Our writer finds the destruction of the natural world, and his own money problems, far more distressing than any pandemic.
MEXICO CITY — If it's not too early to look for one, I've found the proverbial silver lining of the COVID-19 crisis: the global health epidemic will probably help humanity meet its climate targets this year.
In recent days I've seen just this one series of satellite pictures showing a drop in pollution in China. Yet when infections began getting out of hand there in February, I thought right away about how it might curb polluting activities like air travel. Full-fledge reports on its environmental effects would no doubt be speculative, though we can say the same about so many of the socio-economic forecasts we're used to. But let's just consider the flights being canceled as millions renounce their travel plans, or even all the people being asked to work from home on a daily basis whose polluting cars stay in their driveways.
I am in Mexico, and I must say that Mexicans are resilient in times of crisis. They will carry on unless literally forced to stay home and watch their phones. As Paco, the owner of my favorite local internet cafe, said once, "You know what they say, if an apocalypse happens, the only survivors will be cockroaches and Mexicans. Just so you know what we put up with."
Instead, the markets have panicked on their behalf, which is something where I can indeed verify the effects. The peso is plummeting just as I've begun trying to sell my flat in Mexico City. That will leave me heading back to Spain just as the virus is spreading there, and the Brexit transition begins for real. I will likely get a good five or 10,000 euros less for it now. What I always say about calamities like earthquakes also works well for global health contagions: it's really not a good time right now.
My mother is bound to have her say.
And yet, another silver lining: I really can't do much about this damn plague. Consequently, it is stressing me far less than the complications arising from my flat's sale and return to Spain. Because those bear an element of personal responsibility. In other words, if I were quietly suffocating to death in a hospital, I might think, stop fretting, your hour has come. But in losing money on a flat sale, your mind will inevitably, insidiously suggest you made the wrong call. Who can blithely face up to a big mistake? It requires courage, integrity, honesty. Dismal words indeed.
Even if I could shoo away guilt with deceptive reasoning, my mother is bound to have her say ("Who told you to go to Mexico?"). She's got her own worries, trying to figure out how to travel out of Tehran, after her flight was grounded in early March. Iran, our native country, is one of the worst hit by COVID-19. I mailed her urging her not to shake hands, and she reminded me women do not shake hands in the Islamic Republic.
It all reminds me of another conversation with friends, from 10 years ago. We wondered what one would be thinking on a flight plunging toward destruction. I had precisely four thoughts: First and foremost: at least it's not my fault; secondly, I won't die alone, a possible indicator of failure in life; third: please God forgive my sins what with this stressful ending; and finally, the stewardesses should get up and serve the champagne, there's no sense in wasting it.
My silly friends laughed. I wasn't joking.