Europe and Central Asia

April Fool - The Wasteland


OPINION | By Christopher Sands

Am I an April Fool?

A personal essay, comprising the author’s personal musings

The famous Nobel prize-winning poet TS Eliot’s famous 1922 modernist poem, The Wasteland, seems premonitory on this bizarre April Fool’s Day.

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

It is a long poem, much longer than this brief extract,  filled with unexpected metaphors, which, for me, anyway, captures something of the gloom, anxiety, wonder and contrasts of these especially perplexing days in which we are living. In the northern hemisphere, spring’s buds burst forth and migrating birds arrive to what for them are agreeably empty streets, parks and countryside, blissfully unaware of the mortal hand of the virus which has us by our throat.  If, by chance, you have some time on your hands, and you’re crazed by surfing the net with its maddening blend of strident certainty and propaganda, I suggest you read it in its entirety – it is quite wondrous. Its scattering of diverse emotions and thoughts mirror well the range of feelings most of us are likely experiencing.

We feel on the precipice of something even more horrific. We cringe and flourish in our privilege in being able to ‘work at home’, when so many lack both work and a home. We dread how that renders those less fortunate to risks of death so much greater than our own. How little our scientists and physicians really know for certain about this virus relentlessly racing around the globe. And yet, at the same time, they convert the limited and ever-changing data they have deciphered into recommendations and public health policies that already seem to be bearing fruit in some places for some people. How true and time-worn is the cliché that the pandemic brings out the best and the worst among us. The nurse thrown out of her apartment block by the pandemic panic of her neighbors while others shop for the medicines and groceries their coughing flatmate needs.

Bouncing around our homes, many of us struggle to render some sense out of this reminder of just how little power and control we have. In my work, we modestly strive to protect the planet and nature, using science and facts to promote policies and behaviours that will enhance our environment rather than exterminate it. This is work of value, even, dare we say, critical importance – but in this moment of life and death of the pandemic, we are necessarily distracted and disturbed. Intellectually we know that the exigencies of controlling the virus’s spread must displace our own agenda in the immediate days and months.  But we grapple as well with wondering when might it be appropriate to address again the concerns we have about the existential crisis of our planet’s climate and her loss of biodiversity. We know these critical challenges loom, even as we fight the disease. So each of us, whether a citizen, an activist, a politician or a philosopher, search for the elusive and appropriate way to maintain the visibility of the issues we know are so essential to our future as a society beyond the pandemic.

One conclusion we feel relatively certain about is this. Despite the death and the devastating grief and pain through which the planet and her people will pass, are passing,  the attendant economic devastation will be addressed by our governments and institutions according to their wealth and ability. Given the unprecedented shock our system is undergoing, the remedies we shall apply as we emerge are likely to be of a scale and expense equally unprecedented. As these measures are developed and applied, we feel deeply, unequivocally, even passionately, that they must include the same elements we celebrate in the best of our behaviours on display as individuals respond to the crisis. They must not be hijacked by the selfish, bad actors among us.  These measures must embrace a commitment to justice and fairness, solidarity and sustainability, and discipline in our consumption and treatment of our natural resources. As we confine ourselves in solidarity to protect our community’s health and our own, so we should pledge to live these values going forward and demand them of our governments and our politicians and representatives. The cynicism and selfishness of business as we have practiced it previously must give way to the opportunity to match and align the massive investments we are about to make with the principles enshrined in policies such as the EU Green Deal, the Paris Climate Accord, the Aichi targets and the Sustainable Development Goals.

If we do that, we will rescue our people, our economy and our planet – and in doing so we will avoid TS Eliot’s Wasteland.