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The Green Opinion: what kind of world do you want to see after COVID-19?

During a time filled with extreme fear and uncertainty, it seems almost impossible to think of a world after COVID-19. Yet, there are ways of thinking positively about the future, especially when it comes to saving the planet.  Two Boar Climate writers share their thoughts on what kind of world they would like to see in the aftermath of this pandemic. 

The Coming Together of Communities by Emmay Deville

The world’s dying, right? The plethora of real and fake information available to us can be confusing but one thing is sure – the drop in pollution over the last few months has resulted in a breath of fresh air for the planet. COVID-19 continues to have devastating social effects, but the environment is thriving during lockdown procedures, as pollution levels are falling. The clearest example of the sharp decrease in pollution are the images from the Punjab in Northern India, where the Himalayas, located 125 miles away, can be clearly seen for the first time in thirty years. The COVID-19 world we live in is rife with financial and social uncertainties, but there are lessons to be learned about how we treat our environment in the aftermath of this pandemic.

The best analogy I can give for the kind of world I would like to see can be taken from Ancient History. Ancient Greek society lived by the philosophy that nature was a force greater than humans and could not be controlled. In complete contrast, today we take satisfaction in controlling and manipulating our environment to suit our needs. However, this manipulation has resulted in terrible consequences for our planet.

Lockdown procedures have caused global industry to come to a relative standstill, resulting in falling pollution levels. China, the world’s largest air polluter, saw a drop in Nitrogen Dioxide (the leading cause of death from air pollution) levels by 40% during the country’s lockdown. This figure, and others collected by the European Space Agency, speak for themselves – pollution levels can drop, fast. A common perception is that our planet’s future is set in stone, however, the sharp drop in pollution during lockdown argues the opposite. The real question is, what changes can really be put in place, as the world cannot live in lockdown forever. 

COVID-19 continues to have devastating social effects, but the environment is thriving during lockdown procedures, as pollution levels are falling

China, the USA and India are the top three global polluters. Consumerism has radically decreased the respect we have for our environment whilst allowing great economic advantages to countries starting to grow their domestic markets. Personally, I see the way forward as a combined effort between global initiatives, such as the Paris Agreement, and government enforcement. This form of ‘combined’ action will allocate financial support to countries reliant on ‘unsustainable industries’, allowing them to form a strong domestic economy through sustainable products. Take the Amazon Rainforest as an example. The rapid deforestation rate of the Amazon has attracted global attention but blaming President Jair Bolsonaro isn’t a solution that protects our air quality. Instead of banning the Brazilian government from using roughly 40% of its territory, a ‘combined’ effort that compensates Brazil’s economic losses from not exploiting the rainforest is a more effective way forward. 

Government action is just one part of the problem – the attitude large corporations have towards making sustainable choices is a fundamental part of creating a ‘greener’ planet. In 2019, the Intergovernmental Planet on Climate Change (IPCC) published their ‘Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5oC’ which had a standalone impact of persuading major companies, like Nestlé, to commit to net-zero emissions. After COVID-19 we need to see governments and international organizations working together with large corporations, with some force, to prioritise more sustainable production methods over profits. There should be consequences for these companies pumping plastic into our oceans, and pollution into our atmosphere when they have the ability to spend more on better production solutions. 

Let’s continue building networks, and hopefully leave COVID-19 in the past with more focus on what we can give to the world, and preserving our planet for generations to come

The aftermath of COVID-19 will affect how we live for years to come, allowing a fresh start for us as a society to question our attitude towards our environment. In a recent survey, 91% of Brits said they did not want to return to ‘normal life’ because of the difference they noticed in their community and their environment. The main improvements were in the quality of air and increased amount of wildlife – as a community I hope we strive to maintain these improvements. There are simple changes we can make to contribute: cycle or walk to your destination rather than driving; cut back to one red meat meal a week and encouraging pollination by planting lavender in your garden, or placing it on your window sill. In a world after COVID-19 lets personally take the initiative in making our local environment thrive, and then governments will follow. 

Another change I have personally welcomed is the coming together of communities in this time of need. In a time of financial and social hardship is it refreshing to see people’s humanity resurfacing, as local efforts have been established to help out our most vulnerable. Let’s continue building networks, and hopefully leave COVID-19 in the past with more focus on what we can give to the world, and preserving our planet for generations to come. 

The Importance of Policy-Making by Luke James

Prior to last year’s General Election, I interviewed Becky Finlayson, Green Party candidate for Coventry South, about a number of issues including knife crime, Brexit and the state of the NHS. The government’s response to climate change, however, was unsurprisingly the topic Finlayson responded most passionately about. 

Coventry City Council has, for many years, mooted the introduction of a congestion charge zone around the city centre. I asked Finlayson for her thoughts on the policy: could a policy of this nature help tackle the climate crisis?

“It depends how they are rolled out because with the congestion zone charge that is currently being proposed for Coventry city centre, the worry, that certainly the local Green Party has had, is that it would just increase congestion in other areas of Coventry… as it stands, the current congestion charge, I don’t think will work. I think it will just make things worse in another area.”

In the months that have passed, the world economy has since ground to a teeth-shattering halt amid the devastating COVID-19 pandemic. With people around the world instructed – albeit to varying degrees by their respective governments – to stay at home, there is no doubt that our way of life has changed dramatically. 

Once this crisis is over, we must turn our collective attention to ensuring that policy-makers the world over are drawn to focus on the grave issues facing our planet.

I take no comfort from articles that have suggested that the lockdown has been beneficial for the environment, not at a time of such worry and heartbreak for so many people around the world. Our world has, however, changed – and perhaps some of those changes should be retained in the interests of climate change, and our quality of life. 

Since lockdown began last month, the streets of Coventry have been quiet, at first eerily so. Although it took a while to get used to, walking, running and cycling around the city centre has been so much more peaceful since lockdown began, and it made me think of my conversation with Finlayson. 

Although cars still roam freely through the streets of the city, Coventry feels quieter; the air much less polluted. In the interests of accessibility, it is both unrealistic and unreasonable to suggest that the city centre should be pedestrianised in its entirety, but sensible measures could be implemented to ensure that air pollution doesn’t surge once again.

To return to my interview with Finlayson, I fundamentally agree with her view that a congestion charge zone isn’t the silver bullet that some members of Coventry City Council have sought to portray it as, but a restriction on the number of fossil fuel-powered cars passing through the city centre would help nature thrive, and be broadly beneficial to residents mental and physical health too.

While we live through these extraordinary, troubling times, we must take heed of the fact that changes can be made for the betterment of our environment: there simply needs to be the political will in order to do so

What has struck me most, however, during the coronavirus outbreak is the rate at which some governments around the world have responded to the crisis. Jacinda Arden’s administration in New Zealand was exceptionally quick of the mark in responding to the outbreak, and the New Zealanders’ approach has proved successful.

If we are to tackle climate change in the long-term, the issue simply must be reframed as the risk to international health, security and prosperity. The securitisation of COVID-19 has changed the agenda around the crisis entirely. It has forced governments to act fast. 

If we are to learn one thing about how to tackle climate change from our experiences of the coronavirus, it must be that governments can act quickly if they are forced to do so. Once this crisis is over, we must turn our collective attention to ensuring that policy-makers the world over are drawn to focus on the grave issues facing our planet.

Last month, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan announced that TFL busses could be used free of charge for a short period of time in the interests of drivers’ safety. Is it inconceivable that public transport could be made free to use for a certain number of days per year? Of course, it isn’t. 

While we live through these extraordinary, troubling times, we must take heed of the fact that changes can be made for the betterment of our environment: there simply needs to be the political will in order to do so. Reducing the number of cars that pass through city centres across the country is a realistic first step that could be made: let’s make that step together.

 

 

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