“Normal” is what’s killing us

Letter To the editor, July 8 The Athens News by Aaron Dunbar

“New Data Show Air Pollution Drop Around 50 Percent In Some Cities During Coronavirus Lockdown” (Forbes, April 16)

“Air pollution falls by unprecedented levels in major global cities during coronavirus lockdowns” (CNN, April 23)

“Carbon emissions dropped 17 percent globally amid coronavirus” (NBC News, May 19)

Feel-good headlines such as these have been a dime a dozen throughout the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. And why not? In times like these, we could all use some consolation about the state of the world around us.

I’ve been told, usually by those opposed to taking real action on climate, that I should be celebrating the above facts, and see them as a victory to the cause of combating climate change. Setting aside that I would never wish the illness and deaths of millions of people as a means to this end, it is impossible for me to view such statistics as anything but a distracting hiccup, all to be undone as we race to restore our deadly ideas of “normalcy.”

It’s said that the body begins to heal itself within minutes after giving up cigarettes. But you can’t go cold turkey for a month or two, then return to smoking a pack-a-day and expect to see any genuine benefit to your health. And so it goes with the planet we call home.

Perhaps, then, we should be placing far greater focus on headlines like these:

“Atmospheric CO2 levels rise sharply despite Covid-19 lockdowns” (The Guardian, June 4)

“Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Levels Are at Their Highest in 23 Million Years” (EcoWatch, June 4)

“Atlantic hurricane season already record-breaking — and minority communities disproportionately at risk” (The Independent, June 5th)

“Earth Just Had Its Record Warmest May, Multiple Analyses Found” (The Weather Channel, June 12)

“Climate worst-case scenarios may not go far enough, cloud data shows” (The Guardian, June 13)

“The Arctic Circle Hit 100°F Saturday, Its Hottest Temperature Ever” (Forbes, June 22)

For all our talk of returning to normal, we continually fail to grasp that “normal” is what’s killing us in the first place. We’re running out of time to prevent an unprecedented and irreversible collapse of the biosphere, and now is the time for taking the off-ramp we’ve been given. We must desperately push for a green recovery to this pandemic, or risk sleepwalking into a crisis that will make COVID-19 seem like child’s play by comparison.