Living Beyond Lockdown – and the environmental catastrophe

Here in the Republic of Ireland we are some weeks in to a ‘Level 5’ lockdown. Stay within 5km of your home. Work from home. Stay at home unless for essential reasons. Don’t visit anyone, even in their garden. Restaurants, most retail – all closed. You get the picture. Much of Europe seems to be going the same way.

Just to be clear – this is not a post complaining about the restrictions or debating whether they are overkill or not. And I’m also aware that it has in-built Western and probably middle-class assumptions about what ‘normal’ life is like – assumptions of reasonable physical and mental health, freedom, education, time and resources access to the internet etc

Given that most people’s worlds have drastically worlds contracted to a small physical space and with a small circle of family (or no-one if you live on your own), what are some things we can do to ‘expand’ those worlds?

I mean by ‘expand’ that we are relational and imaginative beings. So many of the joys of life are found in learning new things, deepening relationships, travelling to different places, experiencing a world outside our current horizon. That’s why I feel especially for late teens / 20s – this is normally a time in their lives when the world is opening up, yet lockdown lives up to its name in closing down life’s colour. Everything becomes a shade of grey.

So, if you are locked down, what are some things you have been doing to bring a bit of colour back? Is there something new that you have discovered that brings some unexpected joy?

Here’s one I’ve found – travelling to Africa. And Tembe Elephant Park in South Africa in particular. There are a few other ‘Africams’ on this site and you can watch live as well as scroll back through the day to see what’s happened.

‘Big Tusker’ Elephant at Tembe

I’ve never been to Africa but I feel like I have now. You can get lost in another world, a natural world bursting with unpredictable life – and the noise of birds by day and cicadas at night.

The elephants are magnificent and I’m only beginning to learn about their behaviour. Tembe has over 220 which includes some of the biggest tuskers in South Africa.

I hadn’t thought about what Giraffes have to do to get a drink. Warthogs are a favourite – they are tough as nails and have a face only a mother could love. Then there are the antelope: Impala are muscle on legs, ready to sprint. Kudu, Nyala, Waterbuck, Wildebeest and Suni regularly appear as do Zebra. We watched a huge herd of Cape Buffalo pass through the other day – such strength and yet social organisation. You might see Rhino by accident if they happen to wander into view. They are so endangered from poaching that the cams stay off them and comments are not allowed to mention them.

The cats are fantastic to see in the wild of course: lions and, more rarely, the leopard – the most special of all in my opinion. Cheetahs can be seen but I haven’t yet.

From Flickr – Leopard at Tembe

Also seen on the cams are are civets, genets, hippos, crocodiles, baboons, a rare Jackel the other day, African wild dogs, hyenas … As well as Ibis, Herons, vultures, and occasionally eagles – an African sea eagle and a tawney eagle so far. And so many other exotic birds that I don’t know anything about … apparently there are over 340 species of birds in the Tembe area.

At Tembe there are hundreds of African Weaver Birds – you can see the bright yellow males with black faces and the nests they have build hanging upside down from the branches.

Watching this, especially watching live, brings you into the sights and sounds of a different world – a fantastically diverse natural world.

Apart from being fascinating and, at times exciting, the thing you start to notice is how unrushed the animals are in all their movements, a rhythm of life that has its own pace.

Yes an antelope getting chased by a lion is not hanging about. Yes ‘behind the scenes’ of the webcam there is plenty of disease, death and carnivorous activity. But the overwhelming sense is of just ‘being’.

So, for me, it’s been a place to go during lockdown: there is peace, beauty and calm there. It refreshes the mind and soul – and maybe puts into perspective our lack of calm; our frenetic rushing about; our obsession with ourselves and myopic ugliness of so much of our politics (say no more).

The environmental catastrophe

But beyond the personal, its also a reminder of how fragile that world is. Most of the cams are in game reserves where the animals are protected (to some degree) from hunting, poaching and ever-encroaching human activity. The richness of life in Tembe and the other cams gives an illusory picture of health.

On a bigger scale, pretty well all of the Africams are focused on water. Without water life dies. And several of the water sources are man-made. Global warming and associated drought, along with human destructive behaviour, threatens vast numbers of species globally.

The population sizes of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles have seen an average drop of 68% since 1970. Read that again – 2/3 of wildlife have disappeared in the last 50 years – and the trend is continuing downward.

World Wildlife Fund

This is catastrophic for our all life on our planet – including human. And the threat is growing. The reason we are in Lockdown is a direct result of human disruption of nature. Much more serious Pandemics could follow.

From the latest WEF Global Risk Report.

For the first time, its 2020 report found that the top five risks facing the world in the coming year were all linked to the environment. They included biodiversity loss, climate change and extreme weather events.

One thing is crystal clear – business cannot go on as normal. The Pandemic has been a ‘warning shot’ that all our assumptions about normal can be overturned in a couple of weeks. We need a radically new vision of ‘normal’ if the world’s ecosystem is to even begin to recover. We cannot go on under the illusion that endless growth and prosperity is either possible or desirable. It is obviously neither.

We need new models of food production and new models of sustainable consumption if things are to change.

As Greta Thunberg says, it hypocrtical for political leaders to make the right noises about vague promises to be carbon free in 2050 but fail to take costly meaningful action that is going actually to change our assumptions of what normal life looks like in the immediate future.

As I was finishing this blog post I got an an email from the Irish-based Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice linking to their latest publication in which is this article. It concludes

Simply restating the nightmare that will come upon us if we do not act will not be enough. No one wants to live in a horror movie. The story we are telling need not be a tragedy. There is time to act. There are grounds for hope. Recognising that there is no way to separate our care for the environment from our care for our neighbours is the first step out of the chaos of a world hurtling into dystopia. “Genuine care for our own lives and our relationships with nature is inseparable from fraternity, justice and faithfulness to others.” We do not yet know how all the pieces will fit together that will tackle this monumental challenge. We know grassroots democratic discourse is central. We know our entire political imagination must undergo an ever-deeper ecological conversion. We know that establishing this respect for others and for the earth as our fundamental value – not efficiency, not ideological purity, not even success – is the place to start.

‘Do We Really Feel Fine? Towards an Irish Green New Deal’

So – here’s another challenge for Lockdown: let’s reflect on why we are here in the first place. Let’s get educated about the unfolding catastrophe in the natural world in which we live, and let’s consider how we can act to make a difference where we are.

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