I have posted an i-phone photograph of the sunrise, on Instagram, every morning, for the past 22 days. And I am exhausted. But not so exhausted that I am tempted to stop. Not yet. Small things give purpose to the day. Particularly, when day after day we are in lockdown and the world looks more different than we could ever have imagined. There is something anchoring in seeing the sunrise. Maybe, it harks back to a deeply-rooted instinct that looks to the sun for reassurance. Maybe, it is my way of finding a constant - if the sun rises then I can too. I can begin my day.
The coronavirus has altered the world we live in, but the earth hasn't changed. Or has it?
- Across the industrialised world, industry has shut down and commuting to work has all but ceased. As a result, pollution levels have collapsed. The WHO estimates that the smog caused by air pollution kills over 1.5 million people a year in India. Now the air is so clear that the Himalayas can be seen for the first time in a generation from parts of Punjab province. Imagine the amazement in children's eyes waking to see mountains in the distance - it must feel unreal and supernatural; like seeing another earth beneath a different sky.
- In China, the reduction in air pollution is estimated to have saved the lives of 4000 children under the age of 5, during the two months of their industrial shutdown. That number is not a typo; four thousand children who would have died, mainly from respiratory diseases directly attributable to pollution. Shocking.
- The canals in Venice are now so clear that aquatic life, not seen for years, has returned - there have been photographs of dolphins in the Venice lagoon.
- The people of Milan seeing the beauty and majesty of their historic city, stripped bare of traffic during the pandemic, plan to emerge from lockdown with stricter congestion measures, more cycle lanes and an expansion of pedestrian-only areas.
- Closer to home, the dawn chorus has been a louder, more varied cacophony than in many recent Springs. And I know because I've been awake for it! Thanks to this pair of insomniacs ... taking their afternoon naps yesterday - probably something to do with getting up too early!
- The stars, too, have been magnificent in skies, clear of both the light pollution from industries and conventional pollution from carbon emissions.
So what are our options -
Like Milan, we could prepare for a different future for our overcrowded cities. We have experienced working from home; maybe this could be the norm, or the norm for part of the week. We have learnt what is essential. Maybe we will use our cars less and walk more. Maybe we will regard weekend jaunts abroad as frankly too risky in a post-pandemic world and will instead choose to spend more time at home and even to holiday nearer at home. Maybe without hours spent commuting and travelling to meetings, the working week will be compressed into 3 or 4 days. All of these options would help the climate.
But ... me and my buts - this is a biggy - the estimated 5% reduction in carbon emissions in the first few months of this year is less than - LESS THAN - that required to meet the annual reduction in emissions required by the Paris Climate agreement. And that is the starkest climate related statistic I have seen for a while.
Thinking about climate change at this time might seem perverse, but this is Earth Day 2020; the 50th Earth Day. It's not too late to get involved and take a look at the events online (... even if I don't get round to posting this til tomorrow).
There is however a ballooning of mental ill health and I am mindful that worrying about climate change on top of everything else is not helpful.
So how in this time of covid-19, do we think ourselves out of this one? How do we avoid heaping worry on top of worry? How do we mitigate our anxiety and depression?
This is what we do. We address our mental health and we bite the apple: A-P-P-L-E.
A is for acknowledging - we recognise that we have a problem; be it worry or anxiety or fear or depression or obsessive thinking. We see it (the problem). Say hello to it. And acknowledge it. We calmly accept it as being both present and a fact.
P is for pause. We stop. We breathe. We avoid reacting negatively.
P is for pulling back. Yes, there are problems out there but it is how we feel and react to them that matters. Anxiety and stress are simply reactions and the feelings they trigger are not facts. These feelings are not helpful. We can pull back from them.
L is for letting go. All those unhelpful feelings can be dropped. Let them slip away. We can use whatever metaphor we like to picture letting them go - feel them drain away; wrap them up and bin them; exhale and blow them away.
E is for explore. Grounding ourselves in the here and now - feeling the ground beneath our feet; touching our jumper; stroking our pet; smelling the roses in our garden. Being in the minute that is this minute and feeling safe. Looking for the constants - seeing the sun rise; seeing the stars in the sky; feeling the wind on our face.
By biting the apple we will learn how to cope with anxiety and fear. We will become stronger and more resilient and mentally better able to face the new world that will emerge. If we can also find within us the strength to care for the Earth that grounds us and is our home, our future will be better than it might have been.
For advice on managing anxiety: anxietyuk.org.uk