Nature thrives in our distancing during the lockdown

I was a bit distracted earlier in the week, while trying to clatter away at the keyboard, by two birds fighting over a dull, pink seed left on the peach tree in the backyard.

The tree takes up most of the yard. It’s yellow leaves, brittle and snapped off by the chilly autumn breeze that’s swirling about the highveld, are starting to build up a crunchy bed on the ground.

Last week, the birds were agitated by a curious mongoose. Luckily for them it was more interested in my presence; this other being that it’s not used to seeing during the day.

Our homes — if we are lucky enough to have a garden of sorts — are a habitat. A home for entire ecosystems that thrive while we are away.

Nature, much like us, expands into whatever spaces it can. We do it by tearing down what’s there and slapping cement on top of it. We’re very good at this. We’re so good that one of the byproducts of our existence is the rapid heating of the entire planet to the point where even our own success is in danger of being reversed.

In the past few weeks, nature has expanded into the spaces we have ceded by going into isolation. Social media is packed with videos of animals thriving. In Llandudno, in Wales, goats have moved into town, nibbling at spring flowers. In Barcelona, in Spain, wild boars have taken to wandering the streets.

The human cost that has allowed this is horrendous. People are dying. And the economic effect, in the debt governments are racking up to deal with the health crisis, will be carried by the working class for decades, if not generations.

Covid-19 has exposed so many of our abuses, from the way we destroy nature to how that destruction has still only benefited a select, rich few around the world.

There’s increasing talk, and hope, that this might be a moment where we rethink how the world works.

Right now our poor investment in healthcare and basic services means people are dying. Right now, our polluting industries are also heating the planet to the point where global heating is threatening floods, drought, wildfires, plagues of locust and all the other biblical cataclysms.

We probably won’t change how things work. Those benefiting now have a great deal of power. But just imagine if we do use this crisis to rethink how the world works. We could expand those ecosystems where birds can fight over seeds and where a mongoose doesn’t have to eke out an existence in people’s yards.

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Sipho Kings
Sipho Kings is a former acting editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian

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