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Will COVID-19 Put Us Right with Nature?

The COVID-19 virus, as frightening as it now seems, may ultimately fail to jolt humanity out of its profligate habits. But instead of regarding the pandemic as merely another problem requiring a technical fix, the world should see it as an opportunity to rethink humanity's relationship with the planet.

LONDON – One of the few things not in short supply in the COVID-19 era is commentary on the pandemic. Understandably enough, the virus has generated a non-stop flow of news about its spread, instructions on how to avoid and survive it, analysis of its causes and treatment, and conjecture about its impact on work habits, mental health, the economy, geopolitics, and much else.

My own period of home detention has produced the following reflections, which I add with some diffidence to the chorus of expert voices.

To begin with, I read Klaus Mühlhahn’s book Making China Modern. In Chinese cosmology, Mühlhahn notes, the human and natural worlds were inextricably linked. “When the proper order was respected, the physical world ran smoothly and the human world prospered,” he writes. But, “when that order was not respected, anomalous or destructive events, such as earthquakes, floods, eclipses, or even epidemics, would take place.”

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