The COVID19 pandemic is an unintentional real-time experiment in how our economy and society can cope with and adapt to a profound shock. There are already many lessons to learn from it about how to build a more resilient and sustainable economy in the future, one that also better protects people’s health and wellbeing.
Some of the environmental effects of the pandemic have been significant, such as a cleaner, more breathable air as a result of the collapse in traffic levels and a resurgence in wildlife and nature as a result of the lockdown of the entire communities. The citizen science air quality monitoring project led by the volunteers of Clean Air Eastbourne has already recorded a 70% drop in particulate air pollution during March 2020 compared with March of 2019, confirming that air pollution can decrease rapidly in Eastbourne if road traffic levels drop far enough and stay reduced for long enough.
This is leading to calls from across Eastbourne, mirrored across the rest of the country, for more safe cycle lanes and better walking infrastructure now, even if only on a temporary basis, so as to ensure that the much needed modal shift to active travel – a shift already accepted as necessary by Eastbourne Borough Council in its draft local plan – can be accelerated during the pandemic, and sustained after it. The UK government is responding to these calls by introducing new statutory regulations authorising those local councils responsible for local highways to introduce such cycling and walking infrastructure and providing a £2 billion fund to facilitate their construction.
The pandemic has also highlighted many of the issues around food supply and delivery in a crisis and the difficulties involved in ensuring that everybody has all the food they need, an issue that may get more urgent over the coming year given the acute shortage of foreign labour to help bring in the summer harvests. The Climate Adaptation and Food working Groups of the EEAN, in collaboration with the Eastbourne Food Partnership, organised a joint visit, just before the pandemic, to two ecological community farms at Arlington – Aweside Farm and Fanfield Farm – which are about to start providing fresh organic sustainably produced food for local delivery.
More such local farms, together with the already existing local organic farms and horticultural nurseries, will surely be needed as the large commercial farms begin to struggle and the international food supply chains start to fracture during the upcoming global recession. According to Sustain, only 1-2% of all the food we consume comes from local food chains. So bringing local food producers and suppliers into a resilient local food network to provide local people with a diverse range of fresh, healthy local food is an essential part of any strategy to create a truly sustainable local food economy in the Eastbourne area, cutting down food miles, reducing food and plastic waste, reducing overdependence on fragile international food chains, and reducing carbon emissions through the sustainable care of soils practised by organic growers.
The pandemic may be a time of great tragedy and suffering, but it is also a time in which the positive changes previously thought too difficult to introduce are now becoming possible, helping to improve health and wellbeing in the long run. The EEAN aims to promote and facilitate those changes through collaboration across all sectors of our local community.
Climate Adaptation Group, EEAN Director