We’re all looking forward to the day that we don’t have to live in the constant fear of COVID-19 anymore. The day that our hearts don’t make a jump when our phones ring because we suspect that, in the end, someone we love did get infected with Corona. The day that we can do cartwheels in the local park again - something we didn’t even know we wanted to do. The day that we can finally go to uni/work again, get a crappy cup of coffee and sit on the most uncomfortable chairs ever designed.
Yet, we aren’t only uncertain about when this will be, but also what it will truly be like. Will we go back to normal? Is this even possible?
Most experts agree that we are in a time of change. The worldwide measures that have been taken to combat the Coronavirus and flatten the curve simultaneously act as a rapid for innovation. We don’t have a choice: we simply have to reimagine education and work, revalue healthcare, and reform how we think about travelling - be it for official matters or leisure -, laying aside time for family and friends, or finding peace in nature rather than the concrete jungle.
But what will the long-term impact be? The post-Corona mindset? That, no one could possibly know.
As an Earth and Environmental Sciences student, I’ve been following the developments with a special interest in what Corona means both for the environment and how we think about (solving) climate change. While, again, no one knows what the post-Corona mindset will be with regards to the current climate crisis that we’re in, one thing does stand out: right now, the global greenhouse gas emissions are much lower than just three months ago. As reporter Henriques from BBC noted, air pollution has been down by close to 50% in New York and 25% in China, with similar trends being measured all over Europe. The annual global emissions in this year 2020 will undoubtedly reflect this trend.
But what about 2021? And 2022? Will we be able to keep up this reduction of emissions or will the numbers bounce back without resistance as they did after the financial crash of 2008-2009, during which emission numbers rose higher than ever before despite a reduction during the crisis? After all, even during these times of finding ourselves turn back to family, friends and nature, hence a time of embracing everything that’s not, or shouldn’t be dependent on consumerism, we can’t help ordering puzzles and buying activewear on sale, leading to massive delivery delays. Somehow, we can’t seem to get away from buying more and more in a desperate attempt to buy happiness, satisfaction and security.
Our environmental post-Corona mindset is highly dependent on our social post-Corona mindset. Will we start doing more online in order to spend more time with the people we love by cutting unnecessary travel time, thereby also cutting the emissions that are emitted by transport (which are currently nearly a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions)? Will we head to the local park instead of the local mall on our next day off? Or will we bounce back to life as usual, happy to be able to finally escape the square meters we call home and do exactly what we used to?
While the latter isn’t expected to happen, in the end, we can never know for sure. I can’t say what the world around me will do. But I can say what I will do and advocate. I will remember to look at the flowers in the gardens while enjoying the sun with my friends once I’m allowed back into Freiburg. I will remember to rhyme even during times that my mind thinks about referencing every verse.
And if you decide to join me - we can change what the future will be.
Jesler van Houdt