Whereas 2020 has been the year of COVID-19, there is no doubt that it has been an eye opener on how much our daily global activity has an effect in our environment. Let’s explore some of the lessons learnt to shape a more sustainable future.
The ‘Covid-19’ crisis has highlighted a great deal about society. From the shattering of the illusion that we live individualistic lives, to the foregrounding of the relationships that influence the government’s public-contract allocation; 2020 has come with many surprise lessons. Some of the most important lessons we have learned are about how humans are relating to and interacting with the wider environment. Indeed, we have outlined six major green lessons here that we have learned through the events of this year.
1. Fossil fuels could, and should go extinct
When the UK government revealed its plan to bail out the fossil fuel industry after the March lockdown, they accidentally sparked outrage amongst the people.
Although the fossil fuel industry had previously managed to establish the cultural mythology that we, the individual people, are responsible for climate change by our continued consumption of their product, placing the onus on us; the government’s decision fuelled an explosion of dissent on social media sites.
Indeed, it seems that suddenly a much larger portion of society is aware that there needs to be ‘significant commercial and business investment in grid scale renewable generation’ (MyPower).
2. Nature is resilient, and we need to support this
As cities and towns all over the world ground to a halt and shut down earlier this year, people were able to witness something remarkable taking place just outside their windows.
One stunning example was the vast number of flamingos (reportedly somewhere in the region of 100,000) spotted in Mumbai. In Britain, nature has been experiencing a resurgence too. Indeed, the Telegraph reported that ‘Hedgehogs, toads, fish and bumblebees [were] among species enjoying a respite from humans’, appearing in far greater numbers than recorded in previous years.
This tells us that we do need to reconsider how we can adapt our behaviours so that we can support wildlife, rather than impinge upon it.
3. Air quality can improve, and rapidly
The earth has an awesome ability to balance and regulate its atmosphere; but this is not new information. What was a new lesson for many people is just how quickly earth will rebalance and improve its own air quality – if we afford it the right environment to do so.
During the March lockdown, environmental scientists became captivated by the aerial images they were seeing above towns and cities. What they were able to observe was that, even in areas infamous for their polluted air, levels of toxicity began to fall rapidly. Redmore Environmental have described how, even in Wuhan – a notoriously polluted area and the first area to be shut down – levels of toxic pollutants fell rapidly within a matter of weeks.
4. Circular economies are good for the environment, and consequently for us
The innumerable sightings of discarded PPE has prompted real concern amongst conservationists and environmental activists. However, this flagrant disregard for the environment has, at least, highlighted the need for change. Reactively, there has been an even greater call for companies to follow the principles of a circular economy by only using materials which can be reused or recycled (or be biodegradable).
The increased awareness of this imperative is reflected in the expansion of research on this subject, like that which has been undertaken by 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”.
5. Pollution reduction will help the environment, and us
The Office of National Statistics recently published about the correlation between pollution and ‘Covid-19’ severe symptoms and death. They reported that ‘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 lesson is of vital importance because it emphasises the urgent need to improve air quality and prevent further pollutants entering the environment.
6. Working from home was good, but we need balance
It surprised many people to learn that many jobs could be completed satisfactorily from home. And from some, there is now a call for this to be continued. However, while working from home seemed good for the environment due to the reduction of the number of vehicles on the roads ‘remote work in the UK may only be more environmentally friendly in the summer’ (BBC).
The energy needed to heat office buildings works out to be far less than the energy needed to heat individual homes. Perhaps the lesson here is that neither extreme is the answer, but perhaps we could establish more flexible and seasonal practices around working.