Casting My Vote for a New Normal

As the pandemic shutdown has eased, invitations to in-person meetings have predictably begun arriving with greater frequency. And, I’m generally not accepting them.

This is zero about fear for my own health. It is somewhat about concern for public health, still. But even more, it’s about not being willing to go backwards, environmentally speaking and in terms of my own time and energy. Not just my time and energy either; everyone’s! Now that we’ve seen how much can be accomplished online, my tolerance for in-person meetings inside of air-conditioned buildings, and/or held in locations such that most or all participants have to use motor vehicles to get there, is approaching zero.

I do not miss riding my bicycle on unsafe roads (or rustling up fossil-fueled vehicle rides) to get to meetings. I do not miss all the plastic cups and other senseless trash produced by humans physically getting together in public spaces. And I do not miss the sheer amount of time it takes out of all of our days to travel to and from meetings.

Meetings that could be accomplished online just as well, or even better. Do I miss human face-to-face contact? No: I see my neighbors, essential merchants, and a steady parade of strangers in (social-distance) passing every day. I talk with geo-distant friends and family by phone; Zoom. I interact with clients by tele-technology as well.

I am just not willing to go back, now that I see it is possible to do things a different way. I am casting my vote for a new normal. My vote does not carry particular weight, and I do not flatter myself that I alone am going to precipitate some sort of shift. But I have one person’s worth of vote, and it feels good to know for sure where I stand.

I once read that in England, the electric company has to plan for a surge in demand during the halftimes of televised football games (or “soccer games” as we say in the USA). Why? Because of all those millions of viewers getting up during halftime to make themselves a cup of tea! No one organizes or plans this; rather, millions of individuals each decide to do it. And it adds up to a difference so big that even the power company has to plan for it.

This is how I see personal action. I’m only one person, but I get to choose. And who knows how many millions of other people may independently make the same choice. And it could even be that this blog entry will embolden you to cast your vote for a new normal as well. Be it deciding not to give so much money to big chain retailers, deciding to use a bidet bottle so you’re not at the mercy of toilet-paper hoarders, or putting your foot down about attending in-person gatherings needlessly.

During the pandemic I have attended multiple churches and lunch discussion groups; taken hours of webinars on stormwater management, promoting acceptance of native-plant yards in HOAs, and other topics related to my work as an eco educator; gotten to the root of my chronic back issues by taking a super effective core exercise class; caught up with old friends; done consulting sessions; and more … all online (or by phone). If I ever had any patience for the very limited viewpoint that “we just have to do this in person,” that patience is pretty much erased by the evidence of the past few months! (Particularly when it comes to environmental conferences, eco-minded organizations. Stop it stop it stop it, I say!!!!!)

As it happens, my neighborhood watch group is meeting this week — outdoors, in a park! This is partly because the building we use is undergoing renovations, and probably also a nod to lingering concerns over germ transmission. But an outdoor meeting is something I like from an eco-footprint standpoint as well. No lights or air-conditioning! Who knows, maybe enough people will accept meeting outdoors that we’ll end up making a habit of it.

I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this topic!