How COVID-19 Is Showing Us Unexpected Hope For A Greener, Kinder World

In a short two months, the COVID-19 crisis has wreaked an untold trail of grief through the world. Economies have been brought to their knees, millions of jobs are in jeopardy, and far, far too many lives have already been lost. Right now, our world might seem heartbreakingly dark – but there are a precious few silver linings we can cling to.

With cities from Venice to London (and now Singapore) in lockdown, strange and inspiring effects have sprung up. From fresh, pollution-free air to heartwarming shows of solidarity, these surprise glimmers of hope are lighting our way toward better relationships with our planet, our community, and even our pace of life. When the world turns right-side-up again, these are the changes we hope will be here to stay.

Greener Earth

Burano’s waters looking clean and green. Photo courtesy of Marco Contessa

For the first time in decades, Venice’s murky canals are running crystal clear. Barely days into Italy’s lockdown, locals began sharing snapshots of Venice’s waters looking miraculously swim-worthy and teeming with wildlife. With no garbage from tourists and zero motorboat traffic, the fish have returned – along with egrets and cormorants enjoying a spot of fishing.

Our air, too, is getting a cleanup. With humans and our cars staying home, air pollution around the world has plummeted. From India to Paris, urbanites are breathing purer air thanks to falls in greenhouse gas levels – normally arising from vehicle emissions – by as much as 60%. In China, where air pollution kills one million yearly, experts estimate that the cleaner air produced by factory shutdowns could save up to 75,000 people from dying prematurely. That’s the best news we’ve heard all week.

Of course, such a dramatic drop in emissions isn’t sustainable in the long run – not when it comes at the cost of crippled economies. But it does give us hope, as climate scientist Peter Gleick put it, that our ecosystems can bounce back “if we don’t completely destroy them”. With our old systems all shaken up, there’s no better chance for governments to hit reset, and invest stimulus money in clean energy for the future.

Waste Less, Live Slow

When was the last time we feared a shortage of anything? From food to toilet paper to entertainment, we knew we could always go out and get more. For us in Singapore, COVID-19 has brought home the harsh truth that our hyper-consuming lifestyle just isn’t sustainable (hoarding hysteria, sadly, is the backlash to this). On the plus side? Not being able to take our goods for granted is sharpening our mindfulness about waste.

Now that staying in is, well, in, many of us are keeping sane by cooking from scratch, mending old threads, and much more. We now think twice before tearing off huge chunks of toilet paper; we scour our fridges for forgotten produce; we hit pause on that shopping spree and click on a YouTube sewing tutorial out of boredom curiosity. With our consumption patterns out of whack, slower and greener habits are sprouting up in the cracks. And with luck, we’ll hold on to them – even when the world speeds up again.

Supporting Local

Photo courtesy of Dudva

From dining to indie bookstores, COVID-19 closures are hitting Singapore’s small businesses hard. Some are in danger of capsizing, never to reopen after the storm passes. What we can take heart in, though, is that there’s never been a stronger raft of support for our homegrown stores. You’ve probably seen #savefnbsg trending on your social feeds, complete with selfless plugs for cherished restaurants and watering holes. Then there’s ChopeAndSave, a fantastic gift card initiative to help ‘flatten’ lost income by small businesses.

Supporting local might be a new norm not only for Singapore but the world, at least according to trend forecaster Li Edelkoort. With the global supply chain disrupted, she predicts, the “endless Chinese exports of synthetic saris to India and plastic household objects to Africa – which have severely disrupted local economies there and created a lot of joblessness (and pollution) – might also come to a halt, bringing new opportunities for making locally.” In place of mass production and worldwide chains, local industries might flourish – and that’s something we can get behind, for sure.

Reconnecting With Others

Hands up – how many of you have had exes slide into your DMs this past month? (If you’re doing the sliding, we won’t judge either.) Turns out that the end of the world was just the push we needed to reconnect with those we used to love, be they old friends or flames. And that’s an amazing thing (unless we’re talking about your toxic ex).

With home meals and work-from-home on the cards for this month, we’re all about to have a lot more quality time with the fam as well. While we might go a little stir-crazy, it’s the perfect time to bond and come out of this mess stronger. Right now, the only certainty is that we’ll need the support of our whole tribe to survive these isolating times.

Spreading the Community Love

We definitely teared up a bit when Singapore gave its healthcare heroes an islandwide round of applause last week. It’s far from the only show of community spirit going around – in recent weeks, #SGUnited has proven to be so much more than just a platitude.

Now nearly 6000 members strong, the SG COVID-19 Creative/Cultural Professionals & Freelancers Support Group offers freelancers a place to share questions, advice, and even job openings. Similarly, I Lost My Gig is linking creatives up with help and resources, while making visible COVID-19’s impact on the industry. Meanwhile, food writer Annette Tan and PR professional Lyla Lin have launched MyTreat – a movement to buy someone else a meal – while Barbary Coast is offering 20 free meals per night to everyone in the F&B industry from Tuesdays to Saturdays. Behind the scenes, individuals are also giving back – reported a 67% spike in donations this February.

With so much kindness in the air, we can’t help but feel a little more hopeful that brighter days are ahead. This, too, shall pass – hang tight, and see you on the other side.

Lifestyle Writer

Jolene has a major sweet tooth and would happily eat pastries for all meals. When she’s not dreaming of cheesecake, she can be found in the dance studio, working on craft projects, or curled up with a good book.