Coronavirus is BAD for the Environment. Here is why.

Forgive us, please… but we’re starting this article on a bit of a downer.

We know that right now you’re looking for the silver lining in this stormy cloud of global panic.

Hey, we all need some cheering up right now.

Unfortunately, the evidence so far suggests that coronavirus is bad for the environment. So much so that it could set back our transition to clean energy and increase our reliance on fossil fuels for even longer.

It’s disheartening to realise, but it’s important we know the truth! How else will we work to turn this evidence around?

So, don’t lose hope yet!

Take a closer look at the effects of coronavirus on the environment in this article and discover the small changes you can do to make a real difference.

Let's dive right in...

The State of the World Right Now

By right now, we mean March 24th 2020.

If you’ve been keeping up with the news (you really should) you’ll know that things are changing rapidly with new measures coming into place every day, directly from the government.

We’ll do our best to keep this article updated with the latest info!

At this stage, we’re already seeing a notable dip in emissions.

Over February 2020, China saw a 25% reduction in carbon emissions – and that’s before we take into account the reduction in emissions globally from all those cancelled flights. Calculations estimate that a single plane can emit up to 350kg CO2 equivalent per hour. You can do the math.

Visible changes to the world right now are mixed.

In cities you’ll see vast, empty spaces without a soul in sight as people self isolate and practice social distancing.

On the other hand, national parks like Snowdonia have had the busiest days on record, as flocks of people head to the countryside in an attempt to avoid other people.

To say that plan backfired would be a massive understatement.

Whether you’re in the countryside or the city, it’s the space you put between yourself and others that matters!

Nonetheless, you can’t deny that at first glance it seems the environment is doing well thanks to our current crisis, as the human population bunkers down.

So, What’s Going Wrong?

You remember that impressive aviation pollution fact you read just a minute ago?

Well, that’s not the whole picture. 

The whole picture is rather difficult to see, at this point. Let’s try to break this down a bit.

Reduced emissions due to coronavirus:

  • All those cancelled flights.
  • Reduced traffic as people stay at home.
  • Factories and non-essential businesses are closing.
  • Theme parks, cinemas and other entertainment establishments are closed.

Increased emissions due to coronavirus:

People are working from home. For example, 1 heating unit could keep an office of 10 people warm… but you’d need 10 heating units to keep all 10 people warm at home. So, is working from home individually more energy efficient than working in an office together?

Medical supplies and masks are polluting. Most masks are made of polypropylene, which is a plastic often derived from non-sustainable sources and breaks down into microplastic which poisons our marine life.

It’s too soon to give you a statistic on how much this is affecting the environment, but observers are already noticing a huge increase in masks washing up on shores around the world.

We’re eating at home. We often think of eating out as less eco, but that’s not always the case. It’s the same principle as working in an office vs at home – it can be more efficient to feed many people at once than for everyone to cook individually. 

Food waste? There’s a question mark here because it’s up to you how this will impact the environment. Panic buying has led to shortages in many foods, including flour and yeast. The fear of bread shortages is pushing people to take up baking! Now, will the public really take up baking, or will we see pounds of yeast and flour in the food bin over the next few months as we realise we aren’t as good at baking as we thought? 

Is shopping online more eco than on the high street? There’s an ongoing debate about this. There are just so many factors to consider, from delivery and returns to server power which consumes a vast amount of electricity (20% of the world’s supply by 2025) to host all our data. As we start to shop online more during the coronavirus disaster, we’ll have a clearer picture at least.

And this really is the tip of the iceberg. We’ve only highlighted a few examples here of how emissions could potentially be affected by coronavirus… but saying once and for all how the environment is being impacted is insanely difficult to calculate.

The number of factors involved is astronomical! 

Nonetheless, scientists are busy working things out and doing their best to calculate how the environment is responding. The best way to do this is to look at the effects of similar global pandemics in the past.

What Does The Past Tell Us?

Let’s take a look at the 2008 to 2009 recession.

There was an immediate 1.4% decrease in global CO2 emissions in 2009… and then a 5.9% increase in 2010 as the world recovered.

The past tells us that yes, these disasters do result in a drop in emissions, which is good for the environment. But it’s all about cause and effect.

Everything is linked. 

What goes up must come down.

In fact, in China we can already see a resurgence of air pollution since the country is slowly sending back people to work.

For the world to recover and rebuild the damage, more energy is spent than ever before, thus increasing emissions.

Another example of how everything is delicately interlinked is the economical status of the world right now.

We’re heading straight into a recession that’s not just caused a collapse in oil prices and likely reducing fossil fuel use for the next year, but it’s also damaged clean energy initiatives that are funded by now struggling governments.

Now, more than ever, we need to pressure our governments to keep their eco-promises before things get any worse.

But the Animals Are Returning!

Ah, how we deeply wish this was true.

Unfortunately, as the National Geographic pointed out, these heartwarming stories are mostly FAKE NEWS.

The dolphins in Venice video was actually filmed in Sardinia, and the swans are often seen in the canals of Burano, just as they were before Italy went into lockdown.

Nonetheless, the idea behind these fake news stories isn’t unfounded.

Reduced traffic is going to reduce roadkill.

Empty Venetian canals is making the water clearer.

Lower emissions, even if it’s short-term, have left blue skies over China.

Photo by Rahul Chakraborty on Unsplash

Will we suddenly have wildlife knocking on our front door and endangered species jumping back from the brink? 

No, probably not. 

But as we already pointed out, the current reduction in emissions IS going to have a positive effect, even if it only lasts for a short while.

Consider this to be a prologue for how the world could be if we made this reduction in emissions permanent!

Here’s What YOU Can Do

Take a deep breath. Practice some meditation. Take a yoga break.

Once you’re feeling back in control, let’s get to work!

Keep up your zero-waste lifestyle. Now is NOT the time to give up on reducing waste. It IS the time to be more self-sufficient. More than ever, reducing waste and using renewable energy is essential as demand outweighs supply.

If you aren’t already zero-waste, we can help you get there.

Follow coronavirus measures RELIGIOUSLY. The longer this drags out, the harder it’s going to be to recuperate in an eco-friendly way. So, do your bit to stay safe and stop the spread.

Put more pressure on companies and governments to stay green. If we’re going to recover from coronavirus without backhanding the environment in the process, we need to make serious changes to the way we live.

So here’s your silver lining.

Can we turn this disaster into an opportunity to help the environment? 

Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

Every action we make now is having an impact.

Let’s keep the momentum going even after coronavirus has passed, keeping emissions low for as long as possible.

And it’s not just the environment we’ll be saving.

As Harvard expert Dr. Bernstein told Inside Climate News, protecting the environment will prevent disease disasters like this in the future.

“If you wanted to do something to prevent disease emergence, first of all we need to seriously reconsider how we do business with the biosphere. We can’t simply pretend that we can extract things and put species in assortments that they’ve never been in before, and hope that somehow doesn’t lead to disease emergence. And another good thing to do would be to prevent climate change because it changes how we relate to other species.”

Dr. Bernstein
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