Back to normal...a resurrection reflection

An Opinion by Christopher Sands, Head of Communications, BirdLife Europe & Central Asia

Easter Sunday’s celebration of resurrection, enjoyed by some, unfolded as many of us are isolated in our homes to protect ourselves against the coronavirus rampaging across the planet. Of course, in hospitals, at grocery cash registers and riding our garbage trucks, many still work selflessly and tirelessly for us all, and at great personal risk. Nonetheless, much of humankind’s freneticism has given way to an involuntary stop - a break in our conventional routines of, as the French say, métroboulotdodo, (metro, work, sleep) which captures our cog-like existence in the inexorable and unrelenting economic obsession to which we are subjected. This unique moment to breathe, ironically made possible by a virus which deprives us of breath, is of course tainted by extreme anxiety, grief, pain and challenge.

But those economic forces, involuntarily paused, are already impatiently pushing us to return to normal, to get back to the world as we knew it. If, however, our resurrection is to have any deeper meaning then we must be reborn to create a new life, to follow a better path.

It is undeniable that we must not return to normal because normal was the problem to start with.

Think about it, if you can find some perspective amidst the destabilising and disturbing effects of this crisis or your confinement. We can see, and are startled, as around us we remark on the cleaner air and the sounds of genuine and authentic tweets from our feathered friends. Ducks promenade at la Comédie-Française, goats gambol in the neighbourhood, wild boar stroll nonchalantly down the lane. We have gone from careless to carless.

This unique moment sparks many observations and thoughts. Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stieglitz says “We found these trillions of dollars to respond to the pandemic. I feel outraged that we didn’t find that money to deal with climate change….they said ‘we can’t afford it!’ ….of course we could have afforded it! “

That COVID-19 poses an immediate life & death threat to the wealthy countries of the north clearly underlies our governments’ extraordinary and relatively effective response. If climate change was killing the rich instead of mostly those in the economically-deprived developing world, we might have seen an equally urgent response. But the threat remains mostly intangible to the planet’s privileged and powerful, focused as they are on stock markets and returns. Do we really accept that our very survival is a commodity they buy and sell in their profit-driven exchanges?

The fossil fuel and related industries, whether automobile, air transport, or industrial agriculture,  which exploit our planet and our lives are fast mobilising to protect their grip on our throats by monopolising the subsidies that should be reserved for people, the planet’s health and economic justice. WHO (the World Health Organisation) states that every year 4.6 million of us are hastened to our deaths by air pollution.  On the other hand, to date, a bit under 150,000 have died from COVID-19, 2/3 of which have been in Europe and North America. Infectious disease as an existential threat to man resides in our collective consciousness in a way that climate change and biodiversity loss do not and thus move us, quite rightly, to action.

And so let us prevail and insist that we return to what can and must be a new normal. The solidarity we have experienced in the cheering and clapping for our heroic healthcare workers, or in those delivering sustenance to our frail neighbours, we must harness anew in forcing our politics to respond to the climate and biodiversity emergencies with the same urgency, with the same resources, with the same consciousness of crisis. We must vote in good people and vote out the cynics and those who sell their votes for the filthy lucre of 30 pieces of silver, the science-ignorant owned by the forces who will continue to relentlessly squeeze profits out of the planet, out of us, until just a carcass remains.

We can now see we do have the means and the capacity to immediately save the planet, NOW, not in 2030, not in 2050.  We have stepped back from the unforgiving rhythm of the business as usual which is destroying us, and we can see the Himalayas from the Punjab for the first time in decades -  that beautiful view of distant peaks is the world as it can be, now! Indians, and we all, should and can be liberated from the prison of internal combustion and an economy that condemns one to breathing poison.

Do not for a second think this interlude, however, means the planet is healing. It is not, but it CAN!

We must emerge, blinking from our caves of isolation, and transition into a world of social, economic and environmental justice enabled by redirecting our wealth and our commitment to the values, principles and solidarity COVID-19 has revealed to us as being possible, indeed necessary for our survival. Let’s make THAT go viral.

Let us turn our current nightmares, our tossing and turning in our restless and shallow sleep, into a dream of living our lives with sanity, with compassion, taking genuine care of our fellow human beings and genuine care for the planet on which we depend, the magnificent nature which nurtures us - let us demand an economy and a politics which is for all, and our childrens’ future.