Is the Coronavirus Crisis Benefiting the Environment?
Written by Ivana on May 5th 2020
Although our environment has seen many beneficial effects as a result of COVID-19 recently, including reduced greenhouse gas emissions, less pollution and improved air quality, the health, economic and waste effects of this pandemic have been significant and undeniably negative.
One of the most common beliefs about this pandemic is that it will ensure a lasting positive impact on the environment. However, are these environmental effects entirely positive or are they merely a temporary breath of fresh air, reminding us that once this pandemic is over, we should never go back to the damaging status quo?
Positive changes in the environment
Sadly, COVID-19 has already claimed countless lives and caused an economic shockwave around the world. Whilst the pandemic has already caused unthinkable distress and hardship, the sudden and necessary shutdown of many industries has had some visible positive impacts on the environment.
Many parts of the world, including large and populated cities such as Venice and New Delhi, have seen an improvement in their air and water quality and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The pandemic, causing many shutdowns, is now being “credited with giving hope of how a low-carbon economy may be achieved” (The Independent, 2020).
Is COVID-19 an entirely positive outcome for the environment?
This global pandemic has changed our lives completely. Moreover, the outbreak will have long-lasting human and economic consequences in every part of the world which will require a well-developed response to deal with such a social crisis. Even though our environment has seen positive changes as a result of social distancing measures, COVID-19 can not and should not be seen as a situation completely benefiting the environment.
Currently we’re seeing many negative effects, such as the abandonment of environmental and sustainability programs, less waste sorting practices, increasing online purchases and an increase in the consumption of single use plastics. Experts are also predicting that once lockdowns are complete, countries will focus on rebuilding their economies as quickly as possible, which often means funding industrial activities that take us several steps back on a sustainability scale. In fact, “many warn that as countries recover and begin rebooting their economies, pollution could increase to higher levels than before the epidemic” (The Queen's Journal, 2020).
The current situation has also resulted in an increase in the amount of medical and hazardous waste generated as a result of combating the pandemic. Due to this unprecedented situation, hospitals are producing much more waste as they have had to unexpectedly switch to single-use packaging. Certain countries have even stopped their recycling programs due to the risk of spreading the virus in recycling centers, while Italy “has banned infected residents from sorting their waste at all” (Bloomberg, 2020).
Taking the entire picture into consideration, we now know that the positive impacts we have witnessed might be visible, but they are not permanent. “Although air pollution has decreased, experts say the effects are only temporary” (USA Today, 2020). What’s more, these changes come at a great expense of human distress and a disrupted economy. It is almost certain that the coronavirus pandemic won’t create a long-lasting positive impact on the environment. Our rivers and canals might be visibly clearer, but they are not permanently cleaner, and the biggest mistake we can make is to go back to our former habits.
What should change after the COVID-19 pandemic?
Many experts have found it necessary to warn against the return to the usual way of running the economy and causing huge environmental degradation.
What the COVID-19 crisis reveals is that we cannot go back to disrupting our environment through policy making, but shift our framework differently to support our economy for the future. This crisis should lead to better changes in social initiatives and healthcare, but also environmental policies that benefit humans and the environment.
If we manage nature in the right way, it will reflect accordingly on human health. This is why the post-pandemic recovery plan that countries around the world agree on will truly matter. If there will be any positive environmental impact following this horrific pandemic, it must be in changing our ways of producing and consuming. Changing our mindset towards greener activities is the only thing that can change the input of CO2 levels in the atmosphere and leave a long-term positive impact on the environment.
Currently, we have a unique opportunity to change toward “a systematic shift to a more sustainable economy that works for both people and the planet” (UN, 2020). Many changes are about to happen and a greener, more equal and circular economy emerging after the impact of COVID-19 is the right change our environment deserves.
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