Invisible uncertainty, visible protection – using coronavirus to expand crisis literacy

Timely Insight #8

We’re proud to share with you the writings of our friend of the house and contributor Janna Jung-Irrgang. Janna draws on her diverse experiences from environmental activism, social sciences and consulting, to help us all understand the human dynamics of living in a time of abstract crises. With this Timely Insight, we aim to shine a light on an original thought-piece, tailored for cirka cph readers’ eyes only.

Without further ado, we bring you: Invisible uncertainty, visible protection – using coronavirus to expand crisis literacy.

Alcohol sales are up in many regions worldwide. Meditation apps are seeing unprecedented increases in popularity. Neither has particularly great effects on the immune system. What the heck are we fighting against? 

The longer the coronavirus is affecting livelihoods, from communities to continents, the more urgent the question becomes: what will we take from this? What have you learned since the lockdown started?

With the worldwide reaction to coronavirus posing new rules for social life, we are trying to find a deeper purpose and positive long-term effect of the changes we are exposed to. Many people in the Global North are not (yet) directly affected by the virus itself, but by the surrounding world. (As a layperson I’m not in the position to comment on the experience of experts, medical professionals, or the heavily affected. Please read this as such.)

I want to offer an argument that the reaction to a pandemic can help us to deal with other crises that are characterized by invisible uncertainty. We can learn to distinguish between the invisible issue and the visible symptoms – building more crisis literacy.

A virus is invisible to our eyes. We only see the symptoms and then through sensemaking connect all the visible changes to the larger abstract concept of the pandemic.

It is only in the mind that we understand infections, expansion of a pandemic, airborne transmission, antibodies. The very real effects of a terrible illness are kept behind closed hospital doors, and in the early stages of the expansion many people are not directly in touch with it.

Invisible. Our habits have adapted to the situation, but life superficially looks eerily the same. Doesn’t the world seem unreal like a dream lately?
The streets: empty, like on a very calm Sunday, very early, on a special holiday. 
The media: we are overconsuming news and connecting online – but the newspapers, the social media platforms, the phones are all unchanged.
The virus symptoms: many are familiar with colds and the early symptoms feel to many just like another cold; even active carriers might be entirely without symptoms .

If we are looking for a catastrophe, this was not the apocalypse we expected. There are no heroes fighting for their lives. Rather, the world has become bigger, more connected, and solidary. Where many of the readers of this text probably live, shortages of food and other essential are not a concern. 

And still, we feel fear and grief beyond that dreamlike world. Our intuition connects with all the potential catastrophes, with people we never met, with the immense uncertainty that surrounds us. What is that directed towards?

Visible. We need to deal with new images, learn new behaviours for protection and prevention. Those changes are not the risk, they’re part of the solution. What changes have you noticed in your environment?

Protective gear: A mindset shift towards wearing masks to support public health is required. That is not new in many Asian countries but associated with risk and discomfort elsewhere.

Warnings and signs: “Closed due to corona” in shop-windows, “1,5-2m” supermarket floors, “Keep distance” in public transport, closed-off empty public spaces.

Learning to distinguish invisible risks from visible measures is crucial in dealing with crises. We know that it is small changes to many lives that make a difference – is that not a hopeful thought? After all, this is not the last crisis that has massive effects on our routines, possibilities, and riches.

#FlattenThisCurveToo, we demand as a reminder of the climate crises. Biodiversity, extreme weather and climate inequality crises differ from the coronavirus in many ways and nevertheless share invisible uncertainty. Because the causal chains at the heart of the matter are invisible to us, we believe that they have to be “normal”. And we fatally reject signs of change and adaptations that we could make to counter the risk. 

If we collectively train crisis literacy and learn to distinguish the visible reactions from the invisible causes, we will be a few steps further in a shared understanding of acting on all crises equally. The shared hope of something good coming out of the new coronavirus means to me: learning to stop picking on known solutions, just because they are easy to pick on. It would be more valuable to focus on what’s invisible but at the heart of the matter. What have you learned about crisis literacy lately, that you bring forward?

The text for this Timely Insights for Climate Action is contributed by Janna Jung-Irrgang. You can get fresh Insights delivered directly to your inbox by subscribing below.

We’d love to hear what reading this Timely Insight did for you. If you found this to be straight bullshit, heavenly wisdom, or maybe a bit… meh – your experience will make someone wiser. You can drop a line in the comments below.

Why do we share this?

The long-term effects of COVID-19 lockdowns on society at large, particularly for climate action, has become a popular topic of dialogue, with indicators in many directions. In her piece, Janna proposes crisis literacy as a key competence of navigating in an ever-changing, interconnected world.
As an agency for climate transformation, we support our partners in developing- the requisite understanding of the complex dynamics that influence the business environment, and to apply that understanding in practice. Just like crisis literacy, these dynamics are oftentimes invisible but prompts visible measures of action. If you want to explore what this could mean for your work, you’re welcome to get in touch.

Timely Insights in an interconnected world

Timely Insights for Climate Action digs into current developments to illuminate an interconnected world.

A global pandemic with severe impacts on people’s lives in most places, says a lot about the times we live in. Join us from your self-quarantine in exploring timely insights from COVID-19 outbreak and beyond, and what it means for climate action.

We’re compiling existing articles to discuss and highlight how they help us understand the ways in which the world is connected. In these days of social distancing, we aim to support ourselves and readers in leveraging the learnings from what’s unfolding right now, to be better suited for catalyzing climate action.

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