My acquaintance with several nurses at a local hospital provides just a glimpse of what it must be like to help confront the COVID-19 pandemic.
The devastation of the crisis itself—whose duration will be measured in months—is not to be mitigated in any way.
And yet, there are crises—whose duration will be measured in years, decades and centuries—that threaten the health and survival of even more people. A group that works “to understand the relationship between society and the environment” calculated that “the reductions in air pollution in China caused by this economic disruption likely saved twenty times more lives in China than have currently been lost directly due to infection with the virus in that country.”
Wait. What? We quickly shut down virtually all our normal activities—as we should—in the face of a temporary threat, and yet we accept and overlook the constant, greater impact of many of those same activities year after year, decade after decade. “More than 100,000 Americans each year die of heart attacks, strokes and other illnesses caused by air pollution,” according to a 2019 National Academy of Sciences study.
Can we really be that blind to the means of our own destruction? Are we really okay with the choices we’ve made about the cost of our way of life?
As Future Crunch said, the crisis acts “as a mirror, forcing us to carefully examine our way of life….Pandemics cause immense pain and suffering but teach us a great deal. They show us that the industrial economy we’ve always taken for granted is killing us. They force us to sit up and acknowledge that we’re sharing a planet with other species. They reveal who society’s real key workers are. Not the bankers. Not the politicians. Not the elite hedge fund managers. It’s the nurses. The doctors. The delivery drivers. The carers. The porters. The teachers. The shelf stackers. The check out staff.”
The New York Times said that this crisis is an example of “what you get when you ignore science“: “The failures to contain the outbreak and to understand the scale and scope of its threat stem from an underinvestment in and an under-appreciation of basic science.”
But, as they relentlessly do, Future Crunch grasped for something positive, saying, “The most encouraging thing is that perhaps [as a result of COVID-19] we might finally start taking scientists seriously again. For the past decade, populists have hammered the experts who contradict their public claims and interests. But those experts, whose budgets and capabilities have so often been eroded by the leaders who despise them, are now our main line of defence. Isn’t it interesting that when the s*** really hits the fan, scientists are suddenly back in vogue?”
As the health service of the local university in my town says, “In science lives hope.”
In her detective novel, The Monogram Murders, Sophie Hannah wrote this exchange:
Detective Edward Catchpool, Scotland Yard detective: “For all your talk of scientific method, you’re a bit of a dreamer, aren’t you?”
Hercule Poirot: “You believe hope to be the enemy of science and not its driving force? If so, I disagree.”