As the UK enters its fifth week of lockdown in efforts to stem the Covid-19 crisis, pressure on the country’s key government officials and policy makers is rising.
This pressure is not only tied into decisions about the here and now and the best efforts to tackle and stem the immediate threats posed by the coronavirus pandemic – opposition MPs and members of the public are starting to ask questions about when and how Downing Street plans to release the restrictions that have been put in place over the last month.
Dialogues on this topic are understandably dominated by ensuring that as few people as possible lose their lives to Covid-19. Restrictions on travel, mobility and migration, as well as socialising, are the necessary burdens we must bear in order to reduce the spread of the virus, avoid strain on the NHS and ultimately save lives.
Conversations, then, involve weighing up this need with other issues that are being caused by lockdown measures. Restrictions on business, socialisation, and travel bring with them their own sets of concerns for different people around the country. Business and job losses, industry crashes and the promise of a recession are very real concerns from both social and economic standpoints.
Likewise, we must also bear in the mind the impacts long-term isolation and immobility are having on other public health issues, like mental and long-term physical wellbeing.
With these issues in mind, and with the UK lockdown now extended for at least another three weeks, there is an unmistakable feeling in the air. A frustration which is undoubtedly shared, on some level, by most residents: the desire to ‘return to normal.’
For many, the combined monotony and pressure of limiting almost every element of their daily lives is beginning to wear them down. As such, it is understandable that both political and public spheres are venting their collective frustrations and pushing for answers on how soon and with what method we can achieve this aim.
But it is not just returning to normal that’s important. It is not even necessarily about how we make this return. We must also ask what this new normal is going to look like. Up until now the focus has, again understandably, been on how humanity can work through and eventually move on from this unparalleled situation. But in some ways, it may be worth looking outward, at the world around us, when considering how we become ‘normal’ again, and what this normality should look and feel like.
As humanity hits the pause button, with the majority of Brits now adhering to social distancing policies and staying home unless is absolutely essential not to, it would seem that the natural world is breathing a sigh of relief. Across the world, residents are ‘battening down the hatches’, factories and businesses are shutting up shop, and national and global travel restrictions are being implemented. With this, roads, seas and skies have effectively been cleared. This has led to unprecedented drops in emissions around the world, and unparalleled improvement in pollution levels.
Satellite imagery has picked up a visible clearing of nitrogen dioxide over northern Italy, Spain and the UK.
In the UK, some cities have seen their emissions reduced by as much as 60 per cent since restrictions were implemented in mid-March. Across the Atlantic, the relatively recent lockdown measures in the US have already had drastic results, with New York reporting an almost 50 per cent reduction in pollution over the past month.
The story is much the same in the Eastern hemisphere. China’s emissions since January have dropped by 25 per cent when compared to the same time last year, as have India’s. The latter, which is now in a full state of country-wide lockdown, has been cited as presenting some of the most visible and drastic shifts in terms of pollution levels. Residents have shared images of clear blue skies in major cities like Delhi; sites that haven’t been seen for decades.
And this is not the only way in which the natural world has reacted to our silence. Images and videos across social media have depicted wildlife returning to urban spaces: from sea-birds and now-visible shoals of fish in the Venice canals, to sheep and goats in sleepy villages in Llandudno. Entire ecosystems appear to be healing, at least according to media reports, and there are even claims of a potential boost to wildflowers and bees as a result of ongoing lockdown measures.
Where real value lies
Of course, a pandemic is neither an ethical nor a feasible solution to tackling the climate emergency. We cannot and should not weigh a loss of human life against the potential of environmental progress. What we can do however, is look at how we can learn from this moment of pause. How can we use this to measure and understand the impact humanity has upon the natural world, and how we can implement real changes based on this.
Consumerism has long been intertwined with our destruction of the natural world. The West’s reliance on cheap, quickly-accessible goods and products has formed the bedrock of many of the factors that contribute to the climate emergency. Deforestation, palm oil harvesting, battery farming, plastics, the list goes on.
If being restricted in this way has taught us anything, it has taught us about what is and is not essential. It has given us an appreciation of what matters, and what does not.
The vast majority of people-focused reports have shown that the former, for most, is connecting with their loved ones and with the world around them. It is this mentality which ought to be taken into discussions about releasing lockdown restrictions and reshaping society again in a post-coronavirus world. Ultimately, we must ask ourselves not what normal means, but what we want it to mean.