COVID-19 has captured the attention of every internet-connected human on the planet and even non-online people. This unexpected phenomenon has brought fear and uncertainty causing worry, ranging from nagging to throbbing to panic. Resulting in dramatic lifestyle adaptations without a clear end in sight. However, there are some silver linings already visible for some people and institutions today. And for those who can to look with calmness and clarity, there are several more.
The benefits of corona to the individual are mixed. Employees who have to work from home eliminate commuting. The benefits of commute stress, reduced pollution and reduced exposure, and increased time is clear. At the same time there may be reduced income for some and worry about job loss. The great pandemic fear generated from social media can ensure that overall stress is not reduced.
Those who are not worried, or out of social media, or have the ability to continue to laugh, or have the benefit of good company (family included), … they will be able to enjoy this time.
There is a side-benefit to citizens in many polluted cities. For example, in India, which has the maximum number of cities with severe air pollution, most people (and the government) are being cavalier about the health risks. Most have not donned masks to reduce the impact of bad air, but now, with the virus scare, some are donning masks. There will be a benefit to their lungs as less particulates enter them.
Corporations (and their Leaders)
It will surprise many that the impact of the virus on corporations and their top leadership is positive. For that we need to peek behind the curtains of gloom and stock prices.
Corporations have been focused on relentless, exponential growth. For over a decade there has been no speedbumps. But the growth has not been natural or easy. It is been artificial, induced by the best minds from academia and corporations working hard and in large numbers. And to continue it without pause is nearly impossible. Resources are scarce and to capture the last of the lands, the remaining waters is not easy. So to continue to increase fracking, mining, dumping, is getting very hard.
Slick and powerful media has made consumers consume till their homes overflow, and now people are talking about enough and even about simplifying their lives. Advertising has convinced people to consume junk eat till they are obese — diabetes is truly an international man-made pandemic. Financially, more people are in greater debt than any point in history — young people have been programmed to see their careers starting under a mountain of debt as normal.
War is extremely profitable, but it is getting hard to create wars that nobody objects to and in places no one cares about. Even a compliant media is having problems hiding unnecessary and illegal wars from distracted consumers.
The hurdles, limits to infinite growth, which are clearly visible cannot be acknowledged, as then the entire system of growth can be questioned. So the best minds are struggling to maintain growth, and its narrative.
To achieve and maintain this relentless pace, corporations have had to work without humanitarian principles, unethically, illegally, inhumanely, destructively. We know many of their frauds, from banking to investing to junk food to medicines to wars to governance to the environment, the list is endless.
So when there is a pause for which they are not accountable, for which they do not have to fear the shareholders wrath (over the quarter’s returns), and a pause in their own limitless pursuit of wealth, there is a big sigh of relief. They can relax with no corporate consequences. If they can ignore the scare of the virus which looms thru all the security barriers they have constructed, then they can truly be at ease.
Government agencies are finding many positive outcomes with COVID-19. It could even be seen as a godsend. Governments are not doing well at delivering basic services. They are not able to unite people. They are not able to provide hope. Seeing a future with increased congestion, worsening pollution, lack-luster education, resource scarcity, … they are unable to react to these signals. Citizens have been asking for planning and execution and become active — a real pain.
A virus is a threat they can deal with, it gives them an avenue in which they can act and claim credit for. It clears the table off all other items that require work, that require some actual delivery of services, and accountability. Corona is a external threat that they are equipped to deal with, more than any human-generated threat. All they have to do is what they have been set up for: give orders, control movement, enforce lockdowns, stifle dissent, quarantine people, avoid negotiations, … And the people are actually demanding this — what more can a government ask for?
Agencies facing looming issues within their constituencies are relaxed; no longer is there much talk about ongoing and imminent disasters. With schools closed, the demand that the education system be fixed is absent. Many cities around the world are facing “day zero” in water, and governments have been laggard in reacting. It is likely that Bangalore, where the last of the groundwater is being sucked up, will face a real water “day zero” this summer. But the water board will not face much ire. Pollution of all types — air, water, solid waste — that lead to cancers and other diseases like cholera are another set of man-made threats that no one is asking for a fix at this point.
Citizens, now even more individualized and isolated, can run out of water, air, and now, toilet paper, and even food, and if they look to their representatives for help, all they have to do is point to a virus.
The impact of corona on the environment is positive, not positive in that it is improving, but in that we have lessened our harm. With transportation of people way down, from air travel to car travel, emissions are greatly reduced. The increased consumption of toilet paper and sanitizers, and online purchasing does produce significant environmental impact. But consumption has reduced overall, and our ecological footprint has lightened.
Actually, we are now presented with a couple of options to become tremendously positive with regards to the environment. If during this pause, people take the time to examine the consequences of their waste generation, there is an opportunity to reverse our direction. Now there is no room to handle all the solid, liquid, and air-borne waste of human activity and the saturated environment now tips the pollution back into the system. Now we can create zero-waste systems.
A major human impact over the last century has been the elimination of more than half the species of life on the planet. This reduction in biodiversity reduces the resistance of all species, not just humans, to new pathogens. It also may be that the rich have their immunity reduced more than the poor. We know how to make species extinct, we have no idea how to bring life back. For that, we have to acquire humility and start again with a beginner’s mind. It may be the corona is this reset button.
For providers, investors, and proponents of technology, corona is a new glue that binds the entire world to the screen. Increased isolation means more attachment to the screen. The screen can take people’s attention away from everything, replace basic instincts, and common sense, and move everyone together with barely a question being raised — what more could one ask for?
Now they can plan corona-free colonies on Mars.