Nearly 60 years ago, Rachel Carson wrote “Silent Spring,” the epic book that launched the modern environmental consciousness about the hazards of indiscriminate use of lethal chemicals.

While largely a technical analysis, the first chapter was titled “A Fable for Tomorrow” and depicted a mythical town in middle America where, all of a sudden one spring season, “a strange blight crept over the area, and everything began to change.”

Sound familiar?

Fast-forward to 2020 and most of the world’s population is experiencing a different type of silent spring. Yes, trees are blossoming, wildflowers are blooming, and days are getting longer. Even in subtropical Hawaii, spring has subtle but distinct characteristics.

Culturally, spring has traditional connotations of new beginnings and optimism. It’s no accident that this is the season for graduations, marriages, and romantic “spring flings.”

But Spring 2020 will go down in history as “the spring that wasn’t” for humans. Rituals and rights of passage will be thrown totally out of kilter.

Lanikai Beach on April 6. Because of the coronavirus Oahu is eerily quiet. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Perhaps the saddest insult is some COVID-19 victims may pass away apart from loved ones and never be memorialized in the ways their families envisioned. Grief will be improvised. The rhythm of life will miss quite a few beats.

Amidst all this foreboding, if I step outside my shelter-in-place home in Honolulu, birds are still chirping, clouds still drift overhead, and the sun still rises and sets. Bees still hover around the flowers in my yard. The ocean waves still roll and break with infinite regularity. The rest of nature seems pretty normal.

It almost seems like a cruel joke that the rest of nature is going through a normal month while the human species is experiencing some degree of chaos. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around? Seriously, when was the last time we called a total social and economic timeout to save another species?

(Being at the top of the food chain comes with benefits.)

And on a totally different plane, how is it we’re able to marshal a global response to COVID-19 while we dither about climate change?

We’re Truly Fragile

I’m an optimist and a pragmatist. I envision a post-COVID-19 era that mimics the post 9-11 era. We’ll create the Homeland Security equivalent for whatever is missing in our national vigilance for the next pandemic, which is inevitable.

But what I really hope is that we realize how truly fragile we are as a species, like all other species. Spring 2020 will be “the spring that wasn’t.”

Let’s look forward to Spring 2021 and try to imagine this:

  • scientific and medical breakthroughs will have drastically reduced COVID-19’s infectiousness and lethality;
  • all nations will have increased and enhanced their preparation, vigilance and response systems for pandemic threats;
  • graduation ceremonies will combine classes of 2020 and 2021 in a celebration of hope and resiliency; and
  • the world will have an increased sensitivity to the fragility of all species and resolve to shoulder our collective responsibilities to avoid a “slow walk” version of COVID-19 to play out through climate change.

As with every new spring, hope springs eternal.

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