It’s mid May 2020 and large parts of the world have been in lockdown for the past 6-8 weeks with restricted access to shops, businesses and other services.
Many people have found ways to enjoy this period of enforced isolation, particularly if they are lucky enough to have a garden or live in a rural area. Interest in wildlife has increased with people sharing photos on social media of birds, butterflies, moths, and flowers.
Videos and pictures of wildlife thriving during lockdown have been shared and commented on thousands of times as nature reclaims parts of the community that humans are no longer using. We are told that, without millions of cars on the roads, our air is cleaner. The waters around our coast are clearer, and our skies are free of the contrails that mark the route taken by aircraft. Nature reserves that usually encourage visitors to enjoy wildlife are having to remain closed because the absence of people has seen birds nesting on or near the footpaths through the reserves.
Just a few months ago, we were all driving, flying and commuting back and forth. We were too busy to notice wildlife, yet within weeks of being confined to our homes, nature has thrived and re-claimed places that we humans thought were ours alone.
If this short period of time has taught us anything about our place in the world it must surely highlight the extent to which we live unsustainable lifestyles.
What does ‘sustainable’ mean? I think it is the ability to live your life today in such a way that it doesn’t negatively impact the environment or deprive future generations to live their lives as fully as yours.
Last year and earlier this year I attempted to capture the essence of ‘unsustainable’ through photography. Here are some of the images that I think highlight the daily decisions we make that collectively add up to a way of living that really is unsustainable.
A typical London street scene. Shopping bags promoting brands; cigarettes that will end up in the gutter and our water systems; technology driven by data centres, often using huge amounts of water to control the temperature.
Where all our unwanted and unused goods are stored. A £720,000,000 industry in the UK. Why do we still buy so much?
For those that don’t have storage, these goods, which appear in good condition, end up in landfill.
We all enjoy coffee. In fact it is reckoned that over 500 billion cups of coffee are consumed every day. But where does all the coffee come from? The largest exporter of coffee is Latin America, also famed for its rain forests and other wildlife rich habitats. A 2014 scientific report stated: ‘in nearly all countries where coffee production is expanding rapidly, it is deforestation that is the primary source of new coffee lands. The yearly increase is likely to be well in excess of 100,000 ha yr-1’
We have become fixated on the use of plastic-lined cups and lids but we forget that our caffeine fix might be coming at the expense of life-giving habitats.
And what about the dairy alternatives such as Soya and Almond? Soy plantations are a major contributor to deforestation in South America and Almond production is water-intensive. Neither of these alternatives are particularly environmentally friendly.
We all love convenient food. ‘Food to go specialists’ account for £5 billion of an £18.5 billion market. That’s a lot of packaging, very little of which is sorted into waste streams.
Freshly prepared on the premises they might be, but what about the ingredients? Avocado seems to be in everything these days and most are grown in Mexico; that’s over 5,000 miles away, which equates to a CO2 footprint of 846.36 grams for two small avocados, according to Carbon Footprint Ltd.
Difficult to grow, avocados need a lot of water, 320 litres each to be precise, which means the UK imports the equivalent of 10,000 swimming pools of embedded or virtual water through avocados each year. Our passion for avocados has also pushed up prices in local markets so that what was once a staple food in South America is now too expensive for locals
And of course the obesity crisis in the UK rumbles on; according to The Nuffield Trust ‘in 2018, 29% of all adult women were obese and 30% were overweight, whereas 26% of adult men were obese and 41% were overweight’
Having witnessed how nature can bounce back, and found new ways to appreciate the natural environment, do we really want to go back the way we used to live a few months ago?