On Ocracoke, we may not have everything we want, but we have everything we need. Photo: C. Leinbach

Ask a Mental Health Professional Installment No. 8

By Earle Irwin

Question: How do we use what we are learning from Hurricane Dorian and the pandemic to make meaningful changes, both for ourselves and for the world?

Response: Consider that news media abound with reports of how the natural world has benefited from decreased human impacts during time of COVID-19 restrictions, for example: clearer skies and improved air quality.

Nearly a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to transport. During the pandemic, transport of both goods and humans has been restricted through less shipping, less commuting, and less air travel. Other sources of air pollution have been slowed by COVID-19 restrictions on manufacturing plants.

Social media postings throughout the world have reported sightings of wildlife in areas where they previously have not been commonly seen, such as dolphins and swan returning to the canals of Venice. Snopes, an internet fact-checker, attributes these sightings at least in part to residents kept close to home by the pandemic with time to slow down and notice their environment in new ways.

In the absence of cruise ships and with reduction in shipping vessels, the oceans are quieter, allowing whales and other noise-sensitive marine mammals to flourish.

Yet when it’s back to business as usual, how quickly will we return to pre-pandemic pollution and damage, to the acceleration of climate change?

Some scientists predict we immediately will resume our old ways, possibly with haste and little forethought, feeling deprived for too long and overly eager to make up for what seems to have been lost.

What have we learned through the sacrifices we’ve experienced under COVID-19 restrictions?

We need look only as far as our beloved O’cockers to find answers. What better example of individuals learning to use it up, wear it out, make do, do without?

Captain Thurston Gaskill is credited with saying, “For those that want to continue living here, I’m a great believer in the word ‘moderation.’ It applies to every part of your life. You can have the things that you really need. But you just as well make up your mind that you can’t have everything you think you want.” (Ballance, Alton; Ocracokers, UNC Press, Chapel Hill, 1989, p. 140).

Earle Irwin


Earle Irwin, a retired clinical nurse specialist, was on Ocracoke through July to help islanders cope with Dorian aftermath and any other issues they may be dealing with. The Ocracoke Interfaith Relief & Recovery Team are hoping to find funding to bring Earle back to the island in October.