“There has never been a time when more people are out of touch with the natural world than now,” said Sir David Attenborough in January 2019.
Just 18 months later, look where we are. In the midst of a global pandemic that many experts have attributed in part to our “lack of respect for nature” and to the “wilful destruction of our planet”. And, they warn, there will be more to come. Renowned naturalist Jane Goodall warned this week that “humanity will be finished” if we do not change our ways. Planet Earth is sick and we, humans, are the virus.
Has the river always been that clear? Is the sky bluer than it was before? Are the birds and bees louder than normal? Questions that many of us will have posed or been asked while enjoying time in the garden or a relaxing walk in recent weeks. For the best part, the answer is that nature is as it was. Beautiful. Breathtaking . But fragile. The difference is we have been afforded (or taken) the time to notice it.
As a family of four, one of May’s highlights was watching the Blue Tits nesting in our garden feeding and taking flight for the first time. A precious moment we’d have almost certainly missed in an unchanged world. From finding a beautiful (previously unvisited) river within walking distance of our house and stumbling across a heard of cows bounding through a farmer’s field, to watching our young children excitedly exploring nature together, the many countryside and woodland walks we have been able to take in recent weeks have also offered up many special moments.
Similarly, I was reminded of the strange new normal we have all had to get used to when standing on our doorstep and looking out just a few weeks ago. Something caught my eye in the sky… It was a plane. I stood for a moment and stared. I realised that it was the first one I could remembering having seen in perhaps two months. An everyday event had become an extraordinary one.
As the COVID-19 crisis gathered pace back in January, the environment was the dominant topic at the World Economic Forum in Davos. The likes of Earth Day, World Environment Day, World Wildlife Day, Global Recycling Day, World Water Day, 30 Days Wild and even Bat Appreciation Day (a tougher sell this year) have since come and gone. And the Cop26 climate talks, due to be held in Glasgow, have been postponed until 2021.
The crucial question is, have the past three months taught us a much needed lesson and brought things to the fore in a way that the events above could never hope to? Have we begun to reconnect and to fall back in love with nature? Have we been handed a timely reminder of what is really important in life?
Research shows that many more people are walking, cycling, visiting green spaces and gardening now than prior to lockdown. We are of course travelling far less and in some cases differently, swapping far flung holidays for time at or close to home, shopping locally and learning to appreciate what we already have as opposed to (often) buying what we don’t need. Fast fashion has slowed, factories have stood still and new car sales have plummeted, with oil prices reaching historical lows.
We are a long way off turning the tide in the fight against climate change but let us hope that we have begun to dip a toe in the retreating waves. 2020 will undoubtedly continue to teach us much about ourselves and about what really matters. It is our collective responsibility to do our homework, to further embrace these lessons and new habits, and to leave old ones behind as normality gradually remerges.
Sir David recently expressed hope for the longer term, saying he felt that “the nations of the world are beginning to see that our survival depends on co-operation.” He tempered this by pointing out that the pandemic has “swept climate change off the front pages” and that “we’ve got to get it back there”.
Let’s ace this test and make that happen.
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