The way that the world has responded to the imminent threat of the coronavirus pandemic, offers many lessons regarding our lack of global action toward the climate crisis. As governments react to the COVID-19 pandemic and enforce social distancing restrictions, greenhouse gas emissions are down, air quality has gone up, and wildlife is slowly returning to newly clear habitats. However, “It’s the worst possible way to experience environment improvement and it has also shown us the size of the task,” said Michael Gerrard, an environmental law expert at Columbia University.

The result of the COVID-19 shutdown has exemplified how slow our response to global warming has been. As reported by the Guardian, “the expected cut in emissions, for example, is still less than what scientists say is needed every year this decade to avoid disastrous climate impacts for much of the world.” While this isn’t the way to reduce global emissions (i.e. global crisis or drastic measures), it could provide information on the steps we take to reduce emissions and pollution in the environment in the future. In this post, we’ll discuss some of the major ways that the coronavirus has affected the state of the planet and the lessons we can take to change the way we respond to the climate crisis.

How Social Distancing Has Helped Improve Air Quality

The current pandemic has forced activity freezes, lockdowns, and advisories to shelter-in-place. Both schools and non-essential businesses have closed, and as a result, demonstrated significant environmental relief.  The risk for toxins to escape has minimized due to the reduced activity from industrial sites, factories, and construction sectors, in turn improving air quality. Similarly, travel bans have limited international flights, so conferences, festivals, concerts, and other public events have been canceled, eliminating much interest in tourism. Undoubtedly, aviation emissions (which according to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) accounted for 2.4% of global CO2 emissions in 2018) have dropped significantly.

Also resulting in improved air quality is the reduction of people across the globe commuting. Various sources, including NASA and Eco Watch, have covered how, since strict coronavirus lockdowns were issued, air quality indices of the globe’s largest metropolitan areas have improved immensely. Presently, most travel is limited to immediate household supply runs to nearby stores, trucking supply transports to retailers or wholesalers, and commutes by people in essential industries. Still, the EPA states that vehicular activity contributes more to greenhouse gas emissions than airlines do.

There are many things we can take away from the environmental effects of social distancing restrictions and government shutdowns. Moving forward, we could seek additional government funding to discover renewable fuels for airplanes (and climate innovation in general), and ask that stricter rules be applied across the industrial sector to potential environmental hazards. 

Additionally, we should focus on finding solutions for minimizing commuting and traffic when things “normalize” post-pandemic. On an individual level, more of us could opt for sustainable means of transportation (biking, walking, or public transit). On a business level, more employers could allow for regular telecommuting.

Increased Wildlife Conservation Awareness

The coronavirus has not only changed our way of life, but it’s also having a drastic impact on animals across the globe. We are now seeing heightened wildlife conservation awareness as a result of the CDC’s news that a zoonotic pathogen that jumped from animals to humans caused the current pandemic. The blind eye we had all turned to wildlife trading suddenly opened. 

When the American Veterinary Medical Association found the presence of COVID-19 in domestic animals, zoos saw captive animals test positive with the new coronavirus, which in turn elevated concerns for sources such as UNESCO, Time, Nature and Smithsonian Magazine about the future safety of already threatened species, especially animals who are similar to humans (like the great apes).

As per the United Nations, this reinforces that the “wild” must be kept “wild.” It’s clearly the time for us to focus on ending deforestation, restoring our forests, investing in the management of protected areas, and demanding more deforestation-free products. 

Hope For a Sustainable Future

Indeed, COVID-19 has become very real and tragically personal for many individuals and families. However, the environmental results we have experienced have solidified the need for us to change the way that we address the climate crisis. The environmental wins we have experienced due to shutdowns and social distancing restrictions provides us hope that there are many opportunities for us to shape a more sustainable future for our planet.  

Interested in helping shape a greener planet? Be sure to contact Spring Power & Gas to learn about our environmentally focused energy and natural gas solutions.