The Environmental Impact of Covid-19 and Lockdown


How Normal Was Normal Video Credit: Extinction Rebellion UK

What we saw as ‘normal’ life changed as we knew it on March 23rd 2020 when the UK went into Lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Our life became localised and for non-essential workers travelling anywhere reduced significantly. This was noted by the enormous drop in car use from the start of lockdown. According to the Department of Transport there was a near 70% drop in traffic on our roads. This was paralleled by a dramatic rise in people using bicycles as a way to exercise and travel.

As people’s worlds became smaller so did the level of pollution. Scientists have reported a noticeable drop in tiny particles pollution and Nitrogen Dioxide levels, especially in cities. There was even a 5-10% fall in global carbon emissions, though this is predicted to be temporary and less significant unless the world’s governments start using the pandemic as a way to implement real lasting change to combat climate chaos.

The committee on Climate Change produced their annual report in the midst of lockdown. The report states that ‘the urgent steps that must be taken in the months ahead to initiate a green, resilient COVID-19 recovery, can be delivered through strong coordination across Whitehall and doing so will propel the UK towards more rapid climate progress’. Friends of the Earth have expressed desire for the government to understand that green issues should be at the forefront of the Covid-19 recovery plan.

Credit: Tactical Urbanista

In cities around the world, a glimpse at a more environmentally focused way of living is slowly emerging. With Paris building 650km of cycleways, Milan widening pavements, New York allocating 75 Miles of streets to pedestrians and cyclists, and Brussels implementing a 20mph speed limit in the city centre. There was hope in the environmental community in the UK when £2bn was dedicated to implementing spaces to walk and cycle safely at the beginning of lockdown. Some local communities and activists took it upon themselves to take up space for pedestrians and cyclist by painting bold colours on the road and symbols of bicycles. We saw a bicycle protest through the streets of Bradford highlighting the arguable lack of action taken by the Bradford Council to make cycling and walking a priority in the district. 

Credit: XR Bike Protest by Karol Wysznski

There was also further local Bradford action from Extinction Rebellion for the government to #BuildBackBetter after lockdown. Build Back Better is a national campaign which includes activists, environmental organisations, religious organisations, teachers, health workers and students. The campaign emphasises that out of lockdown comes opportunity; the chance for governments to forge a new kind of society.

Credit: XR Bins Are Out by Karol Wyszynski

There is hope amongst environmental campaigners that lockdown will have changed how we travel. Though if we look to countries that have eased lockdown earlier than the UK we see a trend in the growth of private car usage. In Wuhan, China, the ownership and use of individual cars nearly doubled after lockdown was lifted. Will we go back to the ‘normal’ we experienced before or will it be a ‘better normal’?

Let us know your thoughts on social media.

For further reading:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-52524807

https://environmentjournal.online/articles/the-lockdown-and-the-environment/

https://friendsoftheearth.uk/climate-change/5-ways-transport-could-change-after-covid19

https://friendsoftheearth.uk/climate-change/global-co2-emissions-dropped-17-amid-coronavirus-lockdowns

https://www.theccc.org.uk/2020/06/25/covid-19-can-be-an-historic-turning-point-in-tackling-the-global-climate-crisis/

Written by Rosie Horsley, Admin and Learning Assistant. 

Many groups have continued to campaign during lockdown about the climate crisis. Here are some images of a socially distanced protest by Extinction Rebellion St Just to send a message that a greener world is possible and a video by XR St Ives, Cornwall.

Credit: Extinction Rebellion St Just.

Credit: Senara Wilson Hodges, On the Beach Productions, St Ives, Cornwall.