Covid-19 created a ban on unnecessary travel; everyone’s consumption of energy, petrol, air miles, and sea miles dropped dramatically, reducing everyone’s carbon footprint. In mid-February, China was reporting a 25% drop in emissions; in mid-March, New York showed carbon monoxide had reduced by nearly 50% compared to last year.
Now, most of the world is in a degree of lockdown, adopting a ‘work from home’ lifestyle for hundreds of thousands of employees and students. With this even more significant reduction in energy usage and consumption – due to the drop in cars on the road especially – Carbon Brief’s analysis data suggests the expected emissions cuts this year will be 2,000m tonnes of CO2, translating to a 5.5% drop from 2019: “the coronavirus crisis could trigger the largest ever annual fall in CO2 emissions”.
We have been given perspective by being forced to sit and watch the world revolve from the distance of our homes
But is it enough? How will this trend change when the crisis is over? Carbon Brief outlines that global emissions need to drop by much more than this; at least 7.6% every year of this decade, in order to limit global warming to a safe level. Annual emissions need to reach net-zero in order to stop atmospheric carbon levels from increasing.
This information gives us an opportunity to rethink society’s unsustainable attitude towards our environment. We have been given perspective by being forced to sit and watch the world revolve from the distance of our homes. In what ways can we question aspects of society that are unsustainable, and then how can we re-imagine them to be less so?
The reduction in the most pollutant forms of transport, flights and cruises, needs to continue
Firstly, when the crisis is over, people will return to work, children to school and so on. but how will the working from home period affect this? We have never been forced to embrace technology to such a scale in our daily lives. Does technology’s success mean some workers could continue to work from home, partially or totally, immediately reducing the amount of commuter emissions?
It should be a priority of governments following this crisis to recognise the faults in their industries
Secondly, the reduction in the most pollutant forms of transport, flights and cruises, needs to continue. The transport industry’s economy has taken a calamitous hit, Virgin Atlantic Airlines is one of the multiple corporations begging the government for a bailout, and thousands are desperate for holidays and trips abroad that are currently out of limits. I am one of them, having had my study abroad cut short by the crisis, and eager to return as soon as possible, if possible. This suggests a boom in travelling in terms of emissions and demand will likely erupt when the crisis is over. But can we justify this boom when we are closer than we have ever been to meaningfully reducing carbon emissions?
So then, what alternatives exist to the current way the transport industry functions? Forbes gives us the example of the Netherlands following the 1970s oil crisis, who instead of going back to usual as the rest of the world did, took the opportunity to remodel its transport industry around people, not cars, encouraging bicycle use and improving public transport. It should be a priority of governments following this crisis to recognise the faults in their industries, and re-address these problems to the benefit of not just people, but the globe.
Featured image courtesy of Chad Davis via Flickr. Image licence found here. No changes were made to the image.
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