A British perspective
- A massive reduction in traffic
Who would have thought in those distant days of Greta Thunberg and climate activists that we would now emerge into a world almost devoid of traffic? The skies that were filled with the deafening screech of jet engines, the dull roar of passing planes, the throbbing and whining of helicopters, and the annoying insect-like whine of small planes, are now filled with nothing more than clouds, sky, occasionally sun, and lots and lots of birds. Some days you can even see the pale outline of the moon.
And then there are the roads, streets and highways. As 2020 got off to a roaring start and winter turned into spring they were just as solid with congestion as they’d been for as long as most of us can remember. And then Covid-19 happened. Now, in the UK at least, you would have to go back to 1955 to find comparable traffic volumes.
All of this non-driving has caused oil prices to plummet, airlines to ground their entire fleets and plead for eyewatering rescue packages and car batteries to slowly to flat where they were parked. The climate activists are ecstatic, right?
2. Fresh air
And all of this non-pollution has led to another new phenomenon – clean air. Who would have thought at the start of this year that we would find ourselves in a world with air that is so clear that you could see distant mountains and hills from major city centres? That you could see far off horizons through crystal clear air. As the haze and smog slowly lifted from our streets and pollution dropped to new lows, a change in the light and brightness of scenes long-familiar to us became noticeable.
3. An appreciation of nature
And then the blossoms came out and flowers graced our green places. Birds were joined by other curious creatures trying to work out what had happened to all the crazy people: rabbits, deer, goats and sheep wandering though village and town centres. In other parts of the world lions have basked in the sun on deserted and dusty main highways, wild boars have snuffled through city streets and wildlife in general have just stretched out their territories to include those we used to occupy.
People actually came out of their homes to smell the flowers, to marvel at how fresh and fragrant the tree blossoms seemed. As you might expect they took lots of selfies and posted them on social media – “wow, like real blossoms!”, “awesome flower display”, “omg – just listen to this blackbird singing – I looked it up on an app!” And the birds really did seem to be singing like never before. Unrestrained from dawn to dusk they trilled and chirruped, tweeted and croaked, cooed and quacked. Had the air ever been so full of birdsong before? If so, I don’t remember it.
4. An urgent desire to exercise out of doors
And so people started to get out and about in this wonderful new world – at least those that weren’t in total lockdown. Gingerly at first, they that had short jogs, brief walks and cycled maybe a bit longer than they should (for cyclists as a rule never seem to obey rules) before whizzing back to the safety of their homes. Those who couldn’t get out made assault courses in their kitchens or climbed around fixtures and fittings like frisky kittens. Some were lucky enough to own exercise machines or bought some before they all ran out of stock. But outdoors was the place to be. As the lockdown continued and the plague raged throughout the land, parks, paths and riversides were filled with the sound of gravel being scrunched under hot feet, and people struggling to breath tried not to cough behind their overly specified face-masks. On the lanes and roads we went back to Blyton-esque scenes of jolly cyclists wobbling their way up the hills on machines that had been recently retrieved from sheds after many years of neglect, or hurriedly purchased in a fit of panic-buying at a cycling outlet. No matter the under-inflated tyres, the saddle way too low or the lack of cycling efficiency. Cycling had gone mainstream and the regular cyclists looked on with a mixture of bemusement and snootiness – which is fairly typical for those wearing carefully matching lyra outfits.
5. A need to reconnect to ourselves and to each other
But above all was the new-found bonhomie. Initially, people who hadn’t stopped to utter a word to people in their street actually broke open a smile, and, perhaps a few weeks later an exclamation, such as “What lovely flowers! Did you grow them yourself?”
While performing a rather stiff jig to pass someone on the pavement you could almost hear a sound like an enthusiastic sigh from behind a mask, rather like a dentist might make when locating a painful abscess.
Over time the smiles, kindly and knowing looks and hand gestures increased and, at least in England, people were behaving like they do in more southern climes: dancing in the street, yoga exercising on the pavement and showing newfound affection for each other – all while being very socially distant.
While people were connecting with each other more openly they were also getting to know themselves better too. Mindfulness, wellbeing and self-therapy went mainstream. Online wellness forums reached record numbers of new clients seeking to learn how to stay grounded, to appreciate what they hadn’t appreciated before, and to get a lot more connected to everything around them: like listening to nature and breathing in the fresh air – and who could blame them?
So, in a matter of a couple of months we have basically we have ended up living in a world as pure as an environmental-activists wet dream. The question for all of us now is whether we want things to remain like this or whether we want to go back to the way things were before this plague came along and opened up our senses, ourselves and our hearts to a world of new possibilities. I know which world I would choose.
How about you?