During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic we have witnessed unprecedented months of crisis, fake news and global tragedy. Many of us have never lived through – and may never live through again – a pandemic which completely upheaves our daily lives. Emerging from this upheaval is a shifting change in attitude towards holidays abroad, purchasing fast-fashion and food-to-go. Whether we realise it or not, many of our daily activities do have a significant impact on the environment – but this was the first time that those activities were no longer readily available to us. The planes had stopped, the stores were closed, and food-to-go was no longer the quick fix needed for most.
In the UK and other Western countries, we have an over-consumption culture. An overconsumption culture is consuming more than we need, and creating a demand that is difficult to maintain pace with. When it comes to the environment, this means we use natural resources faster than they can be replenished, before struggling to dispose of the resulting waste and emissions. While it may sound as though this mainly relates to the burning of fossil fuels or waste emitted by corporations, this culture is accepted and repeated by individuals within society. For every item of fast-fashion clothing you buy, high levels of pollution are emitted in its creation, chemical dyes are used and the process is incredibly water-intensive. Every meal deal you consume results in more single-use plastic being thrown away. Each holiday abroad results in the emission of more fossil fuels. This is not to suggest there aren’t justifications for each – they simply provide illustrations of a society which is content to consume, consume, and consume, before throwing things away. They demonstrate how we have valued a life of convenience and desires over the wider environmental repercussions of our choices.
This overconsumption culture had suddenly come to a staggering halt: summer holidays were cancelled, non-essential shopping moved solely online, and people were cooking at home more than they have in recent years. It might be the first time the world has truly had the opportunity to reset – to rethink our overconsumption culture and how the future may look. While the reduction in airline emissions has been significant, this isn’t a long-term solution to the climate crisis and requires an active change in consumer behaviour. Similarly, the reductions in air pollution seen across the world remain temporary side-effects of the ongoing pandemic, rather than representing that the problem itself is fixed.
The most powerful change following this period can only be from society itself. As consumers, we dictate the behaviour of corporations and, indirectly, governments, in order to maintain a stable and steadily growing economy. Economies around the world were brought to a standstill and are only now being rebuilt. As such, this is an opportunity to rebuild a sustainable and progressive economy, rather than returning to the use of cheap fossil fuels and environmentally detrimental practices. Of course, this is ambitious, as it’s no simple task to alter the behaviour of individuals and corporations. However, there has never been a clearer chance to do so: to make more environmentally-conscious decisions as a consumer, to reduce your household waste, to choose to support local businesses rather than huge corporations. Shifting towards a more climate-friendly lifestyle and culture is not only inevitable, but preferable. Why not begin that shift now? An unlikely result of this pandemic is the conversations it’s starting amongst individuals and society – do we do things in the right way, or is there a better way to live that can be both economically prosperous and aid environmental protection for future generations? The upheaval of daily lives has been a catalyst for shifting attitudes: we are recognising the unsustainable aspects of western lifestyles and identifying clear paths to a greener, more positive, future.
By Charlotte Beardwell