Many of us have now seen that picture of Venice which did the rounds on Twitter back in March. The fish are back in the sea, the water is clear. Whilst the vast majority of the world’s population is shut away, an interesting effect on our climate seems to be underway. ‘We should never let a good crisis go to waste’, Churchill once remarked. But is that really possible?
From Coldplay refusing to do a world tour until they have sustainable means, to Greta Thunberg’s voyage to New York via a racing yacht, a reduction of unnecessary air travel is something for which climate change activists have been calling. Coronavirus has indeed forced this to happen. This is the first time that demand for air travel has declined since 2009. Carbon emissions have already dropped by 25 percent, figures from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air show. In New York alone, at the time of writing, pollution levels have reduced by nearly 50% as a result of containment measures. It is likely that we will all witness the positive environmental impact of the reduction of nitrogen dioxide emissions, and increasingly so if COVID-19 lockdowns get stricter. The reduction of nitrogen dioxide emissions will also help to save lives. Perhaps, not as many as COVID-19 has taken, but it is still a small mercy. Professor Marshall Burke estimates that 77,000 lives have been saved as a result of two months of pollution reduction in China. On a global scale, this will be huge.
Another woe which many of us are facing are food curtailments. Perhaps, this food shortage may also lead to great climate change gains. It was publicised in August 2019 by the UN that veganism is one of the most impactful ways an individual can combat climate change. As meat and dairy products in particular are in short supply, there is potential for the birth of more vegans once lockdown is over. Alongside this, the food shortages should result in a lack of food waste, a habit which will hopefully stick when all of this is over.
COVID-19’s impact on plastic consumption is definitely detrimental. With hygiene concerns, food wrapped in plastic, disposable gloves, and disposable wipes are all in high demand. Many of our zero-waste shops are also being forced to close. Many of the habits we have been working to stamp out, have been rewritten once again. I am doubtful that society will bounce back to being more mindful of their plastic consumption again. There is definitely room for non-plastic hygene solutions in the market.
My final hope is that there will be an increased enamourment with the power of science. For years, our scientists have been remarking about the importance of tackling climate change. Hopefully, now, our governments may be more prepared to listen now.
So, to cheer ourselves up in this uncertain and bleak time, we can perhaps return to the small mercy that our habitats will be rebuilding themselves. Go for that walk, take in the scenery. It is currently in the best state that many of us can remember. So we ought to enjoy it.
Words by Izzy MacKellar