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We hit the “pause” button on 2020.  While the world is currently in a state of shock and isolation, this whole experience has made me think about the simpler times of my youth. 

Coconut Palm Trees. © Greenpeace / Paul Hilton
© Greenpeace / Paul Hilton

I remember my parents’ house with big open windows and with views of trees meant for climbing or sitting under the shade.  Playtime meant bicycle rides alongside gigantic cows from far off provinces carrying local wares.  Toys would be from old milk cans which we’d take turns knocking it over using slippers, or little clay pots filled with water and leaves from my mother’s garden.  The simpler times meant it didn’t take much to enjoy a lot.

We were easily connected to nature. The summers back then had a fresh cool breeze as we chased dragonflies in lazy afternoons or plucked flowers of all colours, shapes, and sizes.  Fruit-bearing trees were in abundance in our little village. We would have mangoes, banana, and jackfruits all the time, all you had to do was ask your neighbours.  In fact, having a vegetable patch of your own was the norm.  The simpler times meant relying on nature for all our essential needs. 

Vegetables in the Backyard in Bangkok. © Wanweaw Hongvivatana / Greenpeace
© Wanweaw Hongvivatana / Greenpeace

Back then, I imagined how the future would be like-  with flying cars and walking and talking robots everywhere.  A world ripe with advancements in all aspects that would enable people to live better, happier, longer and safer.  Reality was not far behind, but somewhere along the way, it got extreme. The world wanted progress and development even if it would cost us the environment.

Just take a look outside your windows. We see tree-less mountain tops, the air full of toxic fumes, and seas and rives full of rubbish. Somehow, our quality of life deteriorated, even down to the food we consume.  And so instead of humankind zooming towards new frontiers in 2020, we now find ourselves at a standstill,  confined to our own cages.  We are no longer free to do even the most mundane of things like to go out for coffee, or to take a selfie at the park. 



© Jani Sipila/ Greenpeace

In our pursuit for more – to have more, to do more, to be more– we unfortunately, now have less. We failed to see what were essential to life. We also failed to respond to more urgent matters: melting ice caps, forests burning, animals going extinct, social injustices happening— all were largely ignored until a global pandemic hit us hard.  And only then did the world take notice and respond, but still not in the nick of time.  As of mid-April, about 170,000 people all over the world have lost their lives to Covid-19 that will forever define the 2020s.   

So should I start living like it’s the 80s and throw away my smartphone?  I believe that there is a misconception about making a positive change in the world-  that for anything significant to happen, one has to make leaps and bounds to achieve it.  Saint Mother Teresa said it best, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”  Change, therefore, is the sum of small efforts.  Small beginnings, but a spark nonetheless.

While I am no eco-guru, this worldwide pause got me inspired. I will start by opening my windows more, perhaps to use the air conditioner less (look, no air pollution!); by teaching my kids how to make use of their time through art- using broken crayons rather than opening new ones (broken is not really broken, you just have to use a little more imagination!); and by starting my own mini garden in pots (green has always been in!). Most of all, I will read up and share more information on the environment, particularly on climate change (it’s a real threat to humanity!). The list goes on and the chances to make a fresh start are right there in front of me and you.  And there is no better time than now because (1.) we have lots of it, and (2.) our lives depend on what we do at this moment.  For real.

When all this is over (hopefully, sometime soon), and once we hit the “play” button, I hope that we find the courage to do better, to be better humans, to keep the planet clean and green as it should be. We may not be able to fully bring back the simpler times of our youth, but we can move forward by living more conscientiously, sustainably, and dare I say it, more earth-friendly starting today. Happy Earth Day.

A watercolour painting by the author.

Sarah Sevilla-Manila is a happy mom to two tweens and a cute little furball. She is a writer and a painter who hopes to one day retire in a farm of her own.