Green Grace – May 2020

The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Psalm 46: 6-7

Nobody ever wanted it to happen like this, or with the cost of so many lives and livelihoods, but the Covid-19 Lockdown has had a striking effect on our environment. Many of us have been astonished to see pictures on the news of cities from around the world, such as Delhi, Bangkok, Beijing, Sao Paolo and  Bogota, with extraordinarily clear skies. Closer to home, one of London’s busiest roads, Marylebone Road, has seen a reduction in daily average nitrogen dioxide of 48%, while Oxford Street has seen a reduction of 47%. This is the result of the huge reduction in travel and industry, which cause most emissions of these toxic gases into the air. Perhaps the most alarming aspect of this is that we have become accustomed to living and working in heavy smog and consider it as normal. All of a sudden we are catching a glimpse of how good our air quality could be…

But it’s not only a matter of enjoying clearer views. The WHO says that air pollution kills about 7 million people per year; it is possible that in the end the lives saved by cleaner air will be more than those lost to Covid-19.

This is a shocking statistic, given the frighteningly high numbers of deaths the virus is causing. But it highlights what many scientists are now saying: that the climate crisis is like the Covid-19 crisis, but in slow motion. Climate change is slower-acting, but may be even more deadly.

On the positive side, it is amazing how quickly the skies have cleared and wildlife has flourished since the beginning of lockdown. We have also seen that when lives are at risk, both governments and individuals can take rapid and extreme action that was thought unrealistic only weeks earlier. We have also seen that  when disaster is imminent the government can find vast amounts of money almost immediately. And perhaps best of all, we have seen communities coming  together, cemented by kindness and generosity and individuals looking out for the needs of others and keen to do their bit.

Strangely enough, even during this terrible time, these developments are a source of immense hope. All these great strength humanity is drawing on to overcome the Covid-19 crisis can also be tapped to overcome the climate crisis.

Indeed, scientists are saying that the solutions to the Covid-19 crisis (and mitigation of future pandemics) and the solutions to the climate crisis might be one
and the same.

A new study shows that exposure to air pollution may be the biggest risk factor for dangerous complications with Covid-19, so keeping pollution down is vital.

But where we go from here is crucial. When  lockdown is lifted, governments will be needing to put massive stimuli into their economies all around the world. If we ruthlessly prioritise economic recovery at all costs, as the United States seems to be doing, we will end up with worse pollution than we had before lockdown. But there are encouraging signs: London Mayor Sadiq Khan says, ‘So once the current emergency has passed and we start to recover, our challenge will be to eradicate air pollution permanently…’

Hopefully we will see governments putting ‘green strings’ on investments and all of us will continue the changes that will heal our beautiful planet, God’s world.