Are there really any Positives from the Pandemic?

Covid Anniversary Blog

A year ago I suggested that COVID-19 might help us become more empathetic towards the life experiences and challenges of vulnerable groups and recognise the opportunity to transition to a more inclusive and sustainable world.

Many people – including several authors of this blog – have seen the pandemic as an opportunity or a lesson for the transition to an alternate world.

Take for example the environmental crisis. During lockdowns, we have witnessed some unexpected positive pictures: wild animals roaming in cities, clear waters in Venice’s canals! Our interest in the environment has also increased. The global number of online searches for “bird sounds”, “identify trees”, and “growing plants” have increased by a factor of two.

Other views, however, are more sceptical. Philosopher Slavoj Žižek doubts that the  epidemic will make us any wiser.  And Bruno Latour puts forward the hypothesis that “the pandemic prepares, induces, and incites us to prepare for climate change”. Both Žižek and Latour recognise that drastic changes are required to transition to an alternate world.

There is an autistic person with impressive achievements in climate-change activism. Starting from school strikes, Greta Thunberg has made a substantial impact on public awareness of the catastrophic threat of climate change.

However, there is also significant controversy around Greta as a public figure. Being young, female, and autistic, Greta Thunberg brings together several characteristics that tap into implicit biases about who should have an active role in public life and who should, and should not, be listened to.

For Greta “Being different is a gift… It makes me see things from outside the box. I don’t easily fall for lies, I can see through things. If I would’ve been like everyone else, I wouldn’t have started this school strike for instance.”

It is, perhaps, because of her autism that Greta extends her activism to the pandemic crisis. A few days ago, Greta urged governments, vaccine developers and the world to “step up their game” to fight vaccine inequity after the richest countries bought up most COVID-19 vaccine doses and those in poorer nations have gone lacking.

With regards to lessons learnt from the pandemic, Greta seems to align with Žižek and Latour.  “COVID-19’s impact on the world is first and foremost a tragedy,”. “The pandemic has no advantage or positive aspects … We shouldn’t be speaking of lessons that can be learned from it, because lessons sound like something positive, in a way.”

Dr Themis Karaminis is Senior Lecturer and Programme Leader BSc (Hons) Psychology at Edge Hill University. This piece is written as a follow-up to a post originally published in the COVID-19 blog on 15th May 2020 by Themis which can be found here. @CogNeuroThemis

Image by Alexandra_Koch from Pixabay

Veganuary

We’re midway through Veganuary, the annual challenge to those who typically consume animal products to spend a month going vegan. Reports suggest half a million people in the UK have made the pledge to eat only plant-based food as part of the initiative this year, and the number of participants has risen rapidly since the initiative was inaugurated in 2014. The organisers of Veganuary also work with food producers and supermarkets to get more plant-based food on the shelves, making taking part easier for everyone. Begun in the UK, Veganuary is now grabbing attention around the world, and genuinely might indicate a shift in how humans understand their relationships with food.

After all, time and again evidence shows the environmental problems resulting from current levels and methods of meat production. Reducing meat intake is the “single biggest way” to reduce your environmental impact upon the Earth given the amount of land used, and emissions produced, in meat and dairy production. In 2019 a report commissioned by the United Nations showed that other efforts undertaken with the goal of reducing environmental damage – for example, reducing car use – are largely pointless unless accompanied by “drastic changes in global land use, agriculture and human diets”.

I became vegan about 6 years; I’d been vegetarian for about 5 years before that. In that time I’ve seen such activity become significantly more mainstream. Interestingly, debates about how humans treat animals also seem to have become more common, and this appears to me to be part of a generational shift. When discussing the topic with undergraduate students, for example, the idea that thinking about the treatment of animals seems quite normal, and part of wider concerns about social and environmental ethics and justice; yet I find if the conversation comes up with people who are older – such as my own age – the discussion is often categorised as fringe or faddish.

Here’s my experience of becoming vegetarian, and then vegan. The former I found required much more of a shift in terms of thinking about what to cook and how to shop, because I was raised – like many – to understand meat as the central part of a meal around which everything was placed. Once I’d got over that assumption – and discovered the amazing opportunities for trying new Indian, Mexican and Thai that I’d been missing out on before – going vegan was not that big a step.

For me, it is this hurdle of rethinking what you’re used to that often functions as the biggest barrier for those considering removing animal products from their diet. In that sense, Veganuary is a useful initiative, encouraging everyone to give it a go and find out that it’s not that hard – the Veganuary website itself has a vast resource of delicious recipes. There is still a week left – so why not give it a go?

Brett Mills is Visiting Professor of Media at Edge Hill University, UK, and Honorary Professor of Media and Culture at the University of East Anglia, UK. He is the author and co-author of five books, including Animals on Television: The Cultural Making of the Non-Human (Palgrave 2017).

Photo by Viktoria Slowikowska from Pexels

SustainNET – The New Sustainability Network

Sustainability Event

It was good to see so many local organisations and people come together with Edge Hill University staff and students at the ‘Sustainability in the Region’ event held on 6 November 2019 at New Church House in Ormskirk. Around 20 organisations were able to display and demonstrate their sustainability-related work with around 100 people who attended the event. There was also a programme of eight short stimulating presentations, as well as the chance to participate in behavioural research on sustainable thinking and practice. New links and connections between people were formed, mutual learning on sustainability was experienced, and there was strong feedback for us to continue this good work.

SustainNET

With this in mind, we would like to inform all interested people that with ISR’s support we have created SustainNET , a new sustainability network collective based at Edge Hill University (EHU) but one that is outward-looking and keen to involve local community partners.

SustainNET’s overarching aim is to undertake transformative work on sustainability themed research, knowledge-exchange, local community impact and curriculum development. More specific starting aims of SustainNET are currently to:

  • Establish a committed core of EHU staff to collaborate together on promoting and advancing the University’s work on sustainability studies, within the framework of the United Nations 17 Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs)
  • Develop and nurture inter-disciplinary collaboration on sustainability research and other forms of academic-related work at EHU
  • Promote the sustainability agenda generally at EHU in collaboration with Sustainability Champions, Students Union and relevant others
  • Promote and develop the integration of sustainability into EHU’s curriculum programmes, including continuous professional learning and in-service learning.
  • Establish EHU as a leading centre for sustainability studies both nationally and internationally in the longer-term
  • Develop links and relationships with relevant external (especially local) stakeholders to work together to help achieve the above aims, and improve the sustainability of EHU’s locality and local region

Please contact SustainNET (sustainnet@edgehill.ac.uk) if you are interested in being part of this exciting new venture or would just like to know more.

Podcasts

You can also in the meantime listen to a series of short podcast recordings on SustainNET’s work being conducted at Edge Hill that were made shortly after the November 2019 Sustainability in the Region event. These are as follows:

  1. Christopher Dent (Business School) – Sustainable business, energy and trade
  2. Geoff Beattie (Psychology) – Implicit attitudes to sustainability and climate change
  3. John Sandars (Medical School / Health) – The links between good health and sustainability in the local region
  4. Paul Aplin (Geography) – Tracking environmental and climate change, with a focus on forests and peatlands
  5. Pam Brandwood (Facilities Management) – Sustainability: inter-linked issues and challenges
  6. Louise Hawxwell, Martin Ford, Becky Cleave (Education) – Teaching on and learning about the Sustainable Development Goals

Christopher Dent, Professor in Economics and International Business in the Business School at Edge Hill University.