Our lives have really changed over the past weeks. The global economy has slowed tremendously as non-essential businesses have closed and many people are stuck in quarantine. Stress and worry have become everyday emotions, but there is some good in all of this. The impacts of coronavirus on the environment and its future are a bright spot in a time of darkness. Let’s take a look at some of the effects I’ve noticed.
Less Air Pollution
Perhaps you have seen photos online comparing pre-pandemic and current skylines or landscapes where smog has cleared up. These photos show that it is possible to quickly clear our air of toxins and particulate matter that harm human health and wildlife. With less industrial business and much, much less people driving around, emissions have plummeted which leads to cleaner air for us and the other life on this planet. According to this article, “the northeastern U.S. has seen atmospheric levels of nitrogen dioxide air pollution decline by 30% in March compared with the same period last year.”
For the same reason, less carbon and methane are released into the atmosphere. With global energy demand predicted to fall 6% this year, greenhouse gas emissions will see their largest drop ever recorded (8%). By reducing the amount of additional greenhouse gases (GHGs), we can slow climate change caused by global warming. If companies adopt working from home opportunities after the pandemic, this reduction can continue.
Although I live in the city, the return of wildlife is noticeable. The Boston subreddit was full of turkey photos taking strolls through empty streets. My parents live in a more rural area and are constantly sending my photos of deer and turkey and other animals that visit their yard. Reducing our presence and noise levels invite wildlife back into the land we have stolen from them.
Slowing Wasteful Industries
Many governments around the world have forced shutdowns of non-essential businesses. People are consuming less than before, which causes industry to produce less. Airlines and global shipping industries have seen significant declines. The fashion industry which preys on cheap Asian labor is being squeezed from both ends: slower production and decreased demand.
While unfortunately this affects workers, the slowing of industry provides an opportunity to re-evaluate supply chains and manufacturing choices. I have heard/read many news stories (like this one) that specifically point to global supply chains as a weakness, especially in times of crisis. I am hopeful this pandemic will shift manufacturing to domestic factories and stabilize our consumption levels.
Less Buying Of Non-Necessities
When shopping trips involve long lines and social distancing measures, most people are only going out when it is necessary. This leads to multiple benefits. Coronavirus has basically wiped out shopping as a hobby. People are not buying things they do not need and creating waste. They are not driving around to stores as often, thereby reducing emissions even more.
People are trying to make do with what they have and stretching resources to make them last. While it is unfortunate it is under these circumstances, these practices could easily extend beyond the pandemic and become a normal part of our lives.
Appreciation For Nature
Being stuck inside has led to an increased appreciation for the outdoors. Walks, hikes, or bike rides outdoors have become essential to both our mental and physical health during this time. Most of us have much more free time and use it to get outside (away from others) and appreciate Mother Nature. The peacefulness while walking alone in a forest really helps connect us with nature, and hopefully many people will maintain that connection in the future.
Appreciation For Slow Living
The previous two impacts of coronavirus on the environment both play into this one. Slow living is based on appreciating what we have, taking time for what matters, and reducing the waste and excess in our lives. You can read about the surprising benefits of slow living in this post. Slow living involves buying less and extending the lifespans of the objects we own, which most of us are now doing.
It also involves self-sufficiency skills. Many people have picked up new hobbies that fall into one of these categories. I have seen lots of posts online of people trying their hands at cooking, baking, sewing, and other activities that perhaps they would never otherwise try, and they see how fulfilling and fun they are. And skills like gardening or even slow living’s mindfulness practices heighten our appreciation for nature.
Coming Together For A Single Cause
While coronavirus has many impacts on our lives right now, it also can impact our environment in the future. The pandemic has brought us together. We are helping those who need it and share a sense of comradery because we are all in similar circumstances. This shows that it is possible to come together and fight for something.
The fight against climate change should be no different. We will all be affected by it, no matter who we are or where we live. We need to band together, help those who need it most, and demand policies that will protect us.
In addition to coming together, we all have changed our behaviors rather quickly. Our day to day lives have changed significantly since the winter. We do things differently: working from home, staying inside, wearing masks, socializing virtually. While some still refuse these behavioral changes, it is important to realize their success and how they can be applied to the environment. We could change our behaviors to reduce consumerism, waste, and pollution so long as we realize their importance.
This impact also refers to future applications. Governments have had to work quickly to help citizens get financial aid and needed supplies. They have found trillions of dollars to provide assistance to individuals, small and large businesses, and governments. In the US, that figure is over $2 trillion. In Canada, it is over $60 billion, and in the EU, it is $3.7 trillion (all figures in USD). While this shows money can be found in times of crisis, if we take climate action measures now, they will cost less and can be spread out over time to reduce impact.
In the US, the CARES Act passed in a matter of days instead of months, showing policy can move through quickly. There is no reason climate action should move slower. We have seen that substantial bills can become law quickly and begin having an effect on the nation.
While most of the impacts of coronavirus on the environment may be temporary, it is possible for many to persist as we create a “new normal” post-pandemic. I, for one, am hopeful because coronavirus has taught us we can make big changes if enough of us realize their importance to our health and our future.
As a final note, always make sure you are getting information regarding the pandemic from reliable sources, such as your government or the science and health communities.