Sir David Attenborough has explained the risks of governments focusing on COVID-19 instead of on climate change. However, in some ways, the COVID-19 crisis created greater awareness about the plight of our planet. A strange silver-lining of the unusual and challenging government-imposed lockdown, in Spring and again in November, is that many people have had a personal experience of the inextricable relationship between nature and humans. It has highlighted how humans have interfered with the environment and how nature can have a huge impact on us: we aren’t separate from our environment but are creating it alongside nature.
1. our collective carbon footprint has reduced
With cities across the world coming to an unprecedented standstill earlier this year, we had the opportunity to learn that we can manage without so many pollution-producing activities. During lockdown there was a backlash against big corporations in a social media tsunami of posts about how businesses are responsible for far more damage to the environment than individuals. People are beginning to demand greater investments in renewable energies from the businesses they use and from the government. Indeed, the solar professionals at MyPower explain: ‘With nuclear proving to be cost prohibitive and fossil fuels clearly not being the answer, there will need to be significant commercial and business investment in grid scale renewable generation’.
2. nature can recover
There were increased sightings of foxes, deer and birds in British cities in the first lockdown of 2020 which was a huge wake-up call for many people. Indeed, all around the world, people have been astounded by the resurgence of animals in previously human-dominated spaces. From peacocks in Mumbai to mountain goats in Llandudno, people have seen and acknowledged the (ironic!) beauty of animals reclaiming ‘human’ spaces and become more aware of how humans have impacted wildlife.
3. the importance of circular economies
Sightings of discarded gloves and face masks have prompted important discussions worldwide about the destructiveness of our ‘throw-away’ attitude. More and more, people are calling for companies to take greater responsibility for ensuring that their businesses are operating in line with the principles of a circular economy: that the materials used in manufacturing be either biodegradable, reused or recycled. The call for a circular economy is growing, with Warwick University publishing research stating that “The post-COVID-19 investments needed to accelerate towards more resilient, low carbon and circular economies should also be integrated into the stimulus packages for economic recovery being promised by governments”.
4. pollution is linked to disease
In August, the UK’s Office of National Statistics published an article highlighting studies which have demonstrated the connection between air pollution and higher rates of severe symptoms and death from COVID-19: ‘Studies in the United States (US), Northern Italy and the Netherlands all found that a small increase in pollution exposure raises the number of COVID-19 deaths’. This is an important lesson to learn, and adds evidence to the argument for urgently improving air quality across the globe.
5. work environments should be seasonal to be energy efficient
One of the key things we’ve learned during the COVID-19 lockdowns is that many people can do their jobs perfectly well from home. After the government initiated a lockdown requiring people to (where possible) work from home, the country saw a huge reduction in the number of vehicles on the roads and a drop in energy consumption. However, the BBC recently published an article suggesting that ‘remote work in the UK may only be more environmentally friendly in the summer.’ This is because it takes more energy to heat workers’ homes than office buildings. This implies that changing to a more flexible approach to where we work could have a valuable environmental impact.
6. air quality can be improved rapidly
Satellite pictures showing pollution in the earth’s atmosphere before and during the lockdown earlier in 2020 showed how dramatically pollution rates could fall and air quality could improve. Redmore Environmental uses the example of Wuhan: ‘in the city of Wuhan, China, in the first area to be put on lock down on 23rd January, levels of both NO2 and PM […] declined’ radically within a matter of weeks. This is a positive lesson about the earth’s ability to regulate itself and regain balance, if we take action together.
Thank you to our guest author: Evelyn James