After the Coronavirus Pandemic

Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, things are never going to be the same again. The status quo is over. Our economies are going to be broken and our societies radically altered. Everything is up for grabs.

Of course, our attention is currently focused on the urgent threat posed by this virus to vulnerable people – whether they be older or those with underlying health conditions – and the health workers caring for them. We all owe a massive debt to those putting themselves on the line.

As the rest of us sit the pandemic out at home, however, should we take a moment to think about the aftermath? In between online meetings, home-schooling our kids and binging on Netflix, should we pause and reflect on the way we’ve been living – and where it’s been leading? Can we find the time to consider what comes next?

Certainly, the idea that business-as-usual couldn’t be stopped has been shown to be a sham. Our lives have changed overnight. The world is no longer the same. The streets of New York, London and Delhi are empty. In car-free streets, birdsong is audible in once more. The peace and quiet has already allowed us to remember that we depend on each other – with neighbourhood support groups springing up all over the globe. Will this continue into the future? We can only hope.

What does this all mean for the climate and biodiversity crises? Well, for a start, we have the evidence of what could happen, if we work together to make it so. Since the coronavirus pandemic started, emissions have dropped substantially. And while the canals of Venice might not yet be filled with dolphins, wildlife is feeling bold enough to start exploring urbanity.

The UN’s environment chief, Inger Andersen, has said this pandemic is nature sending us a warning. She said that humanity is placing too many pressures on the natural world – and that by failing to take care of the planet, we are failing to take care of ourselves. He is right. It feels like Mother Nature is trying to tell us something. But will we listen?

Now we’ve all been switched off autopilot, hopefully we can all see the reality of the system that’s brought us here. A system whose elected officials think old people should sacrifice themselves on the mythical altar of the economy. A system that means one of the most powerful people on Earth is willing to gamble the lives of millions for the sake of some made-up numbers on a screen. A system that prizes the fiction of money over the ecosystems upon which all life on Earth depends.

It sounds like a Monty Python sketch. And yet it is the system we’ve been living under. Our ancestors first created money to make their lives easier and more comfortable. Somehow, over the course of the subsequent centuries, we’ve ended up in a place where our only apparent value lies in our ability to make and spend it. When did the switch take place? How did we get things so wrong? And why are we sitting back and letting the markets destroy our beautiful world?

One thing’s for sure, in the decades to come, no-one will ever be able to tell this generation of kids that taking urgent widespread action just wasn’t possible. If there’s a failure to act, they will know that it was ours. The truth is we cannot wait for their generation. It will be too late by then. For their sakes, we need this to be the moment of crisis that makes us face reality and change course. Can we do it? Can we band together and build a kinder, fairer, greener world out of the ashes of the old one? Because if we don’t stop and consider this possibility now, when will we?

Melissa McClements