A message from Durrell's CEO on World Environment Day

For World Environment Day 2020, Durrell's CEO Dr Lesley Dickie tells us why she does not want the world to go back to 'normal' and what her hopes are for the future of the planet.

There are some who say we should not be talking about the environment at a time like this, that this is a public health issue. No, it's not. It's a planetary crisis issue, and public health emergencies are the result. How similar to the gun proponents who in the face of mass shootings, with dozens of people dead, have the gall to say, now is not the time to discuss gun control, to protect their own interests. And so nothing happens. Now is the time to discuss, and take positive action, with passion and resolve, for our planet and our future.

We have all witnessed the devastation caused as coronavirus has wreaked havoc across the world, but this virus is not the 'enemy'. It is just an inert little particle of protein that is neither good nor evil; it's simply a piece of nature we should not have come into contact with. However, we forced this upon ourselves by capturing wild animals for markets, forcing them into appalling conditions and bringing them into contact with other species, before killing them. We are the enemy of our own future, of our children's future. Every time we destroy a rainforest, we risk a new pandemic. When these habitats are torn apart, viruses are released from their host species and brought into contact with ourselves. New viruses form, to which we have little defence.

There is much discussion about which countries have dealt with the virus well, and those that have failed. But we have not yet, as a global community, truly failed. We will fail if we do not learn the lessons this pandemic has taught us. We will fail if we do not repair our relationship with nature, with wild places and wild animals. We will fail if we do not tackle climate change. We will fail if we do not imagine and create a new economy. We will fail if after the past several months we do not truly understand and assimilate the words of the economist Herman Daly, 'The economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of nature, not the reverse'. The economy is made by people, and we can change it to be in better harmony with life on Earth. Our life on Earth.

There is no grand silver bullet to solve our relationship with the natural world, to create truly sustainable economies, to improve the outlook for habitats and species, to create better mental and physical health for the people of the planet. There are instead millions of pieces of the puzzle. It's complex, but all those parts make up a much greater whole, a better future for all of us.

The first part of the solution is the will needed to do something about it. From us as citizens, from corporations that have profited in the trillions from the unsustainable use of planetary resources, from our elected leaders to have vision, consult widely, to make difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions, to see beyond narrow politics to profound long-term governance. For us all to have an understanding that this is our one and only home, our life support machine, the most important ventilator we have – our Earth.

I do not want to go back to 'normal'. Normal is a world where species are vanishing at an accelerating rate, including the animals that pollinate the food crops upon which our very existence depends. Normal is a world where our inability to control dangerous emissions from our industries and lifestyles is causing the planet to overheat, storms to exacerbate, sea levels to rise, and natural wonders of the world, like the Great Barrier Reef, to bleach and die. Normal is the destruction of tens of millions of years old rainforests for cheap burgers, biofuel and peanut butter. Normal is a cruel and growing illegal wildlife trade, that not only threatens the very existence of species but brings us into contact with viruses that we should not meet, killing our loved ones and bringing our all too fragile economies to their knees.

Much of the global discussion around kick-starting economies rightly talks about building in resilience to cope with any future pandemic. This is a good thing to do. But there is little discussion about getting to the root causes and reducing pandemic risk. Even more important than preparing for the next pandemic is changing our behaviour and the way we live to prevent them from happening in the first place. It's like insuring your car against damage, but then making a decision to drink a bottle of spirits and then drive that car.

We are drunk at the wheel of the planet.

We have had a crash. Sure, we have insurance, but the best thing would be not to crash the car through our own recklessness in the first place. You drive drunk, people die, maybe us.

My hope is that this shock will wake us up. I hope that a younger generation will see that the important people are the ones that have kept our health services afloat, the ones that provided vital services to the community, the scientists racing to find treatments and vaccines, the people protecting the planet, and many others. I hope that a younger generation will see that, despite the protestations of some politicians, expertise is important, and that to live your life with purpose puts empty celebrity into the shade.

If we want to honour the people that lost their lives and those that have kept our societies afloat during this pandemic, then we need to change and change for the better. 'That is just the way it is', is such a mindless phrase. It doesn't have to be that way. We are a frustrating and often infuriating species, but we are also amazing, visionary, and hardworking, with extraordinary imaginations. We can do amazing things, and we can make impossible dreams become a reality. We are a wondrous piece of nature, but we also have the greatest responsibility to the rest of the planet.

Every day, our Durrell team is doing everything in their power to protect our planet, save species and connect people to nature. Every day, they work to achieve our vision of a 'wilder, healthier, more colourful world'. The word healthier is not there by accident. A healthy planet is critical to our very existence.

I believe in us. I mean all of us. I believe in not going back to normal, but going forward to better. I believe.