No, Nature Isn’t Healing
2nd May 2021
When, a year ago, the world found itself in various forms of lockdown, a whimsical meme emerged. Quaint images of dolphins gliding through Venetian canals and Kashmiri goats roaming through an empty Welsh village were adorned with a message — ”nature is healing”. Sometimes silly, sometimes serious, the message offered a form of cosmic solace, a sense that, while the pandemic was an unprecedented disaster, perhaps there was still a silver lining to it all.
Animals are returning to nature. We are the virus. pic.twitter.com/hayybaymND— Robby (@BobHBark) April 13, 2020
It’s true that there have been some positive environmental consequences as a result of restricted social activity and movement. Temporary, but sizable improvements in air quality were recorded in Chinese cities following lockdowns, and carbon emissions dropped by 17% during the height of the first UK lockdown. Far fewer animals were killed on motorways or in the skies, and we were generally a lot more appreciative of nature, an attitude reflected in a surge of interest in amateur horticulture, urban foraging, and birdwatching.
But recent news makes clear that any proclamations of a healing earth were premature or exaggerated. A new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), predicts that energy-related carbon-dioxide emissions will rise by 1.5 gigatonnes to 33 gigatonnes in 2021. This will be the largest increase seen since 2010, when governments injected huge sums into carbon intensive initiatives in order to mitigate the effects of the global financial crisis. This year’s trends are driven by an increased demand for electricity and global governments’ willingness to subsidise fossil fuels, particularly coal, for the sake of the economy.
Air pollution is also on the rise. Air pollution has been on the minds of many across the UK this week after Coroner Phillip Barlow called on the UK government to tackle dangerous levels of air pollution following his investigation into the tragic death of nine-year-old Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah. Ella, who grew up close to the South Circular in London, was the first person in the UK to have air pollution be listed as a cause of death. The real number of deaths caused by air pollution is believed to be much higher. Barlow urged the government to bring targets for particulate matter pollution in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines. Ella’s mother, Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, called for justice for her daughter, urging the government to take action: “children are dying unnecessarily because the government is not doing enough to combat air pollution.”
Centre for Cities found that while air pollution in the UK initially fell during the first national lockdown, by the end of 2020 it met or exceeded pre-pandemic levels in 80% of surveyed cities. A growing body of evidence links increased exposure to pollution to an increased likelihood of transmission, susceptibility, severity of illness and death from Covid-19.
As Rebecca Solnit argued in a recent op-ed, we must recognise the respiratory impact from particulates as part of the climate crisis, and we must refuse to let ‘other forms of death and destruction’, be normalised as a kind of ‘moral background noise’.
In Case You Missed It
Earlier in April, BBC One aired an investigation into how some of the UK’s biggest water companies have been illegally dumping untreated sewage in British rivers and seas. The River Pollution Scandal is still available to stream via BBC iPlayer.
M&S has been stung by criticism over their move to release 30m honeybees as part of their efforts to produce sustainable honey. Conservationists warned that the initiative could damage ecosystems by depriving wild pollinators of valuable food sources.
93% of the UK’s native woodlands are in ‘poor condition’, according to the latest Woodland Trust Report. Development, imported pests, diseases and pollution mean that the UK remains “one of the least wooded countries in Europe”. Existing native woodlands are in particularly bad shape, with a decline in woodland wildlife such as butterflies and birds.
UK aid cuts have been described as ‘shortsighted’ and ‘likely to increase the threats of floods, earthquakes, and fires across the world’.
- French lawmakers have voted to abolish short-haul domestic flights, where train alternatives exist. It’s hoped the proposal will help reduce carbon emissions. The law will face a further vote in the Senate before it becomes law.
- The World Land Trust has helped secure 236,000 acres of the Belize Maya Forest. The forest is ‘teeming with biodiversity’, and a ‘critical puzzle piece’ within the broader Selva Maya forest region across Central America. Protecting rainforests from deforestation is an essential strategy in tackling the climate crisis.
- The US is ‘back in the climate change driver’s seat’ and has committed to a 50-52% cut in greenhouse emissions by 2030. The UK pledged 78% by 2035. It’s hoped this commitment will spur other countries to follow suit.
- A new study from The WHO estimates that 70% of medical devices in the Global South are rendered unusable because of off or weak-grid clinics. The study highlights the importance of SolarAid’s rural electrification efforts and of deepening coordination between health and energy sectors for improving health outcomes.
- Hubbub paired with Waitrose to launch and manage the Plan Plastic Million Pound Challenge — a £1 million prize fund raised from the sale of 5p carrier bags. Grants were awarded to innovative ideas that would have a long-lasting impact in tackling plastic pollution. Blue Marine Foundation were awarded a grant to develop a beacon that reduces the likelihood of fishing gear getting lost and damaging marine life. Read more about the winning initiatives.
Plug In & Dig In
- Hubbub has launched Down To Earth, a new podcast series that ‘passes the mic’ to grassroots activists, communities, and individuals who are working to improve social and environmental issues in their local area. Features will look at edible rooftop forests, representation in cycling, and the redistribution of surplus food.
- Did you know it’s National Gardening Week? Trees for Cities have compiled some resources that you can use to teach children about growing food and how to plant and care for trees. You could also consider building your own wildlife pond — an underrated wetland habitat that can add significantly more wildlife diversity to your garden.