Opinions

Five habits we should keep as we reenter the world

Since the pandemic started, once in a while, there has been what sounded like good news for the planet.

Wildlife reclaiming the world ...

... and clean air everywhere.

The good news is two-sided. There is nothing to celebrate in environmental gains that come at the cost of human suffering. And, every time pollution went down during past recessions, it went back up shortly after.

Fortunately, not all is lost. In quarantine, many of us adopted a number of Earth-friendly habits that, if we can keep them, could make a difference in the long run. I asked a group of experts from the World Resources Institute, a sustainability think tank, to help figure out which of these habits could become enduring positives for the planet. Here’s a short list.

1

Keep zooming, walking and biking

In the past few weeks, many of us have been walking, biking and videoconferencing. Pretty much every time we avoid unnecessary trips that burn fossil fuels, especially by plane, that’s good for the planet.

Plus, you probably appreciate those beautiful days more now than when you were stuck in traffic or in the office.

2

Keep making grocery lists

In our previous world, between 30 and 40 percent of the food in the country went into the trash. But in recent weeks, we have all had a crash course in how not to waste food. Eating everything we buy avoids unnecessary carbon emissions, preserves natural resources and saves us money.

3

Make meat the exception, not the rule

We’ve been eating more dry food staples because they go further and because it has been harder to find meat. That’s good for us and for the planet. Less meat equals savings and health benefits. Most Americans eat far more protein than they need.

In addition, about 83 percent of the emissions associated with diet in the United States come from meat production. Outbreaks of swine and bird flus are thought to have begun in factory farms — and some scientists think it’s from those facilities that the next pandemic might come. We’ll definitely be fine with less meat.

4

Keep avoiding needless spending

Our pre-pandemic economy featured many cheap products shipped from across the globe that ended up killing jobs on this side of the planet. We’ve learned that we can survive without many of these “necessities.”

5

Trust science

If nothing else, this pandemic has made us understand that there are real risks we sometimes can’t see or don’t credit until it’s too late. That’s a lesson we can apply to climate change, too.

Note: This column reflects an interview with behavioral scientists Mindy Hernandez and Sophie Attwood, and sustainability experts Shengyin Xu and Lucas Toh, from the World Resources Institute. Absurd America examines the idiosyncrasies of life in the United States. Follow on Twitter, Instagram, or join the Facebook group.

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