The outbreak of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) has created an unprecedented situation around the world. A joint statement by the ILO, FAO, IFAD and WHO, issued on 0ctober 13, 2020, stated that the pandemic has led to a dramatic loss of human life worldwide and presents an unprecedented challenge to human existence. The statement further states that millions of enterprises face an existential threat. As breadwinners lose jobs, fall ill and die, food security and nutrition of millions of women and men are under threat, with those in low-income countries — particularly the most marginalised populations, which include small-scale farmers and informal workers — being hardest hit.
Toby Ord, Senior Research Fellow at Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute, writes about the existential risks that now confront human beings. “We face possible catastrophes which threaten the permanent destruction of humanity’s potential, such as human extinction or an unrecoverable collapse of civilisation.” These are known as ‘existential catastrophes’.
Pandemics such as the coronavirus pandemic are the result of humanity’s destruction of Nature and the world has been ignoring this stark reality for decades. The Covid-19 pandemic may be considered a reminder that there are ‘limits to growth’. With awareness of climate change, food insecurity and biodiversity decline on the radar, such a statement sounds reasonable. One must, therefore, consider Covid-19 a subtle warning from a smart teacher, i.e. Mother Nature.
Authors of the iconic book The Limits to Growth (LTG) said this almost 50 years ago. The LTG is a 1972 report on the exponential economic and population growth with a finite supply of resources, studied by computer simulation. Commissioned by the Club of Rome, the study concluded that if the present trends in world population, industrialisation, pollution, food production, and resource depletion continue unchanged, the limits to growth on this planet will be reached sometime within the next 100 years.
Time is running out. Humans need to colonise another planet within 100 years or face the threat of extinction, high-profile physicist Stephen Hawking had warned us in a BBC documentary called Stephen Hawking: Expedition New Earth. He stressed: “With climate change, overdue asteroid strikes, epidemics and population growth, our own planet is increasingly precarious.”
Previously, Hawking had theorised that humanity has around 1,000 years left before it becomes extinct. His timeline now appears to have shortened.
Hawking is not the only major figure in the world of technology and science who has warned about the threat to human existence. Earlier, Elon Musk (Tesla CEO) and Jack Ma (Founder of Alibaba) have warned us that society could become extinct because of the disruption caused by new technology (like AI) and the internet.
The coronavirus pandemic continues to convey roughly the same message today, but with slightly more urgency. Today, we are at a point in human history where habits that once worked well don’t work anymore, argued Dennis Meadows, one of the authors of the LTG, recently at the United Nations University.
The coronavirus is a reminder to us all of our weak state. Regardless of our social standing and financial position, we are helpless. Situations like this remind me of the preaching or sermon of Lord Krishna when he said to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter IV, verses 7 and 8): “Whenever there is a decline in righteousness and an increase in unrighteousness, at that time I manifest myself on earth.”
Should we wait for God to clear the mess created by us?
Instead of looking for ways to leave this planet, shouldn’t we instead try and solve the problems that surround us? I’m not a scientist, but personally, I feel as though leaving the planet or preparing to leave is like giving up.
As we step into 2021, humanity must address the dangers of its own existence by changing its way of living. Humanity must think seriously about the un-intellectual industrialisation, urbanisation, deforestation, environmental degradation, resource depletion and population explosion. In sum, it is a warning that climate change is real and we must urgently reduce global warming.
On the last day of the year 2020, one of my friends asked me, “What is there to smile in the Corona year?” No doubt, there was no satisfaction or happiness, rather much yearning. But if one thinks a little bit differently, you will find reasons to smile.
The Bhagavad Gita emphasises: “Whatever happened, happened for the good. Whatever is happening, is happening for the good. Whatever will happen, will also happen for the good.”
This applies so accurately to the present situation. We must change our way of living that gets manipulated by our selfish instincts. Think of how much we have damaged Mother Nature! So, change the way of living and you will find hundreds of reasons to smile.
Time is running out. Virus attacks, disease epidemics and catastrophic climate change are fast approaching threats to our beautiful green and blue home.
Wishing you a Happier New Year!