Yes, being cooped indoors has been frustrating; and yes, not being able to see your friends is a bit of a downer, but the reduction in travel emissions in the UK as a result of the strict lockdown rules has prevented 11,000 deaths in the country. In Portugal and Spain, levels of NO2 have dropped over 50%, and in Norway, France and Italy they’ve fallen by over 40%.
With the world now waking back up and getting ready to return to somewhat normal, are we looking at the risk of negating the positive environmental impact we have had?
The improvements to air quality may be temporary but the decrease of NO2 by an average of 60% has had a domino effect, increasing the surface ozone concentration! In fact, the Copernicus Atmospheric Monitoring Service (CAMS) announced on the 23rd April 2020 that the largest recorded ozone hole was closed. Whilst it’s been mentioned this is also due to a polar vortex and not air quality, it is a positive impact that hopefully we can sustain.
Other longer-term benefits are changes in habit. In the lockdown period, we have got more used to saving our miles for a once a week shop or taking more walks for exercise. Whilst these aren’t big deal differences like reducing all the pollution in the world, a country full of people now used to driving out once a week as opposed to three or four times is still a good change in terms of the environment, and one that can hopefully become habit.
An experiment done in 2001 proves how this could be a lasting change as well. Carried out in Kyoto University by Satoshi Fujii, the experiment used a forced moment of change (much like lockdown, but in this case confiscating cars) to make the participants change their habits too, in this case cycle because their cars had been confiscated. In this kind of adapting to change style, it was found the participants drove a lot less when they were eventually given their cars back, which can be used to draw a similar conclusion to lockdown: hopefully afterwards the greener habits we have developed will continue in our everyday lives.
Other positive changes that we have implemented ourselves as a result of lockdown include health, in the form of daily walks that were at times the only way to be outside; shopping more effectively because especially at the beginning of lockdown it became apparent how important it is to plan meals and use the shop stock wisely; and reducing food waste when severe reduction in supermarket stock (yes, I mean the pasta and flour) meant we had to use every bit of what we had and be smart with our purchasing.
During lockdown, annual emissions dropped by around 7%, which doesn’t seem like that much, but it has been said drops of 7.6% a year are required to keep global warming below 1.5˚C. Whilst it’s hard to process that even with lockdown we have only just managed the target, it’s promising to see that a previously huge target is actually attainable and now we know how.
So yes, some of the environmental benefits we have caused might be reversed when lockdown dissolves. Car emissions being a good example. However, both our mindsets and the lengths we know we can now go to in order to help the environment have been revised. Saving the climate was in many ways an idea more than a practical plan considering the statistics and impossible nature of the idea, but even if some of our strides are reversed post lockdown, we now know it is possible, not in theory, but really possible, and how to achieve it.
About the Author: Ani Talwar is the Deputy Wildlife and Environment Editor for WILD Magazine, and can be found at @mischief.weavers. She wrote the book‘ATRO- CITY THE FLOOD’ and is passionate about sustainability. This article was suggested on Instagram by @shailavkapoor.