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"Need or Want: What Matters Post-Covid-19?"

Updated: Sep 16, 2020

Part 1: Consumption: Saturday 2nd May



The Covid-19 pandemic has unleashed humanity’s instinct to transform itself in the face of a universal threat and it can help us do the same to create a liveable planet for future generations.[i]


Intervening strategically at these moments can help steer people into a lower carbon consumption pattern more seamlessly than trying to prise them out of their existing habits and bring about more lasting reductions in lifestyle emissions.[ii]


Britons enjoying cleaner air, better food and stronger social bonds say they don’t want to return to ‘normal’. Poll suggests only nine per cent of public want full return to pre-lockdown life.[iii]

Data shows there is a real appetite for change, and for the nation to learn from this crisis. People are trying new things and noticing differences, at home, in their work and in communities...Alongside the emergency response, it is important to keep track of these changes in what we’re doing and our collective mood, to help shape the kind of country we want to be when we recover from this pandemic.”[iv]

Aims and Format of Conversations

This is obviously just a tiny part of the beginning of a huge global conversation. Many parallels are currently being drawn between the urgency of the Covid-19 response and the urgency with which we should be responding to the climate crisis.

The aim of these conversations is to provide an opportunity to:

  • Share any positive changes in attitudes or behaviours as a result of lockdown

  • Build community resilience through practical actions

  • Improve climate literacy by promoting discussion around climate change issues

This is a deliberately focused activity. Each session is 1.5 hours. In the first half each person will have the opportunity to share responses to the questions relating to the session. The second half will be opened up for discussion. It will be helpful to take notes in the first half to refer back to in the second. Please have a pen and paper.

Please note: Since the 3 topics (Consumption; Use of Time; Nature & Environment) are interdependent there will inevitably be overlap in each conversation. The following quotes are intended to provide context and provoke thought. They are not intended to restrict discussion in any way.

A feedback form will be emailed out afterwards. Thank you!

"Need or Want: What Matters Post-Covid-19?"

Part 1: Consumption

What we need is a different economic mindset. We tend to think of the economy as the way we buy and sell things, mainly consumer goods. But this is not what an economy is or needs to be. At its core, the economy is the way we take our resources and turn them into the things we need to live. Looked at this way, we can start to see more opportunities for living differently that allow us to produce less stuff without increasing misery.”[v]

If you are safe and provided-for in this crisis and have felt any sort of peace in the quiet indoor life of the last weeks - in cooking beans instead of grabbing an unsatisfying burger or in innovating new ways to spend time with friends - hold onto it. The future will have to look different and has never felt less certain. But if we get through this crisis, let’s hope we will have learned that a life without voracious consumption is nothing to fear. It is something to demand.”[vi]

Businesses are huge consumers of energy. The shutdown of large parts of the manufacturing sector and the vast number of offices left empty has brought down electricity consumption to 85% of normal levels…The almost total shutdown of restaurants, bars, pubs and leisure facilities has hugely affected energy consumption in that sector.[vii]

Universal credit applications have rocketed since the lockdown. Figures from the Department for Work and Pensions show 500,000 people applied for universal credit, the government’s main welfare benefit, in the last two weeks of March. This was followed by an additional 250,000 in the first week of April.”[viii]

Despite toilet paper hoarding and panic buying, overall consumer spending has sharply declined since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, with retail sales dropping an unprecedented 8.7% in March. Stay-at-home orders also have caused many people to change the way they shop for the things they do need.”[ix]


Coronavirus has already triggered a wave of high street failures, from Oasis and Warehouse to Laura Ashley and Cath Kidston. Hundreds of thousands of retail workers have been furloughed, with the aim that they will return to the shop floor when stores are allowed to reopen. But there are growing fears that the lockdown may prompt huge changes in the way we shop, ushering in an era of fewer shops, more home deliveries, more local shopping and changes in the way we buy fashion…..The pause for reflection that consumers are making at the moment could lead to a reassessment of what’s important.”[x]

“Unrepairable phones and laptops are one of the scandals of our throwaway society. But the pushback is building – and the coronavirus crisis has added more pressure for change.”[xi]

“Coronavirus has exposed UK government’s failure to implement a long-term food plan… At the outset, the immediate task was to ensure people would get fed when economies went into lockdown. Lessons will be learned from how each country has dealt with supply and nutrition. In rich countries, they have learned just how dependent food supply is and was on migrant labour. As governments focus on national political responsibilities, the otherwise normal flow of labour to farms, factories and stores has been disrupted…Big issues for the UK food system have been heightened by coronavirus. Food policy and planning have not hitherto been easy bedfellows in policy and political discussions. Many still harbour the view that food is best delivered through the market, rather than that it is a “public good”. Yet the current crisis has magnified the absurdities of these complacent assumptions. Surely it is time the UK had a proper, open and widely-discussed food plan for now and the future.”[xii]

Questions to Consider

  1. Has what you value in terms of consumption changed as a result of our current circumstances?

  2. Since the lockdown started, what practical actions have you taken in relation to your consumption habits? Do you plan to sustain these when ‘normal’ life resumes?

  3. Are these things that others might find useful and be able to adopt?

  4. How can we, as a community, support these positive changes to become part of a new ‘normal’ – for example by starting local initiatives or making sure initiatives started in response to Covid-19 can continue?

References

[i] https://www.carbonbrief.org/coronavirus-what-could-lifestyle-changes-mean-for-tackling-climate-change (Christiana Figueres) [ii] Ibid. (Leo Murray) [iii] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/coronavirus-uk-lockdown-end-poll-environment-food-health-fitness-social-community-a9469736.html [iv] https://www.rau.ac.uk/about/news-and-events/news/research-shows-changing-food-habits-amid-lockdown [v] https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200331-covid-19-how-will-the-coronavirus-change-the-world [vi] https://newrepublic.com/article/157033/coronavirus-time-conspicuous-consumption [vii] https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/apr/11/the-big-shutdown-tracking-britains-covid-19-slump-in-real-time?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Copy_t [viii] https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/apr/11/the-big-shutdown-tracking-britains-covid-19-slump-in-real-time?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Copy_t [ix] https://uanews.arizona.edu/story/covid19-has-changed-consumer-behavior-what-does-it-mean-future [x] https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/apr/25/will-shoppers-return-to-the-uk-high-street-after-lockdown?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Copy_to_clipboard [xi] https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/apr/15/the-right-to-repair-planned-obsolescence-electronic-waste-mountain [xii] https://theconversation.com/coronavirus-has-exposed-uk-governments-failure-to-implement-a-long-term-food-plan-136911


Responses from Participants Involved in Online Conversation


“Or will we look back and wonder what made so many of us spend what the British ecological economist, Professor Tim Jackson, has called money we don’t have, on things we don’t need, to create impressions that won’t last, on people we don’t care about?” (My urge to splurge is over and won’t be returning soon. Clark, P. Irish Times. 3rd May 2020)

“A very interesting and enlightening trial run. Not surprisingly, there was agreement about a lot of things such as the brilliant work of our local suppliers, the heightened awareness of waste management, (in my case probably more like waist management), the reduction in the use of transport (cars, buses, trains) and greater use of eco friendly products. We also discussed setting up a share hub, both online and through the ELDA (East Linton District Advertiser) which can be extended to include ideas for keeping young children occupied, utilisation of surplus materials, waste management, promoting environmentally ethical producers and sellers. This will require some dedicated resources to gather ideas, ensure their integrity, put them online and manage the feedback. It could be a project for the local school kids who I’m sure have all the technical skills required!” Colin McWhannell

“I found this a really useful way to connect with people from our community and reflect on issues in light of how our lives have changed since lockdown. It gave us all space to share our own thoughts aided by some useful questions, as well as listen to others’ experiences and thoughts, and explore ideas shared on how to create practical ongoing positive changes. A very positive experience, food for thought and a great way to encourage a bit of time to reflect.” Jo Gibb

“There was a discussion of appreciation of the way that smaller local suppliers, both retail and wholesale, had responded rapidly to the requirements of the lockdown by providing efficient, responsive order and deliver services, generally using simple technology [email and telephone]. This was contrasted with the response of large supermarkets, which have been slow in establishing available order-deliver services, and slow in providing some degree of protection for their till operators. It was agreed that more locally sourced produce [eg fish, vegetables, cereals,] should be used close to the site of harvest, rather than being trucked to remote users. Practical steps by which the local community can support and encourage this trend should be explored with the producers and retailers.

There was consensus that the natural local environment was being much more valued, and that it seems to be in better shape as the lockdown has progressed. Quieter, more birdsong, or maybe just more evident, fewer bizarre cloudscapes and a sky free of aircraft noise and contrails. Discussion centred on teaching kids about making innovative use of “stuff lying around” for making toys, inventing games, and rediscovering old ones. Grandparents' know-how is likely to be valuable. [Example, how to make a really good, fast “tank” with cotton reel, candle, and rubber bands]. The same applies to cooking and baking. Obligatory home education, despite all the problems, gives opportunities for kids to acquire practical survival skills – mental, physical and social – that may prove to be every bit as important as more academic abilities in future years.

The question arose: what's the purpose of these conversations? I think I could identify a couple of themes. One is to engage more people in thinking seriously about ways of addressing the threats of climate change, gaining understanding of the issues, and taking constructive practical actions. The second, related theme, was where the priorities lie between [a] efforts to improve awareness, and [b] completing practical actions – on small or large scale – that one hopes will produce a demonstrably useful outcome that may also be effective in gaining support from individuals, NGOs, or Government bodies. Underlying all these discussions is the need to persuade governments of the need for a fundamental review of the present economic model. [I hope in a later discussion we can learn about Doughnut Economics!]” Brian McClelland

“We acknowledged the fact that although we are ‘isolated’ we still have electricity, gas and clean water - many people are not so lucky. The value of supporting local businesses with the knock on effect of reducing use of a car and thus promoting more exercise by walking or cycling to these venues. (It’s amazing what you can carry on a bike!) We talked about the attempt by those with gardens or even windowsills to try growing some of their own produce - It’s a therapy in itself. Also, the innovative approach to the use of used containers thus reducing costs and reducing green bin rubbish or the local recycling costs. Why on earth were Garden Centres closed when the opportunity to distance customers would seem easier than in supermarkets?

The sheer enjoyment of listening to and appreciating nature and the stillness of roads now were recognised. Reports do comment on a real reduction in air pollution. Lastly, what will I do differently? I plan to reduce plastic waste as much as possible or reuse it. I already compost most of the garden waste and do a lot of growing, but I plan to try more propagating and learning about all the insects and birds we have in the garden!” Joan Bell

“Any chance for personal reflection and honest conversation about our hopes for the future in a safe space is a good thing. I think the small group format works very well.” Philip Revell

“Really interesting to hear how others have adapted to life in lockdown; the practical changes they have made towards more sustainable living as well as the use of this time to reflect on what is important. Finding ourselves “more consciously grateful,” experiencing “a real feeling of vulnerability, a reliance on others when having to self-isolate” – wondering whether we actually need two cars. An improved sense of well-being as a result of less driving, spending more time with family, an increased appreciation for what we have - in terms of social relationships, community, the availability of food from local suppliers. All signs of hope, a shared feeling that we do not want to return to pre-coronavirus ‘normal.’ The outcome of the 1.5 hour conversation: the potential for many more conversations and, most importantly, a range of short-term practical actions to be implemented in the community such as the establishment of a network for grandparents to share 'old-fashioned' games with children, using recycled materials and promoting fresh air and exercise, simplicity and less waste; an online share hub, Freecycle style; the development of a directory of local, environmentally ethical producers and sellers - as well as a longer term ambition to shift this region towards the Doughnut economic model, aiming to reach net zero as quickly as possible while promoting social justice and ecological sustainability."

Rosie Harrison

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