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"Need or Want: What Matters Post-Covid-19?"

Updated: Sep 16, 2020

Part 3: Nature & Environment: May 30th 2020



Aims and Format of Conversations

This is obviously just a tiny part of the beginning of a huge global conversation. Many parallels are currently being drawn between the urgency of the Covid-19 response and the urgency with which we should be responding to the climate crisis.

The aim of these conversations is to provide an opportunity to:

  • Share any positive changes in attitudes or behaviours as a result of lockdown

  • Build community resilience through practical actions

  • Improve climate literacy by promoting discussion around climate change issues

This is a deliberately focused activity. Each session is 1.5 hours. In the first half each person will have the opportunity to share responses to the questions relating to the session. The second half will be opened up for discussion. It will be helpful to take notes in the first half to refer back to in the second. Please have a pen and paper.

Please note: Since the 3 topics (Consumption; Use of Time; Nature & Environment) are interdependent there will inevitably be overlap in each conversation. The following quotes are intended to provide context and provoke thought. They are not intended to restrict discussion in any way.

A feedback form will be emailed out afterwards. Thank you!


"Need or Want: What Matters Post-Covid-19?"

Part 3: Nature & Environment

“Coronavirus has led to reduced pollution, re-emerging wildlife and plunging oil prices and shown the size of the task facing humanity…Public health restrictions to prevent the spread of Covid-19 have resulted in a sharp dip in air pollution across China, Europe and the US, with carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels heading for a record 5% annual drop. The waters of Venice are now clear, lions lounge on roads normally frequented by safari-goers in South Africa and bears and coyotes wander around empty accommodation in Yosemite national park in California. Meanwhile, nearly 8 in 10 flights globally have been cancelled, with many planes in the US carrying just a handful of people. The oil industry, a key driver of the climate crisis and direct environmental disaster, is in turmoil, with a barrel of crude hitting an unprecedented minus-$40 on Monday. The pain of the Covid-19 shutdown has highlighted how ponderous the world’s response has been – the expected cut in emissions, for example, is still less than what scientists say is needed every year this decade to avoid disastrous climate impacts for much of the world.”[i]

The notion persists that pandemics are blips rather than an integral part of history. Lying behind this is the belief that humans are no longer part of the natural world and can create an autonomous ecosystem, separate from the rest of the biosphere. Covid-19 is telling them they cannot. It is only by using science that we can defend ourselves against this pestilence. Mass antibody tests and a vaccine will be crucial. But permanent changes in how we live will have to be made if we are to be less vulnerable in future.[ii]

“The vast illegal wildlife trade and humanity’s excessive intrusion into nature is to blame for the coronavirus pandemic, according to a leading US scientist who says “this is not nature’s revenge, we did it to ourselves.” Scientists are discovering two to four new viruses are created every year as a result of human infringement on the natural world, and any one of those could turn into a pandemic, according to Thomas Lovejoy, who coined the term “biological diversity” in 1980 and is often referred to as the godfather of biodiversity…Experts are divided about how to regulate the vast trade in animals, with many concerned the poorest are most at risk from a crackdown. Urgent action on the wildlife trade is clearly needed, said Dr Amy Dickman, a conservation biologist from the University of Oxford, but she was “alarmed” by calls for indiscriminate bans on the wildlife trade. She is one of more than 250 signatories of an open letter to the World Health Organization and United Nations Environment Programme saying any transition must contribute to – and not detract from – the livelihoods of the world’s most vulnerable people, many of whom depend on wild resources for survival…Mama Mouamfon, who is based in Cameroon and directs an NGO called Fondation Camerounaise de la Terre Vivante (FCTV), said banning the trade would damage livelihoods: “Bush meat is very important for people in the forest because it’s one of the best ways to get animal protein. With this issue of poverty and people living in remote areas, it’s not easy for them to look for good meat,” he said. “Sometimes people take decisions because they are sitting in an office and are very far from reality. If they knew our reality they would not take that [same] decision.” [iii]

“France is encouraging people to cycle to keep pollution levels low once lockdown restrictions end. Under the €20 million (£17m; $21.7m) scheme, everyone will be eligible for bike repairs of up to €50 at registered mechanics. The funding will also help pay for cycle training and temporary parking spaces. Nations worldwide are grappling with ways to change urban transport in light of the coronavirus…Moreover, pollution levels have dropped worldwide, and many are seeking to keep those levels low…The International Energy Agency (IEA) forecast a 6% drop in energy demand for the year - it said this would lead to a drop in carbon dioxide emissions of 8%, six times larger than the biggest fall in 2009 which followed the financial crash.”[iv]


“Large areas of London are to be closed to cars and vans to allow people to walk and cycle safely as the coronavirus lockdown is eased, Sadiq Khan has announced. In one of the biggest car-free initiatives of any city in the world, the capital’s mayor announced on Friday that main streets between London Bridge and Shoreditch, Euston and Waterloo, and Old Street and Holborn, will be limited to buses, pedestrians and cyclists…Milan has introduced one of Europe’s most ambitious cycling and walking schemes, with 22 miles of streets to be transformed over the summer. In Paris, the mayor has allocated €300m for a network of cycle lanes, many of which will follow existing metro lines, to offer an alternative to public transport. In Bogotá, the Colombian capital, a 75-mile network of streets usually turned over to bicycles one day a week will now be traffic-free all week, and a further 47 miles of bike lanes are being opened to reduce crowding on public transport and improve air quality. In the UK, the Scottish government has announced £10m to create pop-up walking and cycling routes, and Manchester has unveiled plans to pedestrianise part of Deansgate in the city centre. But David Miller, from the C40 Cities Climate Leadership group, which has been coordinating much of the response, said Khan’s plans stood out… “These measures announced in London today, including major car-free zones, will clean the air that Londoners breathe, improve public health both during the Covid-19 pandemic and long into the future, while also helping to avert the climate crisis. This is the future we want.””[v]


“Renewable electricity will be the only source resilient to the biggest global energy shock in 70 years triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, according to the world’s energy watchdog. The International Energy Agency said the outbreak of Covid-19 would wipe out demand for fossil fuels by prompting a collapse in energy demand seven times greater than the slump caused by the global financial crisis. In a report, the IEA said the most severe plunge in energy demand since the Second World War would trigger multi-decade lows for the world’s consumption of oil, gas and coal while renewable energy continued to grow. The steady rise of renewable energy combined with the collapse in demand for fossil fuels means clean electricity will play its largest ever role in the global energy system this year, and help erase a decade’s growth of global carbon emissions…Renewable energy is expected to grow by 5% this year, to make up almost 30% of the world’s shrinking demand for electricity. The growth of renewables despite a global crisis could spur fossil fuel companies towards their goals to generate more clean energy but governments should also include clean energy at the heart of economic stimulus packages to ensure a green recovery.”[vi]


“Lockdowns restricting travel and industry imposed to halt the spread of coronavirus have resulted in unprecedented reductions in deadly air pollution around the world, new analysis shows…Major cities that suffer from the world's worst air pollution have seen reductions of deadly particulate matter by up to 60% from the previous year, during a three-week lockdowns period…Researchers from IQAir -- a global air quality information and tech company -- studied 10 major cities around the world which have relatively high numbers of coronavirus cases and Covid-19 lockdown measures. The study compared levels of harmful microscopic particulate matter known as PM 2.5. The pollutant, which is smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, is considered particularly dangerous as it can lodge deep into the lungs and pass into other organs and the bloodstream, causing serious health risks…Seven out of the 10 cities studied, including New Delhi, Seoul, Wuhan and Mumbai, saw significant improvements in air quality. Those with historically higher levels of PM2.5 pollution witnessed the most substantial drops in pollution…While suddenly closing all factories and banning cars from roads is not a sustainable solution tackle climate change, the IQAir researchers said there are ways to preserve healthier air conditions. These include supporting green deals in government stimulus packages, shifting towards sustainable sources of energy for power generation, limiting individual's purchases to primarily essential goods, opting for cleaner modes of transportation -- including walking and cycling -- and encouraging a shared economy of goods, according to Duska."In our recovery from the pandemic, it's important that we strive to preserve the cleaner environment, which protects our health from another invisible killer, air pollution," she said.”[vii]

“Despite some fine words about the environmental crisis, ministers are pushing ahead with a trade bill that threatens to damage the planet… The world faces mass unemployment caused by the Covid crisis and a climate emergency, which could spell the end of humanity. But there is no sign in the UK of the effort required to combine our need for jobs with the pursuit of alternatives to fossil fuels and a concomitant reduction in greenhouse gases. The coronavirus pandemic and the environmental crisis share the same roots: humans’ success as a species in arrogating global resources for themselves and the consequent ecological disturbance. This is increasing viral exchanges – first from animal to human, then from human to human – on a pandemic scale. Our environmental footprint is too large for the planet, leading to accelerated species extinctions and atmospheric chaos. Both the Covid and climate catastrophes are not misfortunes that befell us. They are part of a pattern of decisions that we humans are taking. We need to make different choices.


The absence of politically powerful interests outside of business pushing for global cooperation over health or the environment is a concern. The threat of a boycott by British supermarkets helped derail a Brazilian law that could enable the faster destruction of the Amazon rainforest, a planetary rampart against the rise of future zoonotic diseases. But MPs sit powerless to vote on such matters. Under government plans the Commons won’t have oversight of, or votes on, trade deals. Instead, after the Brexit transition ends, ministers gain unchecked powers over trade. The size, speed and scale of action provoked by the Covid-19 outbreak show what is possible if governments can set aside short-term thinking. Ministers must adopt the same approach to the climate emergency. They should drop beggar-thy-neighbour policies and back meaningful ways to enforce rules for global green goods – or else the government will be pushing a form of globalisation that diminishes the chances of human survival.”


Questions to Consider


As well as being a health emergency, the Covid-19 pandemic has focused attention on just how little progress we are making in terms of fighting climate change. Even the dramatic drops in CO2 levels over the last few months don’t come close to what we need to achieve to stop the catastrophic repercussions associated with a minimum increase of 1.5 degrees warming. As communities unite around goals for a just recovery, socially, economically and ecologically, the situation could go either way - in favour of principles of Build Back Better, Green New Deal etc. - or towards the alternative of neoliberal doubling down, deregulation and accelerated environmental damage.

1. What are your thoughts on this, based on your own knowledge and experience?


2. Does the extent of change, e.g. grounded planes, reduction in road traffic – however temporary – give you a sense of hope and optimism about positive environmental change? Does this inspire you to further change your own environmental behaviour, e.g. by making your holiday destinations more local and by making the places we live more pleasant by removing noise and traffic as much as possible, decreasing the need to ‘get away’?

3. What practical actions could we start locally, i.e. encouraging more cycling, to stimulate positive environmental behaviours in the community?

4. At this time the importance of community and family has been highlighted. Is there anything we can do as a community to promote and encourage positive environmental attitudes and behaviours in the younger generations?


References [i] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/22/environment-pandemic-side-effects-earth-day-coronavirus [ii] https://www.newstatesman.com/international/2020/04/why-crisis-turning-point-history [iii] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/25/ourselves-scientist-says-human-intrusion-nature-pandemic-aoe?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other [iv] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe 52483684?fbclid=IwAR3_sDD16ZYw0QI7C5rToR362lGd6rcp9MD2nAKl2yQpsHMhKsYTwl5tOaM [v] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/may/15/large-areas-of-london-to-be-made-car-free-as-lockdown-eased [vi] https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/apr/30/covid-19-crisis-demand-fossil-fuels-iea-renewable-electricity [vii] https://edition.cnn.com/2020/04/22/world/air-pollution-reduction-cities-coronavirus-intl-hnk/index.html

Responses from Participants Involved in Online Conversation

“Society has become very self centred and selfish in the desire to have goods and services which are widely available. The advertising entices people to acquire the "latest goods" whether it is clothing, technology, holidays etc. I realise these provide jobs for people but rarely is the process in providing or making these products highlighted as a cost to the environment. We need to educate and focus on these costs - and provide alternatives ways to gain satisfaction. I am reading "The Tattooist of Auschwitz" which is quite graphic in its description of deprivation and cruelty, but once the lucky ones gain freedom the basic necessities of life are appreciated so much more. Maybe in some small way the lockdown will give us all food for thought?

On a very controversial topic regarding deforestation and climate change it seems that there is now a mismatch to nature and the environment and an explosion of populations that is becoming unsupportable. Just as I have noted in my greenhouse, plants crowded together suffer more from infestations of aphids, spider mites etc. so COVID 19 and other microorganisms readily hitch onto nearby subjects in order to survive. They adapt more readily to inhospitable environments and many can keep ahead of any attempts to control them. Although there appears to be little impact on climate change with this COVID pandemic, it is a start to let people see and breathe cleaner air. It will take many years and a global effort to get this figure down. Warring factions driving people from their homelands certainly does not help.

When I used to see crowds at airports with huge amounts of luggage, it demonstrated how easily accessible it is to jump on low cost airlines to popular holiday resorts where accommodation is affordable. One cannot blame people who want to have a break from everyday chores or work, but I am sure if they realised the amount of CO2 created to get a plane off the ground they would maybe think twice? I am sure local destinations will become more desirable with the fear of contracting COVID - or the next virus to come along - in a closed aircraft where distancing and breathing fresh air is not an option…Local actions could be to close the High Street to non-essential traffic at school times. This would potentially encourage more thought on how to get children to school. The Primary school did introduce the waking bus idea at one point, which the children seemed to enjoy. One certainly sees more cyclists now even as young as 3 years old. We could start a cycle club to encourage folk of any age to take to a bike and learn to ride safely. Set up walking routes around the village where people can socialise and enjoy the nice areas we have. Encourage more outdoor cafes for these walkers. As people get older, they often "expect" their health to decline and resort to medicine and inactivity. This is a vicious circle and for many it does not have to be like this; forget one's age and try out new hobbies and keep up mobility and healthy eating!

I have actually found the younger generations are aware of the need to support older or less able people and have generally offered their time to help. Conversely, It has become a problem for some youngsters who do not respond well to distance learning and are being cooped up in their homes. Local folk should be aware and generally see what they can do to help these youngsters.” J.B

Earlier on during lockdown I had hope that the pause would enable us all and our Governments to review and have the courage to Build Back Better. Now I feel more pessimistic, particularly with regards to the UK Government where I can see a push for going back to normal and where the economy as it stands is central to decision making. I feel deregulation is inevitable based on Brexit and now the economic crisis unfortunately - just looking at the new agricultural bill, which was passed recently and is an example of deregulation. Scotland gives me more hope, as do countries such as New Zealand but in general I fear that the Build Back Better campaign has started a bit too late and the boat has sadly been missed. That won’t stop me from badgering our MP, MSP and leaders though! The Common Weal and Doughnut model give me hope, but I feel we all (public and our representatives) need to be shouting out about it much louder.

The extent of change initially gave me huge hope, especially the airline sector.

However I think with financial injections and boosts we may be back to normal before long.


Maybe I’m being unduly pessimistic! Today we cycled on the cycle path towards Dunbar. I was given a bit of hope in seeing lots of cyclists but it was slightly outweighed by the sheer volume of cars on the road driving so fast…The local consultation on walkways and cycle paths is a good step forwards. Personally we have used the car even less than before, and I feel more inspired to cycle locally - particularly that the current guidance is if you go somewhere within 5 miles to try to walk or cycle. We aim to buy a second hand electric car ASAP for the longer journeys. I do worry about public transport - the messaging on this has, very understandably changed. Trips to Edinburgh and Dunbar we always used to take the bus and now I can see it will be more of a dilemma. Also car shares will be tricky, for now at least.

Practical actions locally: yes, encourage more cycling locally. Perhaps also some celebration of cycling e.g. people sending in photos of their cycle rides which we could put up somewhere? Writing to MPs etc.: perhaps we could have a ‘Build back better’ sub group which can help support anyone locally to be informed of national initiatives e.g. common weal, and also how we could write to our MPs, council etc. Push for more frequent buses and trains so that there are less people traveling within each ride? Local and younger generations: it would be great to engage the younger generations, particularly teenagers. If we could get one or two who would be interested then it would be good to put the ball in their court and ask them what ideas they have.” J.G

“I’m sensitive to the fact that we are all on the same side and that unity is very important. One of the things I am getting increasingly involved in is the psychology and communications around climate change and the nuclear war comparison is something that comes up surprisingly often. While it is important to recognise viewpoints of others as worthwhile of attention, it’s also important to explain that we are currently on course for 4 degrees of warning by 2100-2150 and that according to one of the world’s most eminent climate scientists - Prof John Schellnhuber - “the difference between 2 and 4 degrees is human civilisation” and according to George Marshall, author of “Don’t even think about it” (Bloomsbury, 2014) “4 degrees is the equivalent of global nuclear war.” So while it’s important to keep things in perspective, have respectful discussions and listen, and appreciate other people long campaigning backgrounds in other fields, it’s also important to advocate for climate change being the bigger danger, as is now widely accepted, including by some perhaps rather unexpected bodies such as the World Economic Forum (that’s “Davos”), not traditionally the good guys.T.H

I’m concerned about the Glysophate the East Lothian Council are still using and the fact there may be possible links to several illnesses, which of course we knew. Also, our continued building projects going on, including one in Dunbar in which those leading the project are using 'tactics' to encourage support by stating they are building houses for folk who are service workers. Really!” M.B

“I believe that a large percentage of PM2.5 particles in towns and cities come from wood burning stoves and there have been threats to ban them in some cities. I know that in theory the latest stoves burning seasoned wood are cleaner but don't remove the problem completely. I wonder what the view is of the problem they cause in East Linton. In winter I find it unpleasant to be out walking in the village and am concerned about the impact on health.

The second issue is house building and village expansion. We have been warned that once the station is here developers will be increasing pressure for more houses. The pandemic has demonstrated the importance of green space for all and the paths around the village have never been so busy. Do we really want to lose the park and the surrounding fields? I suspect people living and working in the city will be eyeing up East Lothian and developers will be pushing the lifestyle but given the reduction in capacity of public transport for an unknown length of time and the fact that everyone is being encouraged to cycle or walk to work should people be encouraged to live closer to where they work - within walking or cycling distance ideally. If they don't and public transport capacity remains reduced the subsequent increase in traffic with people commuting will be substantial.” A.H

We will surely see the continued co-opting of green movements by capitalist taste makers such that they are evacuated of their radical potential and sold back to us as consumers - as another "lifestyle" choice among many. Corporations will continue to shift actual and moral responsibility for both the decimation and resuscitation of the earth's life support systems onto individuals at the same time as circumscribing our choices such that it is difficult, if not impossible, to take wholly green options at every turn. The health crisis has shown the limits of individual action to prevent environmental degradation. Forcibly "demobilised", significantly reduced commuter traffic, aviation and material consumption has led to only a 5% fall in carbon emissions. The state - beholden to short term election cycles, GDP figures and vested interests - will insist that now is not the time: that the pressing matter is the revivification of zombie jobs, the return to normal, and "getting Brexit done". But if not now, when? The health and economic crisis has shown that state intervention is possible; that there are (or can be) no limits if the scale of the drama confronted is sufficiently immediate and unnerving to power; that the rest is ideological noise and an absence of will. Now is the time for a new economic model that prioritises preserving the natural world at the same time as providing social justice. Positive, small-scale examples from around the world are numerous and can be adapted to meet local and national need. There needs be a concerted effort to lobby politicians and influencers to put forward and stand up for different approaches. Local groups must work together to enhance community solidarity and reach a consensus that ensures nobody is left behind.M.H

“We all need to lobby for a Green Recovery, at the East Lothian Council, Holyrood and Westminster levels. At ELC level, one way is to write to our councillors and to participate in the Spaces for People consultation: https://elothianspacesforpeople.commonplace.is/about. At Holyrood and Westminster levels probably the most effective thing individuals can do is write to their MSPs and MPs.” D.W

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