At the end of February, I signed up for ‘Less for Lent’ a challenge from ENOUGH! Scotland. It was about pressing ‘pause’ on consumerism, and exploring what it is that really sustains us, and what really matters.
The plan was to avoid anything but essential purchases, spend less time on digital social media activity, and more time in creative practice, and in joining with others to learn, explore, discuss and build alternatives together. It was something I threw myself into with enthusiasm in theory, but in practice found I had so little time for. And anyway, it’s not always comfortable having time for thinking and contemplation; to think deeply about what really sustains us, what really matters.
That was nearly six weeks ago. A time that now seems as distant as another lifetime, or even another planet.
Today we are in a completely new world, one that is irreversibly changed. For those like me who are fortunate to still have a job, one that I can do from home, and who don’t have family or friends who are key workers, the horrors and challenges and tragedies are played out entirely on the tiny screen of my phone. My material world has shrunk to my immediate family, my house and my garden. But it has grown too – when a chat with friends around the corner means a zoom call, why not bring in old pals who moved away, why not plan reunions and call friends on the other side of the world, who you haven’t spoken to for years?
I have also made myself have the time to do that thinking – to steady the ship; to gather hope; to try to make sense; to come to terms. I’m yearning for the ordinary, longing for my old life back, but the question is: what will remain of the normal after this monumental rip in the fabric? We are only at the start of this – and I am only at the start of my journey – but already there are some things that standout for me as irreversible shifts. It feels to me that the inherent empathy, big-heartedness and solidarity within human nature is finally coming to the fore. The individualism that has characterised politics and policymaking, marketing and business strategy is being tested to breaking point, and through the cracks, community and solidarity is bursting through.
To start with , we are really grasping the imperative of protecting the vulnerable. It has become something that seems so obvious now, but wasn’t always thus. We are all making sacrifices so that we can protect those around us. And our perception is shifting of who is vulnerable within our communities, with many professions who were once comfortable now on a cli! edge. Vulnerability has come closer to us all, and we are seeing empathy springing up everywhere.
The strength and resilience that so many communities are showing has been one of the sources of blinding light in a dark place. Community organisers immediately spotted what needed to be done, and filled the gaps. People are realising that their strength lies in the strength of others, and the volunteers and the helpers are pouring in. There has been an extraordinary pulling together of communities, supporting of strangers, caring for each other.
And even in our governments there is no going back. Of course there is so much going wrong with global and governmental responses, but around the world, governments are demonstrating that human lives are paramount, and that they will do what it takes to protect life. People are seeing the vital importance of well- funded, resourced and universal institutions, and the need for global solutions to global problems.
So where does this leave us? One thing is clear, there will be no going back to ‘normal’. And what was ‘normal’ anyway? We can’t go back to the normal that is accelerating us towards a world that is 3 degrees hotter and where people all over the earth are already experiencing the climate crisis in heat-waves, fires, droughts and floods, with worse to come year-on-year.
For me, the three standout shifts I have experienced, so early in this struggle, are solidarity with the vulnerable, the explosion of community resilience activities, and the importance of protecting human lives. When we eventually come out of the Covid-19 crisis, this empathy and urgency of action, and a world-view that human health, and the health of the planet that sustains us, is paramount, could be exactly what we need.
Kat Jones is the COP26 Project Manager at SCCS