Photo credit: Anne Guerry
Each morning for the past three weeks, for a few brief seconds on that threshold between being asleep and awake, I’ve thought that day was dawning on a run-of-the-mill spring morning. But as soon as consciousness fully returns, I’m aware that the day is anything but routine. Our society, and so many of the little daily things we each do, is profoundly altered by the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Our spring mornings are unlike any other.
Like so many of us, my days are now defined by this pandemic virus. Not only because I’m sheltering in place, obsessively reading news, cleaning my groceries, and trying valiantly to learn “new math” for my unanticipated home-schooling career, but also because everything just feels different. Feels denser. I ache for those less privileged than I—those who have lost lives and livelihoods or fear doing so. I rage about inept leaders and the tangled, deadly messes they have made. I grieve the loss of human connections, routines, and expectations of the future. I delight in warm sun filtering through the trees while I walk in the woods with my no-longer-busy teenager. I celebrate (mostly) a renewed focus on family and home. I rejoice in people taking care of one another in innumerable ways, large and small, planetary and individual.
As with all crises, things look different, because we are looking at them from an entirely new vantage point. We’re quite simply no longer in the same place. We’re all the way on the other rim of the canyon and trying to make sense of a once-familiar landscape. Some things that once mattered now seem insignificant. And some things that mattered before loom even larger.
Our work at NatCap is in that second category. Our mission is to advance the science, technology, and partnerships that enable people and nature to thrive. In this crisis it has become abundantly clear that science is of the utmost importance. It helps us understand and combat this virus from the level of the sequence to the cellular to the individual to the community and on to the population. Technology too—from smart vaccine construction to ventilators to epidemiological models—has a critical role to play as the global community addresses this threat and figures out how to make the best of the ever-changing information at hand to make the best decisions we can. Partnership can mean a lot of things, but most salient here is that it signifies the weaving together of many ways of knowing. Partnership is about listening, about learning, and about envisioning better futures. It is about empathy and about care. It is about reaching out, and about rising up, together.
Photo credit: Anne Guerry
Like all institutions, NatCap has had to change course a bit. The postponement of our Symposium really stung. This event is an important milestone in the NatCap year—we build so many collaborations, new and old, around it. We pour our hearts, souls, and brains into designing sessions that forge new connections and foster new ideas. But we adapt. From Symposium week onward we have been giving Zoom a workout, hosting countless hours of meetings amongst colleagues near and far. We are finding new ways to work together while apart and getting to know everyone’s kids, pets, and at-home workspaces.
And we’re thinking about things in new ways in this new world. We’re advancing our work on the benefits to mental health and physical activity of access to nature—something that feels even more important now that so many people across the globe are in some form of lockdown. We’re focusing on writing proposals with colleagues in planetary health to explore further and deeper connections between human health, nature, and climate change. We’re modeling biodiversity in cities and envisioning new ways to think about where and when people interact with nature and what that means for both. We’re gearing up to help urban leaders think of nature as an essential component of their infrastructure as they design new systems that are resilient to future shocks. And we’re doubling down on our work with multilateral banks and governments to create new metrics—to be standardized for global use, like GDP—that capture the linked wellbeing of vulnerable people, human health, ecosystems, and economies. As always, we are thinking holistically, recognizing the complexity of the systems in which we are all embedded. We are noticing the cracks in those systems and envisioning ways that new growth can take hold in those cracks.
Surely, like Nat Cap, we as a society will emerge from this crisis with fresh perspectives intact. We’ll fix broken systems. We’ll notice that some of those things that we trimmed away don’t need to come back into our lives or the systems we’re embedded within. We’ll continue to take care of each other and recognize that care for our planet is care for ourselves. We’ll think more about what we attend to. We will take neither ventilators nor the Amazon rainforest—our planet’s lungs—for granted. We’ll respect science and use it to make good decisions that benefit the global community.
I count myself extremely fortunate to work with an international team and broad network of scientists, leaders, activists, philanthropists, thinkers, writers, and dreamers capable of tackling so many of these issues. It gives me hope and energy in those liminal moments between being asleep and awake, as reality dawns.
Anne Guerry is Chief Strategy Officer and Lead Scientist at the Natural Capital Project.