By Harriet Clifford
While positive side effects of the coronavirus pandemic are few and far between, one byproduct of lockdown is that we have seen a 17% reduction in daily global carbon emissions. As these lockdowns around the world ease over the coming weeks, it’s worth thinking about how we can actively combat the climate crisis as we return to normality. After all, let’s not forget that our ‘business as usual’ has a devastating impact on the environment.
Perhaps some of us have breathed a momentary sigh of relief, focusing our anxiety-ridden minds on something other than impending ecological collapse. It’s difficult to concentrate fully on more than one global crisis at a time, especially when we are constantly being assaulted by important issues on the news or on social media, all vying for our attention.
Why would we be thinking about the fact that global sea levels have risen by 8 inches since 1880 when we’ve got vulnerable parents or our jobs to worry about? People we love are dying, the economy is crashing and our lives have been turned upside down; it’s no wonder that we’re somewhat preoccupied.
The truth is that there will always be something else to worry about. Right now you are probably feeling overwhelmed by the systemic racial injustice within our societies. This quite rightly feels more pressing than the climate, because it is happening now and is affecting many of us directly, making us feel angry, stressed or scared. We’ve put together some ideas for how you can educate yourself on racism and best support black communities.
I am the first to admit that since this pandemic started, I have found myself worrying less about the environment. Granted, I still play my small part at home, recycling what I can and eating a vegetarian diet, but I have also found myself thinking, ‘It’s fine if I drive to the supermarket rather than walk, I’m barely using the car at all at the moment’, or, ‘Never mind about all this plastic packaging in the bin, the planet is having a breather right now.’
While that may be true to a certain extent, I’ve had to gently check myself. I’ve realised that if everyone thought like that and we all became careless, we would end up undoing some of the work that we so diligently put in pre-lockdown.
As well as this, the reduced levels we’ve seen in recent months are likely to only be fleeting. The Guardian has reported that air pollution in China is already back to pre-covid levels and Europe may well follow. Secondly, habits are hard to break. If I start becoming lazy, who’s to say that I won’t continue in this way once things pick up again?
The real impact of coronavirus
What’s more, the reality of the situation may throw a spanner in the works. Marco Lambertini recently wrote an article for Al Jazeera highlighting the ways that the coronavirus crisis is actually negatively affecting the environment. He argues that the positives we’re hearing about are only momentary, if not fake news, and overlook the damage being done to wildlife and natural habitats. However, he says:
‘These rollbacks do not mean that we should give up hope. They simply mean we need to work harder than ever to rebalance our relationship with nature.’
A new reality
As the economy starts whirring and people begin to emerge tentatively into a new reality, we have the opportunity to be armed with knowledge, ideas, plans and innovations, ready to fight the ongoing crisis that won’t go away with a vaccine.
Rather than living in a constant state of fear, we can live in a constant state of action, making daily decisions that will take us one step closer to clawing back our future.
Here are a few ideas for how you can start to do this:
1. Educate yourself
Clearly there’s too much content out there to consume all of it, but perhaps choose one documentary and a couple of articles each week and go from there. The more knowledgeable you are about the environment and the steps we can take to protect it, the more motivated you are going to be to actively change the way you live. Whether you want a long-read like Emily Raboteau’s piece for The New York Review of Books, an informative interview like our piece on tackling the plastic crisis, or prefer to browse shorter articles on sites such as Grist, there are endless ways to stay updated. Good documentaries to start with include David Attenborough’s Climate Change: The Facts (2019) and Before the Flood (2016).
2. Use social media for good
Although it has its downfalls, as explored in this piece, social media can be invaluable in instigating change – something we are seeing now with the Black Lives Matter movement. During a time in which we are interacting with people online more than we are in person, it’s easy to share links, tips, posts and images, educating others and directing them to petitions, donation pages and useful sites. You may have other ways of making your voice heard, perhaps through public speaking, peaceful protesting or writing, but social media is a good place to start.
3. Volunteer your time
Not everyone has ended up with more free time because of the pandemic, but if you have, think about finding a climate-orientated charity to which you could offer your time and skills. Perhaps you manage social media in your day job, or work in strategy or PR, but the furlough scheme means you’re able to work elsewhere for free. The more people who are involved, the more awareness will be raised and information will be shared.
4. Reassess your priorities
In spite of the loss, fear and anxiety synonymous with this time, for many of us the pause button has momentarily been pressed. We will emerge from this pandemic bleary eyed and with aching hearts, but perhaps kinder, more grateful, and more selfless. We also have the opportunity to be wiser, more resourceful, and more determined to fight the other, more chronic pandemic that is slowly but surely suffocating our world. Think about whether you want to go back to ‘normal’, or whether you want the pause button to be a reset button instead. Your new reality could look more sustainable, conscientious and kind.
As our world exhales and slowly starts to heal, let’s make sure we’re ready to continue this healing process on the other side. When it comes to the planet, we simply can’t wait until we are forced to change.
However small you feel and however quiet you think your voice is, there are steps you can take today to work towards a brighter future. If you have any other ideas, leave your comment below.