• Sue Walder-Davis

It’s World Earth Day - but where on Earth do we go from here?

22nd April 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of World Earth Day - it was initiated in 1970 to give ‘a voice to an emerging public consciousness about the state of our planet‘.

In a parallel universe, I am sitting here writing an optimistic piece on how although the struggle has been a long and uphill one, we are finally seeing the top of the mountain - a point where the effort has all been worth it and from which we can see a clear path ahead. In this parallel universe I am three weeks away from my first ever run at local elections representing The Green Party, so I’m waxing lyrical about all the people I have spoken to and how positive I feel about where the environmental crisis sits within people’s priorities. I’m confident, whether they are mine or not, these local elections will lead to more Green feet under chamber tables. I’m also feeling excited for October’s COP26 in Glasgow where the UK will be poised to lead the way in the next wave of global environmental commitments. I’ve got my fingers firmly crossed that our friends on the other side of the Atlantic will see fit to elect a new leader in November who will rejoin the fold and recognise what’s needed to safeguard future generations. I’ve just watched Attenborough’s witness statement piece ‘A Life On Our Planet’ at nationwide premier screening event and I know it will change even more hearts and minds. 2020 is our year.

In my lovely, comfy, parallel universe, we’ve taken all the momentum that Greta, the Climate Strikes, XR, news outlets and indeed many world leaders built in 2019 and we’re forging ahead. We’re near the top of the mountain, the way ahead promises turbine lined, Green landscapes, clean air and the tops of millions of newly planted trees. It’s so nice here.

But we’re not in that dreamy parallel universe are we? We’re all-consumed instead by the presence of a very different type of peak where April 22nd 2020 marks not the golden anniversary of worldwide environmental protectionism, but rather the grim worldwide milestones of 2.5 million confirmed cases and 180,000 deaths from Covid-19. This pandemic, this new reality has swept the planet taking down the vulnerable, world economies and individual

freedoms in a way that none of us could have imagined just a short few months ago. In fact if you’d have talked to me about Covid-19 back in December, I would have assumed you were talking about a YouTubers‘ conference in Silicon Valley. But here we are, with a new vocabulary, seemingly no other world news and an unlikely black market for self-raising flour.

On a personal level, this pandemic of course frightens me. I have ‘at risk’ people who I love very much and an irrational concern that I might have an underlying condition that I don’t know about. I have friends on the front line who are already physically and emotionally spent as well as friends who cannot stay financially afloat if this goes on much longer. I have two little boys who are receiving a less than satisfactory level of homeschooling by yours truly and who are worryingly asking less and less about their friends. It’s very hard indeed not to be consumed by it all, and bottom line, it’s hard to think

much about the wider world when you’re no longer allowed out in it.

Initially amongst the chaos I grasped on to the positives; the grounded planes, the cleaner air, the dolphins swimming around Venice’s canals. Factory floors are still, roads quiet and we can hear the birds singing louder than ever. If you google ’climate and coronavirus’ you’ll find plenty of people doing that - lauding this situation as ultimately positive for the planet. Indeed a friend asked me this weekend whether I thought there would be any long term environment benefits of this pandemic. My short answer was ‘no’. My longer answer (pardon my French) is ‘we don’t have time for this shit’. I don’t mean that to sound flippant, but it is shit, terrible of course, but the timing couldn't be any worse.

You see while in dreamy parallel universe we were nearing the top of a long, difficult environmental climb, in the real world we have ground to a halt. And anyone that’s ever attempted a hill start knows how much more likely you are to stall or roll backwards than surge forwards.

Local elections - postponed

COP26 - postponed

Climate Strikes - postponed

Attenborough’s documentary - postponed

US Election? - Don’t hold your breath

And where will government and individual priorities be once this is over? Well I wager that people will rightly be concerned about their livelihoods and feeding their families in a depleted economy. And our governments will attempt to balance debt-laden books whilst never again being allowed to undervalue the importance of health and social care. And every which way we look there is sure to be political mud slinging that will make Brexit look little more than serious than the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

We will have lost a year, maybe more, of the decade we had to put the brakes on Climate Change. I fear more than ever we will find it really hard to see beyond the end of our noses, as we mourn the loss of loved ones or the livelihoods we have built. It will be very hard to know when it is the right time to start shouting about the fate of the planet again without it sounding insensitive or irrelevant.

So on this, the 50th anniversary of World Earth Day, instead of sharing all the wonderful environmental opportunities that 2020 will bring, I’m going to throw out instead my own hopes for the legacy that it will leave.

I hope this sense of community and empathy persists, that we all talk a bit more and about the things that really matter. I hope we remember how important it feels to help a neighbour.

I hope we will have learned that when push came to shove, the last thing we were thinking about was which trainers to buy next, or whether to choose Spain or Greece for our next holiday. That we won’t forget how for a while, just being able to sit in the park for an hour would have felt like the biggest luxury.

I hope we remember that the real influencers are those that keep us healthy and put food on our tables.

I hope we recognise how fragile the system is that we have created, and what huge opportunities there are to rebuild a better and fairer one.

I hope we are made aware that, no matter how many people are tragically killed by COVID-19,  every year 4.6 million people die as a direct consequence of the air pollution that the above fragile system generates.

I hope we see the size of any threat isn’t just about the amount of airtime we give it.

I hope we appreciate that geographical borders are fabricated and that we are all in this together. That when face-to-face with a brutal force of nature, we are all just as vulnerable as each other.

I hope we’ve been given the confidence that a different way of life is indeed possible and that we demand nothing less than what’s needed from our governments.

I hope we enjoyed the clean air, quiet skies and slower pace enough to want to keep hold of them.

If we manage all of that, surely we’ll have everything we need to get to the top of the mountain.

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