Silver linings in the age of Covid 19

St. Joseph Bay in Florida's panhandle, a hidden gem of clear water and seagrass beds along the "Forgotten Coast."

As I sit on the front porch of my little bungalow in Pensacola,FL, we are nearly two months into the pandemic shutdown. Looking out upon the vegetable garden, petunias and nasturtiums are in full bloom, and tomato plants are the darkest of green as they reach toward the sky.

All is well in the garden, with no hint of the larger issues of the world. The beauty of the garden makes me think about the many silver linings, the hopeful things we have realized through the pain and disruption of the Coronavirus.

First of all, before recognizing some of the signs of hope, I express my sorrow for those who have perished or been sickened, and for the economic suffering of so many. I also thank the millions of health care workers who act courageously every day to care for the sick, as they confront the terrible health disparities that Covid 19 has reinforced for many of our nation's poor and people of color.

Yet it is clear that forcing so many elements of our world to slow down and even stop has brought out many good things. Like the quiet that now blankets my neighborhood, as the background noise of road traffic is gone and the birds are singing. I’m sleeping easier at night, with windows open and complete silence through the night. The quiet roadways freed of speeding cars has brought walkers and cyclists out in record numbers, improving our health and connecting with our neighbors even while maintaining social distancing.

Our animal friends like the quiet, too, as there are many reports along the coast of more active birds, fish, and small mammals in areas that usually have lots of human activity. In south Florida, rare sawfish have been seen in shallow water just a few feet from shore. Sea turtles appear to be relishing the darker and quieter beaches for their nesting. The Gulf’s whales and dolphins--which normally struggle to communicate in a noisy underwater world of man-made sounds--are benefitting from the quiet afforded by less boat traffic.

The biggest silver lining may be that our use of fossil fuel energy has lessened. As idled cars and planes need no petroleum, oil production in the Gulf and worldwide has declined, and skies have cleared. The month of March had the cleanest air ever measured in Florida. With the U.S. needing to reduce our carbon emissions about 10% per year to meet 2030 emission reduction goals needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, it’s a taste of our future.

However, that recovery of nature has come with the terrible consequence of suffering for millions who have lost their jobs and struggle to meet the financial obligations of daily life. It is a reminder that we live within an economic system that is extractive and destructive. We must transform our economy to one that is restorative, where the health and well-being of people and the planet is the inherent outcome rather than the result of an exceptional disruption.

On a more personal note, there are some new skills that I’m learning—running a Zoom meeting. As we’ve pivoted to online engagement, I now see the advantages of being able to gather remotely among people in many different places who struggle to gather in person. I plan to stick with the Zoom calls even after restrictions loosen-up, using them to engage people who would otherwise be difficult to reach and thus increasing our power to effect change.

I’ve also made it a point of picking-up the phone and calling friends and partners along the coast, checking-in to see how they are doing. While first taking stock of personal health, I let them know that we are still on the watch and ready to engage with them in the ways that work best during this unusual time.

And so our work continues, because it is far too important to put aside even for a moment. As we ease toward more normal times in the months ahead, I’m hoping to emerge as a better organizer and advocate for the Gulf and the people and waterways along its shores. I’m also hopeful that giving us all a preview of how much cleaner our air and water can be will inspire us to new heights in our work.

Please stay safe and well.

Christian Wagley

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