“Unprecedented times” - the catch-phrase of this pandemic, describing the nature, scale, and severity of COVID-19 and the extraordinary responses it has necessitated. Our day-to-day lives have been suspended indefinitely, affecting our sociability, our mental health, and our economies amongst other things. A silver-lining, however, is that we have given the planet a little bit of a breather.
Consider the following: Venice’s canals are clearer than ever, coyotes have ventured onto the Golden Gate Bridge, Cape Town’s streets have been overtaken by penguins, and experts are predicting that reduced underwater noise pollution will benefit our oceans’ mammals. Similarly, air pollution has dropped so much that residents of Delhi are able to see the Himalayas for the first time in decades.
“Unprecedented times” indicate a departure from the status-quo, from what is normal, from what has been. Beyond proving that drastic political change is possible virtually overnight, this pandemic has shown us that nature can bounce back quickly from the damage we are inflicting. A pause in the human over-saturation of natural and urban spaces has given wildlife the confidence to reconquer them, even just for a minute. This is nature’s rebuttal to those that claim that it is too late, to those that doubt the efficacy of conservation efforts, to those that say that humans have no power to effect real change. What is being proven in front of our eyes is that if we halt our damaging activities, the natural world can flourish again. We can see that it is possible to rebuild a world in which nature thrives, oceans recover and the planet is healthy again.
Beyond proving that drastic political change is possible virtually overnight, this pandemic has shown us that nature can bounce back quickly from the damage we are inflicting.
I am not, for a minute, dismissing the hardship that global lockdown has triggered for many people. I am not claiming that COVID-19 has somehow benefited humanity, nor am I claiming that lockdown has triggered the long-term recovery of the environment. These small examples of ‘recovery’ are by no means sustainable.
What I am saying, however, is that we can learn something from this ‘unprecedented time’. It is clear that human activity directly influences the state of our natural world. This is not new information. Fossil fuels, which we know are polluting, power our economies. Deforestation, which we know is a wholly damaging practice, supports global supply chains. Before COVID-19, I would argue that it was much easier to divest yourself of responsibility, to blame the corporations, or the governments. Now, I think, we can see that each and every one of us has a part to play.
Before COVID-19, I would argue that it was much easier to divest yourself of responsibility, to blame the corporations, or the governments. Now, I think, we can see that each and every one of us has a part to play.
Researchers said in early March that carbon emissions from cars alone was down 50% compared to last year. If we change our habits, the effect is visible and impactful. Just recently, a major scientific review concluded that it is actually possible for our oceans to be restored fully within thirty years - we still have time. Images of bleached coral reefs are heartbreaking, but further bleaching can be stopped through the creation of marine protected areas, and the enforcement of sustainable fishing practices. It is not too late.
A lot of Climate Crisis rhetoric is saturated by narratives of imminence, destruction, and apocalypse. Blame is thrown about with the aim of forcing action whilst inaction is equated to ecocide and complicity. Unfortunately, pessimistic and extreme calls to action are often much easier to dismiss as alarmist. Moreover, whilst you may think that pointing out the reality of this crisis would incite action, instead, in some instances the result is apathy, an overwhelming sense that it’s just too late, or complete deliberate disengagement. Sometimes when we are confronted with our own own contribution to climate change (driving, flying, eating meat), it’s easier to avoid the resulting guilt than to face up to the issue.
Blame is thrown about with the aim of forcing action whilst inaction is equated to ecocide and complicity. Unfortunately, pessimistic and extreme calls to action are often much easier to dismiss as alarmist.
Demands to overhaul our habits, to change our diets, to up-end energy supply chains may be necessary, but they seem almost unachievable or just vastly unrealistic. Exasperation rising out of governmental and corporate inaction is completely understandable, and begs the question, why should an individual change their lifestyle if those that would have the biggest impact are not.
Amongst the chaos, loss, and confusion of this COVID-19 pandemic, I see an opportunity to counter this apathy, the narrative that it’s just too late, and restore a little bit of a hope in the climate conversation. As the global community reemerges from lockdown, many governments have acknowledged that we will have to accustom ourselves to a ‘new normal’ - why can’t this new normal also incorporate a reorientation of our habits? We now have no excuse to ignore the correlation between our habits and practices and our natural surroundings - it is time to step up and do something about it.
Written by Louder Than The Storm co-founder, Aimée Lister