Virus will lead to better world if we all travel less by car after lockdown

From: Malcolm Margolis, Harrogate.

The number of youngsters cycling on roads, and in safety, has been one of the few Covid-19 silver linings, according to reader Malcolm Margolis.

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MY wife and I have revelled in some of the silver linings of this grim pandemic, walking in our neighbourhood and cycling in the glorious countryside west of Harrogate, to Almscliffe Crag or Lower Nidderdale, on blissfully quiet country lanes, enjoying the unusually fresh air, the birdsong, and day after day of April sunshine.

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As a campaigner, I’m excited to see many parents out cycling with their children – sometimes little ones who can only recently have learned to cycle – because the roads feel safe. The two things that spoil our outings are the ubiquitous litter and occasional aggressive drivers and boy racers, who know the chances of getting a ticket are virtually zero.

The top of Almscliffe Crag during the Covid-19 pandemic. Will people appreciate the environment even more now?

What will happen after the pandemic? We’ve had this brief taste of a different, calmer and environmentally far better way of living but, whether we want it or not, isn’t it inevitable that once all the factories, shops and schools are open, we will go back to ‘‘normal’’, our roads increasingly congested and air polluted? After all, don’t people have to earn and need to be mobile?

I believe it’s not at all inevitable. We can choose how and where we live and travel. There is a massive amount of discussion about all of this going on right now among people who believe real and rapid change for a sustainable world is not just entirely possible, but also essential.

The dreadful coronavirus has so far killed more than 20,000 in the UK and over 200,000 worldwide.

Our destruction of the environment is killing millions of people every year, including from air pollution alone an estimated 64,000 in the UK, and 8.8 million worldwide (Max Planck Institute report, 2019).

We’ve made enormous adjustments almost instantly to tackle the virus; we can and must make whatever changes are needed to tackle the climate crisis and pollution.

We can all make a difference by using the car only as a last resort, choosing to fly rarely or not at all, picking up litter, not creating it, considering the environmental impacts of what we buy and consume. In my view, none of this is difficult, it’s just developing a new habit which soon becomes normal.

In the 90s I used to drive our children a few hundred yards to the school bus, a walk of perhaps 10 minutes. Now that seems ridiculous.

But it’s the politicians we elect whose decisions are crucial to determine whether we return to the old ‘‘normal’’ or whether the changes for the better caused by the pandemic – the silver linings – become permanent.

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