Reflections on Coronavirus, the Climate, and Communication

On average, a person is thought to speak 15,000 words a day (Mehl et al., 2007). However, for many people (myself included) the amount we have spoken may have dropped significantly due to social isolation imposed by the current COVID-19 situation. Now, my words are limited to a few hundred that are transmitted over online conversations and phone calls, and perhaps a few dozen that I say to myself. But this makes the conversations that I do have more poignant.

For me, talking to my dad normally involves small talk and a catch-up about our lives and how we’re doing. Recently though, our discussions turned to far bigger things. For example, the last time we spoke he asked me:

Do you think the coronavirus is an act of nature or an act of God, if you believe in that?

I had to pause and think about this. Whilst I’d seen articles and posts that call this current situation an act of nature, I hadn’t formed an opinion on this, up until he asked this question. At first, I thought we may be able to see the coronavirus as some sort of retaliation from nature – an attack against humanity and its destructive tendencies. If we constantly exploit and decimate natural systems, of course it will fight back against us.

But upon thinking about this again, I realised that there may be a problem with this way of thinking. We are framing natural disasters or diseases such as the coronavirus as a battle we must win, and nature as some sort of enemy that we need to keep in check, before it hurts us. This is the exact opposite of how we should be viewing nature.

Instead of trying to wage a war against our environment, we need to be living in harmony with it. Not only that, calling the coronavirus an “act of” anything, makes it seem like it is something we have little to no control over. In reality, the virus is kind of our fault. Humans have to take responsibility for these sorts of viruses because we have created a world in which pandemics are a likely side-effect. By destroying natural habitats, trafficking wild animals, and exploiting wildlife, we are increasing the likelihood of novel diseases arising & passing onto humans. Additionally, cramming animals into crowded, dirty, and unhygienic conditions (as is done on a wide-scale across the planet through wet markets & factory farms) is certainly not helping our case.  

This virus is an act of humanity. However, that does not mean “we are the virus”.

Since entire communities have been entering into lockdowns, I’ve seen plenty of uplifting, positive posts about wildlife flourishing in developed areas. However, some of these posts have been coupled with statements about how humans are the virus. Again, I find this language to be inaccurate, and potentially damaging.

I truly believe that humans are not intrinsically bad and violent. We do not intent to cause harm – we just tend to be ignorant to the impacts that our lifestyles have. Whilst we may have caused the virus, that doesn’t mean it should define the human species.

Instead of humans being a virus, I think we’re all just stuck. Right now, we’re all stuck inside. Generally, though, we’re stuck among the grinding gears of modern-day life, and overwhelmed by unrelenting business. We’re stuck in a capitalist society that constantly puts profit above the needs of people and the planet. We’re stuck in a trap that causes us to believe things that aren’t true, and to accept the way things are rather than questioning them. We are stuck in a resistance that forces us to resent change, even if its a really good change.

The current situation has forced us to open our eyes up to some of this. We now see that we live in a system that is highly flawed and unjust. And many of us actually do not want things to go back to normal after lockdowns end. A YouGov study has found that less than 10% of people want a complete return to normality after this period is over.

I often find myself thinking “oh, I can’t wait for things to return to normal”, even though I don’t fully mean it. I just miss seeing friends, and going to new places, and being able to find purpose through activism. I don’t actually want a return to normal. In fact, I’m terrified of the idea of going back to normal. Normal was not okay.

Normalcy was leading us down a path towards a far hotter world. Whilst my aversion to dramatic statements such as “ an act of God” or “we are the virus” may suggest that I have an issue with language that may be deemed to be alarming and intense, that is not the case. The climate crisis is alarming, and if we do nothing about it, future generations will experience the collapse of civilisation and unending catastrophe, and the human race may even be driven to extinction.

This statement is one that potentially evokes a lot of shock and horror, for certain people. But it is a true statement. Many have sad that harsh, frank statements like these are an ineffective means of communicating information about the climate crisis, because they induce fear and a sense of hopelessness, and not action. However, these claims are largely unfounded, with little evidence to support them (Bendell, 2018). In fact, the loss of a loved one or a way of life have been found to trigger a new way of perceiving the world and oneself, and hopelessness or even despair is one of the crucial steps in achieving this (Matousek, 2008).

For the general public to truly re-evaluate their lives, and to realise how important their part could be in creating a sustainable future, it is crucial that the implications of the climate crisis are communicated accurately. Simultaneously, we must be careful with how we use our language. We need to take time to think about the way we talk about environmental issues, as one well-meaning and profound statement may project a dangerous idea into other people’s heads. So far, communication on the climate change is severely lacking something – mainly, a sense of urgency. Facts have frequently been dulled down and confused, and this has led to action stalling.

But, on the bright side, we now know that action is possible. We know that governments are capable of shutting down entire industries for the good of human health. We know individuals are willing to make huge sacrifices to look after complete strangers. We know that society can be radically altered almost overnight, when it needs to be. And if the climate experts & relevant activists can choose the right words to convince governments, corporations, and people to finally respond to this crisis in the necessary way, then perhaps we will have a fighting chance.

We can be unstuck.


Bendell, J., 2018. Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy, IFLAS Occasional Paper 2

Mehl, M., Vazire, S., Ramirez-Esparza, N., Slatcher, R. and Pennebaker, J., 2007. Are Women Really More Talkative Than Men?. Science, 317(5834), pp.82-82.

Matousek, M., 2008. When You Are Falling, Dive: Lessons in the Art of Living, Bloomsbury USA, New York, NY

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