Social media went into meltdown earlier this year as images of Venice circulated showing the lagoon’s water, typically murky, running clear. It was not an isolated event. COVID-19 has caused industrial activity to shut down and cancelled flights, slashing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution around the world by up to 40 percent.
But history proves that when emissions have fallen sharply in the past, as they do after recessions, there is often a rocketing rebound that wipes out any short-term cut – and that is exactly what sustainability expert James Ellsmoor is concerned about.
Mr Ellsmoor, who founded the Virtual Island Summit – a free and entirely online event designed to connect global islands to share their common issues – fears things could soon return back to their pre-lockdown state, or possibly worse.
He told Express.co.uk: “There have been short-term benefits to the environment, but the reality is that when we have a huge economic recession, it’s often the environment that suffers.
“I hope there is an opportunity to still care about the environment.
Coronavirus has created some positive impacts on the environment
Venice canals turned clear
“I hope it doesn’t go out of the window when the economy is suffering, we still need to take care of those things.
“Remote work is a huge opportunity for remote or rural places to actually develop, attract people and then build that tax-base to be able to invest in things like environmental preservation.
“So there are some big opportunities here – with change comes opportunity – it’s just how we manage that.”
Remote working could be a lifeline for the environment as more and more companies look to make working from home part of their long-term business strategy.
But people will again be encouraged to return to offices as part of a Government campaign starting next week as business leaders warn of damage being done to city centres turning into “ghost towns”.
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Carbon emissions are down
More people may look to become remote workers
The plan, which will launch as most schools in England and Wales reopen, will aim to increase footfall on passing trade near offices.
But Whitehall sources insist the campaign will not suggest those who continue to work from home are at any greater risk of losing their jobs.
Amid the announcement, Mr Ellsmoor revealed how there is huge potential for a new generation of island workers to ditch typical holidays and become “digital nomads” – using technology to work in tranquil locations.
He added: “It’s not like people will be trying to hold down a full-time job while backpacking through Thailand, but maybe renting somewhere in a much cheaper country with a beautiful landscape for the medium term, why not?
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James Ellsmoor is a sustainability expert
“I think we will see a lot of that in the future.
“Beautiful weather, great food and a decent Internet connection – it makes sense.
“There are many countries where you can stay as a British citizen without a visa for three months, so a lot of people will use that to stay for a few months and hop around, you don’t need to take the time off work to travel now – you can have the best of both worlds.
“It’s an opportunity because you get people who will come to live and study locally, pay taxes and put their kids into school – it’s much more economically sustainable than high-volume tourism.”
The Virtual Island Summit will kick-off on September 7
The Virtual Island Summit 2020, hosted by Island Innovation, will kick off on Monday, September 7, and will see a diverse range of views from 10,000 people attending from more than 250 island communities including in the Arctic, Caribbean, Europe, Indian Ocean, Pacific Islands, South America and beyond.
It is free to register and speakers range from community leaders to the Prime Minister of Fiji and the Scottish Government’s Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands, Paul Wheelhouse.
The Summit uses modern technology to maximise opportunities for participation and minimise harmful greenhouse gas emissions.