Not enough

There was a period of a few weeks, several months ago, where everything seemed to collapse in on itself. You couldn’t go to a supermarket anymore and get things you desperately needed - people were hoarding out of fear of the unknown and many became incredibly selfish. Months into lockdown, you can get toilet roll and soap and flour and meat and beer and all the things which - for a few days - seemed like they’d never be back in stock again. The beginning was scary - it was new and strange and everything felt like it would never be the same. Everyone is forgiven for the initial wave of throwing out the old rule book - the environment suddenly wasn’t a priority and the climate crisis was merely a distant memory, as doctored photos of dolphins in Venice were doing the rounds on social media and diagrams of huge red patches of air pollution over China shrinking completely blew our minds a bit. For a second, you would be forgiven for thinking ‘hang on, we’ve actually solved the issue, here…’

But we haven’t. The International Renewable Energy Agency has found that this year’s emissions will be down, globally, by just 6-8%. It would need to be at least 7.6% every single year, up util 2050, to achieve the goal of keeping global warming below 1.5%. Anyone else not fancy doing lockdown every year?

“You’d need about a 10% drop to have a noticeable effect on the rising CO2 concentrations, but even then concentrations would still be rising,” says Richard Betts, head of climate impacts at the Met Office. 

Air pollution in Paris [Forbes]

Air pollution in Paris [Forbes]

How can it be done?

We’ve all done meetings on Zoom and cancelled flights and driven way less than we normally would - some people won’t ever commute to work again, and are permanently based from home. But it isn’t enough. The two most populated countries in the world - China and India - have seen huge drops in carbon emissions throughout lockdown (25% and 30%, respectively) but things are going to start up again and the world, albeit different, will largely go back to how it was before. A few months off wasn’t enough to save the planet - we still have a long way to go, even with staggering numbers like that.

Apparently, global road traffic fell by 50% (air traffic fell by 90% in Europe, and 50% in the USA but only accounts for 3% of global travel anyway). Some cities had already started plans to pedestrianise, in order to cut traffic -  it’s a great start to see places like Milan giving 35km of roads over to pedestrians and cyclists. These huge, strategic changes are what all of the world’s cities need to be able to use this time to our advantage, and prevent the 1.5% temperature rise. However - some cities are better placed than others to make these changes. During lockdown, carbon emissions fell by 72% in Paris but only 10% in New York, due to the types of energy used to power them (Paris is largely nuclear) and the amount of fossil fuel power plants located there.

Air pollution in New York [Daily Mail]

Air pollution in New York [Daily Mail]

What you can do

There isn’t much we, as individuals, can do about city planning but if you thought you were off the hook from your duties just because Starbucks won’t take your reusable cup, then think again. There is nothing stopping you from keeping up a lot of the stuff you were (or should’ve been) doing before. Take your own coffee from home - if you’re using a machine, then recycle the pods (amongst other things - the Milton Keynes recycling station is operating as normal and takes all of the things below). 

Things that can be recycled

Just some of the things you can recycle and probably thought you couldn't [Credit to Google for all images]

Do you need to use single use masks or gloves? Do you need to use liquid soap instead of bars at home? Can you get a big bottle of hand sanitiser and fill your small one, instead of buying even more plastic?

Now that the panic buying has largely stopped, please make sure that if you bought a load of food that you didn’t need and is still in date that you donate it to a food bank and don’t chuck it away. Worst case scenario, compost it. Remember how the UK produced 7 billion tonnes of food waste last summer, when things weren’t going hideously wrong? Imagine how much we will have produced this year after all of the bulk buying earlier. Store your leftovers - use the freezer. If you bought too many perishable things in March and feel guilty about it now - make a donation to a food bank or an environmental charity (like us) who will be picking up the pieces long after the vaccine is available and things are back to normal.

According to a Yougov poll, 51% of Brits felt that the air is cleaner (during lockdown) and that they’ve seen 27% more wildlife - obviously a large part of this is that people actually had the time to go outside and make the most of their natural surroundings. Our wider woodlands had a bigger footfall - if you are lucky enough to live near green space, I bet you made good use of it (if you were safe to) and appreciated it. We were lucky with the weather - lots of people got to reconnect with nature in a way that you’d never have thought possible in this day and age. It’s perhaps one of the only positives to come out of this whole thing.

People have fallen in love with the countryside (and the planet) again and if we want it to stay healthy we need to all act together, right now - we need to make this a green recovery and not just fall back into old habits. If we get complacent because of some photoshopped dolphins, then we don’t stand a chance!

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