You, like me, probably keep asking yourself, “When will things return to normal?” Sitting within my home office– which means rotating between working in my bed, on the floor of my bedroom, and trying to balance my external webcam on the top of my computer for an increasing number of video calls– I’ve been experiencing that anticipatory anxiety that I know many of us are and thinking from time to time, “when will things return to normal?” But, there won’t be a return to normal, at least not the normal that we once knew.
The global pandemic is having effects on us all. One of the interesting effects that we are seeing around the world is the clearing of pollution as people are heeding stay-in-place orders. There are stories about the smog over China clearing during the shutdown, of the canals in Venice becoming crystal clear. Take a look at Los Angeles— it’s gorgeous without the smog. Additionally, CO2 emissions are reducing in line with the economic crisis.
When the pandemic is over, which it will be, there will be an opportunity for us to return to a normal that we all get to create and define together.
However, that shouldn’t mean a return to business as usual when it comes to environmental impacts. The clearing of pollution and lowering of emissions don’t need to be confined to this historic moment, but one that we carry forward with us.
A return to business as usual should actually be our moment to seize a revolutionary shift in society. One in which we take the silver linings of this crisis and let that light flood our reality. Expanding clean energy jobs in the wind and solar industries, funding energy efficiency and weatherization to both reduce energy bills and increase resiliency for low-income Americans, and investing in proforestation measures that will pull millions of tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere for years to come will reduce carbon pollution and better public health.
If we stop deforestation, protect and restore degraded forests, and expand forests, we could reduce annual emissions by 75% in the next fifty years. If we also phase out fossil fuels, we could easily meet the goals of the Paris Agreement and avoid catastrophic climate change. These goals are lofty, but not unattainable, especially if the world unites for a common vision of keeping climate change at just 1.5 degrees Celsius. And look at us uniting to fight Covid-19, in only a matter of weeks!
To be clear, fighting climate change doesn’t mean locking everyone in their homes and telling them to not go to work. That is necessary for a global pandemic, but to fight something like climate change, we need collective action, public understanding and buy-in, and decarbonizing the energy mix while supporting economic growth. We need a paradigm shift in how we view forests and natural systems.
To me, a return to business as usual will be recreating what exactly terms like “usual” and “normal” mean. To me, that could mean stopping forest degradation, stopping carbon emissions from making their way into the atmosphere, and protecting communities that are the most vulnerable to climate change. To me, that means singing together and banding our resources together in our communities to become more resilient. Forests can heal people and the planet– let’s make that our new normal.