The status quo is one of increasing international travel, increasing globalisation of supply chains, decreasing regulation and lighter touch government. It's estimated that there were 1.4 billion international tourism arrivals in 2018. We have neighbours who are taking 3 intercontinental holidays this year alone. My sons are hoping to be working in South Korea or New Zealand this year, and there are lots more trans-national romances among young people. This is a different world from the one I grew up in, where we seemed to range over around 10 miles, and international travel was the object of TV shows, but not reality. The carbon footprint of flights is around 2.5% of global emissions, but was expected to grow rapidly, a situation clearly not compatible with reducing our carbon footprint. But the coronavirus outbreak is slashing the number of flights as demand crashes. My own forthcoming trip to EFSA in Parma, in northern Italy, has been replaced with web conferences. Will we see a smaller, leaner, less polluting travel industry? And if so, will the environmental benefits being brought through eco-tourism be lost?
The last time I was in China (well before the virus outbreak), a new factory had swung into production. I was told it was going to make all the automatic gearboxes for Volvo. Some of our food supply chains are incredibly complex. Such globalisation of supply chains brings benefits in terms of cost, but risk being disrupted in there are major problems in transport. Then what? We can wait a bit longer for a new car, but what about the risks to our food supplies?
One proposed solution is the re-localisation of food supply chains. This can easily sound like a return to digging for victory, the re-focussing on local food. But local food production is suffering from climate change now. We have a smallholding near Leeds, and the land is far more waterlogged than ever I have seen it. Many farmers in our area have been unable to plant their crops, or watched them rot in the fields during this winter of mild, stormy, wet weather. And even if we could figure out how to maintain production, the population is far larger than it was, expectations of quality and variety are higher, and of food prices are far lower than in the past. There are real risks to food safety if we shift to novel supply chains, and investment is needed to make them operational at a meaningful level. In other words, the shift towards more localised food systems may be a sensible response to the climate emergency, but needs proactive governance.
The climate emergency is not just something to be endured, it is an opportunity to reframe our ideas about quality of life. To enjoy a community event, to reclaim our local heritage and culture. Never let a good crisis go to waste, as someone once said. I am hopeful about the coronavirus outbreak, that it will bring about much more detailed and timely responses to the climate emergency at the level of families, communities, towns and cities.