Quarantine

Every Friday, Atmos editor-in-chief William Defebaugh reflects on the week in climate and culture, sharing stories of insight and inspiration.

words by william defebaugh

photograph by camila carlow buchanan

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In Chinese Medicine, the lungs are where we process grief. When we hold onto grief, when it goes unacknowledged, we become congested. Grief makes it hard to breathe.

 

Last year, the world watched in horror as the Amazon Rainforest—known as the lungs of the Earth—was ravaged by fire. A few months later, a respiratory disease known as the coronavirus began to make its way across the world. Both were a direct result of how we treat animals, which also happens to be one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions into our atmosphere.

 

Whether you choose to call this cause and effect, poetic symbolism, or simple coincidence, two things have become abundantly evident in the time of the coronavirus: our connectedness and our vulnerability. Much of the alarm we are experiencing is not due to the virus itself—the majority of people infected present mild symptoms and eventually recover—but rather the speed at which it has spread, which is a direct result of our modern world and how small it has become.

 

We have seen how entire species and ecosystems have suffered at the hands of the Anthropocene, all the while deluding ourselves into thinking that we are immune. But unlike many incarnations of the ecological crisis, the coronavirus does not discriminate amongst it targets. Citizens, celebrities, and world leaders alike are susceptible to its reach.

 

Never has it been more clear how interconnected we are—how inseparable we are from this collective body that we call the world. Like cells, when one of us falls ill, we are all at risk. And like cells, we must each do our part to listen and respond. Nature is trying to tell us something. She is crying out in grief, and the worst thing we could do is ignore her warning. For too long we have quarantined ourselves from the Earth, and the damage we have done.

 

If we continue on the track we are on, the coronavirus is likely but a taste of what’s to come. We should be grateful that for many of us, this is our first pandemic as a global community, for it will give us an opportunity to prepare for the future and hopefully decide a new course of treatment. As a friend of mine said recently, we must never waste a good crisis.

 

It is a principle of Chinese Medicine that physical ailments are manifestations of deeper imbalance. The coronavirus isn’t a disease, it’s a symptom—a symptom of our perceived isolation and immunity. Now is the time to be humbled by our fragility and fortified by our ability to unify, even if not physically. To listen to our bodies—our body—and remember that there is only one flesh we can wound. To acknowledge our grief so that we can begin to heal, and breathe again.

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