Once the panic, grief, and worldwide turmoil of the coronavirus pandemic has eventually subsided (as it certainly will in due course), our biggest and most important challenge will be not how or if we survived the relatively short term upheavals to our lives, but whether as individuals and societies we learn from the experience and modify our behaviour in the long term.
Without attempting to downplay the individual trauma of people losing loved ones unexpectedly, if we wish to try and minimise the occurrence of future similar events, we need to examine the underlying causes of the current pandemic.
This has not been the first coronavirus outbreak, nor will it be the last.
Human physiology is such that varying degrees of sickness in our lives are unavoidable, and ultimately inevitable.
To believe that we are – or even should be – immune from serious illness in modern times is a delusion particularly prevalent in wealthy, developed countries, where our privileged lifestyles and unthinking faith in the supposed infallibility of science and Western medicine have led to complacency and a foolish denial of reality.
Unsurprising then, that the coronavirus has come as such a shock to so many, brutally exposing the fragility of their economic systems, their governments, their way of life, and even their own mortality.
In the short term at least, despite the inevitable conspiracy theories, it appears likely that the current coronavirus (Covid-19), originated in China from the practice of eating fruit bats from so-called ‘wet’ markets in Wuhan.
But that is only the likely immediate cause, and is merely a symptom of a much deeper malaise that infects us all – and for which we are all responsible.
The real problem is not the coronavirus, but the fact that the overwhelming majority of us on the planet are living grossly unsustainable lifestyles – a situation which virtually guarantees that we will suffer a range of comparable or worse events than the coronavirus in the foreseeable future.
Whether those events occur due to accelerating climate change, wars, famine or pestilence is, from a planetary rather than an individual perspective, largely irrelevant.
The effect on our current population levels and ways of life are likely to be sudden and catastrophic, and may make the current coronavirus pandemic – serious though it is – look like child’s play.
At current levels of around 7.5 billion people and rising, our world is seriously over-populated.
Never before in human history has our planet had to try and sustain such numbers – and never before have countries throughout the world embraced economic and political systems so efficient and ruthless at devouring and destroying the resources we need to survive.
Instead of actively preventing our greedy, incompetent politicians and business leaders from taking us to our doom, we encourage or turn a blind eye to them – and then wring our hands in despair when our carefully constructed houses made of cards collapse before our very eyes, along with everything else we hold dear.
We continue to vote for the politicians who each year strip money and resources from our hospitals and health care systems so that when a coronavirus or something similar does come along, we have no chance whatever of coping with it and tens of thousands of people die needlessly, victims of our collective apathy and stupidity.
What does it say about our politicians when they can instantly find billions and even trillions of dollars to prop up corrupt, unethical, failing economies on life support when the coronavirus pandemic hits – but point blank refuse to find even a fraction of that to address looming climate change, which threatens to make the coronavirus look insignificant by comparison?
More importantly, what does it say about ourselves when we continue to vote for these people, and continue to believe their lies and prevarication?
As we currently gaze out onto the eerily deserted streets and highways of our once-bustling mega cities, will we take it as a portent of our future if we don’t mend our ways?
Or will we simply resent the interruption to our selfish, unsustainable lifestyles and make up for lost time by jumping straight back into ‘business as usual’ when the coronavirus fades away?
If so, we will have thrown away our big chance to reassess our true place in the world, and we will have ignored the polite, comparatively gentle tap on the shoulder that Mother Nature has thoughtfully given us with the coronavirus.
Just as we need to work together in order to protect ourselves against the coronavirus, so we need to work together to change our collective behaviour now – and forever – in order to prevent a future that is likely to be much, much worse than the current pandemic we are experiencing.
I wonder what we will do.