Words by Emma Hawkes. Emma is a Postgraduate student studying International Animal Welfare, Ethics and Law. She loves travelling and learning more about climate change. You can find her on Instagram @emmahawkesx.
This time last year was filled with anxiety, confusion and a fear of the coming months. Now hope is in the air with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Roadmap Out of Lockdown Plan beginning to take hold which - if everything goes as planned - will see most social restrictions lifted in the UK from the 21st of June 2021.
There is no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted everyone’s lives massively. However, one positive that seemed to come out of the pandemic last year was the impact it had on our natural world. Researchers say that 2020 saw a record drop of ~7% in CO2 emissions, with near-to-all international travel paused and people only making essential trips due to the intense global lockdowns. Sounds great, right?
Sadly, despite the this fall in emissions, 2020 was still the year with the hottest global land and ocean temperature ever recorded, plus global emissions have already surged to pre-pandemic levels and beyond. Global warming, climate change and mass extinction are still threats to our planet. So, if 2020 was still the hottest on record with no international travel, what can we be doing to reduce the effects of climate change?
This is where this blog post comes in - reducing our carbon footprint is all about making everyday changes (e.g. cycling instead of taking a car, go vegan for a few days a week, change your electricity provider). As we begin to head out of lockdown, I’m encouraging people to take part in some environmentally friendly activities that will not only help the planet, but also benefit your health either by getting outdoors and staying active or getting a nutritional and social boost. These are things we all need after spending so much of the last year indoors!
1) Boris Bikes
Whilst this is mainly a scheme for the London area, rental bikes and scooters are becoming very popular and there are many similar ones across the UK.
Boris Bikes were first introduced to London in 2010 and since then have been hired over 93 million times up to June 2020. Number of hires also increased during the pandemic as people were encouraged to walk and cycle more to avoid unnecessary journeys on public transport. The cycle scheme has over 781 docking stations around London meaning that the public can hire a bike and travel wherever they want in the capital for a small fee.
Cycling is a perfect way to see the sites while getting the blood pumping and avoiding crowded public transport which many of us are understandably anxious about as the lockdown lifts. As the weather in the UK (hopefully) warms up, there is no better chance to explore some new places whilst reducing your carbon footprint. In fact, cycling is said to be one of the simplest choices and individual can make to have a better impact on the planet.
2) Host a Vegan Dinner Party
From Monday 29th March 2021, rules on the amount of people you can meet outside in England changed from 1 to 6 and this includes meeting in private gardens. Weather permitting of course, this is the perfect time to get a group of 5 other friends together to host a vegan dinner party.
In 2018, the United Nations deemed animal agriculture and meat production as the main driver in our planet’s environmental crisis. This highlights the importance of veganism in modern society, and it is the best lifestyle change a person can make to help the planet. However, choosing to become a vegan is not an easy task and people often feel intimidated by the thought of it. Therefore, hosting a vegan dinner party can be a great way to show people how easy it can be to cook vegan meals, try something new, and see just how great they can taste!
You could even take the opportunity to educate your friends about the positive impact veganism can have on animal welfare, human health, and the environment. How about introducing some fun games? For example, get your friends to put together fun role plays about how adopting a vegan lifestyle can help the planet. Or turn the dinner event into a Come Dine with Me where each person has to bring a vegan dish they have cooked, and every other person gives it a score - the winner gets a prize.
The environmental crisis our planet is facing is obviously extremely serious but learning about it should be made as fun and engaging as possible as people are more likely to absorb the information you are giving them.
3) Litter Picking
Unfortunately, with the change in outdoor restrictions alongside warmer weather in the UK, there has been an increase in litter left in public areas left by groups of people. Some areas were so bad that, for example, Nottingham Council had to close two local parks because of litter left by the public as well as people brawling. This behaviour is clearly unacceptable and emphasises just how much we need to continue to educate people about the climate crisis. Litter can emit harmful gases such as methane, which is 28 times more harmful than CO2. It is also a danger to wildlife that can consume and choke on waste we leave, as well as polluting local ecosystems.
Whilst it is important to encourage people to take their own rubbish home, this can be a perfect opportunity to do your part for the planet and do a few litter picking shifts. There are a few movements across the UK that help people litter pick in the safest way possible. For example, Keep Britain Tidy is somewhere people can purchase their own litter picking kit and it encourages the public to improve their physical and mental wellbeing as you can get out and about in the community.
As we head into the spring and summer months, more and more people will be flocking to garden centres in a bid to brighten up their gardens once again. Many people might not know how beneficial this can be for the environment, in fact RHS research has shown that our gardens can help the environment in four key ways: 1) They help to control urban temperatures, mitigating the effects of extreme heat and cold; 2) They can prevent flooding by absorbing rainwater; 3) They are some of Britain’s best nature reserves, supporting incredible levels of biodiversity; 4) They support human health by reducing stressing and providing space for physical exercise. Planting flowers, plants and trees creates ecosystems that help animals and wildlife to thrive. Planting trees also helps to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. If you do not have a garden, there are also many indoor plants you can have that can help the environment too!
This may be something that many people do anyway, but they may not realise how much they are reducing their carbon footprint in the process. What is so great about gardening is that it can be done all year round and there are different plants that can be grown in the different seasons. You can also grow your own vegetables which can massively reduce a person’s carbon footprint as you are not buying into the global transportation of vegetables or the plastic packaging (which comes from fossil fuels!) that case the fruit and vegetables you get in most major supermarkets. If you want to get gardening but don’t know where to start, the RHS has a load of great guides for beginners to help you on your way (RHS Reference).
So, as Covid-19 restrictions in the UK begin to ease, all I ask is that you consider all the different ways you can create your ‘new normal’ and benefit the planet at the same time. Alongside doing your bit to fight back against climate change and biodiversity loss, many of these activities involve getting outside and being active so are contributing to your physical and mental wellbeing. It’s a big crisis we’re facing, and those little choices we make every day add up to a big movement of action that will help to tackle climate change if we make them happen.