The world has been put on pause, but climate change hasn’t. What on Earth is going on?
2021. Some would, quite rightly, describe it as a year filled with tragedy. All of us have felt the impacts of Covid-19, whether it’s been through losing loved ones to the illness or being shut up in our homes. As a nation, we have been unable to go about our daily lives; it is hard to deny that this has caused immense hardship. However, this fateful year has also been characterised by another global catastrophe, one that has been developing ever since the industrialisation of our world. Climate change threatens the foundation of our lives, and as we have all been forced to slow down and look to the natural environment as a means of escape, it seems that we are finally taking notice.
The tranquillity of lockdown
When the first lockdown was announced, the world went into a state of suspension. The number of flights halved. Road traffic in the UK cut by more than 70%. According to The Guardian’s investigation of the subject, wildlife finally had ‘scope for exploration’; wild boar was spotted crossing pedestrian roads in Haifa, while goats took to the streets in Wales, perhaps searching in vain for humans to feed them. These rather heart-warming and optimistic images circulated the internet, prompting many, including myself, to develop a new understanding and appreciation of how humanity’s day-to-day activities hinders the environment.
Nevertheless, one must be wary of the temptation to think that the climate crisis has simply stopped just because we aren’t using our cars as much. With people gradually starting to get their vaccines and life starting to resemble some form of normality, we are once again emitting greenhouse gases and driving nature off our streets with our noise. Not only that, but lockdown has obstructed many international negotiations and initiatives to tackle climate change – following the Paris climate accord of 2015, COP26 was delayed by an entire year. Renee Cho of The Columbia Climate School in June 2020 outlines in her article on the topic that this could “plans they submitted in 2015 could still allow global temperatures to rise by a potentially catastrophic 3°C”, which would undo all the temporary environmental good that was achieved in the height of the pandemic. Similarly, with many countries suffering from huge amounts of national debt, money could be taken away from conservation programs and scientific research and refocused on getting the economy back on track. A noble effort, of course, but one that could be detrimental to our fight.
Many discover the joys of just walking
Unlike pre-Covid, when few of us had ever really taken the time to think about how our individual actions contribute to this problem, most of us have now seen what life could be like without fossil fuels, without the commotion. Without humanity. As a pastime, many of us went for walks in green spaces, used our gardens more, and generally treated the outdoors as a place of refuge and mental recuperation, an aspect which has become increasingly more important as the year has developed. A study by Nuffield Health (May 2020) found that 3 out of 10 Brits took up walking as a form of exercise during lockdown to take care of their physical and mental wellbeing. Seeing nature from a new perspective – as being restorative to our minds, when many of us have been feeling stagnant – has given Brits a newfound respect for our world.
So, what can we do?
Continuing to walk and cycle will not only reduce the risk of catching Covid on public transport, but also help to reduce carbon emissions. Going on holiday in the UK will reduce plane emissions, but also have a knock-on effect of rebuilding our economy. Eating less meat will help to protect the lives of animals worldwide, as well as doing wonders for your health.
2021 has been a year in crisis, but, as Covid-19 has taught us, it is the small things in life which can make all the difference. And we need to do many, many small things to have a chance of saving our planet.