We hear from Dr George Jacobs, on his takeaways from the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic challenges and its aftermath.
This is the final segment of a three-part interview series on COVID-19.
Q: What is your take on life in the time of COVID-19? GJ: I way underestimated COVID-19. I thought it would be gone fairly quickly like SARS, or not very impactful like a worse-than-average version of the annual flu. Wow – was I wrong! And, it seems like COVID-19 actually is rather minor as to the death rate compared to the viruses that may be coming next. Scary.
Here’s a 1min 10sec video I made about that fear:
Q: What did you experience during the lock-down? GJ: In some weird ways, the lock-down was a kind of warped wish come true. Things that greenies like me have been urging, such as less air travel and other uses of fossil fuels, were happening, not because people decided to act against the threat posed by global warming, but because we were all locked down.
Q: What about work for you during the circuit breaker and now that the lock-down is somewhat relaxed? GJ: For about seven years, I had a job at James Cook University Singapore, where Dr Denise Dillon (your previous interviewee) teaches. However, last year, I left that job to devote myself to a social enterprise and to volunteer work, while making money from freelance teaching. COVID-19 has been very bad for the social enterprise, which already had its share of troubles, and the freelance teaching almost completely dried up. Fortunately, there were lots of opportunities for satisfying volunteer work.
Q: How do you survive? As a senior citizen, I’m subsidized by my payments from CPF and from its U.S. equivalent (I’m a Singaporean, but I lived most of the first half of my life in the U.S.). Being stuck at home gave me lots of time to write papers, books, social media posts, Forum page letters, etc. I’m looking forward to continuing to work mostly from home.
Q: Could you give us some examples of your volunteer work? GJ: Gladly. I worked with academics in Malaysia and at JCUS on a study that documented that the media gives much more attention to COVID-19 than it does to ongoing causes of death, which kill and otherwise affect more people: lack of access to clean water, sanitation, and sufficient food.
Also, my doctorate is in Education, and among my special interests is encouraging students to do cooperative learning: learning with peers, instead of only learning alone or with teachers. I wrote some papers talking about how to do cooperative learning even when doing online learning.
Q: You’re known for your advocacy of plant-based diets. What’s happening with that during the pandemic? GJ: Vegans have long had our Big 3 reasons: animal-based foods are bad for human health; are key destroyers of the environment and provokers of climate weirding; exact horrendous suffering on non-human animals.
Now, we can make it a Big 4, as many pandemics – Spanish Flu of 1918, AIDS, Bird Flu, Swine Flu, SARS – are zoonotic diseases that go from other animals to humans. The contact that leads to that transmission often takes place because humans destroy the animals’ homes and incarcerate the animals for our food.
Also, there is evidence that we are more likely to survive pandemics if we have a strong immune system, and plant-based diets can help. That idea was the genesis behind this video, that I helped make early in the pandemic:
Q: Something else we missed because of the pandemic are the CAT Walks at Taman Negara in Malaysia to protect tigers. Are you looking forward to those starting again? GJ: For sure. I did a CAT Walk each of the past three years and am hoping against hope that we’ll be able to do another one later this year. In the meantime, I’ve donated money, an article about the Malayan tiger was published https://periodicos.unb.br/index.php/erbel/article/view/29896, and I made a video in TikTok style:
Q: Any future plans? GJ: More of the same, but I’m hoping to get some more steady teaching work, maybe online teaching. Also, I’m helping organise a program called ’10 Weeks to Vegan’, a guided programme for people who want to try vegan diets. It’s already in 10+ countries, and we’re working to Singaporean-ise it:
Also, I’m trying hard to stay physically and mentally healthy as I approach 70 years of age. I never realised it could be so challenging.
In some weird ways, the lock-down was a kind of warped wish come true. Things that greenies like me have been urging, such as less air travel and other uses of fossil fuels, were happening, not because people decided to act against the threat posed by global warming, but because we were all locked down.
As a human animal, I am very much a part of nature, so I advocate the treatment of nature as I would for myself – gently please, and with love.
Dr DENISE DILLON
We hear from Dr Denise Dillon on her takeaways from the ongoing Covid-19 global pandemic, mindfulness and nature.
Q: What is your take on life in the time of COVID-19? DD: I came to appreciate how very fortunate I am. One of my life constants is a desire to be my human self, in the sense of being a part of the ecosystem as one of many animal species. In a fundamental way, I am part of the fauna of my neighbourhood, and I’m very lucky to have Fort Canning Park as part of that neighbourhood.
Q: What did you experience during the lock-down? DD: There is a relatively rich diversity of bird life in my neighbourhood. During the time that we were staying indoors, I was able to look outwards onto the tree outside my balcony and to observe the flurry of activities in just one tree, and from bird species that I hadn’t noticed before.
Q: What is a key observation you made during the Covid-19 period so far? DD: The number of visitors to Fort Canning Park increased during our circuit breaker period – whole families spending some outdoor time together. Our urban green spaces were filling a need for people who were seeking respite from life indoors.
People indoors were looking out to nearby nature from window or balcony views, and sharing new observations – things they hadn’t noticed before – a bird visiting the tree, weeds growing in the paths, how beautiful the grass looks when allowed to grow longer.
Q: How did you connect with nature growing up in North Queensland, in Australia? DD: One of the things I’m most appreciative of is the good fortune of having grown up in a semi-rural area where as children we would regularly climb trees and dig in the dirt.
We spent lots of time sitting up in the trees as well as just climbing them, and we got to appreciate the different textures and growth patterns of tree branches of many trees in the neighbourhood.
Q: Which nature experience do remember the most? A strongly reminiscent experience for me is associated with freshly dug soil – we had rich, red volcanic soil in the area I lived. After more than a decade away I still miss the tactile experience of breaking up clumps of soil with my hands, the olfactory experience of bringing a clump of soil right up under my nose, and the visual experience of the dark red colour of the soil and of the earth worms who made their homes there.
Q: How can we engage with nature through forest bathing? Our capacity to observe doesn’t always equate to an ability to notice – noticing comes with sustained and mindful observation. We can move quickly through nature on brisk walks, and observe lots of things along the way, but noticing comes more from standing still and letting nature move at its own pace towards us.
This is the essence of forest bathing – mindful presence in natural settings opens the way for deeper and more meaningful appreciation of our own place in the web of interbeing around us.
Whether people choose to check out a formal forest bathing session or simply engage in their own nature immersion practices, I’m definitely a champion for engagement with nature. The more we allow nature to approach us the more we’ll notice, and the more we notice the closer we can connect at a fundamental, human animal level.
Q: What do you think is needed to save nature and thereby save ourselves? DD: We need experiences of noticing nature and experiences that make us curious to understand more about the nature around us. The more we immerse ourselves in the pockets of nature around us, the more we’ll come to notice and the more meaningful our engagement will become. The web of interbeing is already around us – we only need to find and understand our own fundamental place there.
Q: What lesson can you share about human dependence on nature? DD: I’m neither a great learner nor a great teacher, so lessons don’t come easily to me. I’m more about direct engagement and observation, about patiently sitting so that noticing happens sometimes without me even noticing. Perhaps that in itself is a lesson about dependence on nature.
I cherish those unexpected moments when something catches my eye perhaps as a burst of movement or a flash of colour, or even more subtly when something about a pattern looks slightly out of place and I realise it’s because an insect is camouflaged in the array before me.
Dr Denise Dillon lives and works in Singapore as a full-time academic. She is an environmental psychologist and certified Nature and Forest Therapy Guide (ANFT certification # 1818009).
Her research interests focus on biophilia and nature connectedness, as well as more broadly surrounding aspects of human-nature interactions. Enjoying the best of two worlds (psychology and literature studies), she has also published research in the field of eco-criticism.
We hear from Dr Kae Kawanishi (Tiger Biologist, General Manager and Head of Conservation, MYCAT) on takeaway lessons from the ongoing Covid-19 global pandemic crisis and human impact on wild nature:
Q: What is your take on life in the time of COVID-19?
Dr Kae: “We live in an extraordinary time in human history where major events on a global scale seem to not only accelerate in frequency but also grow in scale and impacts. COVID-19 is one of them but there will be other zoonotic diseases as interfaces/interactions between humans and wild spaces/wildlife increase. This global pandemic is a once or twice in a lifetime stress-test for people, companies, and nations.”
Q: What do you think brought this about, and how do you think we will fare in this crisis?
Dr Kae: “In my opinion, much of human suffering in general is brought about by the inequality of wealth, inefficient distribution of resources, and weak governance. This in turn, usually has huge implications on wild nature. This weakness in our society came to light in this stress-test. I don’t think that COVID-19 has changed the fundamental flaws in the current capitalism or consumerism, but the pandemic has shaken everyone and I am optimistic about the resilience of nature and humans’ ability to learn to be better or cope with the stress.”
Q: What do you think are some of the lessons we could learn from Covid-19?
“I hope one of the takeaway lessons is about humility. Humans are not that special, and our lives too are at the mercy of forces beyond our control. Growing up in Japan, I was constantly reminded of our relative insignificance by the sometimes violent nature of our planet. Over the millennia, the forces of nature, be they earthquakes, landslides or tsunamis, and beautiful and bountiful blessings of the seas and mountains have shaped Japanese’ psyche.”
Q: How do you think this unprecedented event will impact our future survival and the survival of wildlife including the Malayan Tiger?
Dr Kae: “The extreme weather patterns, severity and frequencies of mega natural disasters, and the loss of biodiversity are all inter-connected. In its geological history, the earth has seen much more violent episodes of these beyond our imagination. Mass-extinction happened five times in the past and we are in the midst of the 6th mass-extinction. The 6th is unique in our perspective because we are the cause, but to the earth, every one of them is a unique event. The tiger may go soon because it competes with humans for the need for large forests. But COVID-19 reminds us that we are not that special. The human may be one of 1 million species expected to be gone if we don’t learn to promote co-existence.
Q: What do you think is needed to save nature and thereby save ourselves?
Dr Kae: “The frequencies and scale of the mega global events getting closer and bigger indicate that there isn’t much time left to start making significant changes. I do know that change is happening, but not fast and big enough because world leaders are often sidetracked with other agendas that usually promote competition instead.”
Q: What lesson can you share about human dependence on nature and our treatment of nature?
Dr Kae: “The second important lesson may be about our essential needs. Knowing what it is that we can live without help simplifies our lives. The Japanese phrase taruoshiru means ‘to know one has enough’ or ‘to be content with what one has’. I learned about life’s essentials during my field research. In a very practical sense, this was because I could only carry 15kg on my back. That’s all I had in the forest for weeks. But beyond the daily maintenance needs, the fieldwork in the wilderness distilled my life needs to a very few essentials, and the wild nature was one of them. I’ve had countless moments of communion with her and still do. She does not teach anything. She just is.”
Save the Malayan Tiger – CAT Walks 2020
Due to Covid-19, all CAT Walks are currently on hold till further notice. To find out more about CAT Walks and to support MYCAT, please visit the this link: https://www.citizenactionfortigers.my/
Thank you, take care and stay safe, Cicada Tree Eco-Place