COVID-19 and the Climate Emergency

May 22, 2020
Lavinia Jury

What to Consider as We Create the ‘New Normal’

By Lavinia Jury

COVID-19 has been more than just a health crisis. The pandemic has brought with it a wave of human consequences – health systems are struggling, economies are shrinking, and unemployment is on the rise. Amidst all this doom and gloom Mother Nature has prevailed. Void of human commotion, animals are roaming in places never seen before and the natural world has had a chance to recover. I hope that as we reach the end of Mental Health Awareness Week, these environmental gains will ignite positivity amid the chaos.

When the transport industry came to a standstill and drive-in commuters started working from home, we hit an all-time low in CO2 emissions. The virtualisation of business meetings, coupled with minimal flights for produce, condensed air traffic and as a result, particulate matter pollution in London alone has dropped by 44% according to the International Energy Agency. Due to this improved air quality, there has been 11,000 fewer deaths from air pollution in Europe.

The pandemics’ impact on energy demand is predicted to be seven times larger than the 2008 financial crisis and visible results are already emerging. Countries in full lockdown have contracted energy demand by an average of 25% a week and renewables are the only energy source to have a greater demand now than before the pandemic.         

The food industry has undergone a huge transformation. It’s as if we have travelled back to a more self-sustainable time. People are planting their own fruit and vegetables; cooking is everyone’s new favourite hobby and baking has made a bigger comeback than polaroid pictures. We have revived the idea of the weekly shop and prefer to walk or cycle to the corner shop for a quick snack instead of driving to the supermarket. These changes are not only healthier and more cost-effective for us, but also for the planet as carbon emissions, waste and plastic consumption continues to plummet.

In spite of our new-found harmony with the planet, climate scientists worry that similarly to previous crises, our rebound in emissions will exceed the decline. In the rush to kickstart our economies, we must redirect our focus from the continual growth of production and consumption required by capitalism to consider a “cleaner and more resilient energy infrastructure”.

Prior to the pandemic, we often failed to recognise the individual impact of our actions on the planet, but COVID-19 has forced us to acknowledge just how big one person’s impact can be. This has caused a radical change in people’s mindsets and the long-term benefits of this will be overwhelming. We have already seen examples of altruistic behaviour when on the 25th of March, over 500,000 people signed up to be NHS volunteers in one day.

 

As we see lockdown restrictions lifted, we must ensure that we do not go back to normal, but back to better, and so I have put together some tips to help you to consider your environmental repercussions going forward.

Tip 1: Use your car less

Maintain your lockdown exercise routine by walking or cycling to meet a friend or pop to the shops.  

Tip 2: Holiday in the UK

Going abroad at the moment is questionable. Flights will be expensive and the movement of people around the globe will increase the risk of another spike in COVID-19 cases. Flying also makes up the biggest contribution to one person’s carbon footprint, so take a staycation in the UK instead!

Tip 3: Work from home

We have proved we can work from home, so why not continue to after lockdown to reduce your carbon footprint?

Tip 4: Cycle to work

Boris Johnson recently announced funding of £5 billion to improve infrastructure for bikes and buses across England, with £1 billion being spent on building 250 miles of cycle lanes!

Tip 5: Acknowledge how much of an impact your choices have on the planet!

Remember your lockdown lessons and maintain your new eating habits – think about where your food is coming from, support your locals and limit your meat consumption (more than half of food emissions come from animal products).

Tip 6: Use energy in non-peak hours

People in the UK use the most energy between 4 and 7pm, but during quarantine this has not been the case. Reduce your carbon emissions by using high-energy items like the dishwasher and the washing machine in non-peak hours.

As we all know, this pandemic is by no means a positive situation. As Mental Health Awareness Week comes to a close, we must try to see the positives. Remember that every cloud has a silver lining, and in this case, COVID-19 has allowed us to reset the record when it comes to our relationship with the planet.

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