For the past 10 years, like other filmmakers, environmentalists and NGOs, I have been doing the “wrong things” for the “right reason”: adding strain to the Earth’s resources to help protect them, with intangible results. But that was before the crisis. Now we’re all living like hermits. We’re all doing the “right thing” of consuming minimal resources, for the “wrong reason”: an emergency situation that is costing the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people around the world. Suddenly we are reminded that there is a “we”, not just an “I”, in that our decisions can mean life or death for others around us.
There is a silver lining: air pollution, which claims over 6 million lives in a business-as-usual year, is plummeting. Carbon emissions are drastically reduced as cars, ships, flights and industry grind to a halt. What is left of Nature recovers partially from our constant abuses. These meager consolations for the tragic human suffering are likely to be short-lived: it would take unprecedented political will to reshape our societies to be both fair and sustainable.
Natural disasters will become more frequent in a future where ecosystems are destroyed. We must protect nature, even if our intentions are only as narrow as to protect ourselves. Even if we fail to recognize nature’s inherent value and right to exist. Even if all we look at is the economic bottom line. We must not hope to return to normal, because normal was the enslavement of present and future generations, the discarding of nature as an externality, the consecration of individual greed.
We are capable, as a species, of putting our irrational urge for perpetual growth on hold, even if only for a short while. When we defeat the Covid-19, it will be thanks to individual awareness and personal decisions as well as to governments for imposing temporary confinement. We could solve climate change, plastic pollution and over-fishing with the same instrument: the stroke of a pen. We could do the right thing for the right reason.
This confinement period has also imposed some level of introspection to each of us. We have been forced to ask ourselves what we really want, what we really need. The noise is reduced and the signal becomes more clear. We have entered an ocean and are alone with our breathing. Whether we wait anxiously for the dive to end or we explore the surrounding depths of our inner space, we may recall some advice from scuba-diving: breathe deeply, calm yourself, be mindful.
~ Pierre-Yves Cousteau