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Seeing and Responding to COVID 19 Through the Lens of Complexity

by Dr. Laura Batson ND, Cloe Franko, Adrienne Waunch and Dr. Leslie Solomonian ND

While there is a strong desire to simplify COVID-19 to a problem of biomedicine (wear a mask, wash your hands, wait for a vaccine), it is in reality a deeply “wicked” problem - a consequence of catastrophic and complex human systems, inextricably linked to other planetary crises. This global pandemic is a predictable and natural response of the biosphere to deliberately designed systems of economic, environmental, and social organization, systems that sit outside the natural patterns of ecology in the biosphere.

Efforts to reduce the solution to a technoscientific one is myopic. There are thousands of zoonotic organisms primed to jump to the human species because of the tremendous alteration to our planet caused by human activity over the period of the properties of the Anthropocene, our current geological age. Socially distancing from others until a safe vaccine can be developed completely disregards the causes that created this crisis. Moreover, it neglects to create a platform to prevent future pandemics (including the nurturing of loving, compassionate relationships that are necessary for planetary healing). Arguably, framing the solution in such simplistic ways reinforces the attitudes and worldviews that led to the mess we’re in in the first place.

Extractive Capitalism as a Virus

In an effort to avoid demonization of all humans, we can identify the system as the virus … specifically extractive capitalism. This system has been deliberately designed and perpetuated over centuries by those with social, economic and political power for concentration of wealth through the use of oppression, division, and exploitation.This value system has created devastation of the biosphere, mass extinction of species and loss of biodiversity (which feeds directly into the transfer of zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19 to humans). It has also destroyed what Wade Davis calls the “ethnosphere”, and created entrenched structures of classism, racism, sexism, xenophobia, and white supremacy. These structures of power and oppression are interlinked and reinforce each other with devastating consequences. This is clearly demonstrated in the disproportionate effects of COVID-19 and the guidelines to mitigate its spread on Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, women, children, and people living in poverty.

Symptoms of Planetary Dis-ease

Just as we view symptoms in our patients as manifestations of the efforts of the vis to address a dysfunction, we can view the emergence of COVID-19 (along with increasingly severe weather patterns and collapsing ecosystems) as an expression of the Earth’s vis to deeply imbalanced and unhealthy planetary systems. As Naturopathic Doctors, we recognize that bodies are often able to heal themselves if conditions are optimal. Similarly, healing of the planet requires us to tell the truth about the root causes of the current complex crises in which we find ourselves - and advocate for deep systemic change. It is our moral responsibility to see this moment as an opportunity to not just respond to the current crisis, but to expose and connect the dots between its complex causes in order to improve the health of our patients and our planet. This requires humans to acknowledge our position within the complex, interdependent web of the biosphere rather than considering ourselves superior to it. Entering into a reciprocal relationship with the planet and other beings (human and otherwise) that share it, rather than trying to dominate it/them, is the most promising path toward healing.

NEST is here to support members of the naturopathic profession to take action on environmental and social issues that impact the health of people and the planet. Are you concerned about how extractive capitalism is changing the biosphere? Do you want to educate your ND colleagues about the importance of planetary health? Follow NEST (Naturopathic Doctors for Environmental and Social Trust) on Instagram and Facebook for updates, check out our website for key resources and articles, or get in touch via email ( to get involved!

(This piece is a much-condensed version of an upcoming article in the journal of the CAND; check it out for a more in-depth exploration of how different paradigms and worldviews provide a framework for this pandemic and other concurrent crises, and how naturopathic philosophy can guide our approach to resilience).

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