Why there is no such thing as a “green” pandemic

Italy has emerged from an unprecedented, prolonged period of lockdown. During the two months in which the Country was effectively “shut down”, our urban landscape has changed more than we could imagine. Not that it won’t go back to something closely resembling our old idea of “normal”, but we still think it is interesting to reflect on what nature would look like if the human presence wasn’t so overpowering and ubiquitous. And, we hope, to incite further investigation into how we can use these historically unique circumstances to reduce our footprint on the planet, as we rebuild our world after this pandemic.

History in tweets and photos

We have all seen the tweets, Instagram posts, and local blog posts. Hares milling about calmly in a deserted park in Milan, dolphins swimming happily in the harbours of Trieste and Cagliari. Golf courses in Sardinia, empty of players, playing host to perplexed deer, as families of Boars venture into the city centre and badgers run undisturbed through the streets of Florence. And then, of course, there are the swans, gliding majestically along the Navigli in Milan and the canals in Venice, surrounded by schools of tiny fish that nobody in living memory has ever seen in the busy waters of either city. And yes, the voice of reason tells us that the water is simply clearer because the sand on the bottom of the canals is not being stirred by the coming and going of boats or gondolas and that it would take way longer than a couple of months of inactivity for that same water to be considered “clean”, but the impact of these images is huge nonetheless.

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Can we make Italy a cleaner place, after the emergency?

These phenomena have drawn attention to some aspects of our everyday living that are incompatible with a clean environment, but that it appears extremely difficult to address in normal circumstances. The use of oil-fuelled engines for water transport is one such. While some argue that police boats and emergency rescuers need the speed that so far only diesel engines can provide, arguments for sport and leisure transport to be fuelled this way appear shakier by the day. After the Coronavirus emergency, environmental organisations suggest, something should be done, that has been postponed for a long time in most Italian ports and Venice: convert the whole fleet into electric boats and incentivize private boat owners to go green.

Why this is not a “green” pandemic

The pandemic, however, should not be seen as a miracle of nature getting its way: human beings are still very much capable of generating tons of waste. Before this crisis, we were all ready to abandon single-use plastics and frankly single-use everything, whereas now we are told to do the exact opposite for safety reasons. We buy and discard tons’ worth of masks and gloves, restaurants are no longer using “normal” printed menus, but disposable ones which, just like table cloths and napkins, have to be tossed after use. Our waters are becoming momentarily clear, while our landfills are filled to capacity. This is one perfect example of how there is no such thing as a simple solution to a complex problem. Humanity can’t simply “step back for a while” and hope the planet will sort itself out. We actually have to make an effort to reduce our carbon footprint on a global level.

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She is a part-time digital nomad. She would go full-time, if only she could stay away from Berlin for long enough without pining for a Pretzel. She was born in Italy and she enjoys life as an expat, but visits home often enough and can still remember how to bake a perfect lasagna. She is passionate about writing, marketing, languages and the systematic demolition of cultural stereotypes.

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