A window into another world
Updated: Jul 30
As much of the world remains in lockdown, most of us are adapting to a slower pace of life. With our outdoor movements restricted, we savour sips of the natural world. Strolling through city parks. Watching woodland flowers bask under leafless canopies. Hearing birds fly.
What’s more, for the first time in history, we have the ability to see how the Earth looks with the pause button pressed on modern life. A once in a lifetime opportunity to gaze through a window into another world (or perhaps another time), where skies are undisturbed by the roar of jet engines and roads lie all but empty.
A herd of goats has descended on the seaside resort of Llandudno in Wales. Venetian canals run clear for the first time in living memory, with residents spotting hundreds of fish in their usually murky waters. And perhaps most incredibly, as levels of air pollutants and warming gases plummet the world over, the Himalayas are visible 125 miles away in Punjab for the first time in 30 years.
It would be easy to dismiss these all as nothing but fluffy feel-good stories – a welcome but largely meaningless distraction from the doom and gloom of the daily news cycle. Some of them are, but some most certainly are not.
According to Public Health England, long-term exposure to air pollution – with its links to coronary heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease, lung cancer and asthma – causes between 28,000 and 36,000 deaths annually in the UK. The situation is even worse in India, where over a million people die from the effects of air pollution every year, accounting for one in every eight deaths and reducing the country’s life expectancy by 1.7 years.
Of course, not all the environmental impacts of Covid-19 have been positive. For one, the huge spike in the use of disposable personal protective equipment, such as masks and gloves, has generated mountains of medical waste. But on the whole, in stark contrast to the human toll of the virus, it’s difficult to see the Earth as anything other than a planet in the process of healing.
No one expects this rapid recovery to last after restrictions have been lifted and the wheels of industry grind once again into motion – nor that a greener take on modern life should come at such great expense to jobs and the economy. But at a time when the health of the planet might seem like the least of our concerns, let’s use this opportunity wisely – to reengage with nature, collectively sharpen our focus on environmental issues and start to build a healthier relationship with the world around us. Our kids will surely thank us for it.
Pictured, in Lesueur National Park, Western Australia, with my son, Oswin.