After a year of lockdown, remote learning and remote working, one would assume that humanity has at least made a dent towards improving its environmental impact. In that case, one would assume wrong. Whilst a decrease in road traffic has shown a 30-50% reduction in Nitrogen Dioxide emissionsᶦ, the carbon footprint has remained largely consistent.ᶦᶦ
How is this possible? How have things been getting worse, even while everyone is staying at home in this make-shift perpetual limbo? Studies indicate that the carbon footprint left by laptop usage, desktop usage, the consistent use of household appliances,ᶦᶦᶦ as well as water usage and ‘the generation, collection, and treatment of wastewater’ has more than significantly made up for the energy we’re saving out of doors.ᶦᵛ What this means is that, although it may logically follow that the national carbon footprint would have decreased, it has in fact remained the same.
The Stay-at-Home order imposes the misconception that by not commuting to work, your carbon footprint has decreased significantly, however this is not the case. Staff and students commuting to Bournemouth University generated 1160 tonnes of CO2 emissions in both 2017-18 and 2018-19. When comparing this with the annual report from lockdown, 1100 tones of CO2 emissions were generated.ᵛ This indicates that the CO2 emissions previously attributed to commuting have instead transferred to other activities within the household.
A main cause of the stagnating carbon footprint is that working from home leads to increased use of home appliances, electronics, and more frivolous food consumption. Rather than coming home at the end of a long day and only using home appliances at night and in the mornings, people have been spending the entirety of their long days at home, which has affected household emissions drastically.
The evolving ‘work from home’ culture, coupled with COVID restrictions has left most establishments operative while at near-empty capacity of use. Studies indicate that substantial quantities of energy are required to maintain University capital assets and infrastructure.’ᵛᶦ So while we may be at home, these empty buildings continue to generate carbon emissions, with or without us. It is clear that the consequences of the pandemic have done little to reduce the carbon footprint. It is also clear that staying at home isn’t the solution to climate change and once we begin our transition out of lockdown, we must initiate a new transition—to sustainable lifestyles.
i James D. Lee and others, 'UK Surface NO2 Levels Dropped By 42 % During The COVID-19 Lockdown: Impact On Surface O3' (2020) 20 Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.
ii Viachaslau Filimonau and others, 'The Carbon Footprint Of A UK University During The COVID-19 Lockdown' (2021) 756 Science of The Total Environment.