Work From Home and the Environment

I should start by making this much clear: we are not in a post-COVID world. Far from it. For all of the talk of reopening things right now, COVID is still very much a factor. We are losing hundreds of Americans per day.

However, at some point we are going to be looking at the other side of this virus, and at that point, we are going to need to think about what different workplaces look like after the virus. Granted, many workplaces are already thinking about this.

Some workplaces cannot function virtually and therefore may end up looking the same as they were before the virus. There are many professions, such as many service industries, manufacturing, construction, and much more, that must be done on site and cannot be done virtually. There are other workplaces that have tried to function virtually, but with significant problems since the pandemic began—teaching comes to mind as one such profession.

However, some workplaces have discovered that they can function virtually quite well, and in some cases as well as they did before the virus. In such cases, it would be best from an environmental standpoint if work from home became a long-term condition.

In many countries, including the United States, transport is the number one cause of greenhouse gas emissions.[1] Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of said transport comes from the car,[2] which is the vehicle of choice for many to head to work. What this means is that if fewer people needed to go to a workplace, fewer people would need to drive. And if fewer people need to drive, there’s less pollution coming into the air, contributing to the problems of dirty air and global warming.

Basically, work from home is environmentally friendly.

Now, the question of whether continuing to work from home after COVID (in industries that have been able to work from home during COVID) is going to be, in many cases, an office-by-office decision, depending on how well different offices felt they were able to function during the pandemic. Some offices may decide that they didn’t function well when they worked virtually, and therefore will head back to their offices after COVID. Other offices may feel on the fence about this question. Other offices yet may feel that they have functioned quite well from home during the pandemic and will be more than happy to work from home after the pandemic. Other offices yet may feel that they have functioned relatively well during the pandemic but would find it useful to have a combination of a combination of in-person work and working at home. However, especially for offices that are on the fence—particularly offices that are in areas where the only way to get to the location (or by far the easiest/most convenient way to get to the office) is by car, perhaps environmental considerations could also play into the thought process in such a decision.

For as much as some of us may like to think of key decisions on the environment as some far-away thing for people in some distant land to deal with, the reality is that all of us as individuals, as well as our bosses as individuals, have a role to play in taking care of the environment. And, perhaps in cases where offices functioned well while working virtually during the pandemic, the decision to continue working from home after the pandemic can be more than an office functionality decision, but an environmental one, too.



Barriers to Evacuating From a Weather Disaster

Before every hurricane, we hear elected officials to tell people to “get out of harm’s way.” They say that “if you don’t leave, you are putting your own life at risk.” Or even more dire—I’ve heard elected officials say that “death is certain” if you don’t evacuate. People in parts of Louisiana and Texas heard all of this as Hurricane Laura was approaching last week.

Now don’t get me wrong—I appreciate the strong language. I think that when a major hurricane is heading straight at you, particularly if you’re in an area vulnerable to storm surge from the hurricane, you need to evacuate, if at all possible.

However, I beg people, including any government officials, to take notice of that final clause in my previous sentence: if at all possible.

I say that because, for some people, evacuating is not possible. And the results of this are catastrophic, even deadly.

But how could this be the case, when governments like to give a face of taking these storms seriously? Well…here are just a few major barriers to evacuating from a weather disaster:

Not enough shelters are pet-friendly.

A Reuters article some time ago put it best—pet owners often think of their pets first when natural disasters strike.[1] Now some of that is because people are that emotionally attached to their pets (and that is valid), but we also have to keep in mind that, in some cases, people literally can’t function without their pets. From people who rely on animals as a form of therapy for physical and/or mental health issues, to blind individuals who rely on guide dogs to get them around, there is a whole population of people who can’t function without their pets. Therefore, it is unacceptable for governments to either be short on shelters (as was the case with Florida before Hurricane Irma in 2017, according to the aforementioned Reuters article) or lack pet-friendly shelters in the first place (as was the case with South Carolina with Hurricane Florence a few years ago[2]). If governments want people to evacuate, they need to have evacuation shelters that allow people to be with their pets, for both people who are attached to their pets and for people who can’t function without pets.

Governments also do not provide adequate transportation for people with disabilities.

I was only eleven years old when Hurricane Katrina hit, but one of the things I remember from Katrina was how the City of New Orleans and the State of Louisiana did not adequately provide transportation for the disabled to get to a safe place. Depending on the disability, one may not be able to get to higher ground on their own; therefore, there needs to be help. With Hurricane Katrina, government didn’t help adequately, and the death toll was probably much higher than it should’ve been because of that lack of help.

I will end this section with a quote from a report issued by the National Council on Disability in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005: “For example, during the Katrina evacuation, many people with disabilities could not evacuate because to do so would require them to abandon support services and personnel. Moreover, since emergency transportation and shelters could not care for them, many people with disabilities were forced to stay behind.”[3]

Employee rights are inadequate.

How inadequate are employee rights? So inadequate that people can, and have, been fired because of evacuating from hurricanes. For example, a woman in North Carolina claimed that she was fired for not showing up to work after losing power during Hurricane Florence in 2018—that’s very possible because North Carolina is what’s called an “at-will employment state,” or a state where “private-sector employees can be fired for any reason – or no reason at all.”[4] There were also stories galore before, during, and after Hurricane Irma asking whether an employee can be fired for fleeing from the hurricane (by the way, the consensus answer was “yes”). Until governments have better protections keeping people from being fired for not showing up to work during or immediately after a hurricane as part of an evacuation plan, people will hesitate to evacuate for fear of missing work and being fired.

When a disaster such as a hurricane is on the way, the barriers to evacuating should be minimized to the greatest extent possible. However, that does not happen, and that likely results in preventable deaths.

Please note that I will not publish a post next Monday, as next Monday is Labor Day.

[1] This article talked about how, even for those who need companion animals, pet-friendly shelters were difficult to find: