A bi product of the pandemic has been some reduction in our global emissions. For the those of us who still need to work for a living (and happen to still have a job) the huge increase in ‘working from home’ has reduced our individual carbon footprints. There has been a massive (albeit temporary) reduction to leisure travel. During lockdowns we are mainly shopping for essentials in the supermarket or online.  Across the developed world, for most of 2020, there has been a reduction in ‘leisure shopping’,  that popular past-time which involves trips to the Hight Street or the city centre,  shopping for products that we  fancy but don’t really need.  This change in behaviour will correlate to a reduction in waste across entire product lifecycles (from sourcing materials, through factory production, logistics, usage, to scrap).

Given these changes to our habits and routines this year, the real impact (of the pandemic) to our global carbon footprint may be setting off alarm bells for many of us. I read a powerful article from National Geographic this week that explains why a 17% drop in global emissions during the first lock down will have little effect on the overall rate of Climate Change.

It appears that all the pandemic has done is slow the rate at which we are destroying the habitable part of our planet.

Further research on this subject has brought me to a conclusion that the overall reduction in our global energy emissions, this year, may end up somewhere between 5% and 8%. The risk is that we get straight back into our old ways when the pandemic is over.

We must surely all remember the bushfires that raged around the world in 2020,  all linked to global warming, in particular the fires in Australia and California.  Other effects of global warming that can be linked to human activity (polluting the atmosphere) include catastrophic storms, degradation of ocean life, severe rain, snow, ice and flooding.

My research has taken me to a couple of really good sources that I must share with you:

  • The UK based Carbon Brief (funded by the European Climate Foundation)  has produced this informative dashboard, based on a map of the world. The dashboard shows how climate change affects extreme weather across the planet.
  •  The International Energy Agency (IEA) has published it’s World Energy Outlook 2020 report.  This provides a comprehensive view about how the global energy system could develop over the coming decades given the impact of the Pandemic and plans to accelerate clean energy transitions.  This is highly recommend reading.

The numbers presented in these dashboards and reports are sobering.  The report from the IEA gives me some hope as it takes into consideration the impact from the pandemic and illustrates four different scenarios for economic recovery (post pandemic) combining with variations of policy and sustainable development buy-in from governments around the world.  It models a ‘Net Zero Emissions by 2050’ scenario that might be achievable, if we act now.

So, I’ve realised that my ‘every day’ decisions need to be more consistently environmentally friendly than the are now. Here is a starter:

  • Go more green with all my supermarket (or other shop) purchases.
  • Recycle more diligently
  • Consciously steer away from products that are shipped in plastic unless the packaging can be totally recycled (easier said than done).
  • When travelling into the city (for work or pleasure) I’ll make sure leave enough time to walk (or cycle) instead of using the tube or bus.
  • Get better informed.  Writing this post (and researching) is a step towards this. Maybe this additional insight could lead to something bigger.
  • Buy more local products (instead of those shipped from abroad).
  • Get into ‘seasonal cooking’.

Within the context of th IEA dashboard (and report by the National Geographic) the above list seems trivial, almost crass.  The end of the world (as we know it) may be at stake here,  and I’m suggesting we can make the difference cutting over to (locally produced) bamboo toothbrushes.  I know it’s a numbers game and if everyone took similar actions that it would make a difference.  These kind of behavioural changes will form part of the recovery story. In addition we will all need to think big, structural changes. It is not going to be easy.

The UK Government is now incentivising us to make the sustainable choices when we have to replace our cars. There are  significant tax incentives on smaller engined cars and currently zero road tax on electric vehicles (EV). There are also Employment Tax incentives to take an EV though a company car scheme and the government has been backing business who are innovating and trialing sustainable propositions such as Vehicle to Grid. When my car reaches it’s end of life I will be thinking ‘EV’ instead of hybrid.

Heating is a big one, because it is at the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy.  It must be reliable and affordable. My gas boiler is nearing it’s end-of-life and I know that I must (and will) properly evaluate a heat-pump and solar when the gas-boiler needs replacing.  I think this is more of a complicated transition for consumers, fright with additional work, cost and risk.  I’m conscious the Feed-In-Tariffs for solar have long since expired.  It would be good to hear about any new government schemes  residential sustainable heat and power generation, and in particular to make the ground-source heat-pump a more attractive proposition for the general public.

Possibly the most powerful contribution I can make is to change my way of thinking and completely change the way I operate.

Every action I take, every decision I make, will have some kind of effect on my environment.  This is vast.  To make any kind of recognisable impression on this, I must change what I do for a living.  I need to make my day-job focused on business and activities that are sustainable.  If I can get into an influential position, then, who knows, I might just be able to make a recognisable difference (to compliment the above lifestyle changes of course).   And if there are enough people around who have reached similar conclusions, and we all take action, then we may just have enough time to turn things around and avert the impending natural disasters that will otherwise occur.

So there we have it.  It’s finally dawned on me.  Sustainable living must be the new normal, the new routine, for everyone.  A global change in mind-set is needed, so we can all change our habits, our aspirations, our wants and needs. We must encourage each other to be bold.  With enough of us engaged we will build momentum which will eventually secure the long term viability of the ecosystem that supports life on Earth.

Thanks for reading my post, and do let me know if there are any sustainable initiatives that I can get involved in.

Closing this post with a credit to Quang Nguyan Vinh who has shared this beautiful image, taken in Vietnam. To me it illustrates is how it is possible for humans to live peacefully and without destroying our magnificent environment.