The coronavirus pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives, both personally and professionally. However, while we’ve been sequestered away under lockdown, it has also been busy reshaping the world around us. From the canals of Venice becoming so clear that fish can now be seen in them to wild goats roaming the streets of Welsh town Llandudno, we can see what the world might look like removed of human influence. These signs of environmental healthiness create the possibility of crafting a world where humanity and nature are more harmonious. Given all the other changes we’ve had to undergo, this one doesn’t look so unachievable anymore. In this article we take a look at coronavirus’ impact on sustainability and what this means for the environment going forwards.
At the height of the coronavirus crisis, more than half of the world’s population (3.9 billion people) was asked or ordered to lock down. The world was transformed: fewer people on the road and barely anyone on the streets.A BBC article reported that in areas forced to lockdown emissions fell dramatically- in New York pollution levels reduced by nearly 50% and in China coal use fell by 40% while air quality improved in 337 cities. Because anything but essential travel was forbidden, emissions fell significantly. Likewise, because shopping was made into a much rarer event, food waste might have been reduced as well. Small actions, like cutting down on unnecessary travel and only buying essentials, might become more normalised and could therefore have an impact as we continue to face the climate crisis. Coronavirus may have changed our mindset towards making changes that might inconvenience us personally in service of a greater good.
Although individual consumers can of course have an effect, the real impetus behind change is the government. Coronavirus saw scientific and diplomatic collaboration across the world, as countries began to realise that this was a problem that could only be solved by a unified, global response. Now we’ve seen both the possibility and results of such an approach, there seems to be little reason why similar resources can’t be levelled in a fight against the climate crisis. People all over the world are concerned about global warming and now we have seen how easily international cooperation was deployed against coronavirus, many may be wondering why they haven’t seen the same capable response when it comes to the environment. In a recent poll conducted by YouGov, only 9% of British citizens said that they wanted to return to the way things were before the pandemic. There is a real appetite for change, in terms of the economy and the environment. Now is the time to harness that energy and turn it into something productive.
Despite the drop in carbon emissions, we are nowhere near the level we need to be and global lockdowns are obviously not the solution to this ongoing problem. However, a 2018 study by Zurich University of Applied Sciences found that when people were unable to drive and given a free e-bike to use instead, they drove much less when eventually given their car back. The positive environmental changes we have been making in our lives could carry on as we begin to emerge from the crisis. We should also be aware that wide reaching societal change is possible- and push our governments to achieve what we now know they can do.