By Kathryn Reeve
Climate change and global warming has been destroying the planet ever since the production of industries began getting faster and increasingly more wasteful in 1988. As a world we are coming together to try and make positive changes but with the recent Coronavirus pandemic spreading across the world is it having an effect on climate change and is it for better or for worse?
With lockdown officially starting on 23rd March 2020 it meant that no one was allowed to go outside unless for essential needs or exercise. Having this in place anyone would assume that the number of cars on the road and people using public transport would significantly decrease. There have been pictures and videos that have gone viral on social media showing how the world came to a stand-still with no one on the roads and wildlife returning to normal. That is all happening in big cities across the world but is this also the case for Essex?
Over the past couple of months, it has been clear that not many people have been venturing out and instead they have been staying at home keeping themselves safe. With the travel ban to so many destinations also in place for England, tens of thousands of people could not go on holiday meaning many aeroplanes were at a standstill and it became uncertain for thousands for when or if they could go on their long-awaited holidays. On top of this, cars were mainly only being used to get to one place or another primarily a supermarket where people could collect their essentials and head home, or they would opt for home delivery. This meant that cars were starting to look neglected as they just were parked on the road.
A collection of people living in Essex with all different ages took part in a short survey which asked them if they used public transport, if they commute by car and if they think Covid-19 has affected Climate Change. From the results of this there were many mixed views regarding that ‘by us having a hot ‘normal’ summer was down to climate change as people weren’t travelling in planes and cars etc’ as 52.63% responded with yes and the other 42.37% believed it didn’t. The survey also unveiled that 78% of people that participated in the survey used their car to get essentials and 26% used it to get to work this is down to the other participants either working from home or being furloughed for the duration of the lockdown.
Met Office revealed that May 2020 became the sunniest Spring ever for the UK and that it was also the driest. They stated that there was 626 hours of sunlight recorded of May this year which is the new record compared to 555 hours in 1948. The head of Met Office said “…exceeding the UK sunshine record is one thing but exceeding by over 70 hours is truly exceptional”. With this record broken this may be down to the amount of people staying at home and not commuting anywhere which has possibly meant that our seasons were beginning to return back to normal. A participant from the survey commented about this situation stating, “I do believe that the two extremities of a very hot summer and very cold winter is too much to be a coincidence”.
According to the United in Science Report 2020 emissions of greenhouse gases fell significantly falling by 17% compared to last year. António Guterres, Secretary- General of the United Nations said, “this report stresses that short-term lockdowns are no substitute for the sustained climate action that is needed to enable us to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change”. Even though this is tended to be seen as good news with emissions falling during the peak of Covid-19 the report stresses that the “lockdown-related fall in emissions will not reduce co2 concentrations”.
Essex County Council released some data showing the traffic across Essex from January 1st, 2020 to 26thOctober 2020. By looking at Tarpots in Benfleet which is a very busy area in Essex during the weekends and weekdays. This data states that from the day the first lockdown commenced (23/03/20) at 8am which is the peak time for the morning there were 3070 motor vehicles during that hour and at 5pm on the same day there were 2817 motor vehicles on the road. According to the Office for National Statistics, a large portion of companies began to furlough their employees from the 23rd March 2020. Therefore, there is a possibility that the people commuting were going to work. However, if you compare this with the 16th April which is exactly a month later there is a dramatic fall with the amount of motor vehicles on the road with 1076 travelling which is a 64% decrease from the very start of when lockdown started. This was when the pandemic was at its deadliest and it shows by this data.
London Road located in Southend-On-Sea is another busy route which is constantly used everyday. Essex County Council also released data for this area showing that on the 16th March 2020 there were a total of 8467 motor vehicles in that area compared to exactly a month later where there were only 3680 motor vehicles travelling in that area that day. This is a 56% decrease, which could mean that people were only travelling for essential reasons which is a good thing in terms for the environment.
When members of a local Eco-Friendly group in Southend were asked if they believe Covid-19 has had an effect on Climate Change one said, “yes, but only marginally. Reductions in transport, especially air traffic have made a short-term difference”, while another member said, “No. While I think it had an impact during the peak, I think the human race is too slow to take note and make the changes necessary for a long-term impact”.
It is clear that many locals believe that there are positive changes to climate change for a small duration of time during the peak of lockdown however none that would be beneficial to the world. Mia, a member of the Eco-Friendly Group in Southend said, “by going into Lockdown a phenomenal amount of the population has reduced the use of their cars and other means of transport… The sea itself looked a lot clearer. I could see more of what was at the bottom of the ocean telling me that the waste and other bad bacteria disappeared from the sea… although Coronavirus has been a worldwide tragedy for many, it has been a blessing in saving the planet and reducing pollution”
The use of public transport has significantly decreased too especially with locals not being able to travelling up to the city for work. In the survey the participants were asked ‘if they used public transport during lockdown’ and only 17% used it but they stated it was very rarely. This is a much greener way to travel however fossil fuels are still being used to conduct the electricity which means it is still affecting the carbon footprint.
There are several websites and charities that support climate change, Greenpeace are one of them. They are a worldwide movement whose end goal is to aim to have and promote a healthier and more peaceful planet. Yet, they stated, “A global pandemic is not a solution to climate change, and we are very mindful that any temporary reductions in emissions during lockdowns could easily be reversed”.
With this in mind there are mixed opinions around this subject from experts and locals, while there has most certainly been a positive effect to climate change due to Covid-19 it has only been a temporary one. The number of cars on the road has significantly fallen around Essex and with Southend Airport coming to a standstill along with all the other airports across the country there is not doubtfully some positive changes to climate change whether that be temporary or permanently.
With these subtle, temporary positive changes that have happened to climate change throughout 2020 maybe this is a start for the council to devise new plans to make Essex greener and more environmentally friendly for years to come.