By Dominic O’Sullivan
I started to write this during the first weeks of the lockdown, and I have decided not to update the tense as I would ask you, the reader, to take yourself back to how that felt just a few months ago, to put that into context. So, please read on.
As we watch – almost helplessly – the appalling ravages of the Coronavirus around the world, we also see, and feel, the massive impact on our way of life.
Being ‘imprisoned’ in our own homes is, for many, harsh and challenging, and hugely inconvenient. Perhaps we are bored; perhaps frustrated; perhaps concerned for jobs and family; perhaps lonely. I miss my friends certainly, but there is the phone and whatsapp, and skype. Most of us still have TV, and with the internet we can get to all sorts of information and entertainment, such as YouTube and Netflix.
Perhaps we look outside and wonder ‘what is still going on?’ Or perhaps everything has changed.
Birds Singing Everyday
When I look outside from my condo balcony, I see a lot less haze over the city. The air is hugely fresher. There is a lot less noise as traffic is severely restricted. The noise and disturbance of yet another condo development has given way to more peaceful and spiritually uplifting sights and sounds. For the first time in three years of city living, I hear birds singing everyday. Many of these I have not heard before. One brave creature sat above my balcony one morning and poured his heart out. It was beautiful. Will he still be there if things return to how they were just a few short weeks ago?
In Venice, there were reports of swans and dolphins having returned to the canals and wharfs, an event not seen in many years. Alas, that was just fake news meant to momentarily excite us. In Singapore, otters have gathered along the concrete edges of the waterways – many older people did not know they were still around. Many younger people probably never knew they ever existed in the hustle and bustle of the city. Thankfully, that was not fake news. But will these phenomena continue if we return to ‘normality’?
What exactly is this normality that we appear to crave so much for? It could be many things to many people, such as:
- the pursuit of success, of betterment
- the need to satisfy the expectations of others whose interests are not with us
- the need to achieve a higher status among our peers by earning more, owning more, flaunting more.
Pursuit Of Happiness
And what is the price we appear to be willing to pay for this ‘pursuit of happiness’? It does appear to include:
- enduring traffic jams and often bad driving habits
- accruing credit card debt
- working excessive and unhealthy hours
- sacrificing irreplaceable quality time with family
- loss of contact with and appreciation of mother nature, in all her glory, majesty and mystery.
- creating and tolerating more pollution and more environmental destruction, and the damage that causes us and our families
We have heard so many scientists and environmentalists clamoring to draw attention to the gravity of the environmental situation whereby the planet itself is struggling to survive, not so dissimilar from the struggling health services across the globe trying to deal with a challenge that has been greatly exacerbated by human greed, ignorance and indifference.
Personally, I find it sad that, despite the wake-up call that nature is giving us through its Coronavirus emissary, many governments are still looking to prioritise economic over environmental recovery; corporate over species survival; protecting and restoring the status quo even though it is that very vehicle that has brought us to this point.
A sociologist named Maslow identified a ‘hierarchy of needs’ which became a universally accepted model, at least in academic, if not economic circles. I ask you to look it up and ask yourself where you are on this scale; ask yourself where you draw the line between needs and wants, and the oftentimes ‘if only I had’.
What if we wanted less? What if we looked again at how the world has changed since the dawn of the industrial revolution, and why and how that development impacted so massively on the world. Look at the impact of mining, of war, and of natural and man-made disasters; look at population growth; look at the impact of deforestation, especially in the tropical regions, and the loss of species, just to satisfy the whims of mankind. There is a lot of data including imagery available on the internet, on Youtube, and none but the greedy, the ignorant, and the indifferent could fail to be moved and alarmed if you took the time but to look.
You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone was the lyrics of a song I remember from the sixties: Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell. Even then, I saw the place I grew up in ravaged by developers to the point where I promised myself that I would not bring my children up there. In barely twenty years, all the fields and semi-wild spaces that I played in were built upon. Ponds were filled in with the loss of fish, frogs, grasshoppers, dragonflies, butterflies etc that lived there. Rivers became more polluted so that no life thrived there – no longer would I see grass snakes nor kingfishers. Flood meadows gave way to housing, leaving no space for passing deer, for herons and kestrels, and creating floods as the water was channeled to lower reaches. Nowhere can children explore these marvels, build dens, climb trees, play hide and seek, observe the passing seasons, and I am sad for them.
So, while governments continue to plan to restore the status quo by propping up the very industries that pollute and ravage the planet we depend on, I wonder if we might first ask whether the status quo is what we the people, we the citizens, we the parents, really want. Is there not, here and now, a unique opportunity to re-examine the cost of pursuing the status quo, and to redirect our efforts towards a more sustainable model for the future, for our children’s future? Perhaps a model that prioritises man’s relationship with nature on which we all depend?
Answers on a postcard please. Or comment, below. Or just have a chat with me on my Wake Up FB page https://www.facebook.com/todomspage.