By Jessica Kirby —

The talk of the town is isolation and restrictions. When will it end? What will new normal look like? Since no one really knows for sure, it might make better sense to stay present and see what we can learn. The most important thing that comes from this will be whether we—meaning governments, health authorities, the human race—take heed of the lessons that abound in this scenario and apply them in preparing for next time. Because there will be a next time. It might be another pandemic or a global catastrophe, or an environmental crisis, or an economic meltdown, but rest assured, it will be something.

123rf.com Image: Anna Grigorjeva

So, what have we learned?

Isolation is having important climate effects, but whether they will last is up to us. About a third of the world’s population is in lockdown. Goats are running through the streets in Wales, seals and dolphins are turning up in harbours where they haven’t been seen for decades, skies are clearing in big cities from Los Angeles to Venice, and overall pollution is down 25% in China alone.

Of course, there are adverse effects. Medical supplies, such as face masks and gloves, are washing up on beaches around the world. Climate summits have been postponed. The trend moving forward will be video conferencing instead of face-to-face conferences, and we all know how a screen between us dampens the impact of an interaction.

So, what have we learned? Use less, recycle more? Talk less, but make every word count? Take small steps but take them relentlessly? If this pandemic has taught us anything it is that we are alone in nothing.

Families are exploring ways to work and learn from home, together, returning to the roots of humanity. Nearly 5 million Canadians are working from home right now and between 52% and 73%, depending on the province, wish it to stay that way. How will that change the dynamic in the home, the way we choose our careers, and the metrics we use to evaluate the value of work? Children have only been educated in rows using standardized curriculum for the length of a heartbeat in the human story, but the habits are set and some families are struggling to balance educating their children, working, and household responsibilities. Members of families are learning to carve out their spaces, interact with one another, practice patience, and develop self-discipline but some feel they can’t move another step forward in the current status.

So, what have we learned? Make room for family time? Shed the unnecessary rushing? Stop glorifying busy-ness? Love more and complain less? Remember, those kids won’t need you forever.

Since March, 2 million Canadians have lost their jobs and nine percent live below the poverty line. Nearly 12 percent have experienced a threat to their personal food security, and traffic at food banks is up 3 percent. Also since March, big box stores with the capacity to be deemed essential remain open while smaller “non-essential” local stores had to close their doors, some permanently. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business surveyed 10,969 Canadian small businesses and reported that 22 per cent of those had their revenue drop to $0 during the pandemic. Only half of those surveyed were confident their businesses would survive to the end of May. At the same time more than 6 million Canadians have applied for emergency income relief.

So, what have we learned? Is shopping local really more expensive? Should we value quality over quantity? Wants versus needs? Is excessive shopping a productive form of recreation? When a local business fails, that’s your neighbour failing. Are you okay with that?

Since COVID, Canadians have spent roughly 32 percent more time than normal outdoors. This number is an average since isolation in cities like Toronto and Vancouver saw more people stay completely in the house while smaller communities, such as Vancouver Island, saw people isolate outside on forested trails and in wild places. With nowhere to shop and no extracurricular activities, people looked within their homes for projects, crafts, and improvements, took up jogging or home gym workouts, and planned dreamy outdoor vacations in their own backyards.

So, what have we learned? Is it really that hard to stay in shape? Get fresh air? Unplug? Learn to value wild spaces? When this is all over, we must remember that the woods were there for us when we needed them the most.

The number one factor in staying the course and changing our behaviours is going to be supporting the economy. We want to believe we are au naturale in our thinking and that we would die on the environmental sword at any cost, but most of us know that if it came down to supporting our families we would do nearly anything to make sure our future is secure.

Here’s the thing: we can support our families and livelihoods and the environment all at once. It doesn’t have to be a choice. The decisions we make about our spending habits, travel agendas, and recreational activities will have imperative effects on the economy, our health, and the environment, and we can reconcile peace and security if we take a moment to ask the important questions.

So, what have we learned?

Jessica Kirby is a freelance editor and writer covering the environment, lifestyles, and the built environment for publications across Canada and the United States. She can usually be found among piles of paper in her home office or in the Vancouver Island wilderness enjoying nature’s incredible bounty.

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