So, the human world was stopped on its axis not by war, asteroid or cybercrime, but by a microscopic bug to which as yet we have no answer.
That we can be so wholly exposed by an act of nature, albeit inspired by our own actions, should now mentally arm us in the fight against the gathering storm of the climate crisis.
No doubt fossil fuels are returning, power stations firing up around the world as lockdowns ease. But there is a growing clamour for this to be the start of a new era.
The United Nations special envoy for the Ocean, Peter Thomson, in his accompanying article, writes: “If there were ever a tide in human affairs that should be taken, this is it.” A return to the old ways simply resumes a deadly course, he argues.
It is a timely exhortation drawn from the Shakespeare play Julius Caesar, where Brutus says to Cassius:
“There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune…”
Brutus is actually talking about the ideal time to strike in battle, but the message is clear: first recognise, and then seize the opportunity.
Brutus’s stoic philosophy emanated from ancient Greece in the third century BC. This ancient thinking emphasised the inevitability of the laws of nature and saw the success of humanity bound up in understanding and following those laws.
Science now accepts we have been overstepping the boundaries of nature’s rules, and the consequences have been calamitous. From a zoonotic pandemic which is killing hundreds of thousands from every walk of life, to extreme weather and crashing biodiversity, with dire consequences for millions, if not billions.
The problem is how to harness the will for change, especially in the calendar voids wrought by COVID-19, postponing critical climate and biodiversity conferences. But things are moving.
This coming week from June 1, the Virtual Oceans Dialogue will fill the space left by the UN Ocean Conference that was slated to take place in Lisbon, Portugal, focusing on how the ocean can be part of the solution in helping the global economy recover from the pandemic.
The Dialogues have been designed for communities around the world to connect and exchange ideas.
Thomson says it is all about the road we must now travel: how we advance into sustainable food systems, build resilient cities, execute a rapid transition into renewable energy and protect our oceans, which provide us with every second breath of oxygen that we breathe.
“If we love our children, and theirs,” Thomson said, “if we love this planet, if we love life itself, then staying true to that course is the ultimate obligation.”
Otherwise, as Brutus knew, the outlook is grim:
“There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a sea we are now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.”
Your environment round-up
1. Clean energy cars: French President Emmanuel Macron wants France to produce a million clean energy cars by 2025, making it Europe’s top producer.
2. Fifty billion years worth: That is how much cumulative evolutionary history scientists fear could be lost as humans push wildlife to the brink and “weird and wonderful” animals slide silently toward extinction.
3. Qatar’s birdlife is thriving: Watch stunning images of the skies darkening as cormorants come home to roost.
4. Cop26 delayed: The crucial climate summit will be postponed until November 2021 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
5. ‘A plague’: India is dealing with its worst invasion of desert locusts in more than a quarter of a century.
The final word
We must take these currents while they serve, for through the fog of sadness, trauma and sacrifice this pandemic has brought upon us, we catch glimpses of the ways ahead. The joys of birdsong and the tolling bells of logic tell us to take the one that leads to a blue-green future.
Peter Thomson, UN Special Envoy for the Ocean & co-chair of Friends of Ocean Action