Hope for the Planet

Andy Lester

I am so thankful for each one of you; for your organisations; for the changes you have brought that have made an incredible difference to the world. Each of you reading this will be working for or supporting a charity or business that has devoted its energy and time to transforming nature, communities and people. Some of you I have met; some of you I only know from a distance. But you are all incredible and all doing transformative, amazing work.

These are the strangest of times. As I look out of my Hampshire lounge window there is evidence of spring everywhere. Daffodils, cherry blossom, even bluebells starting to push their way out of the ground. The first sand martin and swallow have arrived back from Southern Africa and the chiffchaff are singing from the hedges and woodlands. It seems that all is well.

And yet scratch beneath the surface and you encounter real fear. Many smaller charities and businesses may not survive the next few months. Any organisation which relies on daily contact with customers risks losing everything-and as yet we have no idea how far the government will go to ensure as few as possible lose their jobs and their livelihoods.

For some in the farming community, this anxiety is nothing new. The current subsidy driven farming systems and low farm gate prices have driven many out of our landscapes to seek careers elsewhere. But for the rest of us; this level of uncertainty is a new thing. The veneer of 21st century order has been stripped away, and we are faced with a new reality; where old certainties have rapidly passed, and new anxieties have surfaced.

And yet this is still a time to hope and dream. As the world comes to a standstill because of a virus-it offers those who have been fighting on climate and biodiversity loss a real indicator of what can happen when nations pause and think. In some cases, government reactions may have been a little slow, but in less than three months every country on the planet is restricting air travel and the wider movement of people whether via cruise ship or car. In numerous cities, the air quality has improved in areas not seen since the 1960’s or earlier-as has been observed in models from China.

Venice in former days

A few days ago an article came out that suggested some freshwater fish and mute swan were starting to return to the Venetian canals as boat traffic dropped. Children across Italy are making banners on their windows that say “andra tutto bene” which means “everything will be alright” and people are singing from their balconies to encourage one another to get through the night and through to the next dawn. Indeed the word “corona” itself is Latin for a halo of light. Coronas when they appear around the sun, are normally only visible in times of great fear and darkness. The suns corona can only normally be seen when there is a full eclipse and the moon’s shadow passes entirely in front of the sun. Historically these times of darkness were times where normal life paused and people reflected on the fragility of life.

This amazing planet continues to be in deep peril from climate change and the loss of habitats and species. And yet this moment of eclipse-where real darkness is passing in front of our normally ordered lives, is a once in a lifetime opportunity to stop; and to say that real, lasting change is absolutely possible. We have stopped for a virus. Let’s use this time to stop and think hard about what we want the world to look like when we come out the other side. Rather than returning to business as usual; surely this is a chance to learn from the mistakes we have made. To use this pause to reflect on the possibilities of better lives that live in harmony with nature rather than against it. Get outside today and remind yourself of what really matters; enjoy family, home-cooked meals, write letters, create things, paint, draw, sing. Read books you haven’t had time for, get inspired, share time with people you love and care for. Live this time as a unique chance to dwell in the moment.

It is entirely possible that coronavirus started its transmission as a result of the uncontrolled trade in bat-meat in Asia – a symbol of our broken relationships with our planet. Now the planet has used this as a bit of a fightback, a reminder to us of our own interdependence and our critical reliance on nature for our thriving.

In the midst of all that is yet to come in the weeks and months ahead – let’s seek new opportunities to pause together and help to build something much better for when we come out of the darkness and back into the light. The well-known verses of Psalm 23 v4 echo in many of our minds today. Even though we are walking through a very dark valley-we do not need to be afraid. Let’s walk through the valley together and come out changed as individuals and as a movement committed to transforming nature and people.

Andy Lester is the Head of Conservation of the Charity A Rocha UK. He has written this blog in a personal capacity.

Photo of Venice: Martin Hodson