Of late, I have been thinking about what is meant by the often used comment “when everything gets back to normal.”
What I have been wondering about is, what is normal?

I think it best that I use some examples to outline my thinking.

Land Use and the Food We Eat

Have you ever considered the case of organic food, and in particular the hoops an organic producer has to leap through in order to become organically certified.

Yet, 100 years ago, an organic production style was standard. It was normal. Now conventional agriculture liberally sprays poisons everywhere, is centred around a production style of vast monocultures, but this is now considered normal. In contrast, the organic producer who does not use these poisons is the one who has to be certified.

I, for one, don’t think it should be normal to use poisons to grow food. That should just not be normal.


Before the Covid pandemic, the number of people travelling by air was approximately 4 billion, with a projection that this would increase to 8 billion by 2036. The number of passenger aircraft in our skies had risen from 1700 in 1970 to between 23000 and 30000 before the pandemic.

Normal was we could board a plane and fly almost anywhere we wanted relatively inexpensively. However, this normal had only been around for several decades. The pandemic certainly showed how quickly a normal could change.

I doubt we will ever return to the pre2020 of normal travel, with a new normal of vaccination passports and other measures becoming the new normal.

Covid lockdown

During lockdown in New Zealand and overseas cities, something that certainly showed up was how quickly nature would attempt to recolonise our urban spaces if we give it a chance. In New Zealand, this even meant the rare native falcon, Karearea, being seen in downtown Wellington.

What is normal? Is it urban spaces devoid of wildlife, or was the example of what happened during lockdown what should be considered normal.

I think a lesson was delivered here of what normal could look like and one we have ignored in the past.

An Aberration in Time

Is what we now consider normal an aberration?

Never before in history has the human species lived in such an energy-rich environment. Never before has there been so many of us. Never before have we had such a profound negative impact on our planet.

Unless there is some radical but unlikely revolution in energy supply, this energy-rich culture we presently enjoy cannot last. It would appear that we have now passed peak oil – the point where production of crude oil peaks and goes into decline, while the utopia of nuclear fusion energy is still that, an elusive utopia. Research would suggest that the much-vaunted renewable energy sector can never take the place of the energy-dense medium of fossil fuels.

Of course, to counter the effects of climate change, we cannot carry on prodigiously burning fossil fuels the way we have been anyway. The present normal of how our consumption-driven society operates will change to a different normal, whether we like it or not.

So what is normal?

I think if we have the will, we can make normal anything we want it to be. Just because something is the present way of doing things, or what we accept as standard, does not mean it is normal.

What would you like to see as normal?

Brian Megaw

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