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June 22, 2020
As countries around the world are fighting against coronavirus, not only has the healthcare sector been hugely impacted, the virus has created changes in every sector, including the environment. In the midst of this crisis, can we see a window of opportunity to emerge from this pandemic as better environmental stewards?
Here are seven ways how coronavirus is steering a positive impact on the environment.
1. Increased campaigning against wildlife trade
Scientific investigations suggest that the origin of the novel coronavirus disease is likely zoonotic in nature. This means that the pathogen transferred from animals to humans. Humans intruding upon wildlife habitats for illegal and unsustainable animal trade increases contact between humans and pathogen-carrying species.
Pathologists warned that future zoonotic diseases are highly probable if wildlife exploitation continues. Consequently, conservationists around the world are using this pandemic as an opportunity for an increased urgency to call against the wildlife trade.
China, believed to be the origin of coronavirus cases, banned the wildlife trade’s involvement in food in February 2020. This is a good starting point, but is not without loopholes as it does not cover the use of wildlife for medicine.
Hopefully, the coronavirus pandemic will be a lesson against wildlife poaching and consumption. As consumers, this should be a lesson in responsibility for our own impact. Less demand for products that push these illegal activities will mean less people finding a way to supply them.
2. Reduced emissions and air pollution
The global shutdown of commercial and industrial activities has significantly cut down pollutants released into the atmosphere. As a result, air quality has improved as stay-at-home-measures have kept people from using transport by air and land.
Satellite images have revealed that nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter (pollutants emitted in industrial operations and vehicles) levels in major Chinese and European cities dramatically fell, based on observations from March and April of this year.
Reported reductions range from about 10% in Northern Italy to as much as 75% in Madrid, Spain. Similarly, NASA and the European Space Agency detected a significant drop in nitrogen dioxide emissions in China from January to February 2020.
As well as this, observations depict a 17% decline in carbon dioxide emissions worldwide by early April 2020, against the global mean 2019 levels. A drastic reduction. However, these drops in air emissions are only temporary. When economic activities pick up as the pandemic slows down, emissions are expected to bounce back to previous levels.
3. Benefits to local economies
The imposition of travel bans between states, provinces and countries has disrupted the supply chain of many types of goods and services. Although disruption may be temporary, the coronavirus has undoubtedly shaken each economy’s reliance on trades outside their own regions.
The coronavirus pandemic has made countries realize the importance of having their own sustainable supply of vital goods such as food and Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). This has pushed for the localization of food supply chains, with farmers directly delivering supplies for the local community. The need for PPEs for those on the medical front line and the general public prompted producers to make their own equipment and distribute locally.
But how is this linked to the environment?
Distribution of products to consumers as close to the producer as possible reduces fuel consumption and air emissions from transportation. Today’s situation will likely prompt businesses to remodel their supply chains in favour of local production and distribution.
4. Focus on essential travel
Stay at home policies around the world have given a whole new meaning to the term essential. We have truly learnt what we need to survive. Everything else counts as excess.
A move to work from home has encouraged people to realize that things can still be done as efficiently without the need to travel. By relying on technology, we can get away with paperless transactions and non-face-to-face meetings. Cutting down on business or work-related travel not only saves money, it’s also good for the environment as it saves time, fuel and transport emissions.
5. Keeping cities quiet
Less people on the streets, less cars on the road and reduced business activities, especially in busy cities, reduced unwanted noise pollution in the environment. Before coronavirus, noise pollution was a neglected health issue. As we begin hearing the sounds of birds in normally busy places, we start to appreciate more the benefits of peace and quiet.
Human-induced noise can have some very detrimental effects on wildlife, like an inability to communicate through animal sounds, stress and poor reproduction. Hence, a break from noise not only benefits humans, but it also benefits wildlife. Unfortunately, the current situation will be short-lived. Urban noise is expected to resume once economic activities pick up once again.
6. Turning to environmental transport
While mass public transport, such as trains and buses are considered an eco-friendly mode of transport, our fear of coronavirus contamination will no doubt put many off the idea of using public transport. Social distancing will drive people to prefer single-occupancy cars, which will result in increased carbon emissions.
However, many people have resorted to cycling and walking while public buses and trains are either still in shutdown or running at limited capacities. Unlike mass transport, cycling is eco-friendly. It eliminates the need for fuel and reduces the emission of air pollutants. Moreover, because it’s a non-confined transport and allows physical distancing, it is a safe alternative for avoiding coronavirus.
The change in transport behaviour is now pushing administrators to create bike lanes and safe bike infrastructures for cyclists. The question of whether biking will last post-coronavirus pandemic remains unknown. However, enthusiasts of green living are optimistic cycling will be part of the new normal.
7. A shift to a more sustainable form of travel
The coronavirus outbreak has been devastating to the tourism industry. But while people have been restricted from leisure-oriented travel, nature has taken the opportunity to recuperate.
Tourism is a driver of economic growth and accounts for about 10% of the world’s GDP. Unfortunately, however, tourism puts pressure on environmental resources in tourist destinations. Over-tourism has caused pollution, overconsumption of resources, loss of culture, disruption of ecosystems and wildlife habitat loss.
This crisis serves as an eye-opener for policymakers, travellers and the tourism sector to rethink how we can shift to a more sustainable way of travel. For the time being, it remains safer to travel closer to home, in smaller groups, in places which are less crowded.
Fortunately, this is an opportunity to strengthen the promotion of ecotourism to avoid the issues of overtourism. Ecotourism seeks to provide enjoyment of nature while supporting conservation and uplifting the livelihood of local communities.
Lastly, it’s important to mention that while we have observed and perceived positive impacts to the environment, the pandemic has, likewise, challenged other environmental issues. Among these issues are the increase in solid waste from used PPEs, increased demand for online shopping and take-out foods, and reduced tendency for waste recycling.
Being consumers, let us take this unprecedented event as an opportunity to rethink our old ways. There are challenges to environmental protection ahead, but there are also ways of choosing eco-friendly alternatives to reduce our contribution to environmental damage.
Omri Barmats – His mission is to help people make “greener” choices in their shopping cart. The Lessen is his online platform for recommending eco-friendly alternatives to everyday products, and for talking about green consumerism in general.