1 day to reflect, 364 to act.
With the world slowing down in the face of the pandemic, there has never been a better time to reflect on what we do, our responsibilities towards the planet, and what kind of world we would like to live in once this terrible experience is behind us.
I observe. Working from home, home-schooling, furlough, self-isolation, and family separation have made us all reflect on what is important. It has also allowed some of us to discover (or re-discover) the beauty of nature right on our doorsteps. My small back garden, an ecosystem on its own, has become an observatory for biodiversity for the whole family: spiders trapping flies in their web, the blue tit catching insects and the blackbirds digging worms for their chicks. We knew they were there before, but we did not really pay as much attention. What about the bats dancing right above our head just after the sunset? The geese in the playground? Were they also there before the lockdown? Or do they now dare cross the A14 because the traffic is almost non-existent? There have been quite a few media reports of wildlife reclaiming their space as we have all stayed indoors. I, for one, am simply delighted to have less traffic in front of my house and to hear the birds singing in the early morning.
I marvel. The lockdown has meant much less air traffic and air pollution – we have all seen the impressive satellite pictures of China and other manufacturing powerhouses before and during the lockdown. It has forced us to implement measures that we knew were good for the environment much quicker than we might previously have done. Technology has helped us switch quickly to new ways of working, and smartphones have enabled our kids to stay connected to their friends and teachers. Contactless payments and deliveries by pedal power have become the rule. Work meetings and even doctor’s appointments no longer require attendance in person, saving time and transport. Both innovative start-ups and bigger companies have quickly switched business models to find new solutions, supply chains, and even customers. And every day we hear more examples of local communities rallying together to help each other and support local businesses. These are all positive gains for the environment.
I fear. As some countries have begun easing their lockdown, will the positive habits of conducting e-meetings and travelling less be maintained? Post-lockdown life may not be all pink and rosy, and not necessarily good for the environment: public transport is no longer seen as safe; the number of plastic bags arriving with home-delivery groceries is frankly shocking! We could probably all have built second homes with the amount of cardboard boxes from home-delivery services. More worrying, perhaps, are the number of new car sales in China and the fall in the price of fossil fuels (which does not provide any incentive for a move to renewables), the talk of ‘air bridges’ to save the tourism and the airlines industry, the deforestation in the Amazon (the highest ever this April), this lovely weather that is so good for our mental health but definitively a sign of global warming, and CO2 levels that are still on the rise despite the lockdown. The pressure on the economy may create a larger divide in our society, and we could see ourselves dismissing the environment in order to save jobs (as important an issue as this is).
I exhort. The pandemic has demonstrated that we can adapt and innovate, and has highlighted that our humanity is fully linked to our environment. We now have a unique opportunity to build a better world. People could cycle more, the car industry could boost electric car production, the construction industry could deliver houses with renewable energy, green space, and a work station as part of the basic package, and we could all shop locally and more sustainably. Some countries in Europe have already seized the opportunity and are taking steps to convert this economic crisis into a green recovery. The postponing of COP 26 should not be an excuse for lack of progress in this area: innovators, investors, corporates, members organisations, local authorities and national governments all have a role to play and now is surely the perfect time to focus on clean and green technologies.
Together we act. Environment Day is a key date in our calendar, but it is just one day. What we throughout the rest of the year matters more. Let’s learn from this dreadful experience and work together for a smarter, more sustainable future.
Operations Manager – Cambridge Cleantech