We are in strange times, there is no doubt about that. The presence of this virus with slightly uncertain behavior and serious medical consequences has led the world to drastic, rapid emergency changes aimed at decreasing the need for hospital beds and deaths.
These emergency actions include the preparation of specialized medical spaces, large investments in research, use of personal protective equipment on a daily basis, quick and strategic actions by government officials, and since February, to stay in personal isolation.
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Personal isolation is a theme that has most led me to reflect. Because I am also isolated. In fact, I write on a Thursday morning. Not coincidentally, the fourth day of an opening process organized by the Swiss government to take place gradually in three stages. So, this is the first week of reopening.
Social isolation interests me, too, because I love spending my time in nature.
I am a fan of outdoor walks, hiking, and landscape photography. One of the reasons why I brought my life to Switzerland is its incredible collection of landscapes I can find here. Therefore, the effect of this social isolation on the environment interests me a lot.
As a trained psychologist (today I no longer work with it, I am a kitchen assistant) and a philosopher as a hobby, I also found it interesting to think about social isolation from the point of view of individuals, especially now, with isolated individuals.
The forced interaction between family members no matters the reality or the facade of their relationships is incredible. In other words, it doesn’t matter how much the couple still love each other, if the teenagers are rebellious, without the 12 hours of dedication to work and school, how to live all day with these people?
The third theme, of almost irrelevant interest, is the positioning of power in this situation. Governments, even the most democratic, have been led to dictatorial decisions. The imposition of social isolation as a drastic tool to control consequences has led governments to rigid and unilateral actions towards their populations.
But this is happening at a time in Western life when populist and fascist governments are again in fashion through nationalism discourses.
In terms of the environment, the decrease in human beings circulating freely has resulted in rapid and impressive changes in the neighborhoods of cities. Here, from my window, the change in air quality is visible. Literally, the blue tones of the sky have changed. In addition, the smell of the air, even in this dry season, is more pleasant and it is possible to smell the flowers and manure used to fertilize the fields.
In my Facebook and Instagram feeds, the pages and groups I follow have shared endless videos and photos of animals approaching and even making use of urban spaces. With some fear, coyotes, otters, elephants, and even animals already considered extinct, walk and run, some even play in the streets, park, and backyards of cities.
Here where I live, as we have a preservation area around the city, I have not seen this change. I live near the forest, and only the birds have been a little more daring. But deers and wild boars were filmed and photographed in several Swiss cities.
Human beings leave, nature returns. Human beings diminish or change the way they enjoy the planet and nature recovers. This sounds like a good thing, but it is absolutely sad. Our selfishness, our self-centeredness, always so perverse, is easily seen in our relationship with equals. We dumped trucks of potatoes and vegetables on the side of the road, throwing away tons of food, on account of US0.10 in the price variation.
Even knowing that 1/3 of the population will have nothing to eat in the next few days. Not to mention corruption, wars for power, and religion.
We are known to be perverse to our peers. But, in these months of social isolation, it has been possible to observe how petty we were and are with the rest of the living beings on the planet. We occupied, in an orderly or disorderly manner, all the spaces of the planet. We dirtied, used, explored, planted, burned these spaces.
We concreted and asphalted everything with exactly the same kind of selfish and self-centered reasoning with which we stopped giving way to the old man on the bus. No empathy.
We occupied everything without first observing whether any other living being used or uses this space. In this period of social isolation, the return of nature to its original spaces is being remarkable. As in Chernobyl for the past 35 years. Nature took care of taking back the damaged spaces that we have left empty. It has been very difficult to root for the human species after watching videos of mountain goats playing on the playground.
Of course, I do not support the extinction of the human being, the people I love and myself are part of this group. But, on the other hand, I have no hope that this period will lead us to reflect on our position of occupation on the planet.
On the contrary, I think that when the doors open, here in Switzerland, from this week onwards, people will go more thirsty, with more greed, with more ambition behind consumption and the battles for power and wealth.
They will try to “make up for lost time”, take back their lost spaces.
Those inches of progress that nature has made in these two months will be paid for in kilometers of dirt, consumption, and devastation. And worse, in a matter of days or hours, we will take it back and further expand our planetary selfishness.
Switzerland is a signatory and compliant with global ecological agreements. With that, the air quality here is usually good. But when the wind blows from the north, through my north-facing window, I can see the sky gradually losing its blue hue in exchange for the brown and polluted air brought in from southern Germany. In the past few weeks, this has not happened, the sky has been blue and full of spring pollen.
Pollution is coming back again
I think that next week, we will see the pollution gradually coming from the north. I think it will come with the same speed and intensity with which the economic market needs to recover.
Luckily, as the virus was spread at different times on each continent and in each country, the lockdown was also done at different times. Thus, the opening will also be gradual and we may have time to create or support tools that help to preserve this nature that has gained space.