Reckoning With the COVID-19 Crisis

The ‘Chimera’ That Changed Human Social Norms

In part II of my COVID-19 series, I hope to explore, share, and start a conversation on the nature and dimensions of the current seismic shifts. This means examining the complicated situation presented by the current crisis and anticipating existential threats down the road. According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, the U.S. best-case-scenario prediction is 81,114 COVID-19 cumulative deaths by August 4, 2020, if STRICT lockdown and physical distance measures remain in place. The pandemic’s peak has yet not occurred; it will be 2,341COVID-19 deaths on the day of April 14, 2020.

History tells us that famines, xenophobia, and multilateral wars may occur in the wake of pandemics. Pandemics fundamentally reshaped social norms, beliefs, and values. They resulted in power shifts and wealth redistribution. Some patterns and systems dynamics can be seen in all these events: cycles of balancing feedback loops seeking ecosystems’ equilibrium.

History tells us that famines, xenophobia, and multilateral wars may occur in the wake of pandemics. Although they were not Armageddon or the Apocalypse, as I discussed in Part I of the series, such pandemics fundamentally reshaped social norms, beliefs, and values. They resulted in power shifts and wealth redistribution. A few examples are The Three Kingdoms 184–280 A.D., the Mongol Conquests 1206–1405 A.D., World Wars I and II 1914–1945, Plague of Athens 430 B.C, Antonine Plague 165–180 A.D., Plague of Justinian 541–542, The Black Death (Bubonic Plague) 1346–1353, Smallpox 1520, The Third Plague 1855, Spanish Flu: 1918–1920, and HIV/AIDS 1981 (see figure 1). Some patterns and systems dynamics can be seen in all these events: cycles of balancing feedback loops seeking ecosystems’ equilibrium. However, we have challenges to face; our average memory range is only between 50–100 years, which means many of the lessons we learned were washed away over time. Also, we habitually have silos and linear or reductionist ways of thinking; because of these limitations, we can only see individual parts and fail to notice the whole.

All things appear and disappear because of the concurrence of causes and conditions. Nothing ever exists entirely alone; everything is in relation to everything else.– The Buddha

Figure 1. The history of pandemics, causative agents and cumulative death toll.

Note. Reuse permission is granted by Visual Capitalist. LePan, N. (2020, March 27). Visualizing the History of Pandemics. Retrieved March 30, 2020, from https://www.visualcapitalist.com/history-of-pandemics-deadliest/

Within that context, I hope to delve into dimensions of new socio-economic contract and explore paradigmatic shifts from existing business as usual (BAU). Current institutions and systems are obsolete and incapable of adapting to the ingrained cracks in our socio-economic infrastructure caused by COVID-19, or even to turn the tide or bounce back to the previous state. These cracks are challenging core aspects of humanity: causation and development in human communication, social experience, family members’ interaction, aggression, and sociosexual behavior, and group structure and spatial relationships.

Current institutions and systems are obsolete and incapable of adapting to the ingrained cracks in our socio-economic infrastructure caused by COVID-19, or even to turn the tide or bounce back to the previous state. These cracks are challenging core aspects of humanity: causation and development in human communication, social experience, family members’ interaction, aggression, and sociosexual behavior, and group structure and spatial relationships.

Current institutions and systems are obsolete and incapable of adapting to the ingrained cracks in our socio-economic infrastructure caused by COVID-19, or even to turn the tide or bounce back to the previous state. These cracks are challenging core aspects of humanity: causation and development in human communication, social experience, family members’ interaction, aggression, and sociosexual behavior, and group structure and spatial relationships.

Part II

COVID-19-Climate Change Linkages

The unprecedented global spread COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, will continue to uproot life as we know it. The virus’s deep-seated consequences will unfold along economic, political, social, environmental, and technological lines, disrupting local, national, and international systems. These challenges, depicted in Figure 2 (economic dimension), will require novel strategic systems analysis tools to synthesize and combat.

Figure 2. COVID-19 Economic Shocks (Baldwin, 2020).

Note. It is reprinted from Baldwin, R. I. C. H. A. R. D. (2020, March 21). To treat COVID-19’s economic impact, start by keeping the lights on. Retrieved March 25, 2020, from https://review.chicagobooth.edu/economics/2020/article/treat-covid-19-s-economic-impact-start-keeping-lights

A similarly existential threat — anthropogenic climate change — may have a role to play in the proliferation of COVID-19. A collective, united global response to the virus could help inform methods for confronting climate change and preventing future pandemics from wreaking havoc on civilization — before it’s too late.

What is the relationship between climate change and infectious diseases like COVID-19? The Daily Beast brings to light connections between global warming and the mass displacement of wildlife.

The expansion of our cities, the extraction of natural resources, and other byproducts of modernization and industry are detrimental to animals all over the world. Widespread wildlife habitat endangerment and loss could force animals into closer proximity, heightening the likelihood of infectious disease transmission between species. And, as habitat loss accelerates, animals won’t just be in close confinements with one another; they’ll also encroach more and more on humans. In some cultures, or under certain circumstances, wildlife may be sold and consumed or kept in cramped, unsanitary conditions. These circumstances could increase the transmission of infectious diseases, including coronaviruses, from humans to animals.

The genetic analysis indicated that COVID-19 is ‘Chimera’ of two viruses: coronavirus isolated from the Malaysian Pangolin (Manis javanica) and virus RaTG13 isolated from bat R. affinis

Note: Pangolin pup nudges its mother, rolled up into a protective ball, by Gregg Yan Philippine Pangolin. (2020, March 23). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philippine_pangolin#/media/File:Philippine_Pangolin_Curled-up_by_Gregg_Yan.jpg

There are other environmental factors at play, too. In an interview with Inside Climate News, Dr. Aaron Bernstein, the Interim Director of the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard University, recognizes a strong association between air pollution and people’s risk of contracting pneumonia — a respiratory illness like COVID-19. There isn’t yet much scientific information on ties between COVID-19 and air pollution, but it’s likely there’s a correlation between the two, Bernstein suggests.

Plus, according to Bernstein, future disease outbreaks are likely — we live in increasingly densely populated, urbanized environments that will allow diseases to spread like wildfire. If we continue to exploit environmental resources, our built environments will only become more dense and untenable.

These points all reinforce the ways in which our environment is inextricably tied to disease. The coronavirus pandemic already has, and will continue to have, devastating global consequences. However, this extraordinary event may facilitate a collective reconsideration of our unsustainable modern lifestyles, and potentially provides opportunities for vast systemic reforms.

Thinking in terms of interconnected systems

Factors like air quality, levels of pollution, and the amount of green space surrounding us influence both our physical and mental health. A public health crisis like COVID-19 can exacerbate health inequities, disproportionately affecting marginalized, and disenfranchised populations that have already endured suboptimal environmental conditions.

In the journal article “Health Inequalities and Infectious Disease Epidemics: A Challenge for Global Health Security,” researchers from the University of Maryland make the following argument:

“International partners, from WHO to individual countries, must grapple with the social determinants of health and existing health inequalities and extend their vision to include these factors so that disease that may start among socially disadvantaged subpopulations does not go unnoticed and spread across borders.”

As I discussed in Part One of this series blog post, the globalized state of the world warrants strategic, systems-based approaches for combating public health and environmental crises. In some ways, globalization has impacted the spread of infectious disease; people are traveling across continents, more frequently and efficiently than ever before in history.

This is why we need transdisciplinary tools to understand and comprehensively address the effects of COVID-19. For example, our proprietary analytical schema LongErPestleEidc (Local, Organizational, National, Global, Envision, Recreate + Political, Environmental, Societal, Technological, Legal, Economic + Ethical, Industrial, Demographic and Cultural) can enable a comprehensive understanding of COVID-19’s effects on the world. LongErPestleEidc is a comprehensive strategic system analysis tool that can provide multi-dimensional analyses, marks a dramatic shift from the traditional linear or the reductionist way of thinking, and demonstrate how interconnected these different systems are.

LongErPestleEidc is a comprehensive strategic system analysis tool that can provide multi-dimensional analyses, marks a dramatic shift from the traditional linear or the reductionist way of thinking, and demonstrate how interconnected these different systems are.

For example, the virus could lead to a government bailout of the airline industry (akin to the 2009 rescue of the banks). Fundamental disruptions to the airline industry could be an opportunity for enacting green restrictions on emissions, as discussed in this article from the New York Times.

Interestingly, the virus can draw our attention to the stark contrast between authoritarian and democratic nations and their responses to the pandemic; this article in Bloomberg describes how the coronavirus demonstrates vulnerabilities in political systems. The article mentions that abrupt, authoritarian, albeit somewhat controversial actions taken by China to stop the spread of COVID-19 could have saved thousands, maybe even millions, of lives. Figure 3 shows a substantial reduction in nitrogen dioxide pollution over China during the period of lockdown in late February. A similar phenomenon was observed in the E.U. You can monitor the world’s air pollution in the real-time air quality index below (Figure 4).

Could this initiative forecast governments’ actions on climate change? Swift government actions could also be crucial to mitigating the effects of climate change, but these actions will differ based upon underlying political systems. As it currently stands, climate change is a highly politicized and partisan issue in the United States.

Figure 3: NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) pollution monitoring satellites have detected significant decreases in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) over China associated with the Chinese government lockdown of Wuhan

Note: Airborne Nitrogen Dioxide Plummets Over China. (2020, March 2). Retrieved March 26, 2020, from https://www.earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/146362/airborne-nitrogen-dioxide-plummets-over-china

Figure 4. World’s air pollution: real-time air quality index

Reconsidering our lifestyles on a global scale

Could COVID-19 ultimately lead to a healthier climate? According to Vice News, China’s carbon footprint shrank by a quarter in February, when mandatory lockdowns were instituted. Electricity usage and air pollution have dwindled in Italy, a country hard hit by the coronavirus. Of course, these changes are likely not sustainable since they’re the result of an unforeseen catastrophe and occurred under inopportune circumstances. Given the inevitable economic consequences of the pandemic, the article argues that governments could take the opportunity to revitalize the economy with investments in green infrastructure and tax credits to incentivize electric vehicles and sustainable energy.

Rather than neglecting climate change efforts in the wake of the virus, humans can use COVID-19 responses to formulate global, unified solutions to combat global warming.

While quarantined and engaging in social distancing, we are far apart, but we are simultaneously more interconnected due to the ubiquity of smartphones and digital technologies. Technology gives us the leverage to rally around communities and individuals most in need.

While quarantined and engaging in social distancing, we are far apart, but we are simultaneously more interconnected due to the ubiquity of smartphones and digital technologies. Technology gives us the leverage to rally around communities and individuals most in need.

These collaborative, globalized solutions tie into the idea of the Industrial Revolution 4.0. The 4th industrial revolution refers to emergent technologies like artificial intelligence, IoT, and quantum computing. These technologies are merging the digital and biological realms, fundamentally altering the way we live, and leading to societal transformation. The current crisis may accelerate momentum toward the industrial 4.0 revolution. Communities with less technological infrastructure and economic resources have an opportunity to leapfrog of other, more advanced nations, like the telebanking revolution in Africa. New platforms for more sensual social experiences and virtual collaboration will emerge.

Without a doubt, in the wake of the pandemic, we’ll be facing hardships, sorrow for the lost lives, physical isolation, and engaging in more activities virtually. COVID-19 is even changing the way we say hello. However, despite the difficulties and stresses of physical separation, we as humans a resilient by design, and it can be reassuring to remember that we’re all in this together — even while physically distant. And, there is much more for us to learn and do together about the pandemic and its effects on our lives.

Looking Forward

I have opened this conversation inviting comments and collaboration as I continue to envision a new socio-economic contract guided by equity and prosperity for all in synergy with nature and cosmic laws.

Written By

Asaad Taha, Ph.D., PRINCE2®, MSP®

Senior Managing Partner @S4F.Solutions™, S4F.Solutions™ empowers organizations to bridge the gap “Black-Box” between their invested resources and envisioned results.”

Asaad Taha is a leading Social Impact Entrepreneur, Futurist and Senior Principal Adviser with multi-sectoral expertise on the continuum of social impact programs — from the strategic level to frontline delivery

References

Airborne Nitrogen Dioxide Plummets Over China. (2020, March 2). Retrieved March 26, 2020, from https://www.earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/146362/airborne-nitrogen-dioxide-plummets-over-china

Baldwin, R. I. C. H. A. R. D. (2020, March 21). To treat COVID-19’s economic impact, start by keeping the lights on. Retrieved March 25, 2020, from https://review.chicagobooth.edu/economics/2020/article/treat-covid-19-s-economic-impact-start-keeping-lights

Banerjee, N. (2020, March 13). Q&A: A Harvard Expert on Environment and Health Discusses Possible Ties Between COVID and Climate. Retrieved March 25, 2020, from https://insideclimatenews.org/news/11032020/coronavirus-harvard-doctor-climate-change-public-health

Nelson, B. (2020, January 29). The Next Coronavirus Nightmare Is Closer Than You Think. Retrieved March 25, 2020, from https://www.thedailybeast.com/get-ready-for-more-coronavirus-nightmares-thanks-to-climate-change

Pangolin pup nudges its mother, rolled up into a protective ball. By Gregg Yan Philippine Pangolin. (2020, March 23). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philippine_pangolin#/media/File:Philippine_Pangolin_Curled-up_by_Gregg_Yan.jpg

Plumer, B., & Schwartz, J. (2020, March 18). Where the Virus and Climate Intersect. Retrieved March 25, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/18/climate/nyt-climate-newsletter-coronavirus.html

Quinn, S. C., & Kumar, S. (2014). Health Inequalities and Infectious Disease Epidemics: A Challenge for Global Health Security. Biosecurity and Bioterrorism: Biodefense Strategy, Practice, and Science, 12(5), 263–273. DOI: 10.1089/bsp.2014.0032

Rasmi, A. (2020, March 20). Coronavirus is changing the way the world says, “hello.” Retrieved March 25, 2020, from https://qz.com/1811262/coronavirus-is-changing-how-the-world-says-hello/

Sample, B. (2020, March 22). Coronavirus Will Forever Change Global Order. Retrieved March 25, 2020, from https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2020-03-22/coronavirus-will-change-democracy-politics-and-the-global-order

Schulze, E. (2019, January 22). Everything you need to know about the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Retrieved March 25, 2020, from https://www.cnbc.com/2019/01/16/fourth-industrial-revolution-explained-davos-2019.html

The World After This. (2020, March 20). Retrieved March 25, 2020, from https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/wxekvw/the-world-after-coronavirus-healthcare-labor-climate-internet

Visual Capitalist. LePan, N. (2020, March 27). Visualizing the History of Pandemics. Retrieved March 30, 2020, from https://www.visualcapitalist.com/history-of-pandemics-deadliest/

A Social Entrepreneur | Futurist|Principal Advisor @ S4F™ Solutions™

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