Since the outbreak of the pandemic, many things have changed, whether worsening the already precarious living conditions of many vulnerable people or causing only slight changes in the daily habits of the better-off. Even if in a less intrusive and shocking way, yet landscapes around us also appear different, and so does our perception of them. The streets, parks and squares of both overpopulated metropolis and small towns have become deserted, abandoned places during the lockdown. Natural and wild environments outside the urban centres, emptied of the human presence – with the exception of those living and working there – also seem to have remained motionless and silent in the face of the tragedy of the epidemic.
Just as silent have remained many international debates and initiatives which, directly or indirectly, influence the future of such spaces and, most importantly, the lives of their inhabitants. The COVID-19 epidemic has delayed most of the major climate events and policy summits planned for 2020, such as the COP-26, while the energy transition towards renewable resources is facing a rapid slowdown worldwide with huge investments being diverted to other sectors (now more essential than ever). Also, climate movements which mostly rely on public, crowded demonstrations are being forced inside and online. All when this year was expected to be crucial for environmental decision-making processes.
It is clear, however, that the processes of climate change cannot be paused, and that the most negative effects will be spilling over the most vulnerable people and communities, again. As it has happened in other periods of crisis, persistent voices are now calling for the postponement of the choices needed to make our economies and societies more sustainable, in order to focus on – business as usual – economic growth and employment protection objectives. But that should no longer be an option. On the contrary, the economic recovery models that will follow will necessarily have to take environmental issues into account to provide new jobs, to develop better health and education systems, to preserve natural areas. Urban realities will also have to be rethought in light of physical distancing measures, to protect the health of all without encouraging polluting habits.
At the international level, collective and sound decisions are badly needed. It should be put high on the agenda, among many (many) other things, the implementation of restrictive and preventive measures, for example. Think of the staggering 55% increase in the deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest during the last four months – in the midst of the epidemiological and economic emergency. An activity irreversibly destroying habitats, also considered a determining factor in the emergence of new infectious diseases.
At the same time, changes cannot be only top-down. The fact that social movements addressing environmental issues have never reached such momentum worldwide, has shown that people want to be part of the solutions. It is really necessary to collectively redefine what should resilience mean, and to develop local initiatives that give communities the chance to better absorb future external shocks. There is also a need for a constant exercise of the mind, maybe starting from those landscapes that we feel closer to us and the people that inhabit them, for the reappropriation, transformation, but also protection of such spaces, in a perspective that is environmentally sustainable, socially just and accessible to all.