The other side of the pandemic: Making the shift to a balanced 'new normal'

By Anne Walton, Fairfield, NOAA (retired), international consultant on natural resource management and climate activist

In time, this torrid period of the COVID-19 crisis will pass, and we will be tasked with making some important choices on reassembling our lives. Let’s not lose this moment in time or what we have learned. Over the last couple of months, we have seen a more compassionate side of ourselves. We have shared our food and cared for our neighbors. We have found innovative ways to survive, and in many ways found ways to thrive. We have seen the pressures taken off our natural resources, and wildlife is returning to reoccupy its natural habitats. We have seen how our most polluted cities have become more livable in the absence of vehicles and greenhouse gas emissions.

At the same time, we have to acknowledge that we entered the COVID-19 crisis with many of our own crises already in place. The COVID-19 crisis has exposed some of our deepest fault lines including our failure to seriously address the climate crisis. So now the scales of balance have been tipped even further, undermining the very foundation of a successful and resilient community.

What we have learned from the COVID-19 experience is that when we put our collective intentions together, the seemingly impossible suddenly becomes possible. And so it seems all the “can’t happens” that we have lived by in the past don’t apply when we’re in a crisis — from developing vaccines to canceling debt and reducing greenhouse emissions. So let’s not live within the limits of “can’t happen” when creating the “new normal,” especially as we prepare to make up for lost time in mitigating the climate crisis.

Let’s use the COVID-19 crisis as a springboard for moving from a high carbon economy to a more sustainable future by investing in businesses that accelerate the development of a green economy. Let’s invest in green infrastructure that provides jobs, helps individuals and businesses lower their carbon footprint, and builds resiliency to the impacts of climate change. Let’s create support for and be inclusive of the most vulnerable, those most greatly impacted by all crises, in planning our “new normal.”

Most of all, let’s take the time to understand and reflect on what we have gained from this crisis and use that as the foundation to build a “new normal.” Let’s ask ourselves about the good parts of this experience we want to hang on to, what good we want to restore from the past, and what we want to let go of. And most of all, let’s ask how we find new and innovative ways to meet our basic needs and create a more resilient world in the face of a rapidly changing and unpredictable future. Let’s take the “can’t happens” out of the “new normal” and build a green recovery plan, taking into consideration the impacts on generations to come. Let’s heed the advice of an African proverb: For tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.