The economic turmoil and subsequent downturn caused by the pandemic has wreaked havoc on countries all over the world. Governments are running out of emergency funds to support people who have found themselves jobless, savings-less and optionless. As a result, nations like the US have waived environmental initiatives and policies for later addressal in favour of spending money on the virus. For example, international climate negotiations such as the Paris Accord that were set to reconvene in 2020 have been delayed. This sets a bad example and is one of the reasons countries have pushed their environmental agendas, putting the climate on the backburner. Deforestation in the Amazon has reached record levels, Donald Trump has signed executive orders weakening climate acts, scientific research has been disrupted and waste production has greatly increased due to the need for hygienic single-use items such as gloves, masks and disposable shopping bags. Worse yet, atmospheric carbon concentrations have largely remained unchanged despite dramatic reductions in emissions due to the history and proliferation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
However, amidst all this saddening news there are some positives to the pandemic for the environment. What seems to be occurring is an ironic focus toward the future as a result of the screeching halt that society has come to. The world is beginning to realize that if warnings are not heeded and preparations are not made for impending crises, the consequences can be dire. This has applied of course to COVID-19, but it also applies to climate change. For so long members of the scientific, economic and political communities have posed warnings to governments and the public about the dangers of the climate crisis without much public understanding of the situation’s urgency. In brevity, sometimes it takes a catastrophe’s destructive arrival to realize that others are on their way. Yay to greater trust in science! Furthermore, the philosophy of the pandemic has urged policymakers and corporate leaders to consider long-term, sustainable solutions rather than quick fixes. After all, there’s no time like quarantine to bring big, paradigm-shifting ideas to the table.
This has manifested in many good ways. Proactive countries like Germany, South Korea and France have used the opportunity of economic slow-down to set aside billions to prepare themselves for the climate crisis. They have created plans to stimulate public transportation, electric vehicles and renewable energy, among other things. The European Union has set forth a $825 billion green stimulus plan with similar targets. This enormous fund will hopefully force non-European nations to shape up due to Europe’s economic supremacy. Many cities around the world have closed off streets for pedestrians and introduced new bike lanes in order to encourage people to spend time outdoors and commute in a safe, environmentally friendly way.
On the macro scale, some businesses are realizing that they are equally, if not more productive with remote working and employees can avoid the expenses and time needed for commuting. Working from the comfort of one’s home also means more time spent with family. Consequently, cities in the future will have reduced emissions from transportation and maintenance of large workplaces. It also means less air travel, which is a large carbon footprint contributor.
Additionally, home cooking has seen greater societal interest. Many have taken up cooking as a quarantine hobby, which is less wasteful than takeout or restaurant dining. If groceries are bought locally or a garden is planted, food transportation is decreased, reducing carbon emissions. Moreover, simpler, less busy lives have encouraged people to entertain themselves without external devices, opting for time spent outdoors, listening to music or bonding with family. This may cause a reduction in consumerism and its associated product waste.
The pandemic is one of the most detrimental catastrophes to happen in modern times. Its consequences cannot be understated, and the world would have saved much suffering if it had not happened. In order to derive some meaning from this horrible tragedy, if any, we must learn from our mistakes. We must listen to scientists and professionals. We must take measures to prepare for these types of disasters. We must take care of our planet and ourselves.
Written by Elsa Bassi