Humans are adaptable creatures, and we are proving our flexibility and willingness to respond to an emergency. Flights are grounded, people are working from home, and non-vital business and production has ground to a halt. We can begin to imagine what it would look like if we were to respond to climate change as an emergency.
There are uncanny parallels between the current pandemic and the predicted effects of climate change. Like COVID-19, climate change will impact our food supplies, our economy… and more alarmingly, current models of climate change also predict a steady march of increasing deaths, surpassing 250,000 people per year within two decades from now. Like COVID-19, climate change will affect the vulnerable first and in more extreme ways – those with pre-existing health conditions, low incomes, crowded living conditions, and less access to effective healthcare.
With COVID-19 many are questioning whether governments could have prevented some of the damage by acting faster – their hesitation to take decisive action for fear of damaging the economy draws parallels with governments reluctance to take decisive action on the climate emergency.
And yet the current crisis can also give us hope. The measures put in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus are having a noticeable impact on greenhouse gas emissions across the world – more than any government policy in living memory. There are lessons we can learn, about how we work, travel and consume; and more fundamentally, about what is necessary and important to us as a society.
We have an opportunity here: to stop and consider how we can live more in equilibrium with our planet’s resources and capacities. So, what actions can we take right now to find something positive in these difficult times?
Life is losing its luxuries – suddenly the shops are shut, incomes have been slashed, and we are having to consider what we really need. Are new clothes so important if we have nowhere to wear them? Do we need makeup? The latest devices? A new car? Or can we repair, repurpose and reappreciate what we have already? The internet is our omniscient teacher – we can learn to sew, repair, make, even brew, all at the click of a button.
In the outside world, whilst supermarkets are hiring thousands of extra staff and working round the clock to keep the shelves stocked, small independent businesses are going to struggle to see a future. Yet these local restaurants, pubs, shops, cafes, leisure centres, bakers, galleries, laundrettes and venues are the beating heart of every community. They support so many of us, not just financially but with our mental and physical health. And with local produce, smaller supply chains, and less packaging and processing, these places often have minimal carbon footprints in comparison to the big chains.
So, have a look online – what are the businesses you love doing to get through this? Are they offering online services or vouchers? If you are able to support a small enterprise, they stand a better chance of being there to return your support when we are allowed out again.
We are being told over and over not to buy more than we need, as food shortages hit headlines and the vulnerable face questions over how they will feed themselves. The impetus is suddenly here to adapt our diets. As international trade faces tighter restrictions, the most abundant food sources should be those that are local and seasonal. We go to the shops and find that the shelves we usually gravitate towards are bare, and what remains are unfamiliar products we would never usually approach. Once again, the boundless internet can provide recipes for even the most obscure foods. Our stocks of tinned beans and dried pulses can provide protein rich long-life alternatives to meat and dairy – and as our consumption of animal products reduces, so too does our carbon footprint.
Grow your own
What’s more, it’s the season to plant seeds! As food security is threatened, we can begin to appreciate the importance of accessing fresh fruit and vegetables. Do you have a garden? Even pots on a balcony can provide a plentiful harvest. We are being warned of the dangers of vitamin D deficiency, so why not get outside and start digging? You’ll stay fit, fill your lungs with fresh air, and feed yourself and your family in the process.
Above all now is a time to take a step back and reassess what is important. If we want to preserve our communities, our families and our health in the long term, we need to take the threat of climate change just as seriously as we are taking our more visible and immediate threat.
Coronavirus proves that we can act on climate change. Yet there is a catch – the reduction in emissions that we are currently experiencing due to the pandemic resembles that which we saw during the global financial crisis, yet recovery came with increased production and stimulation measures which resulted in emissions sky rocketing. How can we make sure that the same doesn’t happen again? The world has changed in the past few weeks, and not all for the worse – this may be one of the few opportunities we have to change our path to react to climate change as the emergency we know it is.