This week, Lower Sixth student, Eve Nicholson, highlights the positive effect the global pandemic has had on the environment.
During these dark, and frankly boring times, sitting inside staring at our screens for most of the day, it’s important to remember not only the positive impact we’re having at reducing the spread of the virus, but also, the period of grace we have given the environment.
Our need for instant gratification has resulted in a world designed to meet western consumer needs. Fridges. Cars. Pens. Phones. Little plastic toys in McDonald's happy meals. All these staple goods in our lives have their environmental impact. Thanks to the economic shock of COVID-19, demand for these has hugely reduced. Suddenly we are stuck in our homes, and although you could argue that the volume of online shopping orders has increased, our collective carbon footprint has actually reduced dramatically.
Almost ¾ of Britons think that social distancing measures has had a positive impact on the planet.
Although queueing out the door and across the carpark at Tesco can be tiresome, surreal even, as if we’re in the middle of a science fiction film, it’s important to remember how reducing our consumption has reduced global pressure on our already scarce resources. Before a global pandemic threatened our daily routine, we were hearing the call for change from climate activists like Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion, as well as young inventors such as Boyan Slat. These inspirational people echoed the voices of environmental movements of the 1960s and '70s via the new platform of social media. Whereas before environmental reflections were pondered on by diplomats at events like the 2015 Paris climate summit, this lockdown is a time to evaluate and press pause on our own consumption.
Have you noticed how much waste your family is producing since the lockdown began? How much food do you actually consume in your house? Have you realised how often you actually used to use your car?
20% of people are considering using their car less after lockdown to reduce their carbon footprint.
Road traffic accounts for 80% of nitrogen dioxide emissions in the UK. For the average diesel car, every one kilometre driven releases 52mg of pollutant into the air. Nitrogen dioxide pollutants not only reduce our life expectancy, contributing to respiratory diseases but, along with CFCs, contribute to the breakdown of the ozone layer. However, over the past few months the healing rate of the ozone layer has increased. Our planet is recovering, and we can see it and breathe it.
As motorways clear and factories close, pollution belts have shrunk over industrial centres and major cities, which has resulted in drops in carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide of as much as 40%.
Flights may be cancelled and holidays refunded, but we are usually so fortunate to be able to jetset across the world, and often we do not feel the environmental impacts of this. A short return trip from London to Rome carries a carbon footprint of 234kg of CO2 per passenger, this is more than the average produced by citizens of 17 countries annually. Our economically and environmentally expensive diets for tourism and off-season food contribute to changes in global temperatures and consequential impacts such as melting glaciers and rising sea levels. Our increased interconnectivity and ease of physical connection has exacerbated the problem of not only coronavirus, but climate change. That said, globalisation has also made us stronger in this time of isolation, helping us stay connected and together, without the need for meeting up.
Local sourcing is on the increase as people turn away from supermarkets, supporting local businesses and reducing food miles as imports become increasingly difficult. 27% of Britons said they are planning to reduce the amount of rubbish they throw away. This means reduced contribution to our growing landfill and incineration problem, promoting a more sustainable way of living. We live in a throwaway, consumerist society, where it is arguably too easy to buy cheap manufactured goods from miles away. Normally in China, the Air Quality Index in some places is above 999, and in the major urban areas the air pollution level is 20x higher than the World Health Organisation recommended levels for more than a 24 hour period. That said, COVID-19 has led to a huge reduction in pollution levels as the world has truly been put on pause. Manufacturing has come to a halt due to regulations and also deficient demand, perhaps kick starting the change that over polluted newly industrialised economies need. Perhaps this is a glimpse of the world without the overconsumption of fossil fuels.
When we’re stuck inside, missing our friends, reminiscing on the regular routine we may have taken for granted, we come to realise how much we truly appreciate not only the people around us, but the natural world.
Perhaps when you’re not in lessons, go for a walk or a run and take in the world around you. Have you noticed the lack of cars? Can you feel how much fresher the air is?
69% of people agreed that social distancing has caused them to think more about the current fragile state of the planet.
In our intensely globalised world it is unrealistic to stop global travel and trade all together, but hopefully, by being a little more conscious about the world around us, and our impact on it, we will emerge from the lockdown as better people. We will appreciate our friends more, and how lucky we are that we are able to breathe relatively clean air, enjoy unspoiled green spaces and have the opportunity to see sites outside of our immediate bubble.
Now is a time to reflect and appreciate the opportunities we have, and use this short break from the fast pace of everyday life to improve not only our physical and mental health, but also the way we think about the earth we must protect. As Albert Einstein said, ‘Only a new way of thinking will change the world.’