With lockdown lifting, will we drift back to our old ways?
BRAVE NEW OR SAME OLD?
As the world slowly unfurls itself like a giant sleeping bear from hibernation, it may be time to examine the shape of our new post-Covid lives, and to re-evaluate our relationship not only with each other but also with our planet.
Trawling my bookshelves during lockdown, in one of the many space-themed tomes that have gathered there over the years, I found this wonderful quote from American Author Lt. Col. William H Rankin:
“Someday I would like to stand on the moon, look down through a quarter million miles of space and say, “There certainly is a beautiful earth out tonight.”
Please just pause for a moment to really appreciate that…
STEP BACK TO SEE THE BIGGER PICTURE
It is not until we step back and view something from a distance that we truly appreciate whatever that thing is. It’s true of families and relationships, of all those difficulties which seem inscrutable at the time, until you step away from them. It’s true of this pandemic with its facts and figures being bandied around to compare our handling of the crisis with that of our neighbours, scoring and losing points accordingly. It is true of time and place, over and over again. And it’s equally true of the planet on which we live, whose existence and beauty we so easily take for granted. After all, it’s been here for billions of years and it will continue to be here for billions of years, right?
So what does it matter if we drop litter on it, chop down swathes of its forest? It’s because we love our planet so much that we jump on planes with ever increasing frequency to go and explore its furthest corners, isn’t it? Our quest as tourists for something new and “authentic” has been unstoppable of late, much to the delight of the aviation sector. (Ah, those were the days, eh Stelios?)
What we were doing to the planet, before the Coronavirus pandemic brought us up short, is shocking. How do you feel when you see pictures of the tonnes and tonnes of rubbish casually dumped on the Himalayas, for example? I would have thought those adventure-seekers, who weren’t content simply to book a week in Torremolinos and drink lager like the rest of us, would have cared a little more for their sacred mountain, but no. They left behind tents, equipment, bottles, cans and human waste. (Sounds like Bournemouth on a sunny weekend, doesn’t it?) https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/entertainment-arts-48537398/mount-everest-11-tonnes-of-rubbish-cleared
Thanks to human behaviour, 17% of the Amazon rainforest has disappeared over the past 50 years. Rainforests, which once covered 14% of the earth, now only make up 6%.
And as the planet starts to splutter, so do we. According to the World Health Organisation, air pollution kills an estimated seven million people worldwide every year, yet still we jump in our cars to do the school run or the supermarket shop or just because we want to get out of the house, never giving it a moment’s thought. Or at least, that’s how we behaved before…
THE WORLD ON HOLD
But then Covid-19 happened and our world shut up shop. Like dominoes, country after country locked down against the virus and finally we had our chance to stop and step back from life as we had always known it.
Not surprisingly, sharp falls in road traffic and industrial emissions led to a marked improvement in air quality, which in itself led to 11,000 fewer pollution-related deaths in the UK and Europe, reported the Guardian at the end of April.
Suddenly people could hear the birds again, and smell the roses, literally…although many complained of heightened hay fever now that there was less pollution to dampen down the pollen!
In Venice, water in the canals cleared for the first time in years as the sediment settled, no longer churned up by endless boat traffic. Empty cities meant that wildlife, which would normally have kept well clear of us humans, was spotted taking back the towns. Even the sea turtles apparently started laying eggs on beaches usually avoided due to human interference and light pollution.
It was like the world was resetting itself. Greta Thunberg must have thought she had died and gone to heaven!
But us humans and our human ways are here to stay. I have no illusion that this forced change in our behaviour over the last few months has in any way heralded a new golden age for our planet. Boris Johnson is already urging us to shop for our country, boost the economy one unnecessary purchase at a time. And that’s fine because I’m realistic enough to appreciate that we don’t live in an ecological utopia (sorry, Greta), and that the pull of the economy is as necessary as that of gravity to keep this world spinning.
Instead, I think of the last few months as respite care for the planet. It was able to recover from some of the ills we have inflicted upon it and we were able to step back from the fast pace of pre-Covid life, taking a moment to breathe, to appreciate all the small things that otherwise get lost in the frenetic pace of modern living.
STOP. LOOK. BREATHE. REPEAT.
And periodically that is what we all need to do. Stop. Step back. Pause. Breathe.
Stop rushing for your next dopamine-hit. Take a moment to appreciate all that is right here, right now. Look around at the familiar with new eyes rather than jetting halfway across the globe to go and destroy something else. You may be surprised by what you see.
As Proust said:
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking out new landscapes but in having new eyes.”
And that is what these last few months have given us…a whole new set of eyes. Now let’s use them and just be a little more mindful of what we are doing to our planet in the process. That way it will hopefully continue to look after us for many more years to come!