As I mentioned in my previous article, the year 2020 has been a crazy ride. I feel as though I have spent most of this year indoors… and I probably have! The year started off with destructive wildfires and floods and now we’ve been facing a global pandemic.
To stop myself from going stir crazy, I have tried to maintain a positive outlook and find a silver lining in this situation. My biggest questions were are all of these stay at home orders actually going to benefit the environment and are the coronavirus and the environment actually correlated in some way?
There’s no question that the hustle and bustle of daily human life has a huge impact on the environment so what has changed since a lot of us have eliminated our commutes, starting working from home, and essentially quarantining ourselves on lockdown?
With those thoughts in mind, I set out to get some answers!
It’s no surprise that carbon emissions and air pollution has decreased drastically during this pandemic. During the height of the pandemic, air travel was down in the United States by a whopping 95%. In some cities, like New York and Los Angeles, car traffic was down between 40% and 50%.
According to carbonbrief.org, lockdowns in China resulted in a 25% reduction in carbon emissions and 50% reduction in nitrogen oxides emissions. In other parts of the world, like Venice, water in the canals cleared. They are experiencing greater water flow due to the settling of sediments that are typically disturbed by traffic from boats. Social distancing and stay at home orders have also limited the amount of locals and tourists have congregated on beaches. So oceans are seeing similar results to the waters of Venice.
This virus has shown us that working from home and virtual meetings are more viable options than expected. Companies now have the model to work off of for downsizing offices or just getting rid of them completely. This action could save companies a lot of money and reduce their negative impact on the environment. This is a win-win!
International trade has the potential to decrease when we return to “business as usual” as countries have been forced to realize how dependent they are on the global supply chain. This can now be replaced by producing goods locally. If these type of trends continue, it could have lasting effects on reducing carbon emissions and slowing down global warming.
On the flip side, there has been a dramatic increase in the use of plastic with the spike in takeout and delivery orders. California even lifted its ban on plastic grocery bags in order to protect essential workers from exposure on reusable grocery bags. Starbucks has even stopped refilling reusable coffee cups for that same reason. Also since the pandemic, the United States of America has halted recycling programs in some of their cities due to the concerns surrounding the spread of the virus in recycling centers.
Not only that but we have also seen a shift to a large demand for disposable medical products such as single-use gloves and surgical masks. South China Morning Post reported the volume of medical waste has risen from 40 to 240 tons a day in Wuhan, China. The China Energy Conservation and Environmental Protection Group even stepped in to build a new hospitals for the sudden inundation of patients as well as a new medical waste plant just to keep up with the epidemic.
It’s evident that this was not the ideal way to go about reducing our carbon footprint and saving our planet as a whole. Simply put, this method is just not sustainable way to decrease emissions. Our economy is suffering and if businesses don’t start opening up, we are at risk for the a worse recession than the one we experienced in 2008. It is very possible that when the world goes back to normal there will be a skyrocket of activity that could wipe out any short-term effect we had on the environment, but it is my hope that there will be a “new normal.” A balance does exist between having a healthy economy and a greener environment.
My hope for the new normal is that people will be more careful about all of their activities, be more efficient in their actions, and continue to make improvements to the environment. We have learned a lot of lessons through this experience that can certainly be applied to fighting climate change and with me being a half glass full kind of person, I have decided to believe that maybe this was mother nature’s way of showing us what needs to be done. This situation, albeit a tragic and stressful time, have proven that the international scientific community can come to work on solving an issue that is bigger than any one of us. We may live in different countries, but we all live on the same planet. I sure hope we don’t let the good that has come out of this go to waste.
We can keep the momentum going though by doing our part and participating in movements like Plastic Free July, which you can find out more about in my article called Plastic Free July ideas.