Published in IFD Newsletter Vol.1-Issue4. The third issue of ToFD comes from IFD fellow, Mohammad Ahsan Fuzail.
Here, Fuzail explores the connections of guilt to seemingly unrelated phenomena like fall foliage, but also to more relevant ones such as the current pandemic, our climate catastrophe and the global refugee crisis.
Every piece of writing involving the events of this year reflects on how 2020 subverted all expectations. As such, dear reader, I will expedite that part: 2020 has been the strangest year I (and most probably, even you) can remember. And while it has led me to experience every emotion conceivable, what strikes me most is the tinge of guilt across the board.
My current city of residence, Boston, is famed for its fall colors. This time of the year, you’ll see leaves everywhere, competing to adopt as many shades as possible of red, yellow, and orange. To see this flamboyant display so early in the year made for many vivid pictures. But to learn why it came as early as it did made for a worrisome realization. This year’s seasonal color change, known as leaf senescence, was accelerated by the state of high heat and drought in New England this summer. As humans continue to put nature through the intense stress test wrought by our existence, scientists predict that soon Fall will look much more muted as temperatures rise and these colorful species are forced higher north – even as they are right now. And so, I take my mindless pictures with the guilt of knowing that those who come after me may never know this joy.
Take a minute and think on that – we as a species are not content with the displacement of 80 million of our own, we are even displacing ancient and rooted beings from their habitat. Even as that minute ticks to its end, another 20 people have been displaced due to conflict or persecution somewhere in the world. This sharp rise of humans, flora and fauna being displaced has serious implications. For example, a 2010 study in Nature found that “biodiversity loss tends to increase pathogen transmission and disease incidence”. This year’s roughly 473,760 minutes so far have been marked by a direct example of this disease incidence. As you read this, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to surge in all its exponential rage.
Since March 2020, I have witnessed guilt creep into everything as I weighed the unprecedented danger of existing and interacting in a pandemic. Guilt over every white lie to my family about being able to come home soon... “when this is all over in September, no no in December”...whenever. Guilt over feeling guilty for trying to live some semblance of normalcy in a pandemic, even as the federal government largely abandoned the populace to fend for itself. I say this because for all the focus on individual responsibility, Dr. Carrie Preston’s op-ed summarized damningly how the Trump administration mainly used COVID-19 as a double-edged sword of deception. On one hand, sowing distrust in its existence, while using the pandemic to further stifle the right to seek shelter for thousands at the southern US border, on the other.
Moreover, the US is not alone in committing such egregious behavior, make no mistake – this indifference to the suffering of those we see as different from us is a global albatross around our neck. By and large, rising inequity, environmental collapse, and ceaseless political dithering have left entire countries reeling in the face of the pandemic’s additional burden. Across megalopolises and neighborhoods, across schools, workplaces and communities, the pandemic has only served to rudely pull off the façade of stability that most of the world enjoyed.
However, it may be fair to say that I am guilty of being overly nihilistic. Around me, everyday I see examples of the true spirit of humanity in my peers, my advisors, and my community. Even as the Trump administration draws to its end, and the Biden admin prepares to assume the mantle, I see these brave advancers of progress pile on the pressure through word, action and agitation to realize the just and sustainable society that is every human’s birthright.
To ease my guilt, I leave you with this thought. As the 5 major extinctions in the history of Earth have shown, the planet will march on. It is up to you and I, intrepid dwellers of this interglacial period to build a world where we tackle seemingly unrelated issues like climate collapse, forced displacement or even emergent pandemics, as the interdependent systemic issues they are.