We're Going To Need Dreams As We Go Through This

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Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Disasters can be dream-killers. We don't really talk about them that way. Yet they wipe out people and neighborhoods and livelihoods.

There's another side, though.

I had to go on a food run yesterday, and it's weird to drive around town. A friend just got back from Arkansas, and took the back roads back up. She said it looked weird all the way back. Not apocalyptic, but... weird. My little neighborhood looks... weird. It's as empty as Christmas day, but obviously it's a "normal" weekday. There are several restaurants right nearby, and a bunch of little businesses. Lots of service stuff, and a shop or two.

How much of it will still be here on the other side of this? My favorite restaurant, with a rooftop bar where I can see my apartment? Where I've had so many amazing moments with good friends? The one next door, with such amazing staff? Right now what they're all offering is take-out. Most everything else is closed.

There's a field called disaster ecology. It's a thing. When a big stand-replacing wildfire comes through, or a flood, or when a volcano goes off or something... the ecosystem gets completely reset. Every disaster doesn't do that, but some do. When it happens, ecosystems slowly brings itself back, but sometimes they are completely different after. Maybe it's not a pine forest after the stand-replacing wildfire. Now maybe it's something different... maybe a meadow.

Pandemics are kind of different because they're so thorough, and worldwide. But they are catalysts all the same.

What comes out on the other side will absolutely be different.

There's another idea in ecology of overshoot and collapse. That a population can overshoot its resource base, and then collapse. A population usually collapses because of a lack of resources, like food, or habitat. Wildlife populations often collapse because of both.

Disease can also cause collapse. And while the mortality rate on this coronavirus pandemic is not super high, it's not going to be the only reason the pandemic causes death. We're hearing early stories of suicides, and in countries already experiencing significant fatalities, we know that a number of deaths are because other health issues that could normally be treated are not.

There's other stuff though.

There will be competition for food. Probably for water. Some nation-states are likely to fail. Increasing competition for food and water worldwide, and the increasing number of failed nation-states were already recognized national security issues. More on all that here. Now the whole world is also competing for medical equipment and medicine, too.

We're lucky there in some ways because the US is a resource-rich country.

We're unlucky because our nation-state is in deep trouble, and our federal government is specifically unwilling to use enormous and far-reaching emergency authorities to leverage the best resources available to us to help keep us alive.

What that all means for the whole world, including the US, is that there will be more death and destruction than there might have been. More dreams killed. More conflict over limited resources and care. More population collapse.

This is going to be a hell of a thing. Disasters suck in the middle. Obviously. They can suck for a long time after, too.

There is something that happens though in the natural world afterward. The year after a huge wildfire, you start to see shoots pop up. Little green plants, coming up through the ash. In a year or two after a flood, you see little plants pop up that can thrive in the sand left behind. A few years later, you see more diversity in the plants. The soil starts to change, and now it can support other species. Wildlife starts to move in.

There will be life on the other side of this worldwide catastrophe. Little green shoots, popping up through the ash.

The god-awful thing about it is we know we're not all going to make it through. We know that the world we built isn't going to be the same on the other side. It just isn't.

There's a lot of positive thinking going around right now that maybe the numbers are starting to go down in some countries. Yeah, they're going down a little bit. But then another wave starts to come. Public health people have said that this is going to come in waves. We'll get comfortable, and another way will hit. But we're not even to our first one yet in the US. We're still in the ramp-up.

So why write all this? What's the point?

We're going to need new dreams on the other side. When we make it through this, we're going to need new dreams.

We're going to need dreamweavers. Dream builders. We're going to need new visions for the places where we live. For the communities we want to share. For our states. Hopefully for our country.

I know we won't all make it through. I know that.

And I know everyone isn't going to be ready to dream while we're in the middle. While we're facing loss. While we're terrified. While we're grieving. When you're trying to breathe... breathing is the dream. There will be a lot of that.

But we can still dream. We can dream about what it will be like on the other side. We can dream it together. Even those of us who are vulnerable to this thing. Because any of us could be. We won't know until we've had it.

Maybe that's a silly thing to do. Maybe it sounds silly to have a big vision of what we could be when we haven't even started dying yet at scale.


I know I'm a dreamer. I can't even help it. It's expensive... dreaming. Very, very expensive.

But everything that we've ever built as humans up 'til now came from someone's - or from some group's - dream. Some of those dreams were total crap. I mean we all know that. But some of them were pretty damn good. Some of them got us to where we are.

And a lot of people who had the big dreams that got us this far are gone. But our lives are what they are because of their dreams. Some of them knew they might not make it, either. Didn't stop them from fighting for a better world. From dreaming of one.

It's not the path for everyone. We're all going to be in different places through this. This may absolutely not be the thing you want to read today. Because we're all going to be in different places.

But we are going to need some new dreams.

Hell, we're going to need new dreams right here in the middle, just to get through it. And we're not even at the middle yet. The dreaming is part of the resilience, and part of the fight to get through, and part of the solution-finding. The problem-solving.

So what do we build on the other side?

Obviously we won't know until we get there. Many variables between now and then. We don't know what we'll have to work with.

We can start thinking about it now, though.

In the quiet moments. Between the grief and the fear. When we have talks with our families. The people we love. With innovators. With big dreamers. With problem solvers. With the people we work with going through this. With our neighbors. With the people we elected, and those we plan to elect.

For now, we breathe.

For now, the seeds we plant might be in gardens in our neighborhoods and communities, so we have more food resilience for the summer.

For now, the seeds we plant might be ideas for the problems we need to solve right now. The problem looming in front of us. And that, too, will contribute to who we are on the other side.

We need connection, community, resilience, and problem-solving. That's how we get this done.

Be well. Love your people.

We're here to take care of each other.

And keep dreaming big. You just never know what we can create. People just like us got us this far.

We can take it from here.


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