If for some reason, you are unfamiliar with the crisis occurring around us, allow me to enlighten you. Humankind is suffering from a disease – and no, I am not referring to COVID-19. At least, not directly. The disease to which I am referring is not novel, however, the roots are hard to pinpoint. This virus of sorts has embedded itself into the foundation of our society and has impacted even those, no, especially those who have never even been diagnosed. You see, there’s this model – a framework that has been developed and redeveloped by humanitarians, environmentalists, leaders in sustainability. You may have heard of it. Some refer to it as The Three Spheres, others, The Three Pillars. The basic structure of the model suggests a certain fragile relationship between the environment, the economy, and social wellbeing. Again, not novel, but so very relevant.
Today there is an actual virus that is spreading, destructively disrupting our way of life, and taking thousands of lives in the process. An unfortunate combination of ignorance, lack of preparation, and some amount of economic greed has brought us here. Yet, despite the rhetoric used to describe this “tragic turn of events”, I counter that this pandemic was foreseeable, and certainly preventable had we been listening to the right people. There were, of course, the previous instances of Coronavirus in our own country that could have and should have prepared us. In 2003, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak, or SARS, killed 10% of those infected, and in 2012, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) reached the US and took out 34% of the infected population. But I am not referring to these instances.
I am referring to the first time that human beings caused the extinction of another species tens of thousands of years ago, and how we’ve continued to wipe out thousands more at an exponential rate ever since. I am referring to the illegal underground markets in Asia, which feature a myriad of endangered species along with all the diseases they carry, and which continue to operate despite the publicized efforts by environmental activists and NGOs to shut them down. I am referring to the harvesting and exploitation of livestock that is required to fuel our society’s unwavering demand for processed meat products. Ultimately, I am referring to the lack of response by our industrialized societies to the planet’s cry for help.
Do you see the pattern emerging? All of the aforementioned crimes against nature were committed quite simply to fuel our rising consumption levels. It has become clear that this consumption associated with industrialized civilizations will soon overwhelm the whole system. Yet we continue to exploit a finite supply of natural resources for the sake of our consumerist lifestyles. We take what we want, sell it for profit, and leave devastated communities to pick up the pieces. This behavior is incredibly destructive, and our refusal to adapt to the needs of the planet for the sake of economic prosperity is already having devastating impacts.
So, that disease I mentioned? The virus embedded in the framework of our society? It’s called Consumerism. It is a social disease, and it is wildly contagious. Ironically, those who are infected rarely see the negative impacts, but they are wreaking havoc on the vulnerable communities who have contributed the least to the development of this self-serving crisis.
The toxic relationship we have with our environment has caught up with us. The planet has taken matters into its own hands, unable to wait a second longer for us to take action. This crisis has been accelerating for generations, but we have chosen to ignore its impacts. Time has run out – this newest challenge presents itself starkly, and it cannot be ignored.
To those who still believe that we can continue “business as usual”, who think that the environment will continue to withstand the pressures of our consumption, this pandemic is your proof – it is impossible for us to thrive on a planet that isn’t thriving, impossible for any economy to prosper when the ecosystems surrounding it are dying. Let COVID-19 serve as a loud and clear warning of what lies ahead if we fail to adapt. The environment, the economy, our social wellbeing – it’s all connected. If we can’t come together and eradicate this drive to consume, this systemic disregard for the planet and its resources, COVID-19 will be only the beginning.