Can changes that have been introduced to tackle COVID-19 provide a stepping-stone to building a more resilient society / community?

This paper introduces some ideas that will be discussed and built upon at Transition Town Letchworth’s Online Transition Tuesday planned for the 12 May 2020 (using zoom). The paper:

  • Provides a wider reflection on COVID-19 and climate repair,
  • Considers some of the threats and weaknesses to long term climate repair resulting from the COVID-19 crisis,
  • Explores what topics Transition Town Letchworth, as a local organisation, can work on to build a more resilient local economy and the world that we need for the future, and
  • Focuses on direct climate-related activities (to reduce CO2e) not the equally important social and equality aspects of the future needs.

General reflection

The COVID-19 pandemic and climate change have in common that they are both global threats where we all have to do our bit to help. The pandemic has exposed how interdependent we all are, along with the vulnerability of our societal and economic structures. As we address the pandemic, we must also be mindful of the opportunity to create a different, safer, greener and cleaner future.

Currently, we travel and consume much less, and are more thoughtful in our purchase and use of food.

As we distance from others living further afield, we have had opportunities to connect with, and become better, neighbours. Might we come out of this crisis with a more positive vision for the future? Will the COVID-19 crisis transform Western societies? Media coverage suggests this is possible.

We have seen so many changes already, for example:

  • Working from home wherever possible with more virtual meetings (even court proceedings and doctor consultations). This has resulted in much less travel and traffic.
  • Huge rise in volunteering which strengthens communities and reduces loneliness.

As it has now been proven that people will change their behaviour when they recognise and understand the need for it, can we change our behaviour to repair our climate?

There are two major differences between these two crises:

  • Action against COVID-19 is fairly short term, acute, results are obvious and immediately measurable, whereas for climate repair lesser changes are needed but for the rest of our lives, and the results will only be indirectly measurable.
  • There was no industrial lobby against action to tackle COVID-19, but there is an industrial lobby against action for climate repair (for example, the car industry, oil industry, and commercial interests that are needed for consumerism to survive).

So, what are the threats and opportunities for Climate Repair?

Some threats

  • Less global cooperation, more nationalism, tribal behaviours.
  • More polarisation between rich and poor.
  • Post pandemic investment may be pumped into the fossil-fuel related industry and consumerist society; consumerism and pollution will rebound.
  • Big data, increasing surveillance.

Many opportunities

  • A greater sense of possibility because we now know that changing behaviours is possible.
  • Re-setting of values: the importance of human connection – put people at the centre, not profits and consumerism.
  • Volunteer power may remain strong with commitment to help others.
  • Monetary stimulus to invest into green technologies and sustainable, circular economies: Governments may take more notice of the Green New Deal concepts.
  • The economy is already down, which is an opportunity to pick it up by investing into activities towards a cleaner world, with environmentally progressive politics.
  • Better understanding, trust and respect of science, rationality and evidence (some of the more democratic countries that have done well in this pandemic have acted on this).
  • Less congestion and travel because of more home-working and virtual meetings.
  • More robust supply chains.
  • More wariness of the negative effects of globalisation.
  • Build new structures that create resilience within our society/ community.

What does this mean for us locally?

The threats and opportunities highlight a number of resilience topics that are relevant locally, and where we can make a difference. Transition town groups were formed to help to move us to a more resilient local economy. We want to explore where we have observed a level of local resilience and where we have seen weaknesses in local resilience, with the aim of identifying feasible actions to address the latter.

For our discussion, we should differentiate between what is desirable and what is feasible, and aim for moving towards achievable action (you may notice that some of the topics below are not new to TTL discussions):

  1. Food security/ grow more food locally – making use of the experience of issues with food availability, less dependence on food imports and being mindful about food waste
    • Providing incentives to grow food in gardens, and public spaces (not a new topic for TTL)
    • Using a public garden space (perhaps a plot outside Mrs Howard Hall or a council flower bed) and turn it into a permaculture experimental garden. We could then go on to produce designs for other beds and ask the council to implement them.
    • Use an online tool to highlight where food is available in Letchworth for the community to harvest (mundraub.org is an example of this type of resource), for example, it could show the community orchards and footpaths where blackberries grow.
    • Build a community farm, one where a community can get involved in growing, for a share of the crops.
  2. Air travel – making use of the experience of not flying, more virtual business interactions
    • After the pandemic,
      1. Will there be the same level of flying?
      2. Will flying still be reduced simply because no one will want to go to countries that don’t have the virus under control?
      3. Will people still not want to fly in confined spaces with recycled air as in aircraft.
    • Will people holiday at home or near home more?
    • Will people use virtual means to explore new places?
    • This would have implications for Luton airport expansion plan.
  3. Traffic – making use of the experience of not driving much
    • Staying active by walking and cycling locally is a sustainable practice that may persist beyond the pandemic period.
    • Providing incentives to carry on walking, cycling; Take the cycle network and work on an area of the town to work out how to redesign to not only improve cycling infrastructure but also walking and if necessary free up roads from cars. (This is already under way in TTL)
    • How large is the proportion of the working population that will increase their working from home via Internet-based technologies? Increase local shared office spaces. Make virtual meetings a basic communication skill and right of access.
  4. Waste and resources
    • Can we work with the council to introduce a community compost site which would reduce the pressures on the waste service and provide a local source of compost?
    • Explore the possibilities for a community business which supports reuse, repair and reskilling so people have less need to purchase new products?

The pandemic has tested resilience in particular areas. When working through ideas of where TTL should focus its ongoing efforts we may need to consider existing known issues, for example we may also want to focus some activity on energy generation, storage and usage:

    • Produce a guide to installing solar panels in Letchworth.
    • Putting together a tariff tracker for renewable energy providers
    • Incentivising more renewable energy projects/ industry around Letchworth, by encouraging people to consider installing solar thermal, solar PV or even a low-emissions stove rather than open fire.

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