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We must embrace stewardship rather than status quo

We must embrace stewardship rather than status quo
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The events of recent months driven by the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic have upended fundamental aspects of our collective lives. 

From changes in our daily routines to our basic norms of social interaction, and even to the framework of our economic system that so often represents a measurement of overall social “stability,” our lives are different.  

The seemingly never-ending pandemic leaves no one immune to conversations that revolve around when life or society will “return to normal.” 

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Many of us have taken both our personal and professional lives almost fully virtual since the beginning of the lockdowns, diving into a level of online connectedness that we hadn’t experienced before, even when we felt our lives were already fully controlled by technology. We have opened ourselves up to creative ways of engaging remotely, even teaching and learning remotely — all with the understanding that our previous lives, or some semblance of it, will indeed “return to normal” at some point in the future. 

Perhaps our key source of comfort lies in the fact that our current level of “discomfort” will indeed only be temporary. 

But there are critical lessons to be learned from this temporary discomfort — lessons offered from the ongoing destruction of our planet, including its wildlife. Perhaps, even an opportunity to reflect upon the fact that “normal” was never a very good place for nature, and may not be for us either.

Since the pandemic forced many of us to retreat temporarily, we are witnessing the blossoming of nature and wildlife as its own anthropogenic quarantine begins to lift. Accounts abound of wildlife moving into new areas, emerging from behind the curtain and stepping into spaces that were previously inhabited mostly by man.  

Their “quarantine,” however, was not driven by disease or a concerted commitment to “flatten a curve” of infection. It is a long-standing quarantine imposed by the seemingly endless obsession of mankind to expand, control and dominate. 

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Whether for reasons that include economic development, societal expansion, food subsistence, or even in the name of conservation, civilization has long implemented a blanket quarantine upon tremendous swaths of wildlife across the natural world. This has in part driven the outcome that we are experiencing today at a global scale. It is in our own best interest to heed the critical lessons of the time and revert such self-focused tendencies.  

A short-sighted return to our “old normal” with the underlying belief that mankind is immune to the consequences of subduing nature for our own benefit will result in an outcome that is as unstable as it is reckless. Returning to that state of normal would be an abdication of our duty to pause, to hit refresh and to fully realize our impact upon the planet and its biodiversity, whose richness continues despite our actions, as opposed to as a result of them. This moment is a unique reminder of how shared our spaces should actually be — that coexistence alongside wildlife can indeed be wondrous and uplifting, signaling an opportunity to live more closely together instead of more hopelessly apart. 

For me it is unquestionable that a new normal will emerge following the pandemic. Given the experience from the COVID-19 outbreak, we cannot retreat to the status quo. We must embrace and adopt a precautionary standpoint — a stewardship mindset. The havoc that has been wreaked on our global community by our willingness to forego limits and take what was never truly ours, gives credence to the notion that our time on this earth will be fleeting if we fail to embrace a role of genuine stewardship over the planet and its rich biodiversity. 

Our old ways — our “normal” — were never sustainable. Certainly not for us and certainly not for nature. So let us finally heed the lessons of the times and recognize our role and responsibility to create a better normal. Whatever that may be. 

Azzedine Downes is president and CEO of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. As a leading voice for nearly two decades, Mr. Downes has influenced international policies across the globe on issues related to both conservation and animal welfare and its implementation at the community level. Follow him on Twitter: @AzzedineTDownes.