Beyond tragedy, there’s a clearer outlook. Sarah Sellens explores how the pandemic could mark a defining moment in the health of our planet
If you want to push the year 2020 back to the darkest corners of your mind, you’d be forgiven. After all, there’s plenty about the coronavirus crisis we all want to forget. But in the words of Winston Churchill, ‘you never want a crisis to go to waste’ – and the lessons we can learn from the pandemic are important. Indeed, Covid-19 has taught us the weight of humanity – the value we place on relationships and the bonds that connect us – and the worth of international collaboration, as global threats require global cooperation. It’s increased our alertness for worldly issues such as climate change and has encouraged us to look after our personal health. So, while we continue to cope with the fallout of the coronavirus crisis, we’ve the opportunity to create a healthier planet. Here’s how to make a difference.
British wildlife thrived in lockdown, with rare sightings of buzzards, orcas and cuckoos. “The Wildlife Trusts received lots of reports of butterfly sightings,” says Dom Higgins, head of health and education at The Wildlife Trusts. “And anecdotally, we think there may have been short-term gain for wildlife such as birds, which were less likely to be disturbed during nesting.” But while birdsong was loud, burgeoning wildlife may not last. “Nature is still in trouble,” adds Dom. “We’ve lost more than 40 million birds from this country during my lifetime, and the hedgehog is vulnerable to extinction.” To keep nurturing nature, donate to the Wildlife Trust’s 30 by 30 appeal (wildlifetrusts.org), which aims to dedicate 30 percent of land and sea to nature’s recovery by 2030.
Thanks to the closure of industrial activity and airline flights, plus the reduction in car travel, the air we breathe is less polluted than it has been in decades – so much so that the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) expects global annual emissions to be down by six to eight percent. “While it’s great to see, in order for this to make a lasting impact, we need to focus on how we continue reducing emissions when life starts to return to normal,” says Shaunagh Duncan, sustainability lead at UK green energy supplier Bulb (bulb.co.uk). Choosing greener methods of travel such as cycling, working from home, and switching to renewable energy sources will help keep up the momentum.
Since the outbreak of Covid-19, the spotlight has been on our ‘curative’ healthcare. “We’ve traditionally lived our lives with a reactive approach to health – we do whatever we want, we disregard our health, and then when things go wrong, we react to try and make it better,” explains Professor Greg Whyte OBE, sports scientist and physical activity expert. “Covid-19 has taught us that the best way to limit its impact is to be proactive – to reduce infection risk by regularly washing hands… improving our diet, gut health, physical activity, as well as reducing alcohol consumption and smoking cessation. As a result of this pandemic, we may see a positive change in attitudes and actions towards personal health.”
After the spring lockdown, an image of fish swimming in Venice’s usually murky waters went viral – but cleaner canals, plastic-free ponds, and clearer lakes could be seen here, too. “The reduction of air travel and carbon emissions has increased water quality,” reveals Dom. “Waterways have cleared due to a decrease in fishing, and plants are thriving as a result of cleaner water.” From using biodegradable cleaning products, to supporting a beach cleanup, there’s plenty you can do to help keep it that way.
Adobe Acrobat reported a 50 percent increase in the use of PDF documents during the pandemic, possibly because many worked from home. Why does this matter? Because just one tonne of office paper emits the equivalent of 6.3 tonnes of CO₂ in its entire life cycle. “By reducing paper usage – both in your personal and professional life – and switching to digital tools such as PDF documents, you can help prevent deforestation across the planet and help preserve the wildlife that inhabits these forests,” explains Dom.
While new laws and fines came into place during the pandemic, police reported more than a 20 percent drop in overall crime across Britain – something senior offices believe to be driven by a lack of large public events and outings. However, experts warn of a possible increase in cybercrime, so continue to be wary of clicking on suspicious links or responding to suspect texts or emails.
The coronavirus has transformed how we get food, with online grocery shopping doubling in the UK and Sainsbury’s announcing that 40 percent of its sales are now online. Having one delivery van go to several homes is better for the planet than having several cars go to the shops. Keep it up!
In the 12 weeks to May 2020, data from market research company Nielsen shows that organic food and drinks (which support soil health and that of the ecosystem) sales grew by 18.7 percent. “This shows that, as a nation, we’re starting to acknowledge the story behind the products we buy, and that we ultimately want to consume products that are not only better for our wellbeing but also better for the planet,” says Natalie Denyer, founder of Zero Living (zero-living.com).
Baking was big news during lockdown, and further studies show that UK consumers cooked more creatively, with 30 percent of us saving leftovers. “Leftovers get a terrible rep… but far too much is thrown away before it needs to be,” says Thomas Robson-Kanu, founder of The Turmeric Co (theturmeric.co). “Chuck your leftovers together and make a hearty healthy broth instead,” adds Thomas. “You’ll thank yourself on those tired winter evenings ahead.”
If the coronavirus has taught us anything it’s that global challenges don’t have national borders, and the same goes for climate change. Since the start of the pandemic, interest in the environment has increased, with two thirds of Brits wanting to see the UK as a world leader on climate change. Indeed, 65 percent of us want the UK government to shift its domestic oil and gas company subsidies to instead fund the development of renewable energy. Big changes can be sparked by individual actions, so let’s continue to support the cause in 2021.
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