We asked Bédat and a few other climate change experts to share what that hypothetical response might look like. After what is looking like weeks, if not months, of social distancing, canceled events, and stressful news, their suggestions might even sound easy.
Step 1: We would dramatically shift our transportation habits.
It’s well-known that transportation—by air, train, or car—is one of the top contributors to climate change. “If we took climate change as seriously as the coronavirus, our cities would be oriented around public transportation, which might include shared bicycles for last-mile transport,” Bédat offers. “Public transit would be fast, clean and low priced and would take us to work and cultural institutions—museums, shows, concerts or restaurants showcasing locally grown food from farms that use regenerative practices. We would also immediately change from gas cars to electric, like our stoves, and turn our power grids to renewable sources. Our appliances and vehicles would run on renewable energy too.”
“Everyone with access to renewable energy would switch,” adds Haley Boyd, a designer-turned-sustainability entrepreneur working on a new sourcing tool for the fashion industry. “It’s one of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce your carbon footprint, and it’s widely available and price-competitive in many places. Reduced transportation and ride-sharing apps [are also better choices]. I wish Uber Pool and Lyft Ride Share were labeled as ‘eco.’”
Susan Tarka Sanchez, a U.N. certified engineer and expert in circular product design who is also working with Boyd, adds that we have to “rethink work as we know it and what impacts that will have on transportation.” For instance, if more people begin to work remote, which could very well happen after weeks (or months) of these #WFH quarantines, it would reduce the number of cars on the road and put less strain on public transit.
Step 2: We would make clean water a bigger priority.
“Water is already at its crisis stage, and no one is really talking about it,” Tarka Sanchez says. “The water imbalance on planet earth is a direct correlation to climate change from emissions [created by] manufacturing pretty much everything we use, eat, wear, and do. It’s about chemistry that you do not ‘see’—and people are currently dying in this country from contaminated water. It is still the number-one killer of children in the world, usually from diarrhea due to water contamination. Without clean water, we have no clean air, no food, we have no habitat for animals, plants, and all the creatures to drink,” she continues. “We just use way too much water and are destroying it by making all of the other stuff we use.”
Tarka Sanchez mentioned water purifiers and rainwater barrels as water-saving solutions, and you can also donate to clean water organizations. But water use—and contamination—is something you should consider hone you’re buying clothes, too. Conventional cotton and denim are both among the top offenders in terms of their water use, and if you’re purchasing cheap polyester clothes, they could be made in an unregulated factory that doesn’t properly dispose of its chemicals. Polyester and other synthetic fabrics shed micro-plastics in the laundry, too, which eventually make their way into the waterways and our bodies.
Step 3: We would change the way we care for our clothes, shop secondhand, and demand transparency from the brands we buy.
“Rebuilding a relationship with our closets [would be crucial],” Bédat adds. “Our clothing would be things that we purchased with thought—we would know that they would be worn, taken care of, and cherished for years, not just a few wears. Clothing brands would slow down the release of new items and use that time to design and develop pieces that would delight us. And designers themselves would not suffer from burnout!” she continues. “The fashion we chose would reflect not our insecurities but rather the comfort and joy we have in ourselves.”