TONI HASSAN. The earth is breathing easier.

 Major cities and their birds are breathing easier. Across China, smog has given way to the colour blue. Even the snow-capped Himalayas are visible from parts of Northern India for the first time in local’s memories.

Here in Australia, bike sales are up and with fewer cars on the road fewer wild birds and animals are being injured.

Seismologists are reporting that the upper crust of the Earth is quieter. Less transport means much less emissions. In the United States the price of oil briefly turned negative because so little was being used that the storage facilities were filling, leaving traders due to take deliveries with the prospect of nowhere to put it.

At home, many of us are returning to our gardens. There’s a shortage of seedlings at Bunnings. Even apartment dwellers are starting balcony gardens and “grow your own” food clubs.

Might some of the changes wrought by coronavirus last? There are reasons to feel optimistic:

1. In this instance the prime minister has acted on the science. Rather than talking about the cost of his measures, he is prioritising human lives.

2. The national cabinet of the prime minister and chief ministers and premiers is working so well that it might continue. It would have the potential to drive the changes needed to deliver a low carbon future.

3. We’ve been reminded that global events have local impacts and visa versa, a realisation that will be needed to help get a handle on climate change.

4. The pandemic has allowed (forced) many of us to live life more slowly, an experience that will help us rethink things. Further, it’s shown we can continue to work, albeit in a different mode from home and that we don’t need to fly as much.

5. With public work on climate change less pressing (this year’s international conference has been postponed — it’ll be in London next year), behind the scenes fresh thinking is emerging. When public attention returns to the topic, positions will have loosened.

6. In that spirit, a national body called the Women’s Climate Congress has been developed in Canberra with the aim of working towards life-nurturing solutions rather than engaging in conflict. Initiator, Dr Janet Salisbury told me “If we can recognise with COVID-19 that there are personal sacrifices and a loss of freedom for the greater good, then we can do it for the climate emergency also.”

Dealing with the threat of the virus might turn out to have been a dress rehearsal for dealing with the threat of climate change, as well as threat of future pandemics. In both cases the costs of acting quickly are far lower than the costs of waiting and seeing how things develop.In the very least, this public health crisis has offered both experience and language to talk about and promote climate health (People in the climate movement have often talked about global warming in terms of the Earth having a fever, not unlike the experience for virus sufferers).

Both threats require an agile public service, one prepared to reimagine what’s normal.

That’s not to deny the usual battles old industry will fight. Some businesses are ramping up pressure on the federal government to reduce red or green tape so developments are fast tracked. Expect other pressure to get citizens to consume like never before.

Governments should resist. Our consciousness and that of future generations has been changed. Surely, we cannot put the genie back in the bottle.


Toni Hassan is a Canberra writer and artist. She is an adjunct research fellow at Charles Sturt University and the former Communications Manager at the Public Health Association of Australia.

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4 Responses to TONI HASSAN. The earth is breathing easier.

  1. Avatar Jo Vallentine says:

    It is my hope that the silver linings from the pandemic will include a more compassionate society, where some of the workers, previously ignored, will be treated with respect: truck drivers, supermarket shelf stackers and the like.

    But much more than that: indigenous people, who, in remote communities have managed very well thank you to resist the onslaught of the virus……it’s not the first time they’ve been challenged by dreadful disease coming from outside … that they too will be treated with respect, and their statement from the heart will actually be heeded.
    And people who come to our shores seeking asylum, escaping from wars and torture, that they will be treated with respect too.

    And that our fragile climate, a global heating issue, will also be accorded strong action to allow future generations a chance at living reasonable lives.

    We’ve shown that we can work for the greater good of the community, although there are still plenty of people left behind. We need to ensure that some of the gains, like an increased dole payment, are not disappeared in the rush back to same old exploitations, for the benefit of the few.

  2. Avatar Gavin O'Brien says:

    The Global Pandemic has shown that once we perceive the threat to our continued existence posed by an innocuous little virus is real , we can plunge the world into an economic and social revolution to try to beat it. Unlike COVID-19, Climate Change seems to be slowly evolving, so to most people, reports each month that the month/year has been the hottest on record, scarcely impact their sense of well being. “Oh, it DOES seem to have been hotter last summer”, “oh the bushfires were really bad, but I was not really affected, just rather smokey”, or “the GBR just had another coral bleaching event”; etc etc. A few decades or so ago scientists reported on the emergence of the Ozone Hole in the Antarctic. When its impact on human, animal and plant life was seen, the world’s reaction was truly remarkable , so the Hole is now slowly closing when the offending CFC’s were rapidly phrased out. Now with a Climate emergency beckoning, and the warning posed by the Pandemic , what will it take to make vested interests and governments realize that ‘business as usual’ , post pandemic,(if that ever happens) is no longer tenable.

    Gavin A. O’Brien, FRMetS.

  3. Avatar Jim Anthony says:

    Huge opportunities to take many roads not taken before this pandemic, beckon. Corporations which have long been in control of the commanding heights of economies and polities across the world are not likely to embrace change on their own or to enter into creative partnerships with citizen and public interest groups. More than likely Corporations will hug the coast of the old normal and pretend that it is the new. More than likely corporations will cling tenaciously to old myths and refuse to face new realities except by engaging in semantic jugglery.
    Citizen activism will likely get a new lease on life but those who are at the commanding heights of citizen activism will continue to do what they have successfully done in the past: these missionaries of deceit will promise, as they have done in the past, to do good and will do very well indeed–for themselves, for the perpetuation of institutional continuity. That’s a depressing thumbnail sketch of the dark side.

    If there’s a bright side with some kind of assured continuance even into one of several short term futures, I have deep and abiding reservations.

    After this pandemic–if there is an “after”– and if that “after” still has Trump ensconced at the apex of power in America, the specter of an even greater pandemic will get a brand new lease of life, mutate and multiply.

  4. Avatar George Wendell says:

    Yes there are many positive sides, although with the convenient distraction of Covid-19 the same federal government is trying to push through on any number of deals that will ensure fossil fuels and crony support of the fossil fuel industry will still continue – in defiance of the science. Angus Taylor for example, is having a great time stitching up little deals with the fossil fuel industry as well as the PM’s choice to lead the Covid-19 task force (ex-fossil fuels too) is leading a recovery that is fossil fuel focused too. We are not out of the woods on that yet, that is if any woods are left as general land clearing and development of coastal regions continues.

    You are correct to point out what a change Covid-19 has made to a making a cleaner and thus healthier planet for all life, but it also demonstrates just how much of our consumer driven neo-Liberal capitalist society has to change if we are not going to settle back into the ‘business as usual approach’. Otherwise CO2 and other greenhouse and pollution gas emissions will start rising again.

    Transition to newer far less destructive economies is required. This has to be accompanied by cutting back on massive and wasteful use of resources. But as we can see if there is no attempt at transition it throws people out of work big time.

    Hopefully Australia may have a federal government one day that sees the importance of acting responsibly to bring about a smooth transition, but I see no signs of this with the current mob.

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