One positive side effect of COVID-19 has been renewed awareness of the environment. Clear blue city skies. Gentle luminous sunsets. Amplified birdsong and insect sounds. A new appreciation of trees, plants, gardens. Healthy food, exercise. Given this unexpected shift in perspective, we are rediscovering our connection to the natural world, and reflecting on ourselves.
“It’s a humbling moment for those with at least a little inclination toward humility. … You said once that what haunts us about epidemics is that they remind us of personal fate.” wrote Rodrigo Garcia in A Letter to My Father, Gabriel García Márquez in the New York Times on 11 May 2020.
It is plain to see. Our devastating and unyielding intrusion into natural environments for immediate gain disrupts the natural balance. Razing rain and old-growth forests for petroleum and palm oil. Poisoning urban and rural flora and fauna with industrial and agricultural chemicals. Upsetting the balance of the climate and carbon cycles through excessive use of fossil fuels. Life corrupted. Koyaanisqatsi, the Hopi call it.
Even without the disruption of mandatory or voluntary COVID-19 stay-at-home and travel restrictions, most pollutants – such as nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter in the air – last only for days before rain or chemical reactions break them down. Carbon dioxide does not. CO2 can stay in the air for centuries. Carbon dioxide levels in the air will stabilize only when emissions reach a “net-zero” balance. On one side of this scale are sources such as microbial respiration and industrial fuel combustion that pump CO2 into the atmosphere. On the other side are sinks such as vegetation, oceans and carbon-capturing devices that absorb CO2. When carbon sources do not emit more CO2 than carbon sinks absorb, net zero balance is achieved.
Can we resist buying an avocado grown half way around the world? Can we cook a meal for our family without having to walk half a day to collect the wood? Humans are self-destructive. But also willful and ingenious. By acknowledging that we are part of the problem, we are bound to find solutions.
First of all, decide to act now. Make a personal commitment, set realistic goals for yourself, and get to work. No matter where or how we live, we can pinpoint positive actions that will make a difference. As Albert Einstein said, “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
The Covid-19 pandemic is helping us realize that we truly are a global community intrinsically bound in complex relation to one another and to our environment. We need to live more in tune with the earth, and with greater concern for the needs of others.
It’s time to act: to live a life of dignity protecting our ecosystem. Let’s start right now.
Thanks to Philippe Descamps und Thierry Lebel for the inspiration:
Thanks to 52 Climate Actions for the “to do” list: