Later this week, one of the American astronauts aboard the International Space Station will return to Earth after many months in space. Yesterday, when asked how she feels about coming back to a planet wracked by climate change, a deadly pandemic and a host of other painful environmental problems she said: “An Earth in crisis is still an Earth worth returning to.”
One of the greatest gifts of this moment is the opportunity to re-frame the utterly dysfunctional relationship between the human species and our home planet.
We have given our Mother Earth a rare chance to breathe again. The pandemic has led to a massive, global drop in air pollution. Global air traffic has come to a virtual halt. The pandemic has massively disrupted senseless global supply chains. Oil markets are literally falling apart. Wildlife is getting a break from habitat destruction and finding room to roam in car-less cities and the wildlife trade in Asia is being re-thought.
If anything, COVID19 has demonstrated just how fragile, Byzantine and unsustainable our current economic and energy system is. At the same time the side effects of the pandemic offers us an accidental peek into what a better, alternative, low-carbon future might look like. The pandemic has also demonstrated that people will indeed do things differently if it’s for their own health and that of their families. Climate change, like the pandemic, is a human problem – something that so far, most people have failed to realize. But it is time. The pandemic has demonstrated that we can do it. We can make the changes we need.
And some places have resolved to make the change. Just one example is Milan, Italy. As Milan re-opens from COVID19, it plans to transform 35km of its roads & cut air pollution/congestion with wider sidewalks, new cycle lanes, lower speed limits…..and all of it by this summer. “We have to re imagine Milan…it’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to re-set cities.”
If we can maintain this new, accidental pulse beyond the immediate fear of our own death or that of a family member, we may recognize that our future on this planet does not need not to be at the expense of the ecosystems that sustain us. We find ourselves driven towards a mandate to leave fossil fuels in the ground, to grow food with our own hands, to live consciously without destroying ecosystems, to take a walk and eat meals with the ones we love and to treat one another with broad kindness, respect and inclusion – an inclusion we must offer to the multitudes with which we live.
On this, the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, we must find a new definition of what it means to inhabit a healthy, thriving socio-ecosystem. That new definition must be integrated into us at a cellular level. We humans must slow down and adjust to the rhythm of our Mother Earth. It is time to embrace and explore something new.
An Earth in crisis is still an Earth worth returning to. Indeed, it is a gift to receive.