A Piece of My Mind: If pandemic comes from climate change, ‘New Normal’ is already here

Lots of talk has been generated over the past months about how our lives have been permanently changed because of the pandemic, and what the “New Normal” will look like. But if you consider the pandemic as one of the many consequences of climate change, then in many ways the “New Normal” is already here.

I used to let the water run while I brushed my teeth. Now I just wet the brush. I used to pour soapy water from the dishpan down the drain. Now I carry it outside and dump it on whichever plant looks thirstiest. I used to soak in a hot bath. Now I take two-minute showers. That’s the “New Normal” after five years of drought.

Formerly, in our bedroom suburb, the tallest building in town was the movie theater. Now the movie theater is gone, but we have several three-story buildings. A few of them have trees growing on the roof. A five-story building is planned. That’s the “New Normal” for smart land use.

Once upon a time, my aunt from Southern California would come up to visit in the summer so she could get away from the constant whir of air conditioners. She would have been dismayed when my husband added air conditioning to our home several summers ago. But where we used to have an occasional day over 90 degrees, we now get an occasional week or two in the 90s. That’s the “New Normal.”

But it’s not just climate that has wrought change.

I used to get a chunk of suet from the meat counter to put on top of my chuck roast to tenderize it and to generate more pan juices for the gravy. Now if I eat beef at all, it’s the leanest cuts, and if I must chew longer, it’s probably good for my gums. Low cholesterol is the “New Normal.”

Rereading a classic children’s book from the 1950s, my eyes widen as the mother sends her 9-year-old daughter off to an art class in the community center along with her 4-year-old sister, with the instruction, “Let your sister play in the sandbox in the park while you are in art class.” In our “New Normal,” this lack of parental supervision would be deemed at best irresponsible, at worst criminally neglectful.

When I was a child, I used to ride my bicycle all over town. I felt as free as a bird, choosing my own road, my own speed, my own stops. As long as I was home by dinnertime, no one worried. Now if I see a child riding a bicycle to school, one of the parents will be alongside. More security, less freedom. That’s the “New Normal.”

(Did you notice how carefully I avoided using a gender-specific pronoun in the above sentence? That’s the “New Normal,” too.)

Maybe the changes brought about by the pandemic will happen faster than those listed above. The comfort comes from knowing that however new they seem at first, with the passage of time they will just be normal.

Allyson Johnson is a longtime Los Altos resident. For more information, visit her blog at allysonjohnson.com.

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