TEDxSantaBarbara: The Pandemic Did Not Solve the Climate Crisis
CEC’s CEO Sigrid Wright recently joined TEDxSantaBarbara‘s Mark Sylvester to discuss the Five Important Trends for the Climate as part of TEDxSantaBarbara’s Making Waves: Conversations with Influencers and Disrupters. Those five trends are:
Drop in passenger vehicle travel
While real-time data based on cell phone mapping shows that in almost every corner of the U.S., people are back to traveling – often more than pre-COVID days by 25-100% – the workplace may be more permanently changed as employers and employees get comfortable with working from home. Read articles in Forbes and the New York Times.
Significant drop in air travel
Air travel is down about 80% compared to this time last year. According to a recent poll by the International Air Transport Association< – more than half of Americans will continue to avoid air travel for the foreseeable future.
These two trends – coupled with the massive, 20-year growth of renewable energy, may have sped up an important moment that climate scientists call “peak emissions,” that moment when we hit the zenith of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere through human activity and begin to “bend the curve” on new emissions.
Less oil, more renewables in Santa Barbara County
At the beginning of the year, local climate activists expected to be in the fight of the decade over approximately 750 new oil wells proposed for the Cat Canyon region. In the last month, two of the three proposed projects have pulled the plug: the Petrorock project and the Aera Energy project. While several variables led to these developments, a main factor was that the price of a barrel of oil dropped into the single digits – and even went below zero for a while – making new oil projects became less economically feasible. Meanwhile, after more than a decade in the planning, project developers broke ground on the first utility-scale wind farm in the county in April and more than 20 cities and counties in Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo are breaking from the utilities to offer Community Choice Energy programs.
The shift to plant-based meats continues to grow rapidly
Sales of alternative meat products in grocery stores went up 264 percent during the first part of the pandemic. While consumer interest in plant-based meats was firmly in place prior to COVID-19, the trend may have been accelerated when shoulder-to-shoulder meat packing facilities became hot spots for virus transmission and the supply chain for traditional meat was rocked. In addition, companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat are more flexible than factory farms, and have been able to halt or ramp up production more easily.
Consumer spending has dropped
While we’re not used to calling a drop in consumer spending a positive sign – and indeed it has been linked with some painful and unsustainable contractions such as a rapid tanking of the restaurant industry – I’m using this as a rough and imperfect measure of a trend that is positive for the environment: buying less stuff. This is sparking conversations worth having about decoupling growth-at-all-costs from our notions of healthy communities, such as this one: COVID-19 Broke the Economy. What if We Don’t Fix It?
The reality is that we have a short amount of time to react to climate change – behavioral change is very important, but will not stop the problem. We must deal with root causes and take action towards systems change. Currently, we are dealing with intersecting crises – economic, public health, climate, and race – and the cascading effects of these crises are fast moving. We need leaders to engage in systems thinking and hold space for considering how we can bounce forward instead of bounce back for climate.
Learn more about resources, thought pieces, and actions you can take now.
Sigrid has 25 years of experience in non-profit environmental management and is the CEO for the Community Environmental Council. She is a steering committee member of the Central Coast Climate Collaborative and the Alliance of Regional Collaboratives for Climate Adaptation. Sigrid is co-author and/or editor of more than a dozen CEC policy documents, including The Santa Barbara County Regional Energy Blueprint. She is on the executive team and board of the countywide Food Action Plan.