One aspect of this pandemic that nobody in their right mind can deny: when a disaster like COVID-19 rears its head unexpectedly, all of the other stuff that we have going on falls to the bottom of our lists of priorities.
In turbulent times, where does the environment stand? To many leaders around the world, COVID-19 may very well have been the wake-up call required for real change, especially in terms of our environmental impact.
How has COVID-19 impacted the environment?
Many consider climate change to be akin to an existential threat to humanity like COVID-19. Environmental pressure, the imposition that our supply chain, cities, modes of transport, and agricultural needs suffocate the planet with, is largely to blame for things like global warming, air pollution, and a significant reduction in biodiversity around the world.
The truth is undeniable: despite the fact that it’s been with us for only two years officially, COVID-19 has drastically changed the way that we produce and distribute goods, allocate resources like land, and get around as human beings. As such, it’s actually influenced our short-term impact on the environment greatly.
How exactly is environmental change evaluated and monitored? The health of our planet is a delicate and interconnected network of natural and vital processes:
- Air and ocean temperatures
- Ocean salinity
- Rises in sea level
- Extreme or unusual weather patterns
- Yearly rainfall distribution
- Wind patterns
- Hydrogeology, groundwater, and flooding
Data and observation of all of the above help us see exactly how human activity on a global scale may seal our fate. Industrialization has already taken its toll on the environment, and has been ever since the introduction of coal power and fossil fuels. Natural resources are depleted, particulate matter fills the air, and tons of waste is produced, all thanks to a modernized human supply chain. When will the madness end?
Some claim that, before the pandemic, we really were not in any shape to make it beyond 2040 or 2050 before eradicating ourselves through ecological damage, or at the very least severely impairing our current societal establishment as the environment degrades around us.
The longer that it takes for both ordinary people and corporate, capital-intensive sectors to recover, the less damage we stand to wreak in the here and now. Drops in the bucket, perhaps, but a positive turn, nonetheless. Every positive change that we make may extend the lifetime of human civilization during this critical period of contemporary uncertainty.
COVID-19 and the ozone layer
One of the most unexpectedly positive post-pandemic outcomes has got to be the fact that global COVID-19 travel restrictions have actually reduced the number of flights taking off around the world. Carbon emissions in 2020 were 20 percent lower than they were previously, to name one positive impact.
With travel and commerce all but completely out of operation, nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions fell by around 15 percent globally, up to 50 percent in some regions. Because of this pandemic-related change, experts believe that we may have put ourselves ahead of where we would have been otherwise. China’s “stay-at-home” order is one example of the sweeping mandates responsible for this outcome; lockdown measures in the US are another.
While many reports show that our emissions are just about on-par with their pre-pandemic levels now, the disruption, at the very least, got a lot of people talking. Now, we’re seeing what a truly sustainable future looks like in a modern sense, and the brightest among us have a lot in mind for what’s to come.
Sustainability in a post-pandemic world
To the most devoted activists, global warming acts as a ticking time bomb, an inevitability that should be one of our top priorities as a race.
To many, the answer is simple: assess, decarbonize, reduce, empathize, and simplify. If a back-to-basics approach is the best way to mitigate and to reduce our total net impact on the world ecologically, COVID-19 may have actually been our saving grace as a planet.
Through shorter supply chains, a more efficient manufacturing approach, and, as always, as little travel as possible, the most demanding sectors of the global economy will only reinforce these trends. Resilience against natural events at the societal level depends upon individual awareness and a lateral shift in mindset above all else.