With changes necessitated by the coronavirus, most of us have more free time. Yes, it’s isolating and costly. But perhaps the pandemic is offering a silver lining — time for unhurried reflection on what is truly important. And although the virus will be with us for months, perhaps years, let’s begin to ask what we’ve learned from this crisis.
We’ve all had less time with friends and family. I miss the reassurance of a firm handshake, the comfort of a family member’s embrace, the friendly backyard barbecue. We’ve all been given a potent reminder of the inestimable value of friends and family.
It can be maddening, even disorienting. Our familiar and reassuring traditions — family, work, church — have been upended. Even our health can be seen as fragile and uncertain. These dramatic reminders of impermanence may have some of us entertaining probing questions. “Am I making the best use of my limited time?” “Should I reassess my values, make some changes?” As a country we might benefit from similar questions.
What conclusions can we draw from the first three months of this pandemic? First, restrictions are painful but we must stick with it to protect our vulnerable neighbors and family members. Is it OK if your grandmother, my brother with heart disease or the neighbor with asthma is needlessly exposed and ends up on a ventilator? Of course not. Let’s accept the findings of science and medicine and continue to do the right thing.
Second: This crisis will pass. Within a year, more or less, we’ll hopefully have a treatment or vaccine. And then? Some will discover that simply returning to the previous status quo is unsatisfying and make some meaningful change. But what about our nation — can we come out of this determined to see things more clearly and act more intentionally as a country? To address this question, I ask that we pivot to climate change. Stick with me; this is closely related.
I am a physician. I’ve studied and repeatedly witnessed the benefits of evidence-based decision-making. If we don’t use evidence to guide our actions with respect to the coronavirus, many more people than necessary will die, but eventually those who survive will develop immunity via recovery from infection or vaccine. It will be far more painful than necessary, but the crisis will pass one way or the other.
But with climate change there’s no immunity, no future vaccine. If we ignore the science, the climate crisis will accelerate to a tipping point from which there will be no recovery. Check the National Science Foundation website, or National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration — unbiased, respected organizations.
We must emerge from this crisis having learned this: It is foolish and deadly to ignore the evidence. We can create the pandemic’s second silver lining — a determination to put aside politics and lead the world in the fight against climate change. Our health and security depend on it. Let’s make it so.