Current affairs may be challenging, but they can provide an unprecedented impetus for change.
It’s tough out there. As the media spotlight shifts from a global pandemic to international systemic racism, it has frequently felt as though there is no respite. From lockdowns to riots, a ceaseless flow of doom and gloom has engulfed us. In the face of adversity, though, one must ask: sink or swim? It might be a race against the tide, but choosing to swim in these challenging times can bring with it the sort of critical change our planet is crying out for.
As lockdown afforded us the time for contemplation, the anger resulting from George Floyd’s harrowing murder should offer the impetus to force the changes we have only previously paid lip service to. By turning negativity on its head, vital progress in the climate crisis can be made.
In New York City, coronavirus quarantine led to a 52% increase in cycling over the city’s bridges; Oakland, California, closed off 74 miles of streets to through traffic; Milan has used the pandemic to introduce one of Europe’s most ambitious schemes to reallocate street space from cars to cycling and walking. Barcelona, Berlin, Bogotá … around the world, governments and local councils have responded to the impact of Covid-19 with measures that climate change activists could only have dreamed of at the beginning of the year.
At the end of May, the European Commission’s post-coronavirus green recovery plan was leaked, the prioritising of climate action in the pandemic recovery its most vital consideration. “There are strong synergies between climate action and addressing the Covid-19 crisis,” explained Thomas Vergna, policy officer for the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy in the Netherlands; as the leaked proposal revealed plans to pump 750 billion euros into the ‘European Green Deal’.
How quickly did the face of your city, town or village change as the pandemic’s rapid spread enveloped the world? How rapidly did communities and individuals innovate solutions to halt its escalation? We adapted at such a speed that looking back upon the last few months is like a trip to the cinema. Frightening and surreal, yes. But enlightening and inspirational, too. It’s almost as if our collective reaction to coronavirus has served as a crash course in reacting to the climate crisis.
Then, no sooner than lockdowns were lifting, racial equality protests spread across the world with more haste than SARS-CoV-2 had. A bleak reminder that racism still grips so many, but a timely momentum toward change; an adrenalin shot of necessity for remodelling the existing paradigm.
In his New Yorker article, Racism, Police Violence, and the Climate Are Not Separate Issues, Bill McKibben explains that those most likely to suffer police brutality are those most likely to suffer the effects of air pollution. “‘I Can’t Breathe’ is the daily condition of too many people in this country,” he writes. “One way or another, there are a lot of knees on a lot of necks.” It’s an issue that’s far from resolved, but in recent weeks, significant change has looked closer than ever.
Art for Planet Earth is a design competition using creativity as a tool through which to enact change. Creativity, at its core, is the act of creating a solution to a problem. The societal structures, cultures and programmed human conditions are our problem. We can be the solution.