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The coronavirus has caused something extraordinary.
The Highland Council has said it is ‘no longer business as usual’. Organisers are cancelling events and face-to-face meetings. Carbon emissions are plunging and economic activity is slowing down. People are self isolating in an attempt to limit the spread of the virus. Italians are singing from their balconies amid a countrywide lockdown to boost morale. Many members of the school strike movement have moved online to prevent large gatherings in public spaces, because all crises must be treated as crises. People are looking out for one another.
Despite the scariness of this, it gives me hope that we have the ability to change and join together in a time of crisis. If only people could do that for the other crisis that is threatening billions of lives and may become uncontrollable in a very short space of time, destroying countless species, ecosystems and human livelihoods…
While the coronavirus is on everyone’s lips, climate and ecological breakdown continues unabated, but with even less attention than it had before the outbreak.
Strangely, recent headlines indicate that the coronavirus lockdown may actually be saving more lives by reducing air pollution than by reducing infection. The World Health Organization estimates that seven million people die every year from air pollution – except nobody is getting in a panic about that.
Stranger still, things that people say are not realistic in order to limit climate collapse, such as not flying, seem easy in the face of a pandemic. What makes us willing to act on coronavirus, but so apathetic when it comes to the greatest crisis humanity has ever faced?
To be clear, I am not blowing the coronavirus aside, or underestimating its severity. I am merely frustrated that environmental breakdown does not get the same, if not more, focus and attention.
If the media covered the environmental crisis the way they are covering the coronavirus, then everyone would actually understand the issue. We would have mass mobilisation on a truly gigantic scale. But we have a long way to go before that happens.
It may not seem obvious at first, but diseases and the environment are linked. Sixty per cent of emerging diseases are zoonotic, which means they are passed from animals to humans, as was the coronavirus. While humans encroach on and exploit the natural world, we expose ourselves to diseases that we have no immunity to. The coronavirus is both a medical and an environmental issue.
Once the pandemic is under control, we must not return to business as usual (i.e. planetary destruction). Instead, we need to tackle the climate and ecological emergency.
The compassion and community strength that people are showing towards one another at this time will be crucial, especially since we are discovering just how vulnerable our society is.
Who knows, maybe the coronavirus is a wake up call for humankind?