COVID-19 has given the environment a head start.. But we need to finish the race

While the COVID-19 pandemic is clearly a disaster for health and economies around the world, it could be a big win for the environment. As cars stay parked, flights are grounded and factories shut down, we’re seeing, all over the world, a dramatic reduction in carbon emissions and other waste products making their way into our environment. There have been blue skies over China, and greenhouse gas emissions in Europe are expected to drop 24.4 per cent this year. In New Zealand, that lockdown green effect is most clearly seen in our reduced air pollution.

Look out over normally smoggy New Zealand cities during level four lockdown and you’ll be treated to a sight not seen in decades – crystal clarity and blue, blue skies. According to NIWA, Auckland’s Queen Street, one of the country’s most polluted places, has had nitrogen oxide levels fall by half. NIWA Principal Air Quality Scientist Dr Ian Longley tested air quality in Auckland on our first day of lockdown, and found huge reductions in pollution. In Wellington’s CBD, pollutant levels fell by three quarters. 

“Certainly we have never seen clean air like this, for a sustained period of time, since we started recording air quality,” says Dr Longley.

Birds are also making their way back into now quieter streets. 

“A lot more of the wax-eyes and kereru as well hearing their big thudding wing sound,” says Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage.

Can we change our polluting habits post-COVID? 

While clean air is always good news, leaders in climate change are quick to throw in a word of caution. While “the great pause,” as the world-wide lockdown has been dubbed, is giving the environment a chance to recover, it’s what we do when restrictions lift that will make most of the difference COVID-19 has given the environment a fighting chance, but to create lasting change we need to take over once the lockdown ends. 

Green party leader James Shaw thinks COVID-19 could have a ‘terrible’ impact on the environment

“It means people’s attention is not on those long-term challenges… so we just [go] back to the same old polluting economy. The great risk is we take our eye off the ball of the long term while we’re dealing with the short-term challenge.”

So while we all wait for normal life to resume, it’s worth considering what parts of that normality we actually want to keep. Could we return to our lives, while leaving behind our polluting habits? The answer, we think, is yes. While it’s up to the government to put money behind ‘shovel-ready’ projects that will set us up for a greener future, along with growing jobs and economic stability, there are changes we as individuals can make, too. 

From coal-burning electrical plants to your daily commute, the biggest impact you can make to the environment is to minimise your carbon footprint. Here are some suggestions for bringing the lockdown green effect to your post-lockdown lifestyle. 

Minimise travel 

If you’re still working, you might have been spending the lockdown period adjusting to working from home. It means Zoom meetings, lots of phone calls, and perhaps wearing track pants to the office! Now that you have the infrastructure and experience, it’s worth asking whether you could keep that commute-less work lifestyle, at least in part. Could you plan for one or two working-from-home days every week? Nonwork travel is even easier to cut – could you go to your bach less often, but for longer periods? Could you dial into your book club instead of meeting halfway across the city?

Harness the sun, with solarZero

While we’re tracking better than other countries as far as renewable energy, the electricity you use at home creates a carbon footprint. After all, we’re still burning coal to supply some of our power needs. As a country, we’re aiming to stamp that out, with the goal of 100% renewable energy by 2035. If we do what we’ve always done we’d need to invest in new plants, which would cost taxpayers approximately $20 billion. There’s a simpler solution – if every home had solar panels installed, we could all harness the power of the sun, which would easily replace those coal-burning plants, and then some. 

solarZero is a simple, affordable way to switch to solar energy. It’s a solar energy ‘streaming’ service – you subscribe to solarZero and have panels and a smart battery installed and maintained by solarcity, at no cost. You pay no upfront costs and will see savings in your power bill from the first year. A fixed monthly fee – starting from as little as $85+GST a month – covers everything. solarcity takes care of regular maintenance, upgrades and repairs, while you enjoy cheaper power that’s kinder to the environment.

Travel on electricity!

Travel, of course, is still going to be an essential – but it doesn’t have to be as polluting. Swapping to an electric vehicle can make a huge impact in New Zealand –  more than 80 per cent of our electricity comes from renewable resources, so swapping petrol for electricity can significantly reduce your carbon emissions. If you’ve swapped to solar with solarZero, you can charge your car from the sun, making your carbon emissions almost nil!

Electric cars are also becoming easier to find, more affordable and practical – a Tesla Model S will drive you 610 km before you need to recharge. Cheaper brands have shorter ranges but are still perfectly adequate for town driving and commutes. With fast-charging stations becoming ubiquitous in main centres and highways, you’ll rarely get caught out on longer journeys. If you’re still feeling a bit hesitant about swapping to electric, you might like to hire or lease a car for a short time, so you can test it out. 

Buy less, buy local 

The COVID lockdown has seen consumer spending plummet – once you remove the cost of groceries, spend was down 17% in March. When shops reopen, ask yourself what you truly need and want, and then support NZ based businesses where you can to help our economy recover. That’s because when you factor in manufacturing and transport emissions, those consumer items can come with surprisingly large carbon footprints. For example, an average pair of jeans is responsible for the same amount of carbon dioxide as driving 125 kilometres! 

Make your home more efficient 

Simple changes at your house could increase how efficient it is to run – leaving a lighter footprint on the earth and a smaller dent in your wallet. Insulation in the floor and ceiling are reasonably cost-effective to have installed, as are thermal drapes and switching to LED lights. Depending on the style and age of your home and your budget, wall insulation and double glazing are also very much worth considering. 

We’d like to hear what you think!  Click the link below to take part in the 2020 GrownUps Energy Survey, it only takes a couple of minutes and you could win a prize!

Take the Survey here.

For more information about solarZero check out the solarcity website here.