The past 18 months have been hard. The pandemic brought with it unprecedented changes and restrictions; everyday life was altered beyond recognition. As the crisis recedes, people are unsurprisingly desperate to return to normal. But is that really such a good idea? Normal has not been working for the majority of us.
In the United Kingdom at the moment, there is intense expectation over the reopening of international travel. Foreign holidays seem to have become an inalienable right for many people — as essential as food, clothing, shelter — and the thought of being denied the supposed entitlement to fly is causing much distress.
But foreign travel is neither a right nor a necessity, and I am not referring here to those people who have close family abroad or who absolutely must travel for work, etc.
It is a privilege. Someone taking a long-haul flight from London to New York generates around 986 kg of CO2. That per-passenger figure is more than the average entire-year CO2 emissions of the average person in 56 countries around the world.
Even passengers on short flights are responsible for more carbon emissions than are produced by the citizens of some countries annually.
Flying is terrible for the environment, and while many people would rather ignore the effects of anthropogenic climate change and pollution, they are becoming impossible to disregard
Extreme climatic events are increasing in frequency and severity, from floods to droughts, fires to hurricanes.
Species extinction is accelerating at a terrifying pace.
The climate crisis is already responsible for the ill-health of hundreds of millions of people throughout the world, and it is thought by many senior doctors and researchers to be the largest danger to global health in the 21st century. We cannot ignore this.
In many ways, the perception that foreign travel is a certainty is part of society’s overall embrace of consumerism. In terms of travel, the consequences are clear for the planet, as they are for local communities when tourism is irresponsible and unsustainable. But our consumerist tendencies pervade all aspects of life and many of our pandemic-recovery plans.
High Streets are reopening, and shops are enticing customers back with a variety of offers, sales, and deals. While this is good news for those directly employed by retail outlets, it does nothing to resolve the deeper and more sinister issues with many industries, fashion in particular.
There is the environmental aspect to consider.
A recent report revealed that around 50% of clothes sold by major internet fashion retailers are made wholly from virgin plastics.
This boost to the petrochemical industry comes at a great cost to the environment.
The raw materials for the clothes that we buy and often do not need are grown with chemical pesticides which severely damage the health of growers, their families, and their communities.
The use of sweatshops in the UK and abroad is rampant. Clothing company Boohoo is regularly under investigation (and yet somehow still allowed to operate) for allegations of forced labour in Leicester factories.
An alarming number of the world’s biggest clothing brands source their cotton and yarn from Chinese companies known for the enslavement and torture of Uighur people.
Garment workers in Jordan, working at factories that supply major brands worldwide, regularly suffer physical, sexual, and verbal abuse and work in appalling conditions.
Syrian child refugees in Turkey work either in sweatshops where child abuse is rife or in factories where they are treated well enough but are still children working when they should be being children. Without their meagre wages, their families could not eat.
The system in which we all live and to which we all contribute is light years beyond broken.
The rate of poverty among UK working households is the highest it is ever been. The increase is due to spiralling housing costs, low wages, a failing social security system, high childcare fees, etc., and has been worsening dramatically over the past 25 years.
It is now impossible for many people to afford their own home, and high private sector rents punish those forced to rent even further.
As someone who has never owned a home and is, as things stands, unlikely ever to have the opportunity, I can tell you that the situation is untenable.
Ever-increasing numbers of people report severe depression and anxiety: something that was worsening even before the Covid crisis.
We have created a pseudo-connected world, where everyone is linked and yet everything is separate. We desire to return to normality when homelessness and joblessness are on the rise, addiction is an epidemic in many developed nations, and the prevalence of chronic illness is skyrocketing.
Covid and its related alterations to our daily patterns gave many people pause for thought. What else could we do really, trapped at home? It gave the planet breathing space; it gave wildlife a chance to live free from human inference, at least for a little while.
We all slowed down, became more centred.
Communities regained their local focus with friends and neighbours helping each other.
I know of one entrepreneur who normally works for multinational corporations.During the pandemic, she adopted local business owners and helped them reach their customers in new ways.
She has now realised that she does not want to go back to her old life. She would rather make a positive difference to people she knows than make a negative difference to those she has never met. We all want to put the pandemic behind us and move on, but looking back to a system that fails the vast majority of people is no way to move forward.
We have a chance to initiate a fairer, healthier, and happier world where the focus is on what makes things better, for all of us.
Think about your life, what you want, and what you actually need. And maybe, think of the aftermath of this terrible time as the start of a brighter today, not the continuation of yesterday.