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Living Lightly column

We don’t want to return to normal – we want better

 By Graham Parton

There is of course an upside to this virus and the disruption it brings to our lives.

Reports from China indicate that within a few days of their extreme “lock-down” the skies cleared and people blinked under an unfamiliar blue sky. In Venice rivers are running clean as the discharge of industrial pollution stopped and tourist ships stopped emptying their waste into the local waterways.

The slowdown in the economy will challenge our concept of normal. Employers who for years have resisted calls to allow people to work from home have suddenly found ways to make that work, thus significantly reducing transport emissions across the country.

The closure of schools challenges many of our assumptions about family roles as it will require at least one parent to be away from work. Perhaps the model of two parents working to pay off the large mortgage will have to be reviewed as we either find different ways to fund our lifestyle, or we change the lifestyle. Crippling mortgages may become a thing of the past.

If a significant portion of the workforce is unemployed it strengthens the case for a universal basic income and the abandonment of the notion that “the best form of welfare is a job.”

It goes beyond work too. People are starting to question the mass gatherings that we used to do, such as large sporting events, church services, concerts, with each cancellation signalling a drop in our national emissions as thousands of cars stay at home.

Perceptions that our food supply is under threat have stimulated people in suburbs to consider the length and complexity of supply chains. There are reports on social media of “panic gardening” breaking out across suburbia as people move towards growing their own food.

For years we have resisted the sorts of things that we know are necessary to adjust to a changing climate and prevent further change. The virus has provided a window on the future – the only real difference being that the virus is playing out over weeks while climate change is taking place over decades.

A hotter climate will have the same disruptive effect on our community, only much worse. We should take the opportunity when our leaders talk about things getting “back to normal” to say “we don’t want the old normal – we can do better.”