Written by Ali Fisher
‘Climate strike’ was the 2019 Collins Dictionary word of the year. Perhaps ‘lockdown’, ‘pandemic’ and ‘social distancing’ will be strong contenders for 2020. Yet the optimist in me wants to put forward ‘build back better’ as a front-runner, to focus on the opportunities that now lie ahead of us as we plan for recovery.
This month’s sustainability article explores what it could mean for Burpham if we can use this once in a lifetime global ‘pause’ to make choices that rebuild our society, economy & environment to be better, stronger, healthier and more together. The brutal battles of this pandemic will stay with us all for a lifetime but what aspects of the lives we have lived since 23rd March 2020 might we choose to hang on to?
Cleaner air quality
During March and April, the levels of nitrogen dioxide – one of the five major air pollutants – fell in some UK cities by as much as 60% versus 2019. To take a more local sample, levels dropped by 42% in Godalming and by 64% in Weybridge. The positive health impact of this step change is similarly off the scale. Estimates suggest that falls in industrial and road traffic emissions through April could have led to 11,000 fewer deaths across Europe and 1,752 specifically in the UK.
Significant plans were already afoot nationally and locally pre-lockdown to facilitate a greener, healthier, more mobile UK. In May, the government reaffirmed its £2 billion commitment to boost cycling and walking, but now with an increased sense of urgency to deliver. Surrey County Council has yet to find out what its allocation of the ‘emergency active travel fund’ will be but say they are rapidly reviewing their plans, including their ambition to develop a Sustainable Movement Corridor. Impressively, a 5% increase in UK cycling would mean 8 million fewer car journeys, 9 million fewer rail journeys and 13 million fewer bus journeys!
In April, 57% of people said they were valuing food more than pre-lockdown and 43% were enjoying it more. The pandemic has limited our day-to-day access to food, whether through supply shortages, restaurant closures or as we have grocery shopped less. More than half of us have said we have been worried about shortages of staples and getting access to the supermarket. A wartime rationing mindset has been reignited and reconnected us with the value of our food. More people are meal planning, using up what’s at home, one in six are by-passing use-by & best-before dates, a quarter of us are serving more accurate portion sizes and leaving less on our plates, we are using our freezers more and half of us are getting better at using up leftovers. This is resulting in a whopping 48% of us saying we are throwing away less food now – an amazing behaviour change given 70% of UK food waste happens within the home, normally culminating in 6.6 Megatonnes of annual food waste. As our pace of life speeds up again in the coming weeks and months, can we keep a slow love of food burning?
The challenges that have come with a global pandemic, economic downturn and social lockdown have forced many to think more proactively about their own mental well-being and that of others near and dear. 50% of people say their sleep has been more disturbed since the pandemic started and 40% say they are sleeping less. What are the coping mechanisms we have put in place that may well be required just as much coming out of lockdown as being in it? Well, 41% of us are reading more in lockdown, with the average Brit now reading for 6 hours a week, nearly double pre-lockdown levels. Note to self, to up my reading game. Judging by rainbows and blue hearts in windows and on pavements, increased local creativity & art has very definitely been an upside to lockdown.
The challenges that have come with a global pandemic, economic downturn and social lockdown have forced many to think more proactively about their own mental well-being and that of others near and dear.
As the path ahead of us promises challenge, we must all commit to a maintained focus on the mental well-being of ourselves and those around us.
Over half of us have used other shopping alternatives to supermarkets for the first time since restrictions were introduced: 10% have tried farm shops, 9% fruit and veg deliveries, 8% milk deliveries & 14% butchers for the first time. The good news going forward for Burpham business is that 89% of people say they will continue to use at least one of the new shopping alternatives once restrictions have ended.
More broadly over a third of people are supporting smaller/local businesses more than ever before and say this will continue post lockdown. So, as day-to-day life may start to take us further from home once again, let’s remember the local businesses who have stayed open and committed to our communities throughout this crisis.
Reduced greenhouse gas emissions
As well as a significant reduction in road traffic, air traffic has been down by over 40% globally and by 90% in the UK in lockdown. Whilst we may have lamented missed holidays or important work trips, most have adjusted and got by. As future opportunities for travel further afield begin to open up again, we should try to keep top of mind the potential that even a small reduction in air travel can make to the environment. Before the pandemic hit, predictions were for aviation emissions to triple by 2050. Incredibly, taking just one long-haul flight generates more carbon emissions than the average person produces in a year in dozens of other countries around the world.
Before the pandemic hit, predictions were for aviation emissions to triple by 2050.
So as we look forward to catching up on downtime and visiting new places, keep in mind the opportunity to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions through smart choices closer to home or by taking the scenic route.
If you’re reading the on-line version of the Burpham Pages, please do add a comment at the end of the article. Share with us your hopes for positive changes that will last beyond the pandemic. What reflections have you had that mean you want to change things up in the future and what implications might they have for the local community? We’d love to hear your thoughts.