Southwark Green: After the crisis is over, don’t return to old habits

News Desk (03 April, 2020)

'As planes are grounded and cars parked, the air is cleaner than it has been for decades.'

33012Eleanor Margolies

The COVID-19 crisis is brutally reminding us that we are interdependent, part of same living world as animals, insects, bacteria and viruses, writes Eleanor Margolies…

The response to the crisis touches every part of daily life, making us see the hidden harm caused by ‘business as usual’.

Staying in hits some harder than others. Some can enjoy the sunshine and spring blossom in their own garden; others have no outside space. Among the worst off are families in over-crowded council homes, and renters in insecure flat- or house-shares. The problems of damp, lack of privacy and study space for children, and resulting mental and physical illnesses were desperate even before this added pressure. Health and good housing go hand in hand, as the founders of the NHS knew.

In ‘normal’ times, 9,500 Londoners a year die early from air pollution, while many thousands more suffer from chronic illnesses like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). As planes are grounded and cars parked, the air is cleaner than it has been for decades. Ideas that cut transport pollution, like working from home or shorter weeks, have been around for a long time; in recent days we have learned just how quickly practices can change.

We are lucky in many parts of Southwark to have shopping streets with bakers, grocers and pharmacies. While ‘just-in-time’ supermarkets with carparks have been stripped, local shops are keeping going, with people buying only what they can carry on foot or bike. The small scale makes it easier to feel part of a community – something also seen in the amazing mushrooming of mutual aid groups, street by street.

What we do now affects our families, our neighbours, and people in every country of the world. We all depend on the people who work directly to support life – food growers, shopkeepers, carers, cleaners, nurses, doctors, refuse-collectors. And every time we break the chain of infection – by staying home, by keeping a safe distance – we act to protect each other.

When this crisis is over, we must not return to the old habits that were killing us. Only by taking care of the wider world, from rainforests to stagbeetles, oceans to wildflower meadows – the whole glorious kaleidoscope of life – can we hope to make our own lives more secure.

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