Change and Viruses

These are strange times we’re living in. With virtually the whole human population in some form of lockdown due to the Covid 19 pandemic, our world as we know it is changing before our eyes. Human health has, for now, trumped the economy as society’s number one priority. Nations have retreated into themselves; closing borders and eliminating trans-border trade. The Economist is heralding the end of globalisation. It is almost encouraged that government should closely monitor people and restrict their behaviour. Un-adultered capitalism has (for the second time in 12 years) proved utterly un-resilient in the face of a major shock, forcing governments (for the second time in 12 years) to bail us out. Neo-liberalism favours fair-weather.

Not everyone observed strict lockdown rules. Here a group flout social distancing regulations on Elwood beach in Melbourne during Covid 19, April 2020. Copyright Tom Broadhurst.

The global world order is shifting, and leadership is being redefined. The most effective leaders in this crisis  – in New Zealand, Taiwan, Denmark – have shown humility, decisiveness and clear communication (both listening and speaking). Whereas the patriarchal approaches of the traditional heavyweights has led to the highest rates of coronavirus infection and death in USA, Russia, Brazil and UK. The out-dated strong men have proved less effective than the empathetic strong women.

The virus itself has proven indiscriminate, effecting people of all backgrounds, flavours and resources. Nevertheless, the poor are (as usual) most threatened by the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic, whilst many of the super-rich continue to get richer.

Encouraging signs… Note in a house window in Balaclava, Melbourne, expressing solidarity during Covid 19 lockdown. Melburnians placed teddy bears in their windows, creating something of an urban treasure trail for local children. Copyright Tom Broadhurst.

Closer to home, schools and businesses have adapted their working practices – using technology to engage their learners and employees wherever they are. The daily commute is, for many, a matter of hoping from their bed to their dining table. People are learning new skills or re-visiting old ones, and are reconnecting with their families, neighbours or housemates. The general pace of life – at least where I am in Melbourne – is slowing down. Creativity is being unleashed. Nature has been given a break – air quality has improved, carbon emissions have dipped, wild animals are occupying some of the spaces we’ve (temporarily) vacated. Localism is the new globalism. Renewable energy is replacing fossil fuels. Are these short term survival measures, or a sign of things to come?

A penguin enjoys some respite from the usual hoards of tourists at St Kilda Pier, Melbourne, Australia, during Covid 19 lockdown, April 2020. Copyright Tom Broadhurst.

Yet as always there are winners and losers. Too many people have died, others are losing their livelihoods and struggling to feed their families. Domestic violence and mental health issues are sadly on the rise. Some people are scared. Many are changing their plans, some are changing their perspectives. The rules of the game have been turned on their head. Collectively, our priorities might just be changing.

Quiet and calm were restored to the usually packed public spaces of Melbourne. Here St Kilda skate park lies closed and deserted during Covid 19 lockdown. Copyright Tom Broadhurst.

With prominent conservationists and scientists highlighting the zoonotic origins of Covid-19, we’re beginning to understand the link between the destruction of nature and the wellbeing of our own species. The penny might finally drop in society’s collective consciousness that our ‘old’ consumption-based economic system is incompatible with the viability of our planet and civilisation. Reflecting on the lessons of the pandemic, it feels like a good opportunity to create a new ‘normal’ – one that’s clean, fair, green, inclusive, equal, resilient. One that prioritises wellbeing over wealth.

Against this turbulent backdrop my own world is rapidly changing. In the last 2 months, I’ve moved house, changed jobs, and my partner and I are expecting our first child any day now. Now I’ve just written my first blog for nearly 2 years, and I’ve not made a single joke. My whole world is changing.  Whatever next?

The Conservatory at St Kilda Botanical Gardens, on a peaceful morning during Covid 19 lockdown. Taken on a smartphone on my daily wander. Copyright Tom Broadhurst.

The 40-year old (blog) virgin

And so here it is, my first ever blog post – at the ripe old age of 40!  I set up this website to show a few of my photos unto the world, and to share my experiences of living in other countries with my family, friends and anyone else who is interested.  If you’re reading this, that means you – thanks!

Admittedly, I’m a bit late to the party on this one.  I left my homeland, the UK, in 2010 and have since lived in Bolivia, Ethiopia and now Uganda.  I’ve got a lot of catching up to do on in terms of blogging about these adventures.   So let this first blog be by way of introduction.

As an avid traveller with a passion for nature and diverse cultures, I’m keen to share with others the wonder that is planet Earth.  I also want to raise some awareness – with text and images – about what we are doing to the planet – our one and only home.  Excessive consumption – driven by a misguided pursuit of economic-growth-at-all-costs and rapid population growth – is steadily destroying our planet’s diversity and capability to support life (if you don’t believe me, read the work of Johan Rockström).

Things that are fundamental for survival of all species, including our own, are under threat from our actions as individuals and societies.  We’re draining wetlands that purify freshwater, concreting over our gardens, buying stuff that destroys rainforests, contaminating our oceans with plastic waste, polluting the atmosphere with our cars and the factories where we work, and burning fossil fuels that transplant carbon from the ground (where it’s harmless) to the atmosphere (where it’s accelerating the warming of our planet at unprecedented rates).  It’s not looking too good for us, and our fellow creatures, if we carry on at this rate.

25 Police TIPNIS
Police take a breather from preventing protesters from reaching Plaza Murillo, La Paz’s parliament square, during a TIPNIS march in July 2012. Thousands of people converged on La Paz in support of the Territorio Indigena y Parque Nacional Isiboro Sécure (TIPNIS). The government of Evo Morales sought to exploit fossil fuels in the park, despite the protests of indigenous people from the Tsimané, Yuracaré, and Mojeño-Trinitario peoples and their supporters. Copyright Tom Broadhurst.

I’ve seen humans mistreat Mother Earth all over the place.  In the UK I spent time living in the Lake District – which is scenic yet often ecologically barren due to sheep farming and poor land management.  In Bolivia (oh, Evo!), I’ve seen indigenous people protesting the construction of a trans-America highway through their traditional lands (TIPNIS) – bringing in cocaleros, agriculturalists and traders to destroy their way of life and the biodiverse forests of Amazonia too.  In Ethiopia’s Simien Mountains, overgrazing by livestock, erosion-inducing cultivation on steep mountain sides, and poverty are undermining the integrity of the ecosystem – one of the last locations where endangered endemic species such as the Ethiopian wolf and Walia Ibex can be found.  And in Uganda, wildlife has been forced to the margins – forests are making way for sugar cane plantations, and people and wild animals come into conflict in those few locations where wildlife still remain. Sigh.

Urban expansion, Addis Ababa
The expanding city of Addis Ababa, seen from neighbouring Oromia region, 2015. Civil protests in 2015 and 2016 in Ethiopia were partly attributed to the expansion of Addis Ababa into Oromo territory. Copyright Tom Broadhurst.

But all is not lost!  I’ve also seen hopeful pockets of good news – of people doing great things to help their friends to live low impact lifestyles, encouraging their communities to improve their lives without destroying the environment, and taking steps to protect and regenerate the natural systems around them.  These are the people about whom we should be telling stories – showing what they do to make the world better, and demonstrating how we can do it too.  So whilst I love a good rant I’ll try to keep this blog as upbeat as possible.  And that way I hope someone somewhere will be inspired to make positive change – and if they can, then I can; and if I can, then you can; and if you can, then we all can…. And step by step the egg will start to walk (as they say in Ethiopia).

Playful gorillas
Mountain gorilla infants enjoying life in the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, 2015