| By Elizabeth Bettis
The coronavirus pandemic has brought anxiety and uncertainty to so many parts of our lives, but IDEAS For Us (IDEAS) continues its work to involve the community in sustainability action throughout everything. IDEAS Executive Director Clayton Louis Ferrara, Chief Operations Officer Lee Perry, Chief Administrative Officer Caroline Chomanics, and Chief Communications Officer Ernest Calderon came together in an online session to discuss the impact of COVID-19 and how communities can best react to our current situation. IDEAS For Us is an environmental solutions incubator that works to solve global issues while focusing on the areas of energy, water, food, waste, and ecology. A major issue to solve as soon as coronavirus hit was how IDEAS could continue to fulfill its mission while keeping staff and communities safe and following pandemic regulations. In-office workers had to switch to remote work and all events were canceled, but despite this setback, the IDEAS leaders remain optimistic about how COVID may be able to change things for the better.
New Opportunities: Sustainability at Home
Many Americans have some extra time in the COVID-ruled world – the canceled morning commute alone frees up a significant portion of the day. Administrative Officer Caroline Chomanics suggests that this time be used to learn and focus on making your home more sustainable and environmentally friendly. She offers a few suggestions: Grow a garden! Start a compost bin! Food waste and scraps are a source of more food; composted properly, they can help you to start the sustainable garden you’ve never had time for before. There are also so many other ways you can reduce unnecessary waste around the house by just investing a little time and thought. For example, save energy by transitioning to LED light bulbs. Check your house for LED bulbs and make a note to replace incandescent bulbs as soon as possible. Another valuable resource you can save is water. Use bathwater to irrigate your plants instead of washing it down the drain, and you’ll be another step closer to having a cheap, sustainable, healthy garden. See how many objects you can recycle around the house, like old containers for plant pots.
Operations Officer Lee Perry also has a few ideas for sustainability at home. Making your own laundry detergent is a great way to save money and avoid the harmful chemicals in traditional detergent, which can infiltrate our drinking water to cause all kinds of health problems and seep into waterways to fuel algae and destroy animal life (3). By skipping the morning commute, you’re automatically saving money on gas and saving the environment from car pollution – the average car emits 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide yearly; think about how much pollution your work-from-home routine saves (4). Maybe it’s also a good time to try saving regular energy around the house. Perry suggests weather stripping to reduce air conditioning needs: the weather stripping process solves air leaks around windows and doors by sealing movable connections, improving home efficiency (1). Hanging dark curtains on your windows and opening windows or doors to get a crossbreeze can also cut the air conditioning bill. Other options include taking shorter showers and even cutting down on toilet flushes. These methods, though they could be a little uncomfortable at first, will add up to huge savings for both your wallet and the environment. Check out more ideas here on the IDEAS For Us blog.
Community Involvement in COVID-19
One area in which COVID has had a major negative impact is community. Between canceled events and the inability to interact normally in social situations, maintaining community is a constant struggle, but it’s nonetheless important. For IDEAS, the question is simple: how can we act for the environment as a community despite social distancing restrictions? Perry says that IDEAS is a place where people can come together to share climate grief, to “unite so that we can make the load a little bit lighter.” This sharing might be harder now than ever before, but it’s far from impossible. There are still so many ways to get involved and bring communities together. Outdoor activities are a great way to pursue community involvement because social distancing is so much easier outside; everyone can come together for activities like community cleanups, raking leaves for compost, or picking up trash. Perry also suggests a plant box exchange where community members can donate and receive small plants or seeds. Find a way to interact with your local community online and set up outdoor activities – with the cooling weather, now is a perfect time!
Caroline Chomanics has further ideas for how you can both interact in your community and fight for environmental justice. Join a nonprofit. Research nonprofit organizations, pick one whose goals you resonate with, and get involved through volunteering, online strikes, social media petitions, and more. Even if you can’t attend in-person events right now, you can still make a difference, especially as movements like the Global Climate Strike are going online to fight the virus spread. It’s never been easier to get involved. Now more than ever, we need activism to fight for renewable energy goals, farm workers, and so much more – and there’s an organization for every interest. If you’re passionate about farm workers’ rights then join the Farmworkers Association of Florida to secure a just agricultural system and worker health in an ever-more-hostile environment. Ensure food security for troubled families even in pandemic times by donating or volunteering at Second Harvest Food Bank. If you’re into gardening, research Orlando Permaculture where you can interact with a vibrant community to learn about permaculture processes and jumpstart your yard into sustainability.
Environmental Activism in Pandemic Times
After you’ve reviewed your home for ways to save energy, compost, and improve your sustainability practices, it’s a great time to start learning about how to take action in even more impactful ways. Coronavirus is a perfect opportunity to educate yourself about government procedures and how government policies are impacting the environment – and once you know what’s going on, you can begin to actually change things. Ernest Calderon proposes reaching out to your local representative with environmental action items. He personally mentions that representatives like Anna Eskamani have made a huge positive impact by supporting clean energy goals and similar movements; your involvement could inspire so much more (2).
Can COVID-19 End in Positive Change?
All the panelists acknowledge that the coronavirus pandemic is going to change the world – the question is how things will change and how we can make sure these changes are positive, not negative. COVID may be a rest period for the environment, but it won’t last forever, and now is the time to decide whether we will emerge from the other end of this pandemic to continue wasteful energy use and thoughtless pollution or pursue a future of clean energy and conservation. As Calderon points out, the environment has a tipping point – and we’re dangerously close. A temporary reprieve is more of an opportunity for change than a chance to forget about the problem. Many of the practices implemented during the pandemic could potentially be continued into the future to lessen negative environmental impact even as the world returns to work, Clayton Ferrara suggests. The now-normalized work-from-home solution would continue to save commuter pollution. COVID’s international panic has also forced communities to think local, which is a major positive. Localizing supply chains saves the energy required to transport food and reinforces a community’s sustainability. Overall, change starts local, and the best place to begin is your own home. So what can you do?