Indigenous cultures, spiritual people, ecosystem scientists, and others have long recognized and honored the Earth as a dynamic, self-regulating system. The Gaia Hypothesis, introduced in the 1970s, postulates that the temperature, oxidation state, and acidity of the Earth’s atmosphere, ocean, climate, and crust are regulated by the organisms inhabiting the globe-that is, our planet is one living, breathing organism. Planetary health is akin to our own: when we nourish ourselves with proper nutrition, movement, mindfulness, rest, immersion in nature, and more, our bodies thrive. So, too, with Pachamama, Planet Earth, Gaia; she thrives with proper care, for her systems are exquisitely designed and inherently regenerative.
When I was working on my PhD in biogeochemistry at MIT, I became intensely aware of the power of microbes and convinced they would be the downfall of our civilizations. Examples of the impacts of human alteration of the often-unseen chemical, biological, and physical balances of earth systems are everywhere-acidification of our oceans, low-oxygen dead zones in coastal waters, holes in the ozone layer, depletion of groundwater, pollution of drinking water, and more. By shifting the planet’s balance, we change the conditions that favor one organism over another, resulting in outbreaks of flesh-eating bacteria in coastal zones with increased nutrient loading, increased incidence of Lyme disease with changes in diversity or composition of animal hosts, and rising cases of malaria with decreased biodiversity, to name a few. The appearance and rapid global spread of the COVID-19 virus has been as shocking and distressing to me as anyone; yet, the phenomenon is entirely consistent with my scientific understandings and expectations.
Thus, I am not finding myself questioning WHY this is happening. We are out of balance, period. Blithe ignorance of the impacts of our economic, social, health, education, and welfare systems on the health and wellbeing of us as individuals, our communities, our fellow planetary inhabitants, and Gaia herself, has led to profound imbalance. This virus is just one of uncountably painful ways imbalance is causing suffering. We live with global hunger, obesity, disease, violence, poverty, species extinction, drought, flooding, and climate change, all of which can be traced to one grand imbalance or another. The question of WHY we continue to ignore the alarming signs of disconnect and fail to act to heal ourselves, our communities, and the planet, is what keeps me up at night.
Yet, while our global community is experiencing profound suffering and chaos associated with COVID-19, the natural world around us is quickly showing heartwarming signs of rebalancing: the buzz of activity on Earth has quieted and is showing up as a decrease in ambient seismic activity, the Himalaya are visible from Northern India for the first time in 30 years, air quality is improving over China, animals are rewilding cities. People are turning inward. Families and friends are connecting. Simply spending a moment outside digging in a garden, walking in the woods, gazing at the stars, or dipping your toes in a nearby river will remind you of this truth.
This pandemic, as traumatic and painful as it is, also provides a portal through which we might re-examine the ways in which we relate to and care for each other, and the ways in which we relate to and care for the natural world. Where do you see opportunity for good? What kinds of seismic shifts in our economic, social, health, education, and welfare systems can you envision? Where do you see potential for the human spirit to evolve? What might we learn? How might we change? Please SHARE your thoughts.
Originally published at http://www.wendypabich.com on April 15, 2020.