Nature is waiting at the table

Girlguiding Advocate Emily says it's time to listen to nature

Emily, 17, Girlguiding Advocate
09 June 2020

‘Time for nature’ seemed a fitting theme for this year’s World Environment Day, which was marked last Friday 5 June.

The day has come and gone but the relevance stands beyond just one day.

Previous springs have blossomed and melted into summers whilst we went about our hectic lives – or, in my case, revised for exams which this year will not be sat. The earth was hurtling forwards at full speed. And then it stopped. The situation we now find ourselves in is bleak. But the possibility for environmental change is not. For, a welcome surprise of everyone staying inside their homes is that we’ve bought some time for nature.

And nature is responding.

For me, the plummet in air pollution is a particular milestone – and for more than the physical effects. For years, our own stubbornness and despondence has been our enemy, and perhaps understandably so given the scale of the climate crisis. I often hear people claim that small, individual choices will never make a difference on a wider scale. They see little point in reducing the usage of their car, or whatever small action they are being encouraged to take, because they believe they won’t make a dent in the environmental crisis. They give up.

Now, the change created by the whole world’s collective action, both big and small, is visible. Many have taken to social media to share images of cleaner parks and crystal-clear rivers, exclaiming how they hadn’t seen their local area look like this in years. Decades.

Change has been forced upon us and the environment has responded with a vibrant enthusiasm. Now the responsibility lies with us to continue to change our habits for the benefit of long-term environmental growth and renewal.

Supporting environmental action

2020 was to be my gap year and I had been planning to spend it organising a Climate Conference for children, to encourage action beyond the classroom. My wish was for it to be held on World Environment Day. Of course, with unfolding events and the future of social distancing uncertain, my dream has been put aside for now – although it may go virtual. But there are other ways to support environmental action.

The school strikes movement has transferred to the online world, with young people posting pictures of themselves and their placards inside their homes. Others are using public research websites such as Zooniverse to help scientists track the movements of penguins or changes to coral reefs. And, of course, people are using their spare time to support nature within their own communities by gardening and educating themselves on their local areas.

To care for ourselves we must care for nature

Three in five girls (61%) told Girlguiding in a recent survey that improvements to the environment had been a silver lining in the life-changing storm of lockdown. And who can be surprised? It’s hard to watch the growing change and not feel hopeful. And when half of young women between fifteen and eighteen have reported a decline in their mental health (revealed in the same Girlguiding survey), a sign of nature’s resilience can mean everything to those struggling. The World Environment Day website includes the line “To care for ourselves we must care for nature”. Never in my lifetime has this felt more true. 

There is hope. Pure and simple. But the most dangerous thing for us to do would be to suggest we have won the race, and have permission to relax.

Even during this pandemic, major companies have continued to turn away from environmentally friendly methods. Germany, as Thunberg declared with her iconic bluntness, is opening a new coal plant funded by a Finnish company (Here is the company’s response). And whilst the world focuses on lifting lockdown, environmental change risks getting side-lined in agreements which will naturally focus on shorter-term issues.

Let's build something new

Before the pandemic, initiatives such as The Climate Group, Climate Coalition and Girlguiding’s Planet Protectors united us across all ages in environmental action. But now, we have built something new. As a nation, we have clapped together. We have mourned together. We have sung and hoped and celebrated together. We have united as a community in crisis which is almost unprecedented in both its scale and manner.

I am asking for us to not lose this spirit.

As life folds back into a more familiar routine, there is a risk that the time we have found to sit in our garden or park will vanish. Our relationship with nature might lessen. We will move on with our lives. But we are here now. This moment should not be wasted.

We have been given an opportunity to reflect on the world we want to return to. Shall we ignore those whose mental wellbeing, especially amongst young women, has fallen, or will we reach out to them? Do we wish to leap back into our escalating global emissions, or will we help build a greener future?

Climate Change is a global crisis like Covid-19. It will have a devastating effect on humanity for centuries to come. All world governments need to prioritise solving the environmental crisis with the same focus and determination to succeed as we have witnessed during lockdown. Because this is not a disaster waiting to happen. It has already started.

Negotiations to counteract our planet’s crisis are halted for now. But Nature is already waiting at the table. She is demanding action.

It’s time for us to listen.