As a result of everyone across Europe and many parts of the world staying at home, lower levels of pollution are being recorded. Pictures of amazingly clear skies over Los Angeles, New Delhi and London are turning up in people’s newsfeeds. Dolphins have returned to the canals of Venice. Indirectly, this crisis has presented an opportunity for environmentalists in two important respects:
1) to show how much more pleasant a world with less pollution would be
2) to show it may be possible to achieve significantly lower levels of pollution
Of course, the scale of the shutdown makes similar reductions in pollution in the future seem somewhat unrealistic. However, certain strategies such as reducing the number of cars on the streets, for instance, could go a long way. Some may even propose a few days a year in which people stay at home. In a poll conducted on the 8th of April, we at Redfield & Wilton Strategies asked respondents what they thought about having stay-at-home orders a few days in the year in order to benefit the environment. To our surprise, a majority of respondents said they would support such a policy!
This idea was particularly popular with the younger generations, who are known to take climate change more seriously, but a plurality of Conservative voters was also supportive of the notion. Surprisingly, even a majority––60%!––of those respondents who agreed with a statement suggesting that they were struggling to cope with the shutdown (26% of all respondents) were supportive of such a policy, which may suggest that those currently struggling are struggling from something other than, say, cabin fever. Likewise, those who now find their jobs at risk also expressed support for this idea in higher numbers.
These numbers would weaken arguments that people may lose their jobs or suffer mentally from a government policy of asking members of the public to stay at home certain days every year in order to improve the environment. Of course, the most pertinent question would concern civil liberties––perhaps, it would have to be a ‘voluntary’ stay-at-home sort of day.
With everyone currently sitting at home during the quarantine, we also asked respondents on their willingness to volunteer to pick rubbish off the streets. Given that there are no cars on the street and little extra rubbish piling up, the present moment is a fantastic opportunity to clean the streets and parks and set a new baseline of cleanliness into the future. Altogether, a little more than a third of respondents said they would volunteer to do so, provided the government allowed it and members of the public stayed six feet apart from each other.
In the younger generations––between the ages of 18 and 34––a plurality of respondents (44%) said they would do so. Those who were unlikely to do so were also more likely to be intolerant of any form of going out. That is, the ones who would not volunteer were also much more likely to also be the same respondents who found the current measures ‘not enough,’ who thought the current lockdown will last until the end of June or even beyond, who were pessimistic about the UK’s ability to recover from this crisis, who say they would be ‘extremely worried’ if they contracted coronavirus and who think the public should not even be allowed out of their homes to exercise in parks, never mind sunbathe.
Nevertheless, for a third of respondents to express a willingness to volunteer and pick up rubbish is a high number. Imagine what could be accomplished if only 2% of the entire UK population was engaged in such an effort! As people at home combat boredom and if the Government could establish safety guidelines for this form of volunteering, then why not allow it? We have already been seeing efforts by farmers to have young Britons to help take care of critical crops. This, too, could be another reset button provided by the current crisis.
After all, some respondents to our poll reported that their streets have been less clean since this crisis has begun––maybe a consequence of fewer sanitation workers working or maybe because these respondents are spending more time walking in their neighbourhoods and therefore noticing the uncleanliness. A quarter, however, said their neighbourhood was more clean than before, while a majority noted no change.
Altogether, therefore, this crisis may provide a great opportunity for the cause of environmentalism. In this respect, it is a society-wide reset button––and a large portion public have shown themselves to be quite willing to fully press it.
This poll is part of Redfield & Wilton Strategies’ ongoing research into public opinion on the coronavirus outbreak and government’s reaction to the crisis. Further results from our polling in the UK, USA, Italy, France, Spain and Germany is featured here.