By Jim Poling Sr.
This first full week of the New Year is the most important week of the year.
It is the third week following the winter solstice, a celestial phenomenon during which we turn from the deepening darkness behind us, and look to broadening daylight ahead. We see brighter, more hopeful, times coming toward us.
The solstice occurs Dec. 21, and results in the shortest daylight hours and the longest hours of darkness. After that, the daylight hours get longer. We already have gained almost 15 minutes of daylight since the solstice, and each day now brings approximately one more minute of daylight.
The days following the winter solstice are a time of brightening and new beginnings, accented by the start of a new calendar year.
Some ancient cultures saw the winter solstice as a time for celebrating the cycles of life – death, rebirth, gestation and regeneration. It was a time of renewal and new opportunities.
Certainly, as the days lengthen and brighten, it is time to bury 2020 and its dark events. We can’t forget them; they are history. Important history that provides us with valuable lessons.
There are numerous lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic, many of which will be detailed as our societies investigate what went wrong, what was done right, and what we can do to alleviate, and maybe even prevent, future outbreaks.
Two lessons strike me immediately. One, which should have been obvious, is there is no place for politics in health emergencies.
Mixing politics with health decisions created chaos and unnecessary suffering and deaths in the United States and Britain. In Canada, the consequences have been less severe, but confusion has been rampant.
Politics in general are seriously ill. They have been infected by hardcore right- and left-wing fanaticism that brushes aside bipartisanship, a key to solving a society’s problems.
The cure for this political sickness rests with the voters. We must become more thoughtful and begin promoting and electing more independent-minded people to help direct our affairs.
Independent thinkers are critical to our future. People who listen carefully to all sides, evaluate what they hear and make decisions independent of what the political party hacks demand.
The second lesson from the year 2020 is that we need to think differently about pandemic level disease and how it occurs.
Pandemics no longer are once-every-one-hundred-years events. We will suffer more of them until we begin changing how we treat our planet. (This one was predicted two years before it arrived, but few paid any attention).
The majority of infectious diseases that have attacked us in recent decades have been zoonotic, meaning they came from animals. They spilled over from non-human animals into humans. Bird “flu,” swine “flu,” SARS, West Nile virus, Zika and Ebola are examples.
The American Centre for Disease Control and Prevention says that three out of four new or emerging infectious diseases come from non-human animals. It also says that zoonotic diseases are responsible for an estimated 2.5 billion cases of illness and 2.7 million deaths worldwide each year.
Much of the blame for these spillover diseases from animals to humans has been placed on the wildlife trade. But trade in such critters as bats and civet cats as exotic food bought in “wet” markets is only one factor.
Destroying wild lands – like cutting down forests – forces wild animals and their diseases out of their natural habitats and closer to humans. A mix of wild animals in places that they have never been (and never should be) increases the potential for bringing zoonotic diseases to humans.
Mixing livestock and wild animals on farms, overuse of antibiotics on livestock, agricultural land-use and other agriculture practices also are factors.
These many factors all roll into a single cause – the upsetting of nature’s balance. Everything and everyone on this planet is part of nature and intricately connected to it. When humans start messing with the connections, bad things happen.
Wild, dangerous weather and pandemics are two bad things we are experiencing now. There will be more if we do not change our ways.
The New Year and its brightening post-solstice days are a good time to start thinking about the lessons of the pandemic.