I’m writing a series of articles for Exeter Cathedral’s monthly News, on the changes we can make in our own lives, and how we can encourage governments and business to make necessary structural changes. We have til the end of 2020 to ‘save the planet’. So that’s just 6 months now.
Or… How can we work together to save our life-support system and cherish God’s good creation? In May I considered the links between COVID and climate and suggested we reframe what we consider ‘normal’. Of my six suggestions in previous News, these three – to take a Sabbath from consuming and to put pressure on the Government and on business to achieve necessary structural change – seem particularly relevant.
This month, I was going to look at food, which is hugely important to climate. But instead, travel is uppermost in my mind. So I’ll consider food in a later News, and in the meantime, you may like to look at the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health.
8. Tread softly
Air travel, container freight, and private car manufacture and travel are all major contributors to climate change. During lockdown we have no choice but not to fly, and maybe now is the time to make a resolution to cut it out. It should not be difficult either to commit to buying less stuff that we don’t need, often manufactured in sweat shops and transported half way across the world.
Cars might be harder to give up. We are in effect addicted, to the extent that they can represent our self in dreams! But it’s not just the climate future we would improve. Many cities have seen massive improvements in air quality during lockdown, with many fewer deaths from eg asthma. Road traffic accidents are down. People have been rediscovering walking and cycling, and being able to notice things and say hello to others, all the while getting much-needed exercise.
Now, as lockdown is being lifted, the challenge has been to get people moving again, while maintaining physical distancing. Capacity of public transport is much lower, but the roads and the air would be choked if everyone used cars instead. (Did you know, that chickens run twice as fast as the average speed of traffic in Exeter during the rush hour? It’s easy for them to cross the road!)
That is why Devon County Council is encouraging people out of their cars and making walking and cycling more attractive by restricting access to a number of routes across Exeter.
The challenges of reducing the need to travel and changing the modes of transport are of course different for urban and rural areas, and all generations and all income levels need to be considered. Devon County Council is considering options for permanent changes and Exeter City Council is holding conversations more broadly around Net Zero carbon emissions. Now is the time to contact your councillors and participate in the conversations.
Car share schemes mean building fewer cars to sit on driveways. Electric bikes are a good option on Devon hills. Buying less stuff and clubbing together with neighbours would mean fewer trips out and fewer delivery vehicles on the roads. We could continue to work from home and travel less on business. And finally, choosing (if possible) to live, work, school, shop, and play within a 15-minute radius would mean many fewer travel miles.