The light at the end of the tunnel is nearing. Sooner than I anticipated, the post-pandemic world is gradually reopening and spreading its wings. But this butterfly is much different than its predecessors. If the coronavirus has taught us anything, it is that humans are vulnerable, and nature always finds a way to remind us.
Our growing collective society has pushed the envelope to the point where we cannot entirely separate ourselves from the diseases and viruses that lurk in the wilderness. For too long the goal of mankind has been to dominate and control the plentiful resources our environment provides, which has led to unforeseen consequences: record high heat waves across the globe, devastating wildfires in California, and other natural disasters that are slowly becoming commonplace. The outdoors we so often take for granted is shifting into a volatile place. This is why more than ever we should cherish nature and embrace it as though our existence depends on it — because it does.
During this grand reopening, global emissions have surpassed what they were pre-pandemic. I fear that in this whirlwind of making up for lost time we will forget to capitalize on the valuable opportunity COVID-19 has presented us. Collectively we adapted to a reclusive world. Our education and work was conducted online, and for the most part we managed fine. The atmosphere was cleaner for a year, allowing carbon emissions to hit record lows around the world: For just a brief period, “daily global fossil CO2 emissions were around 17% below their average 2019 levels.”
As much as we would like everything to be back to normal, it would be irresponsible to return to the standard of living we have come to expect. Climate change was shoved right in our faces and we are naive to shrug it off and presume we are safe from another global climate crisis. We must build on the adaptations we made during the darkest hours of the pandemic. Committing ourselves to staying in one place reduced our need to travel. Countless car trips were saved because we realized we didn’t necessarily need to make them in the first place. Above all, being cooped up indoors made us connect to nature locally. Playtime with close friends and family was a welcomed relief from the increased time spent in our homes. Once lockdowns began all we wanted was to be able to go outside.
In the U.S., a study conducted in 2018 indicated that children were participating in fewer outdoor activities, 15% less than six years prior. This trend is threatening because it allows our younger generations to miss the critical connection to nature that compels us to protect it. Thankfully, I feel COVID-19 sent the message that being an indoor nation sucks. Americans can’t stay cooped up for long and the lockdown protocols showed us that.
Today, new technology entices us to detach from nature and stay indoors. Our education demands we spend time using computers, and our jobs keep us in. Part of the reason I chose to study human-environment relations was because I grew up in such a beautiful place and could not imagine an environment that is too polluted to recreate in.
For me, the pandemic reinvigorated my love for nature. Having that access taken away, not being able to enjoy the outdoors, it was something I missed the most. I certainly feel more emboldened to preserve the environment I once took for granted, and I hope that younger generations feel that same duty to take action.
This pandemic has been a miserable and extraordinary experience, we are blessed to learn the valuable lessons it has taught us. Let’s not allow the sacrifices we made to overcome this crisis be so easily swept under the rug and forgotten. If we apply the same ingenuity and perseverance to the greater climate crisis as we have to enduring COVID-19 the future looks bright.
We are fortunate to reach the end of this long tunnel with renewed hope and potential for a sustainable future for humanity and our planet. To hastily resume our lives as if nothing has changed will be one of the final nails in humanity’s coffin. The time is now to fight climate change like it’s a global pandemic
This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.