Immediately after the pandemic
COVID-19 restrictions have major impacts on people’s lives, with non-essential businesses closed and people compelled to stay at home. Decreased demand in the UK meant the country went several months without burning coal to generate electricity, and worldwide, the reduction in travel has decreased demand for oil. As a result, pollution and CO2 emissions dropped dramatically. This raised public awareness and prompted people to reflect on the impact of their lifestyles before the crisis, such as excess waste and time spent commuting.
Towards a post-COVID-19 society
As lockdown measures ease, many people are avoiding public transport, preferring instead to commute by walking or cycling.
Some governments have used the crisis as an opportunity to build a more sustainable society. In Milan, 35km of streets will be transformed with a rapid and experimental citywide expansion of cycling and walking space. The French government is offering subsidies to attract more cyclists. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has called for a green recovery from COVID-19, promoting green bonds and other forms of sustainable finance to accelerate sustainable transition in cities.
On the other hand, some residents and business owners who are also frequent car users have protested moves to make neighbourhoods safer for cyclists and pedestrians.
Visible changes increase curiosity about sustainable futures
Pavements that have been expanded for social distancing are busy with people on the open terraces that are offered by cafes and restaurants, while roads are congested with cars and delivery bikes. Travel restrictions help people moving within a local area to realise how their choices and behaviours impact the state of their town or city.
People who have started commuting by walking or bicycle are more aware of air pollution in the city. They are more likely to be interested in new electric cars and the increased charge points available for them.
They are inspired to replace their private cars with electric or low-emission vehicles. People working from home, surprised by their high levels of electricity usage, switch to solar power or green energy providers.
Visible changes in a town or city that are linked to people’s changing behaviour and interests will make them curious about leading a sustainable lifestyle.
Return to normal life
As lockdown measures ease, many rapidly return to their previous lifestyles. This includes holidays in other countries and daily commuting in their private car.
This will lead to a the second peak of infection and a lack of concern for environmental issues.
Also, people are satisfied that a single eco-friendly is all they need to take: “single action bias”. This shows the challenge of changing people’s behaviour holistically.
Because the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic is seen as abnormal, people try to get back to their normal lives.