Flattening The Climate Curve: An Opportunity to Reflect and Reset
Thursday 16th July 2020
Only a matter of weeks ago the UK put itself into lockdown; a semi-hibernation period to deal with one of the worst crises since the Second World War.
Since the lockdown, we have seen amazing acts of bravery, innovation and hard work to prevent a terrible situation escalating out of control. We all owe a huge debt of gratitude for these efforts.
Now we’re beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel. The UK is still in lockdown but there are increasing levels of freedom and plans are underway to kickstart the economy, getting the nation back to normality.
But it is this question of normality - the new normal - which is playing on our minds and is often a central topic in our video conversations with friends, family and colleagues. ‘What will the new normal be?’. Rather, the question should be - ‘What do we want the new normal to be?’. Will we ever have such an opportunity again to create a new normal not only for our daily lives, but for the planet’s health?
Without dismissing the very real threat from COVID-19, there is still another, much bigger, killer on the horizon. One which, as a planet, we still have a lot of work to do to flatten its curve. The climate crisis.
Before COVID-19 emerged, Australia was suffering devastation from forest fires. Huge swathes of the countryside were destroyed. Homes and livelihoods were reduced to ashes. Who could forget those stomach-churning images of the remains of charred koala bears? The fires were followed up by floods as the nation was beginning to pick up the pieces. Sadly, these events are becoming ever more regular and extreme in Australia, and in many other places around the world. Climate Change is a dangerous pandemic too.
Parallels can quite easily be drawn between the rise and spread of COVID-19 and the equally rapid rise in global temperatures, greenhouse emissions and sea levels.
Global temperatures are projected to increase by at least 1.5 degrees by 2050. Rising temperatures will increase the risk of drought, water stress, wildfires, and floods. Rising temperatures are also bringing about more disease. The summer of 2019 saw the most northerly case of West Nile virus infection ever reported, in Germany.
Reduced transport and energy usage during lockdown had a significant and positive impact on the environment. Cities have experienced visibly cleaner air. Central London roadside locations have seen a fall in the daily average of dangerous NO2, of around 40 per cent. We’ve all seen pictures of the almost immediate impact on Venice’s canals without the water traffic; a return to glistening blue waters again.
From this forced slowing down of life, a pause on the vast and frantic norm of human activity, what precisely do we take forward with us after the pandemic? What do we leave behind? During this time of semi-hibernation that many of us have experienced, there is no better time than now to reflect and reset. To look forward to a future we want to see, one that has the planet’s health at its heart. The social media hashtag #buildbackbetter is gaining traction and it is a nod toward decision making for sustainable growth. Sustainable for people, profit and the planet.
We've all been making changes in our daily lives - some out of necessity - but others for a better routine and personal health. Many of us would like to see these positive changes continue for improved productivity and well-being. Whether that’s fewer journeys in the car, making healthier meals and reducing food waste, shopping loose rather than in packaging, taking your reusable boxes and bags when grocery shopping, making video calls instead of travelling to meetings, or cycling and walking, while enjoying the fresh air of our neighbourhoods.
While we are changing and improving what is within our personal control, it’s also important that governments and businesses lead the way for larger, systemic change, too. The UK government is being pressured by business leaders and investors to #buildbackbetter and is making the right noises with discussion of a ‘Green New Deal’. The new Environment Bill is already progressing through parliament alongside more immediate actions such as investment in an accelerated cycleway.
Businesses are reviewing the workplace and rethinking how it can perform better for its inhabitants. Health and safety is a driver for many decisions, but equally the goal of reducing carbon emissions helps organisations to think more sustainably and take a longer-term view. We are yet to hear an announcement that office workers should return to the workplace en masse, but clarification around this is expected soon. Return will be phased and tentative as employers carefully address physical distancing and workers tackle the logistics of their commute. The return of each worker to their office surroundings provides a really unique opportunity to change behaviour around sustainability performance such as waste and recycling, before each individual reverts to operating in the workplace on autopilot.
If these last few months have shown us anything, it’s that as a society we can achieve amazing things quickly if there is real desire. Now is the perfect opportunity to reflect and reset. To make changes to a future we want to see. There is time, and it is the time, to create a new normal that has sustainability at its core for the future health of the planet. It’s time to flatten the climate curve.
James George MCIWM