How can we lock in the environmental gains of the Covid-19 Lockdown?
By Leon Duveen
The current Covid-19 Pandemic has been a tragedy for many, both here in the UK and around the world. Hundreds of thousands have died and, unless we find and distribute an effective vaccine, even more will die in the future.
However, there have been some unlooked for environmental gains from the Pandemic which we need to see how we can make part of the post-Pandemic world.
Because the virus has caused many of us to stay home, there has been a massive reduction in all types of transport which was one of the biggest contributors to the release of carbon into the atmosphere.
Worldwide, air transport has been cut by over 70%i (even more in Europe), as international travel has all but bee suspended.
With car traffic down on our roads, walking & cycling, both as a form of exercise and travel has become safer and more pleasant.
Here in the UK, working from home has become the norm rather than the exception for many, even in areas where it was thought to be virtually impossible, not only cutting down on transport but also on printing as documents are shared online.
Personally, the team I manage has been more productive with us all working from home then sat in an office. Varying work patterns can be absorbed and, by using technology like Microsoft Teams & email, we stay in contact allowing me to keep track of what everyone is doing.
It is not just carbon emissions that have been reduced, I am that it is not just me who has noticed how clear the air seems as the massive reduction in traffic has allowed particles in the atmosphere to settle out, but even the largest hole in the ozone layer over the Arctic has closedii.
However, it remains to be seen if these changes are just temporary and, when the pandemic crisis ends as it surely will, they will be reversed or if we can find a way to lock in these changes into the post-Pandemic normal.
In order to do this, we need to radical changes in many areas but there has never been a better time to do this.
We must look at our working culture and make sure that working from home becomes acceptable for those who can. This will also mean that some managers will need to learn to judge their workers on results rather than how long they sit in their office!
Holding video meetings instead of all having to be in the same place is already becoming second nature for many of us and as the technology improves to meet demand, this will only continue to expand. Not only is it a time saver (less chatter or messing about) but it aso saves on fuel as people don't have to travel.
It isn't far to go from holding meetings on-line to holding larger events through video conferencing. We in the GLD may be trail blazers in holding our Conference this summer "on-line" but we won't be the last organisation to go down this route. Indeed, the signs are that it won't be long before the Lib Dems become the first national Political Party to hold a Conference via video.
These changes are all helping to stop us burning fossil fuels and releasing carbon into the atmosphere which is a good thing. However, we must not forget that they are also taking work away from others, be they workers in car factories, cleaners in now deserted offices of airline staff. So alongside changing working practices, we need to find new ways to help such people find different jobs.
One thing the Covid-9 Pandemic has shown us, when the chips are down, countries, separately & together, can find ways to do what is needed, whether it is building hospitals in days or inventing novel ways to treat a new disease.
The threat of Climate Change is just as real as Covid-19 and can be just as deadly. We need to harness the way we have all reacted to this disease and repeat it in dealing with Climate Change.
Our challenge in GLD, in the Lib Dems & indeed across all of the UK is to lock in the changes we have already made, then build on them to build a new normal for us all where protecting the environment is just as important as protecting the economy, indeed where the two are the same thing.
Leon Duveen (Lib Dem Candidate for Bassetlaw 2015 & 2017)