we are the cancer


“The balance of nature stipulates that the super abundance of dreams is paid with the increase in nightmares.”

Peter Ustinov

I look out the window of my house in Mexico City and I find myself with two totally contradictory visions: On one hand, the contagions and deaths caused by this pandemic are at their highest point. Forecasts are reserved. The official and unofficial figures are terrifying. There is no certainty that we can develop a vaccine any time soon, or that it will be truly effective. We are destined to enter a new normal very different from what we had just three months ago. On the other hand, through that same window, I see a sky that is bluer than ever. A majestic and hopeful sun. Much less polluted air. I listen to all kinds of birds singing endlessly all day. There is less noise and less stress. It is as if nature took this five-minute break to show irrefutable evidence that we – our collective human activities – are causing enormous damage to this planet.

In China, pollution levels are estimated to have dropped about 25% during the quarantine. I think that -among the few good things that could emerge from this pandemic- would be a new state of awareness about how we should reinvent our relationship with nature. This could give a good push to the trend towards remote work, definitively ending our addiction to face-to-face meetings and focusing more on concrete objectives and results. Today many of us are fortunate enough to be working more than ever from home, and perhaps that trend can continue. I am almost certain that many millions of jobs will not return in their pre-Covid form, but they will do so in more flexible, productive and efficient versions. For the great metropolitan areas of the world, the opportunities are enormous. Fewer cars. Fewer hours wasted in commuting. Less pollution of the environment. Less saturated transportation services. Higher quality of life. That would be a dream for places like Mexico City.

However, if history tells us something, it is that this change in our state of awareness will not occur. Or at least it won’t happen easily. We are a species that insists on self-destruction. We lived through the 1918 pandemic and today we are making many of the same mistakes. We lived through the Second World War and today we see many of the same trends that led to that conflict. We know about our impact on earth and still we have too many leaders not acting seriously on global warming. The kind of disruption we’ve seen in the past few weeks has been unheard of: Millions of jobs lost. Industries that will not recover in years. Recession and poverty at the door. However, this level of disruption is nothing compared to what we could be facing in twenty or thirty years due to climate change. Can you imagine the impact to global human activities if some of the main cities in the world, such as New York, London or Hong Kong became completely flooded?

I am hopeful that this pandemic will put many things in the right place: Our priorities. Our families. Our obsessions. Our fears. The importance of science and the lies of mediocre leaders will also come to the spotlight. This generation will have the tough challenge of finding the right balance between economic development, spiritual values and our environment. We cannot go back to the pre-Covid normal, because it was flawed. Perhaps there is still a tiny opportunity to change the inexorable way of things and to demonstrate – against all evidence and all prognosis – that the cancer on this planet was not us.

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