Brits intend to keep to low carbon living post covid

Britons, it seems, are keen to continue with low-carbon lifestyle choices, according to research by Cardiff and Manchester Universities

Time to move to the country for a low impact lifestyle?

The lockdown resulted in millions of us stop driving, take up cycling, do more walking and shop less. Since the lockdown easing many of us are still sticking to two wheels and choosing not to fly - and not only because of fear of contracting covid. 

Two surveys conducted by the UK Centre for Climate and Social Transformation (CAST), coordinated by Cardiff University, suggests lockdown has upended our habits, from buying and travelling less to reducing energy use and cutting down on food waste.

Particularly striking was people’s intentions to cut down on flying abroad for holidays and a big rise in support for limiting flying to tackle climate change, say researchers, who were surprised to find the level of public concern over climate change has increased rather than decreased during thel pandemic.

Results suggest lockdown has disrupted our habits and environmental researchers are urging policy-makers to seize on what they see as a unique moment of change,

CAST's two UK-wide surveys were carried out in May with more than 1,800 respondents. Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh, director of CAST, says clearly people saw lockdown as an incentive to try out low-carbon behaviours - such as working and socialising online, spending more time on creative hobbies and gardening, buying less and cutting food waste - and many are keen to continue with these behaviours.

'Particularly striking', says Prof Whitmarsh, 'is the desire to reduce flying for holidays and the large increase in support for limiting flying to tackle climate change. Consistent with other research showing the public strongly supports a green recovery from Covid-19, our studies highlight that policy-makers need to act now to lock in low-carbon routines that people have adopted during lockdown.'

The research - the first to draw together the impact of the pandemic on lifestyles and attitudes to climate change - found:

*More intended to reduce the amount they fly post-lockdown (47 per cent), than planned to increase it (8.3 per cent) or to go back to pre-lockdown levels (45 per cent);
*The majority of people intend to use public transport less after lockdown (52 per cent) compared to before, while only 4.9 per cent intend to increase its use;
*Online food shopping more than doubled from 12 to 25 per cent during lockdown 
*A notable reduction in food waste was reported (92 to 84 per cent) and there was also an increase in waste-reducing practices such as meal planning, freezing and preserving food;

Participants spent less during lockdown, especially on clothes and shoes (63 per cent spent nothing on clothing/footwear in March-May, up from nine per cent spending nothing on it during the three months prior to lockdown);

On energy use, people questioned said they were more likely to turn off lights and unused appliances (27 per cent now up from 21 per cent pre-lockdown) and heat their home to a lower temperature compared to pre-lockdown (36 per cent now down from 47 per cent pre-lockdown heating their home on cold days to at least 20C)

Researchers say they had expected to see a drop in climate concern because worries over one major issue can reduce concern over other issues; for example, after the 2008 financial crisis there was a dramatic decline in concern about climate change. This research found the opposite, in fact concern about Covid-19 was only slightly greater than climate change concern (90 per cent versus 82 per cent - with concern about Brexit coming in at just 57 per cent. 

Dr Claire Hoolohan, Research Fellow at Manchester University, says covid-19 may be the most profound disruption to lifestyles in living memory, 'and the measures imposed to respond to it have fundamentally affected how people live, work, socialise and care for one and other.

'Our findings illustrate that the restructuring of everyday life that's occurred since lockdown was implemented has allowed low-carbon practices to take hold. However, people’s experiences have varied immensely. Though our research found that many felt aspects of lockdown were enjoyable, we also found that others experienced feelings of stress and guilt while trying to balance caring responsibilities and work. 

'The question that faces society now is how do we recover from this pandemic in a way that means society is healthier, happier and more sustainable than before. This is a challenge policy-makers, businesses, and other organisations must rise to if we are to lock-in low-carbon lifestyles.'

The researchers will conduct follow-up surveys when lockdown is fully lifted to understand the longer-term impacts.