As we delve deeper into the ambush of COVID-19, the notion of the increase of environmental awareness has been put into question. From the pre-eminent headlines of the decline of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) emissions in Northern Italy, drop of coal usage by 40% in China, the possibility of Germany achieving its climate goals to the calming sound of birdsong in areas where there were none, one thing is certain: nature is taking a breath of relief, enjoying a break from our environmental footprint. The global lockdown has certainly unmasked the reality of the environmental conditions and highlighted the importance of addressing climate change. As our daily routines have altered, we’ve adopted a different approach to our schedules - an approach beneficial for the environment. Rediscovering behaviours that we would usually neglect, this pandemic may develop positive solutions to the prevalent environmental issues.
From the beginning of civilization, human beings have exploited nature for their own benefit. As communities continued advancing and the population kept rising, industrialization and urbanization were inevitable, and the implications of both were proved to be detrimental to the global environment. But, this current interruption in our lives urges us to pause and look around. Climate change, extinction and deforestation are factors that contribute to the possibility of future pandemics. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change cautions the emergence of novel viruses is likely to be accelerated by global warming.
Before the virus, we behaved as though there was no climate or biodiversity crisis. While the previous year ignited more widespread awareness, due to youth advocacy, many continued their lives flying, driving, consuming, and staking the future on an economy that was tearing apart the environment. Being cooped up at home, individuals are taking drastic measures to flatten the curve, shifting their cultures to benefit climate action and nature. With the popularity of teleconferencing, the emphasis has been put on unnecessary business travel and remote working. International trade has been put on hold to conform to the need to produce more local goods. These trends, that may outlive this crisis, are certain to reduce carbon emissions.
People have now learned to recognize and act upon the sayings of science. The pandemic is a wake-up call to stop exceeding the planet’s limits and pay heed to the warnings on climate change. While the time-span of the climate crisis may be vast, we know that it’s just as urgent. Post-pandemic, we’ll be put into a position to choose whether we want to revert to our former habits or continue the path for an ecological future. Social science research has proven that interventions are more effective when occurring during a time of change.
A study led by Ms Corinne Moser at Zurich University of Applied Science, in 2018, found that when people were given free e-bike access as an alternative to driving, they chose to avail the e-bike and drove much less when they were eventually given their cars back. Furthermore, a study in 2001, led by Satoshi Fuji at Kyoto University in Japan, found that when a certain path was closed, drivers were forced to use public transit. As a result, once the road reopened, individuals travelled by public transport more frequently due to the adopted habit. This proves that times of change can introduce lasting habits that will help us rediscover better use of natural resources. Be it reduced travelling, food waste, or stockpiling, these habits are certain to carve a positive path for environmental issues.
With governments, businesses and individuals adopting measures and changing behaviours in response to the pandemic, there is hope to overcome climate change. Post-pandemic, environmental issues will be on the spotlight more than ever. It is our responsibility to neglect our urges and continue the positive habits to protect nature. This moment of upheaval encourages us to start investing in resilience, wellbeing and planetary health. We have long exceeded our natural limits; it is time to try something new.