As we enter month eight of COVID restrictions, our international experiment in radical lifestyle change is yielding new habits and infrastructures. We see both catastrophic evidence of climate change and greener behaviors. What do our 2020 collective carbon emissions look like?
There is good news and bad news.
The COVID-related recession has dampened all kinds of economic activity. That has resulted in decreased carbon emissions, since such a high percentage of global pollution is generated by manufacturing and transport. That’s good.
Unfortunately, included in this slowdown is the manufacturing and construction of renewable technologies: Fewer electric cars are being produced and sold, construction of solar and wind generation sites has been postponed, etc. Hence, 2020’s emission reductions are negatively offset by delays in long-term decarbonizing activity.
What about individuals and households? Green policies will always have far more carbon-shrinking impact than humans’ eco-virtue, but all eco-friendly lifestyle changes combat climate change. Many of us, facing endless whiteouts on our calendars where trips and plans used to be, have adopted new, greener practices.
We have, out of necessity, become more efficient shoppers. Planning ahead means less waste. Beth Ellen Holimon, president of Dining for Women, reports from South Carolina that her family prioritizes using the food they have on hand. “We question if we need something, and try to redesign home projects with materials we have,” she wrote.
Many households have switched to home delivery, with Weavers Way playing a starring role. It is more fuel efficient for one Co-op delivery car to drop off groceries to several homes on an optimized route. Extra points for those using fuel-efficient delivery vehicles.
Fewer vehicles out errand running means less traffic and lowered demand for parking, a collective benefit. Ann Mintz and Clifford Wagner of Mt. Airy sold their second car. Demand for electric and non-electric bicycles is through the roof.
In addition, people are growing more of their own food. My son-in-law Micah built raised beds in his little West Philly backyard and, like a multitude of others, became a newbie gardener. This was on his to-do list, but working from home more gave him a chance to focus on the project.
Marsha Low and her husband, David, who’ve been sticking close to their Flourtown home, expanded their garden to include more pollinators. They are enjoying the bees and butterflies attracted to their enormous stand of Joe Pye weeds, though Marsha can’t wait to get back to singing in choral groups.
The DIYing extends to appliance repairs. Karen Smith of Laverrock changed her dryer belt and re-attached the exhaust tubing, repaired her vacuum cleaner and rug/upholstery shampoo vacuum, and is getting ready to build her own chicken coop. She credits YouTube videos for showing her the way.
Naomi Klayman of Mt. Airy, who is adhering to strict COVID protocols, changed the soap dispenser in her dishwasher. “It involved figuring out what the part was, ordering it, then using their video to take the front of the dishwasher door off, among other things,” she wrote.“In the past, I would have paid someone to come into my house to do it.”
Repairing is always greener than replacing, and doing it yourself cuts back on mileage from repair trucks.
Many friends report experimenting with family haircuts. Some of the newly clipped are pleased with the results, and the neo-barbers are feeling empowered. Haircuts have a relatively small carbon footprint, but the DIY approach saves car trips and the use of gobs of product.
With the absence of safe long-distance travel, many have gone exploring locally. State parks are experiencing a huge uptick in visitors. These under-appreciated natural resources will hopefully be better-funded moving forward, as citizens realize how valuable they are. How about a renewed Civil Conservation Corps to get people back to work?
Which COVID changes will stick around is anyone’s guess. I do think that working from home, or in a co-working space, will be normalized, as will virtual education. Businesses will be far less eager to pay for employee business trips, now that they see how much can be accomplished via Zoom and Slack.
See you on the other side, maybe on the Chestnut Hill West.