Nothing can ever be the same again; COVID-19 and the environment

Caterpillar on eucalyptus leaves

Governments around the world are anxious to get their countries back to normal. But what is ‘normal’? It is claimed during China’s lockdown over the virus, the resulting cleaner atmosphere saved more lives than the lockdown. When I went on an interfaith pilgrimage to northern India four years ago, I was shocked by the air pollution that blackened leaves with oily soot and blotted out the sky. Respiratory disease was rampant. But India’s lockdown resulted in cleaner air and enabled people to see the Himalayas again.

Bursting grevillea flower in front of green foliageWhen COVID-19 first started to feature in the media, I wondered: “Is this the Earth trying to tell us something about how we treat our environment?” I had not seen or heard of anyone exploring this connection until I read an article by Jonathan Tulloch in The Tablet of 4 April this year. In it he writes, “Scientists agree that the recently emerging catastrophes of Ebola, Sars and COVID-19 are all zoonotic, originating in animals before transferring to humans.” He explains how our shrinking natural habitat exacerbates the mutation of such viruses. Tulloch is a writer with a great love for the environment. His short article is worth reading and can be found here.

So, will getting back to ‘normal’ mean a continuation of neglect of the issue of climate change? So far this year Australia has seen catastrophic bushfires, followed by floods, followed by the pandemic. “We can mend it if we really wanted to”, the line from one of Joe Wise’s song from the 1980s, comes to mind. Our governments need to know that we really do want to mend the ways our current economic policies impact on life on Earth, that we want to set different priorities in which the health of the natural environment is number one. Human health depends on it. The Government’s response to the pandemic shows that it has the capacity to change in response to the threat of catastrophe. But will it?

It is five years this week since Pope Francis issued Laudato Si’, on Caring for our Common Home. In this document, he addressed ecology and climate change, and more than that. He also looks at the impact of our ravaging the Earth on human communities, especially on the poor, and on the health of the Earth itself and all of its creatures. It is an inspirational read.

From 16-24 May 2020, we celebrated Laudato Si Week, which also commenced the special Anniversary Year to commemorate Laudato Si, from 24 May 2020 – 24 May 2021. These links demonstrate that the internet carries many events celebrating the anniversary and importance of Laudato Si’.  Be sure to look through them. We can all be inspired by the vision of people who have taken the Pope’s vision to heart.

Corrie van den Bosch mss
May 2020

Photographs courtesy and copyright Fiona Basile 2020