One silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic is that air pollution levels have gone down, not just around metropolitan areas but throughout the country — and even in China!
Most of us are driving less. I last filled my gas tank over three weeks ago, on October 9, and the tank is still 3/4 full. Instead of grumbling about the cost of gas, I’m complaining about the monthly payment for the lease on my car that sits in the garage all week.
But maybe it’s better this way. We live in town. Our street is not a major artery, but it is a through street so we normally get a medium amount of traffic. But lately, we can sit on our front porch and not see a single car go by for ten minutes.
For the past six months, having two cars has been a hassle, and so we’re now starting to think maybe we can get along with just one. My lease runs out next June. My plan right now is to replace the car with a bicycle. A bicycle is not the perfect way to get around. There’s traffic to negotiate, and it’s no good in the rain or the winter. But it might be worth a try.
If that doesn’t work, maybe we’ll get an electric car. But I’m not quite sold on the idea. I’ve read that an electric car, after you account for making and disposing of the batteries and generating the electricity, saves only about 20% of the pollution. Now 20% is better than nothing. But you can do just as well simply by trading in a 22 mpg SUV for a 27 mpg car.
COVID is definitely changing our thinking and our habits. Is the pandemic changing yours?
We’ve been recycling paper and plastic for years now. The only problem is, I’ve read that they can’t recycle all the plastic. It’s just too much. A lot of it ends up in a landfill anyway. So we’re trying to cut back on plastic. I used to drink bottled water. Now I fill my glass at the tap. Our town water is perfectly fine.
We’ve tried all along to bring our own tote bags to the grocery store — but somehow we hardly ever remembered. So we went through a lot of plastic bags. But now with COVID, we wouldn’t be caught dead taking a plastic bag from the supermarket. We’ve completely changed that habit. We never go anywhere without our tote bags.
It almost goes without saying that we’re traveling less.
COVID has been killing the airline industry. But it’s saved a whole lot of jet fuel. Maybe after this is all over, the airlines will be downsized, and we can spend less time flying in jet planes. Sure, you might want to take that special trip to Hawaii or Europe, or to see family. But we won’t be quite so casual about contributing to all those jet fumes.
Instead, we’re discovering the charms of the Microadventure. For us it’s been an afternoon at a park, a drive to visit another town. But even more adventuresome people are discovering sights closer to home — Boston or Washington instead of Paris or Helsinki; one of the national parks instead of el Camino de Santiago, a local beach instead of Cancun.
We don’t eat much meat anymore, not because it’s environmentally punishing — although it is — but because we’re trying to be more healthy. We had a steak dinner for my wife’s birthday. And we ate hot dogs exactly one time this summer when we had a cookout. Other than that it’s chicken and fish and lots and lots of vegetables. (Not that we’re perfect; we do like our baked goods.)
We do not grow any of our own food. That would be a good thing, but we don’t have the property or the green thumb. Instead, we signed up with a local farm to supply fresh produce. It’s a little more expensive, but still cheaper than all that meat. And nothing comes wrapped in plastic.
We’ve also been more careful about throwing away food.
We have leftovers once or twice a week — again, not trying to save the environment — although it does — but because in these pandemic times we want to cut down on the number of trips to the grocery store.
Like many other people, we use the library more. We haven’t needed much in the way of clothes. We support our local restaurants by doing take-out — for us, mostly curbside pickup at the pizza place.
In many ways I can’t wait to get back to normal. But maybe, just maybe, a few of these new habits will stick with us — and we’ll take one small step toward saving the planet.