Creating a More Resilient World From the Pandemic

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The tragedy of the global COVID-19 pandemic is causing a great deal of pain and suffering. This is a fact that cannot be denied. However, what we take from the lessons we are now learning will shape who we become and what happens to our world, going forward. We have the opportunity to do better, to pick up the pieces of what is left and infuse them with novel and improved ways of living on this planet to create a more sustainable and resilient world.

What Is Resilience?

Resilience is defined as a system’s ability to maintain its current structure and functions in the face of internal and external stressors. A resilient world is able to learn and adapt to changes without collapsing into an entirely different state. The concept of resilience is useful in examining the sustainability of human and environmental structures.

As a part of the natural world, humanity relies on the planet’s ecological systems for our own well-being. What we do impact the natural world, and, likewise, what happens within the environment has an effect upon us. The health of each is linked to the other. When resilience is lacking, the system is vulnerable to disturbances such that it is unable to manage its impact while continuing to function at healthy levels.

Small stressors create big issues, even where the system was previously able to cope. Large stressors become crippling and can even result in complete collapse. In a forest, stressors might be a wildfire or a disease that strikes a single species. In the world of people, it could be a virus.

What Does the Pandemic Reveal About Our Resilient  World?

When we look at the idea of resilience from our human perspective, we are interested in ensuring that our socio-ecological systems can continue to provide the services we need to maintain current and future generations. The fact that a natural system collapses isn’t necessarily good or bad from a system’s perspective, but if the new state doesn’t provide people with the ecosystem services we need and desire, then, for us, it definitely isn’t a good thing. The same can be said for society’s organization. Furthermore, the truly resilient human systems are linked to resilient world and ecosystems, and vice versa.

The Coronavirus as a System Stressor

In December of 2019, China put the world on alert. A novel coronavirus was spreading unchecked. People were dying in large numbers and the routes of contagion were not clear. The situation unfolded rapidly, spreading to every continent apart from Antarctica in just a few months. Across the world, borders closed, businesses shuttered their doors, and people were ordered to stay at home. The world found itself in the middle of a health and economic crisis.

To date, there have been nearly 5 million confirmed infections and 325,000 deaths. Those numbers are likely substantially higher due to a lack of testing. The International Labor Organization reports that half of the world’s labor force works on the informal economy and is at risk of personal disaster because of the coronavirus due to job losses or income reductions from lost hours on the job.

In the U.S., 20.5 million people lost their jobs in the month of April alone.

Stress Impacts on states

Even as countries and states begin gradual steps towards reopening. Many do so with a combination of trepidation, caution, and some fear. They also do so with the recognition that cases of the virus are still on the rise in many areas and that any steps towards a return to normalcy could result in a resurgence of infections. In the U.S., every state has begun the process of reopening. Often against the recommendations of public health officials. Because the risks of the virus are being weighed against the further collapse of the economy.

The coronavirus is an external stressor on our human system, and we have not managed the disruption it has caused very well. Our global economy has been crippled and potential collapse is looming. The rush in the U.S. to begin reopening is an effort to hold on to any remaining threads that exist because people need to eat. On the less appealing side of the coin is the idea that businesses also need to survive. Not necessarily because of the people who work there, but because our current framework for capitalism demands it.

Coronavirus Insights

While the current pandemic reveals society’s vulnerabilities, it has also given us insight into the ways in which our species place stressors on ecological systems. There are lessons we can take from this event as we gradually begin crawling out of the deep pit the pandemic tossed us into. But we should not aim to return to life as it was pre-pandemic. If we do, future flare-ups of this virus, along with any other major external or internal stressors, will continue to whittle away at our ability to cope.

COVID-19 put the world on hold. There has been a wide range of responses to the chaos the virus engendered, from individuals, groups, businesses, and our public leadership. Some took advantage of the situation to reassess what was personally or organizationally important. Some immediately jumped into the fray to help in any way they possibly could. Many panicked and despaired. Others fought against the idea that there was any danger at all, resenting the measures taken to ensure the overall safety of the world’s citizens and to not overwhelm the capabilities of the vital services provided by our frontline workers that placed them and society further at risk.

None of these responses is necessarily unexpected, but they indicate the areas in which we are vulnerable and the areas in which we have strengths to build upon. People can do incredible things when crises arise. The rapid organization of particular industries and the willingness of many people and businesses to quickly adapt to the situation is not just admirable, it is a model for what it means to be a resilient world. It demonstrates our capabilities, but it should not take a crisis for us to utilize the strengths revealed during this pandemic.

Consequences

The pause in the world also highlighted for us just how much stress we place on natural environments. Ecosystems across the globe got a break from human interference. And we are now witnessing what happens when they can function without us as a major stressor and consistent disruption, and how quickly the change takes place. We haven’t yet pushed the natural world over the edge into a state of unchecked collapse. This is evident from the current conditions of the environment once we stopped the majority of our activities. There is still the potential for us to change course. But it will take the kind of efforts we’ve seen in other areas during the global shutdown.

What Opportunities Do We Now Have to Build a More Resilient World?

The goal of a gradual return to “normal” should not be to get back to life as we knew it. There is bound to be a sense of relief for people and business owners at the idea of breaking free. From the confinement, isolation placed us in. But we cannot let that sense of relief blind us to the opportunities the crisis presents. There is a distinct possibility we will see the recurring necessity to retreat back to temporary lockdowns as flareups and additional waves occur. Providing us with a great opportunity for significant transformations. To set society on course for a more sustainable and resilient world for life.

Pandemic Impacts

The pandemic forced changes that now give us a new framework to work from going forward. A tremendous number of our citizens found themselves without a job or with reduced work hours in service positions. That placed them at risk, but a lot of people were able to work from home when previously they had not. We discovered just how important certain sectors of our workforce are to our daily life. If we take these elements and use them for a serious examination of work structure. It is possible we can craft a better way of shaping our idea of work and productivity for a more flexible and equitable model.

Another opportunity presented to us is one in which we re-examine work-life balance. The forced confinement of stay-at-home orders proved challenging in many ways. But in other ways, it provided more freedom. Many people have discovered or rediscovered, how good it feels to have time to spend with family. Moreover outdoors, and engaged in favorite pastimes.

Where people had been previously too exhausted from the mental drain of their jobs to do more than stare at screens. They now have the mental and physical capacity to enjoy more of life. Being able to do this without the underlying fear and anxiety caused by the pandemic. May lead to far less stress and a far healthier population.  Giving people the ability to better handle stressors that do present themselves in the future.

Future Result

The society also now has a chance to examine the ways in which we can reduce our environmental footprint. We are witnessing the results of a significant reduction in fossil fuel emissions. The evidence before us can provide us with the motivation to rework our transportation system and realign societal behaviors towards healthier habits. If fewer people have the need to commute, there will be fewer cars on the road. A reduction in work and commute hours would lead to more time available to walk or bike places instead of drive. The result would be a healthier population and a healthier environment and a resilient world.

Conclusion

The coronavirus pandemic is teaching us hard lessons. In doing so, it is also providing society with an opportunity to right many of the wrongs. That has led to increased vulnerability in socio-ecological systems. We can take this chance now to create a more resilient world for ourselves and for the future of the planet.

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