Green in the time of Corona: a post of hope

I, like hopefully most of us, have been working from home and sequestering for over two weeks, now. I expect that this will be the situation for at least another month in New York state, and would not be surprised to be home with my husband and son until mid-May or even June. I am not going to get deeply into the moments of fear, or depression, or indecisiveness, although I can’t help but touch on them. These weeks have been hard. I do see some things that inspire me.

To every season…I write this post for the change agents out there. Especially the ones tasked with changing how their business does work, and those working on regenerative planning and thought processes. Also those, male or female or other, that end up being the moms of the workplace, picking through garbage bins and asking people to recycle better. All of you that are still geared to behavior change strategies, and are now separate from the in-real-time interactions that are the foundation of that work.

This time of separation is in many ways debilitating. Here is a little of what I am facing and thinking, and I suspect you may be in a similar situation.

  • I am working from home, managing a few design projects. Those are ticking along just fine, until someone may determine they are not “essential” projects, anyway. No matter what the official determination, they are essential, as they are resilience projects. Yet resilience is way over there, and COVID-19 is right here, and now.
  • I am nearly just as time stressed, although I do have some interesting resources at home, to work on intense and wide-ranging education to share with staff, electronically.
  • I function much better through co-creation. When I can give and take, bounce ideas back and forth, I can gain insights from the experts in the fields of technology, communication, business development, and more. I believe that sustainability is a collaborative endeavor. I feel a little too separate, sitting at my dining table at home.
  • Getting the attention of others right now is even more difficult than “normal”. This is, of course, understood. There is communication to be drafted about COVID-19, there are business decisions to be made that affect our 500+ employees and all of NY state, Human Resources has to deal with fears and resources, and sustainability is easy to set aside. Yet if we don’t weave sustainability into our current solutions, what does that mean for our shared future?
  • I have a fear that if sustainability isn’t woven into this crisis, it will solidify that it (and that also means my skills) are not relevant. Yet I have a realization that pandemics are also a symptom of our abuse of Nature’s systems, and that people like me, and the knowledge we have and can tap in our networks, will be basic in our recovery and revival.

We have to be vigilant to ensure the “new normal” does not build upon the wrong things that are a part of our speedy and terribly unprepared response to the COVID-19 crisis.

“Social Distancing” should not actually become apartness of spirit. We can ensure that we keep physical distance when needed, such as in this pandemic, learn to practice common sense even in light of the common cold in normal times, and still embrace each other.

Our newly reactivated addiction to sanitizers and hand washing is wonderful AND must be managed as we emerge into a non-pandemic world. The overuse of antibacterials can damage our shared water treatment systems, and force evolution of bacteria that becomes resistant. It has been proven that too clean is a serious danger to long-term health. The balance between clean enough to protect and dirty enough to remain resilient is one we have not yet managed, and if I were in healthcare or biological R+D I would make this a focus of my research.

We must be vigilant about not becoming hyper-nationalized, or consistently in disrespect of other cultures, lands, and peoples, while we embrace our walkable cities and local food sources. I think this is also where social media will remain vital. My connectivity at the global scale has been made wider and deeper, even while I have constricted to a greater awareness of and interaction with my own neighborhood, my neighbors, and the resources within walking/biking distance.

We need to manage our re-addiction to disposables. I see the streets littered with single use gloves, I cannot currently get coffee in a reusable mug except from my own kitchen.  The Federal government is rolling back EPA controls to “protect” oil and gas companies (really?!). Even though NYS has eliminated plastic bags from groceries there are now places all across the nation that have outlawed reusable bags during sequestering. 

I get it. Yet…

We cannot let these temporary measures become permanent absolutions. In fact, we need to be more comprehensive and forward thinking! We can make massive societal adjustments to deal with a pandemic or other disaster while we continue to close the materials cycle, wean ourselves quickly off of fossil fuels, and improve our locational specificity in planning. The most dangerous aspect of the COVID-19 situation for the Earth as a whole is not the disease itself, but the rescinding of protections of our shared water, air, soil, and species systems.

I labelled this a post of hope. Now that I’ve laid all the angst out, what exactly is the message of hope?

The hope lies in understanding that Nature is great at hibernation, at fermentation, and at composting.

  • Hibernation – where external evidence of growth is not visible, yet the systems are ramped down in order to survive tough times.
  • Fermentation – where a passive and nutritious entity becomes super beneficial and sparkling.
  • Compost – where what we consider to be waste becomes valuable nutrition and a resource that supports future growth.

And maybe the most positive aspect of what we are encountering now is the recognition that we have done better, and we can do even better yet. And that there are no rules to the new normal. We are all in a time of discovery.

We can recognize and build upon the amazing positive things that are happening – this is a moment that proves the entire world has the ability to change collective and common habits in just a few days or weeks.  This magnitude of change and the speed of it is empowering to me as a change agent, as one who studies behavior and how to shift it.  We are driving less, using less energy overall, washing more, cooking more at home, building more skills, learning more, and coming together in ways we did not envision before. Doctors are working with patients on-line, companies are offering free lessons in all sorts of things, and loading content onto free platforms. Neighbors are looking out for neighbors again.

Take time for yourself – for some this means learning how to play that guitar that’s in the closet. For others this may be some on-line training. For others an evening bath or listening to records that you haven’t played in a long time, or rediscovering games with your family. Take this time. Yes, be frustrated if you need to, but don’t let that feeling take over. Indulge it as a steam vent, just to exercise it and release it so that your attention can be on what you need it to be on.

Understand that this new reality is not less or more…it is other.

Know you cannot do now what you could do before – No one can. Breathe through it and discover what you can do. Understand that this new reality is not less or more…it is other. That’s real, and that’s okay. You can change your business and the world in other ways right now. I am discovering some of those ways…just beginning to discover some of those ways. This is an amazing moment in time for regenerative planning. And maybe, just maybe, you will find out or rediscover what you actually want to do with your life (OMG). In an office there is almost never time for a real gut-check or strategic planning that helps you to recognize your own potential. This is the great hibernation – time for building our own capacity to ready for rebirth!

A breakfast Zoom! (That’s bacon, BTW)

Embrace the connections inherent in this disconnect – yes! I am amazed at how many people I have not only reconnected with, but have had deep connectivity with. This is a contradiction I can embrace, even when I cannot physically hug my rediscovered friends. This is where the biggest strength in this moment lies – I am connected with amazing people all over the world – and I can learn from THEM, and talk with THEM and use THEIR insights, passion and humor.

My friends from the world of Up With People
Cast B 1992-1993

Maybe we can begin to even heal the feelings of solastalgia, defined as the pain of losing the solace of home and place (see National Geographic, Earth Day 50 Year Anniversary Issue). The planet is showing us that it is fast to start the healing process, with visibly clearer air in China and water in the canals in Venice, allowing a view fully to the bottom, and maybe, a return to balanced living with Nature.

Like a smoker who quits smoking, the healing begins quickly, and maybe, just maybe, we quit early enough. And maybe we have learned something about working together for the greater good.

Continue to learn, and be greener.

Jodi

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2 comments

  • Terrific post Jodi. We are already facing a lot of push back against sustainability due to the pandemic. The littered single use gloves is just one example. I see them everywhere I walk even in the streets in front of mansions. I presume that each person had decided that their immediate personal safety is best maintained by throwing these gloves to the ground rather than bring them into their cars or making sure they get into a garbage bag. This is of course a falsehood. Discarded gloves pollute the environment. and if they are contaminated the contagion will be further spread. So this one act is a fear-based rebellion against sustainability, common decency and common sense. It takes logical, future-oriented, courageous (not fear based) and creative (rather than destructive) thinking to be sustainable, decent and kind. As a society, we have to slow down and take a look at what we are doing to ourselves in this moment. I am cautiously hopeful that the clear skies and waters people are experiencing today will open the eyes and hearts of more people to the creative possibilities for tomorrow

    • Thanks for your reflections!
      I think for this earth day I am going to try to pick up some of the detritus in my neighborhood. I will find a safe way to do it, by using gloves or by using a long-handled grabber, and by throwing the bag full into the outside garbage bins (not bringing the waste and germs indoors). One little step.

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