotes environmental damage from pollution and the plunder of Earth’s natural resources. While painful to diminish our relationship with consumerism, a healthier relationship with consumption seems to be what the quarantine is requiring of us. During this period of widespread change, we can use this opportunity to be present and find our individual and collective wisdom to be more mindful about our choices, including purchases and other priorities, going forward.
The following questions arise for me:
- How much and what do we really need?
- Of the things we cannot do without, how can we be more efficient and sustainable with regard to their acquisition and disposal?
- Can we become more self-sufficient, growing or making our own consumables, while also becoming greener?
- Will a re-emergence of cottage industries allow individuals to generate income while allowing more efficient use of available resources in terms of production and distribution?
- What new beliefs, priorities and perspectives can we now adopt that provide care for ourselves and Earth simultaneously?
It’s not just consumer goods that require a huge re-think right now, but also how we spend our time and attention. I’ve heard people say that since that they’ve been telecommuting, they don’t want to resume driving to the office every day. They’re also being required to slow down and be more reflective. They are spending unprecedented amounts of time outside in their gardens, yards, and parks. They are creating a healthier lifestyle, with themselves and in nature.
I also wonder whether we will maintain our newfound relationship with nature once the quarantine is lifted. Earth has become my new best friend, my comfort and companion; perhaps this is true for you as well. I can’t see going back to my old habit of acting like she doesn’t even exist or matter. She’s been there when I needed her most, and she’s with me now. She’s a comfort and an inspiration; I doubt my desire and need for that will change when the quarantine is eased.
(Re-)creating a healthy relationship with Earth means that I also can no longer mindlessly go about consuming and wasting things like I did before. Every time I fail to recycle glass, metal, or plastic means that ores and chemicals will have to be mined from Earth’s land somewhere. The degradation of those materials in landfills result in contamination of land and water, and if present in high enough concentration, harm us and other wildlife.
Every time I look away when we clear another parcel of land instead of repurposing developed property means another blow to the inhabiting species, who are partners with us in maintaining the delicate web of life on Earth. When I look away or make mindless choices, I am colluding to harm myself and Earth, who has done nothing but provide for all of us even while we mistreat her.
I know not everyone agrees with the idea that Earth is a living, vibrant organism. Earth grows and changes over time and is responsive to stimuli … to me, that is the definition of being a living organism (see my new Youtube playlist on this topic). And we are in a relationship with her. In our physical relationship, she cares and provides our food and home. Many of us are also in an emotional relationship with her because we love her and the plants, animals, and vistas of our natural world.
Our slower-paced pandemic life reveals our return to this relationship. Being conscious about our connection invites us to re-create and maintain what was once a loving, reciprocal connection between humanity and our beautiful blue planet. Be there for her like she has always been there for us, especially now during this time of crisis and beyond.
Written by Dr. Susanna Wu-Pong Calvert