May 02, 2020

Full lock down quarantine ends today.

I live in Spain, where restrictions have been more severe than in most parts of Europe, meaning for the last seven weeks we’ve had no daily walks, or “government mandated exercise”. As I write, it’s just before 7am, and in ten minutes, we’re going to walk down the hill to the beach, hopefully in time to see the sun come up.

Radical government action around the world in response to the corona crisis has given the lie to their claims that the demands of green activists are impossible pipe dreams.

Massive changes of lifestyle and government funding are possible. We’ve all just seen it happen.

I’m reminded of a wonderful talk given by Wade Davis, a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence (what a job!) who gave a lecture focused on language loss, and its effects. Each language has its unique cadence and wisdom, he highlights, and as they perish, we lose things of huge value- insights which may prove crucial to our collective survival.

What jogged my memory was a story he told about a Colombian tribe:

¨Now, of all the peoples that I’ve ever been with, the most extraordinary are the Kogi of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in northern Colombia. Descendants of the ancient Tairona civilization which once carpeted the Caribbean coastal plain of Colombia, in the wake of the conquest, these people retreated into an isolated volcanic massif that soars above the Caribbean coastal plain. In a bloodstained continent, these people alone were never conquered by the Spanish.

¨To this day, they remain ruled by a ritual priesthood but the training for the priesthood is rather extraordinary. The young acolytes are taken away from their families at the age of three and four, sequestered in a shadowy world of darkness in stone huts at the base of glaciers for 18 years[…] And for this entire time, they are inculturated into the values of their society, values that maintain the proposition that their prayers and their prayers alone maintain the cosmic — or we might say the ecological — balance. And at the end of this amazing initiation, one day they’re suddenly taken out and for the first time in their lives, at the age of 18, they see a sunrise. And in that crystal moment of awareness of first light as the Sun begins to bathe the slopes of the stunningly beautiful landscape, suddenly everything they have learned in the abstract is affirmed in stunning glory. And the priest steps back and says, “You see? It’s really as I’ve told you. It is that beautiful. It is yours to protect.”

What will we see when we emerge from this lockdown? What will we save? What will we allow to die?

The emergence of global society from lockdown is a profound, perhaps unique opportunity for urgently needed change, yet there are plans for government bailouts for fossil fuel industry and airlines.

George Monbiot expressed the challenge well:

“Everywhere, electorates must struggle to persuade governments to act in the interests of the people, rather than the corporations and billionaires who fund and lobby them. ”

Those of us lucky enough to emerge from this must take advantage of this hinge point in history, both to see, and to change.


Wade Davis’s talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/wade_davis_dreams_from_endangered_cultures/

George Monbiot’s April 29th piece “Airlines and oil giants are on the brink. No government should offer them a lifeline” https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/apr/29/airlines-oil-giants-government-economy