Turn and face the strange: Blog post by Graham Devine

Yesterday, as part of a plenary session, at the university where I teach, one of students on the Zoom call was devouring a Tower Burger. When we asked why he was so happy he exclaimed, ‘KFC have reopened, and they are doing Deliveroo, I will never undervalue a KFC again!’  Whilst on one level it was great to see how a simple in the moment event, like a KFC, could bring such joy, it did make me worry what we might want to normalise once we start to return to the much vaunted “new” normal we talk so much about?

What is new normal? I hope that when it comes, it is an opportunity taken to focus on what brings real value to our lives and to break with some of our old planet-damaging habits, in an equitable way that benefits us all and not just the few.

The climate and housing crisis have not gone away and if we simply return to our old habits in the new normal then not just the UK but the world will have missed a once in a lifetime opportunity to embrace change.

Home working for some companies is possible and enforced change has enabled many other businesses to enact changes to their practices in a very short time. Our planet could be changed for the better, but do we have the will to carry on with change as the new norm or, like my student, will we nostalgically go back to our old ways; commuting to work in large open plan offices by car, flying long-haul on holiday, shopping on the high street, living as isolated individuals or as part of a community.

We can see how change can happen, because it has, NO2 and CO2 levels have decreased across the world during lockdown and gives us all an indication of the level of challenge ahead of us to reduce these harmful greenhouse gases as we run towards 2025 climate change goals.

The long-term effect on our ecology and biology during this glimpse of a low carbon Spring will take time to emerge but will be compelling evidence in the climate challenge we face when the lock down is over.

Now is a time to seize the opportunity to build a low carbon economy as we seek to recover, invest in local centres, active travel initiatives, home working and co-housing with uniformly better broadband. Building roads, subsiding airlines and car manufacturers will only kick start the old normal. It is time, whilst we are in a period of change to keep changing. Like David Bowie said “Changes…Turn and face the strange.”

6 May 2020

Graham Devine is an Architect, Director and Shareholder of LHC Design and the views expressed in this article are his own.

Picture Credit & Copyright: Zsolt Schuller, Sustainable Transport Consultant.