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Manchester Environmental Education Network

Hope in a dark winter

Published on 9th February 2021

As we find ourselves not only in the throes of winter but also in another national lockdown
it can feel difficult to remain positive. Coronavirus plagues our everyday thoughts and in the
brief moments not dedicated to the virus, thinking about climate change and other
environmental issues can feel even more overwhelming than usual. It is now in these dark
times, however, that we can find strength in the environment. In the midst of a situation
where many of us feel powerless, taking direct individual action can empower us and help
us feel more connected than ever before.

The modern society we have come to know, functions on speed and novelty. We are
constantly bombarded with the next best thing, the newest trend or the must have gadget
of the year. In 2020, we were forced to take pause, slow down and essentially do very little.
Mental health, localism and community spirit were discussed openly and for the first time
ever the entire planet was united as one. While it was a difficult year and 2021 is likely to be
equally as difficult, we can and should take solace that out of the darkness came some

In terms of environmentalism, we saw a 7% drop in carbon emissions globally. As
international and intranational travel was halted, production lines stopped and our
constantly updating desires paused, the planet took a breath. These events have clearly
caused economic and financial hardship across the world and we are now looking at a
system more cracked and damaged than ever before but we must look for positivity, no
matter how small or abstract, in order to simply keep going.

The idea of going for a walk around the neighbourhood is now considered an everyday joy,
whereas just a year ago it would?ve raised an eyebrow or two as being a bit weird. Our local
parks have become sanctuaries and we now possess a greater appreciation of everyday
surroundings given the impossibility of travel further afield. We are fortunate in Manchester
to have access to some great parks and green spaces; parks and green spaces that are
home to thousands of different species of flora and fauna. Before 2020, few of us really had
the time nor the interest to explore these places but when we are allowed outside but for
just one hour of exercise a day, these spaces take on a new and very special meaning.

As we adjust and then readjust to new normals, the concept of localism is constantly front
and centre. Worry over food shortages during the first lockdown and then again leading up
to Brexit highlighted, better than any environmental campaign ever could, the food miles
associated with our typical diets. Our expectation of being able to find seasonal produce all
year round is now recognised as unsustainable and more of us choosing diets that are less
impactful on the environment as well as our own health. Supermarkets are being
increasingly shunned and local stores which offer unique individuality are popping up
everywhere. From Want not Waste in Manchester University?s Student Union to Unicorn
Grocery in Chorlton and to the The Dispensary in Walkden it is becoming easier to reduce
our impact and have fun doing it.

Never before has our health received so much attention. Not only because of the direct
physiological effects of coronavirus but also the difficulties around mental health and
keeping fit. During our first lock down, cities across the UK fell silent for the first time in
centuries, with a reduction in cars on the roads and planes in the skies, many of us
experienced urban fresh air for the first time. As cars regained their dominance, the genie
had escaped its bottle and many of us did not want to return to congestion filled roads of
pre-coronavirus times. This greater awareness of what we breathe in everyday comes as a
new and disturbing worry for many and councils across the UK are looking at how to create
?mini-hollands? and Low Traffic Neighbourhoods. Chorlton will be leading the charge in the
city and will be coming up with new and exciting initiatives to create a quieter, cleaner,
healthier and more attractive neighbourhood.

2020 was an incredibly difficult year and coronavirus has taken much from us but we must
remember to look for positives where we can. We begin 2021 as a closer-knit community, a
community with a greater awareness of our local surroundings as well as what we can do to
improve them. We are a long way from normality but the new normal may not be all bad.


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