Coronavirus: Is now the time to dream bigger about how we live our lives?

One Change: We all believed the relentless march towards consumption was unstoppable. Now we know different

We now know how capable we are of making major changes, if the safety and sustainability of society is at stake.

We now know how capable we are of making major changes, if the safety and sustainability of society is at stake.

 

The idea of a column about making small individual changes to help mitigate the threat of climate change now seems quaint and quixotic. So many major changes have occurred in our lives over the last fortnight that making a single, small change seems arbitrary. We’ve cancelled all holidays, stopped all flying, postponed work commitments, ended most human interactions and re-arranged our entire way of living.

The decline in our carbon emissions has been staggering. So, what now? Is it even appropriate to ask people to consider curtailing their emissions further, when so much of our freedom and daily pleasures have already been taken from us? A key element of this column has been the importance of individual action in service to the larger community. It was an idea that seemed idealistic and outmoded. Up until a fortnight ago, a pragmatist would have deemed it unlikely to ever take root in the wider community. Yet what else can we make of the selflessness, self-restraint and generosity that greeted the beginning of this crisis, this radical re-orientation of the way we live our lives?

The reason the column focuses on individual action is because it was impossible to conceive of upending the entire system. The sheer economic and political might of corporate conglomerates, the petrochemical industry, aviation and financial markets was too mighty to tackle, and, so, to alleviate our anxiety, we opted to take small personal steps towards achieving the goals that we knew were so vital for the future viability of society. They were a proxy for the changes we understood needed to be implemented in the world.

Now everything has changed. The carbon-hungry industries and corporations that direct so much of our lives have been halted by a tiny heart-shaped enzyme packed with proteins and ribonucleic acid called Covid-19.

So, what now? All of us believed that the relentless march towards productivity and consumption was unstoppable. Now we know different. We also now know, both as individuals and as a society, how capable we are of making major changes, if the safety and sustainability of society are at stake.

It may seem inappropriate to suggest that this might be a time to dare to dream bigger. The tumult, anxiety and heartbreak we’re experiencing have left us raw and vulnerable. We yearn to have our old world back, that familiar status quo, even if it had become largely unfulfilling for many.

When all this is over, the banks, airlines, fossil fuel companies and major retailers are going to look to our Government and the EU for help to rebuild. Is this the right thing to do? Do we need to make it clear to our leaders that we’re not willing to return to the self-destructive norms of the past? Is that the single, big One Change we should adopt? To let those in power know that a condition of our support and loyalty over these next weeks and months is that afterwards we can come together to create a world that is carbon neutral and equitable, rather than maximising profits at the expense of all else. How idiotic would it be to combat the deadliest health threat of the modern age, only to return to a society set on destroying its future?

One Change is a weekly column about the changes - big and small - that we can all make in our daily lives for the good of the planet. 

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