You slap nature and she will give you one

An image of the bronchitis virus, part of the coronavirus family that includes the common cold, SARS and MERS. They have a halo, or crown-like (corona) appearance when viewed under an electron microscope. Photo: CDC/Public domain

POPE FRANCIS PUBLISHED Laudato Si’, the first-ever papal encyclical on the environment, in 2015, mincing no words in his harsh and anguished calls for urgent action. During one of his in-flight press conferences on 15 January 2015, the pope made this famous statement: “God always forgives, we men forgive sometimes, but nature never forgives. If you give her a slap, she will give you one. I believe that we have exploited nature too much.”

Five years down the line, the universe is facing a health emergency from a pandemic. Is it that “slap” the pope was referring to? April 22 was the 50th anniversary of the Earth Day observance calling on the people of the universe to protect nature. This year it came at this tumultuous time and it has passed us quietly, without us even noticing it. The pandemic, that has already killed over 177,000 people in less than three months’ time across nations, calls for a fresh look at the pope’s call about “caring for our common home.”

Pope Francis’s urgent call to action fell on the deaf years of the world leadership. The encyclical called for a change in the lifestyle and to identifying priorities in life. Perhaps that moment for the change in lifestyle has finally come in the era of the Covid-19 coronavirus. Our living habits will never be the same again in the post-Covid-19 world. Like the deluge of the Old Testament, this pandemic should help the universe to identify new set of priorities and begin an overhaul of a consumeristic world economy. 

In the wake of pandemic outbreak, nations around the world braced to raise fences, but the virus that began its world tour from the land of the ancient Great Wall couldn’t care less about breaching modern-day national borders. Leaders of nations and acclaimed chemists spoke about it with respect when they said, “It does not need a passport,” and “It sets its own timeline.” Yet, it is pathetic that they refused to acknowledge the abuse of nature and instead point fingers at each other. Most reactions suggest that they are keen on going back to their profit-oriented, economy-centred lifestyle instead of switching to ecology-centred living habits.  

Although implicit in nature, leaders around the world displayed on the world stage what their priorities are. As the virus spread like wildfire, the Chinese government is alleged to have refused to share the vital data with the world for days or weeks. Possible reasons: fear of international disgrace and a repercussions on its economy—government placed its priority on economy over its people. 

The nation that is worst hit is the United States of America, not only in terms of the number of people infected and number of deaths, but also in terms of economic fallout. But it all sounded so heartless to hear the president of the country claim that if his administration kept the death toll to 100,000, it will have done “a very good job!” Again, a priority of power and economy over human lives. 

The pandemic is teaching us new life lessons. It calls on us not to become obsessed with our ‘I’. If you don’t, you will end up thinking that your “shoulder pain” is the most painful and debilitating illness anyone could have. 

What is important is to get our priorities correct—keep the other and the universe first, and they will take care of ‘you’! Jose 

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