COVID-19 & Collapse

Imagine the entire world sharing one set of common concerns and globally engaged with taking the necessary actions to mitigate those concerns to help the world move forward in the best way possible. Imagine that the more urgent those concerns become (within reason), the more ingenuity rises and the more we systematize ways of sharing this riding ingenuity as best practices at scale for global survival.

This is the exact opposite of what people with the “doomsday prepper” mentality say that they are choosing to do. The preppers (and their guns and bunkers and food-hoarding) speak only of survival and self-reliance in a win/lose game plan which protects their competitive advantage. This brings into stark relief the evolutionary choice before us.

Currently, in the age of Covid-19’s emergence on the Earth, we are seeing both responses. Yet the far more consistent, dominant force is the win/win impulse, as evidenced by the following responses to the crisis: 

  • a common set of conversations, regardless of location 
  • a common set of actions, among the general populace and among health-care workers 
  • knowledge being shared freely in the science community and governance sectors

And all of these responses are happening at every order of magnitude: from family, to community, to nation-state, and between nations. 

When was the last time that anyone so consistently heard their friends and co-workers speaking with such an altruistic and mutual narrative? So many healthy and unaffected people, standing in solidarity sharing sentiments along the lines of, “I will do everything in my power not to get sick, even though I’m completely healthy and unlikely to be threatened by the virus, so that I may never accidentally become a carrier and threaten my immuno-compromised neighbor.”

Is it possible that we’re seeing a real-time preview of what solidarity and adaptation in the face of climate-induced collapse of natural and human systems can look like?  That is, can the equation possibly be: “global concern about a common existential threat + commonly held desire to survive = systemic collaboration and interdependence?” I believe it’s possible, under three conditions.

Collapse as Inevitable and Necessary

Before we look at the three required conditions for an interdependent and collaborative response to collapse, let me clarify that I am not promoting a type of false hope held by some, which would claim that our world can avoid collapse. Our human systems lack fundamental sustainability — they are inherently self-terminating, as designed. The win/lose dynamic can only continue at this scale by destroying the entire playing field. This dynamic only speaks to the inevitability of collapse, however.

Regarding its necessity, many have come to view collapse as the only way we will step off the train of our addiction to fossil fuels, infinite growth capitalism, and consumption. It will bring the humility that we require, in order to return ourselves to a workable relationship with the living Earth.

And that’s as it needs to be. So let’s see what this coronavirus response could portend for our global systems as they respond to a common threat.

The Required Conditions

The equation above, and the post-collapse world we know in our hearts is possible, can rise if the climate collapse meets three requirements in the way it occurs.

  1. It happens incrementally enough
  2. It happens with wide enough acceptance that it’s happening
  3. It engenders a win/win dynamic in a critical mass of global citizens 

Said differently, our global community needs to wake up to the fact that climate collapse has already begun, and come into a wide acceptance that there is no other country, nor any technology from our own country, that will prevent collapse at this point. 

That level of system-wide acceptance, coupled with collapse-shocks that arrive incrementally enough that we don’t tip into ugly panic and anti-social behaviors, may produce a post-collapse world worth living in, that is not some kind of brutal stone-age. In a complex living system under high stress, only omni-win interventions and solutions which work for everything and everyone will actually work for anyone. Knee-jerk self-protectionism only serves to magnify other stresses and problems. 

It has been said that humanity is at an evolutionary pinch-point, where we can either self-select for survival or extinction. Species level transformation is already happening now and the outcome is uncertain. The win/lose dynamic that has dominated history to this point will not take us into a future that anyone would want to arrive in, as it cannot actually be won. It is game-over for that dynamic, and a different strategy is required. 

Covid-19 is our opportunity to practice. To put systems into place now which serve to promote a world of collaboration, idea-sharing, and solidarity. Mutually assured destruction needs to ‘flip’ into mutually assured protection.  Interdependence will always out-win self-reliance because it is an inherently more robust system design – no one is ever actually secure unless and until everyone is secure. The good news is that millions and millions of people understand this, consciously or instinctively, and the irrefutable evidence is mounting. We will have more and more opportunities to practice either dynamic as the shocks continue to arrive in real time. 

Can we create this world of interdependent power-sharing and security? Can we call upon our leaders and ourselves to be the source of system-wide acceptance and action right now? The answer is simultaneously up to you, and everyone else. The risk of trusting everyone else to meet you and co-create this livable future is a high risk, it just happens to be the only way to avoid mutually assured destruction.