“The pandemic has proved that delays are deadly and expensive. If we are to avoid a cascade of future crises, governments must think beyond a return to business as usual. Our conception of what is “normal” will have to change….. In the past, those goals have been dismissed as unrealistic or expensive, but recent weeks have shown how quickly the political compass can shift.”
So writes Jonathan Watts, the Guardian’s global environment editor, one of so many to foreshadow hope for the future from the fear, distress and anxiety of the present. Without doubt, what some are regarding as a global health crisis borne out of the ecological crisis, as man bumps hard up against an increasingly constrained natural world, presents a generational opportunity for change. With global responses to the challenge being described as ‘unprecedented’, the crisis is demonstrating on a daily basis how it is possible to do things radically differently when the science is listened to and the political will is present. The irony of much human death driving an unprecedented drop in carbon emissions will be lost on no one
Pollution levels in China in 2019, left, and 2020. Photograph: Guardian Visuals / ESA satellite data
As a society, we will soon have to work out how to rise to the challenge of securing the system change that is so desperately needed. We are weeks, if not months, away from doing so but we must be ready to react swiftly to those who will call for a rapid return to business as usual. When we do, we must act with sensitivity in the face of much personal grief, societal dislocation and ongoing financial despair. Yet, even in the opening weeks of this struggle, we have already seen how a more reflective, less self-interested society can show Spring-like signs of a more regenerative and sustainable approach.