Article 7 for the Dawlish Gazette by Vanessa Ryley, writing for Dawlish Against Plastic. 6th May 2020

Beyond Coronavirus, hope for a more sustainable way forward

In December of last year, I travelled across England and Europe by train to visit my brother who has lived in Germany for around 40 years. I took it for granted that I would be able to do this and the only thing that stood in the way was a French strike which resulted in many Eurostar trains being cancelled because of signalling problems caused by the strike.

A few short months later, due to a virus, we find ourselves in an extremely strange and frightening situation and thoughts of doing this journey again this year are full of uncertainties, which I could not have imagined a few short months ago. The way we have been forced to live our lives has changed radically.

As I take my daily walks, I have become more aware and appreciative of the natural world and have noticed flora and fauna in more detail. I have always enjoyed walking and being outdoors, but just being outside with an increased awareness that not everyone is able to venture outside their front door has added to my appreciation of the natural sights and sounds. The reduction of vehicle and other noise caused by human activity has been extremely noticeable now that many of us have been unable to continue our usual activities.

Scientists have reported positive changes. Air pollution has dropped significantly across the globe, bringing huge benefits to human health. This really underlines the importance and urgency to significantly reduce our carbon footprint and begin to reduce our impact on climate change. Locally, our council has set an ambitious and challenging target to become carbon neutral by 2025. They seek to create conditions that can reduce carbon emissions and promote the development of renewable energy technologies like solar, photovoltaics (these generate heat instead of electrical power) and ground source heat pumps. They also plan to focus on land use and forestry and will seek to increase tree cover, thus bringing sizeable benefits in the reduction of our local carbon footprint.

As individuals, although we are somewhat dependent on world leaders and their policies, we can change our own lives to becoming less wasteful and more in tune with the natural world in a variety of different ways. Enforced staying at home and the threat of a reduced, or for some complete loss of income, has ensured that many of us are thinking more carefully about what we really need to purchase and what form that might take. Considering what we really need in our daily lives ultimately leads to less waste and a necessary reduction in our use of all forms of transport has taken a front seat in our minds. We can begin to see opportunities for living differently that allow us to produce less.

Wildlife habitats are vital to human survival and agricultural production and this pause has given us a chance to learn that there could be a different way to live. The natural world and its plants and animals are coming under increased pressure from human activity and this is leading to the emergence of new animal-to-human transmitted diseases like COVID-19. Other examples of this are SARS, Swine Flu and AIDS. It seems likely that more examples will emerge over time if humans continue in the same way.

Ultimately, whatever age we are, we have been confronted head on by the real possibility that life as we know it can be quickly snuffed out by a virus that we cannot see and do not know how to combat. Hopefully, this sobering fact along with the evidence that is emerging of the benefits to air quality from the significant reduction in human activity will make many of us stop and think about how we can personally contribute to changes that could significantly enhance the life chances for our children, grandchildren and all future generations.