These days we hear a lot of talk about hoping to get back to normality soon. Trump, Macron, Merkel – everyone wants to recreate the pre-crisis world as soon as possible after the crisis.
Obviously, this will take time and have its dangers, but let’s not focus on that for a moment.
I’m asking: What is the normal we so eagerly want to go back to?
People all over the world document the impact a lockdown on human behavior has on our environment: First, fish are coming back to the now crystal clear water in Venice. Then, Madrid and other metropolitan areas in Europe gain significantly in air quality as smog disappeared. Now, People wake up to their cities and hear sounds they have forgotten: Birds chirping, rivers gushing.
It all sounds like an environmentalist’s dream: Cities open roads to bikes and restrict cars, in order to have more space for physical distancing of people walking and cycling. Traffic jams are nowhere to be seen, the fossil fuel sector is in a deep financial crisis.
But this is not an argument for the luck the planet has had now a virus rots out the humans who have caused the climate crisis. Rather, it is a question of what kind of future we’d like to create once the restrictions will actually be lifted.
Will we jump back into our cars and roam city streets until they’re packed? Will we head back to the airport and begin vacationing to make up all the lost time? Will we get back to taking full advantage of nature beyond what it can sustain?
It’s not the normal that I want to get back to.
Because it’s not an option. Despite our lockdown and restricted consumption, temperatures are on record highs still. The Great Barrier Reef is facing its third and biggest bleaching so far. Emissions are still up. More viruses are coming.
I want to create a new normal.
We have the opportunity now to adapt to a new lifestyle that is foundational for a sustaining future on earth. The crisis shows how restrictions, governmental oversight and global solidarity can make a difference in weeks. It is easier with an imminent threat that can kill you in days’ time than with a threat that will kill your children. But in fact, the virus is a more invisible terror than the climate emergency that is in plain sight. That alone should give hope that we’re able to take it just as seriously.
We all have been asked to sacrifice, to do less. Go out less, meet less people, shop less stuff. How much of that can we pick up and carry over to our future behavior?
My urge to everyone, especially in developed countries, is to consider consuming less. Driving less. Traveling less. Creating less waste, and buying less stuff you don’t need.
It’s the lifestyle of the 2020s.