Young Greta Thunberg made a powerful plea on behalf of Planet Earth in 2019. Her voice was heard by school children around the whole world. Governments largely turned deaf ears in spite of overwhelming scientific evidence, bush fires, floods and droughts causing devastation to the lives of millions and billions of dollars of damage. Why did they not hear and hence take positive action? Was it, fear of the impact of change to the lifestyles and economies of their voting supporters?
If the voice of brave Greta was ignored last year, then the noise of Covid-19 cannot be. Miss Thunberg’s passionate words now seem more than predictive; if not biblically prophetic. The Coronavirus has made itself heard in apocalyptic terms. It is though our home planet has decided to take back control from not so ‘Sapiens’ Homo. Nature is making a profound comeback. In England, we have been blessed with a sunny March and April. Spring has jumped up and with the shut-down more people have noticed the trees in bright fresh translucent green, have heard the birds dawn chorus and been breathing fresh air in place of nitrous car fumes. The scent of spring sensed as nature intended.
The cessation of air travel and reduction of car journeys alone has, in a few short months, reduced CO2 emissions and improved air quality as no fervent environmentalist could have dreamt. Across all nations, especially the most developed, everyday lifestyles have changed beyond belief. The impact on business’s in all sectors is presently immeasurable. The Global ‘just-in-time’ supply chain, on which so many national economies are dependant, has demonstrated its vulnerability. Whether it be car manufacture, fuel, fashion, household products, foodstuffs, and, most visibly, medical supplies and PPE for health workers, dependency on imports from far flung countries has proved dangerously unreliable and unpredictable. The outcomes can be devastating at both ends of the chain.
UK fashion stores owe billions of £s to Pakistan clothing factories threatening more than 100,000 workers livelihoods in just one country. Those same high-street stores were already struggling with high rents, business rates and changing shopping habits. Now, those latest spring fashion ranges may never be sold; mountains of redundant stock. Which end of the chain will break first?
The same question must be asked of airlines and cruise lines. Even when movement restrictions start to be eased, the level of bookings will not return for a very long time. At the other end of the journey, countries, cities and resorts around the world that depend on tourism for their survival will be sinking in economic quicksand. Until an effective vaccine can be found and widely distributed, long distance travel seems bound to be drastically curtailed, as will every aspect of the hospitality sector at home and overseas. Whether it be Skegness, Sri Lanka or London, entertainment and tourist revenues and habits will change. Economies will suffer, but the environment may breathe a sigh of relief.
No Government can predict when we will return to ‘Normal’. Crucially, will it be a ‘New Normal’? Will old habits return or will aspects of life change with newly learnt habits? More people than ever are walking, jogging, cycling and taking part in online exercise and yoga classes. Fitness and general wellbeing appear to be a wider social priority than ever. More people are cooking at home and even growing vegetables in their gardens and urban balconies. Will this make nations more self-sufficient and less dependant on transported foods with consequential carbon footprint benefits?
Recent decades have seen a resurgence of right-wing Nationalism in many countries around the world. Will the susceptibility of Globalism increase greater separatism, or will it encourage more self-sufficient localism? In many towns and villages around the UK, previously struggling local shops are currently thriving, widening their product ranges, thereby providing essential commodity lifelines within their communities. Online shopping is becoming an increasing ‘Norm’, so already threatened shopping centres and stores will have to reinvent themselves.
Many businesses are finding new efficiencies through online working from home. Some of the benefits of ‘Team’ and ‘Zoom’ video conference calls will continue, thereby reducing companies’ office space requirements. One of the biggest burdens on young people working in London is the cost and stress of commuting. If more are able to at least part of the week at home, such changing practices will surely create multiple environmental and personal benefits.
Every disaster, war or recession has dreadful casualties; Covid-19 is all three in one world-wide event. India now has 140 Million unemployed and destitute migrant workers. We are lucky that we are not living in fear of bombs falling on our homes, but this virus is exerting new fears on society. Equally, such major crises throw up new opportunities, new ways of working and living.
Our strength as human animals, rests in our abilities to solve problems, invent new solutions, most effectively when we come together. There are so many things that people are already learning from the experience of this pandemic. Individuals are taking better care of their own wellbeing, exercising, eating more healthily. We certainly are learning the importance of investing more in our National Health Service. We certainly should learn the crucial importance of longer-term policies for all the responsibilities that government and social services should bear on our behalf. “Working around the clock”, when you woke up weeks after the race had begun is no way to win any race. We are finding new ways of living, eating, working, travelling and manufacturing; we will have to survive the economic outcome of a world gone wrong. Perhaps the absurd levels of consumerism, of over-exploitation of resources and excessive pollution will of pure necessity change. Perhaps, our understanding of what really matters to life on Earth will mature. Why would we want to return to the old ‘Normal’, where inequality, unaffordable housing, poverty, fake news, greed, exploitation, stress, air and plastic pollution, were all too everywhere. In just a few months of lock down, the pollution of the Himalayas from China has cleared so drastically as to make their peaks visible for the first time in years.
The Planet is telling us that we need to change, for change we must. If we can save the Earth, we will save ourselves. To be with family and friends, take better care of ourselves, not doing things that we don’t need to do or buy, a simpler, calmer way of life, enjoy silence and fresh cleaner air, listen to the breeze in the trees, see the colours of the sprouting leaves and savour the scent of spring.