Sunday, December 20, 2020

Natural healing - but for whom?

Back in May, I approvingly quoted Stuart Fowkes, the man behind the Cities And Memory project, who claimed in an interview with the Guardian's Lanre Bakare that we were living in "a really unique time when the world is sounding like it's never sounded before". Mercifully, though, neither he nor I went as far as saying that this, and other alleged evidence of a return to nature in our cities, was an unequivocally Good Thing to be celebrated.

As Luke Turner has pointed out in an excellent essay for Unsound Festival, recently republished on the Quietus site, seeing coronavirus as positive for the environment is profoundly problematic: "I remain troubled by the ease in which (largely white, middle-class) people felt happy to share their joy at a perceived change in their surroundings thanks to a pandemic that was not only disproportionately killing people of colour and those with disabilities, but also wreaking economic havoc that would put the most vulnerable in society at risk."

In a piece that discusses the intersections of environmentalism, politics, class and race in a way that pushes his book Out Of The Woods further up my must-read list, Turner traces the long history of ecofascism and flags up worrying signs of its (re)emergence in the present moment, noting how easily a concern for the environment can slip into an extreme misanthropy deliberately and selectively directed at certain sectors of humanity.

Fowkes told the Guardian that "one of the few positives from this situation is that people are starting to reconnect with nature a little bit". Turner agrees - but is careful to point out that such (re)connection is easier for some than for others, due to the urbanised society in which we live and the profound inequality of access to quality outdoor space. Here in Cardiff, we've constantly reminded ourselves how helpful having a garden was during the height of the spring lockdown, and how lucky we were to have so much parkland within walking distance of our front door. Many millions of people were not so fortunate - and, with the nation plunged into another lockdown and the days now at their shortest, they once again find themselves denied the restorative benefits of the outdoors.

There are, however, signs that things are changing, and Turner concludes by clinging to a positive vision for the post-pandemic future: "If access to green space is no longer a privilege but a right to be enjoyed by all, we start to chip away at the separation between the human and 'nature' that is at the root of environmental destruction and the climate crisis."

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