For most people, the pandemic has deprived us of a sense of security, and many of us long for the day when life can return to “normal.” Measures intended to curb the virus, such as social-distancing, quarantining, and mask-wearing have induced feelings of isolation and helplessness. Yet, these negative effects on mental health are an unexpected trade-off for a revitalization of our natural landscape. Government induced regulations may have inadvertently and drastically ameliorated the environment, as people have reduced how frequently they interact with the outside world.
In April, scientists tracking global trends reported that Covid-19 guidelines initially decreased mobility by 10% or more in some countries as national leaders urged their people to stay inside and avoid coming in contact with others. With fewer people traveling and using vehicles reliant on fossil-fuels, pollution levels declined. In the United States, the effects of instituting COVID-19 guidelines were immediately noticeable. In the initial six weeks of San Francisco’s lockdown mandate, the area witnessed regional carbon dioxide emissions drop 25%. This significant decrease can be attributed to the nearly 50% decreasein road traffic. With transportation emissions accounting for 28% of the greenhouse gasses as of 2018, it is worth noting that over 55% of nitrogen oxide in the air is produced by commuting.
Considering their limited alternatives, schools and workplaces adapted to a virtual setting in response to the pandemic. These work from home orders were imposed due to a public health necessity, but the reduction in commuting has positively impacted our environment. The lack of cargo ships, tankers, and passenger boats filling our world’s largest ports has seen dolphins return to urban environment. Our planet and animals seem to be blossoming during the pandemic.
Obviously, working from home and distance learning are temporary solutions. By and large, the world will inevitably resort back to high pollution production levels as businesses reopen, cars return to the roads, and the world carries on endlessly debating climate reform.
While Mother Nature has been provided a break from humansinterfering with nature, there could be some lasting societal changes that offer a glimmer of optimism for improving environmental health. There are three long-term changes that society can promote to maintain positive changes in a post-covidworld.
Firstly, we should encourage employers to implement policies that blend work from home with traditional labor methods. Indeed, according to surveys conducted by The Global Workplace Analytics, roughly 60% of the American workforce(excluding the self-employed) hold positions that “are compatible with remote work.” Seizing this opportunity, many employers used the pandemic to reform daily office operationsand exercise ingenuity, especially considering how productive working from home has proven to be.
Due to the increased coverage of the environment’s recovery during the pandemic, environmental awareness is rising. This is evident through workplaces making changes to promote sustainability. Many companies have contemplated a switch to part-time or full-time remote work. Kate Lister, president ofGlobal Workplace Analytics, said in a related survey regarding the ‘forecast’ of work from home after Covid, “our best estimate is that 25-30% of the workforce will be working-from-home multiple days a week by the end of 2021.”
Secondly, the Nature Climate Change study stresses that a behavioral change on both a governmental and individual levelis ultimately required to maintain the pandemic’s positive results on the environment. Regarding government action, the study suggests that the inclusion of financial support for environmental initiatives in the stimulus recovery following the economic crisis during the pandemic could be the gateway to reaching climate change goals. The Biden administration has vowed to spend $2 trillion on clean energy in the first term alone, making the President-elect the most ambitious elected official in that regard. His plan seeks to alleviate the economic recession brought on as a result of the pandemic. Previous government plans to fund environmental causes have been described as ‘modest,’ with a $1 trillion spending cap over 10 years. Biden’s priority now is maneuvering the legislation through a Republican-led Senate.
There’s evidently been a great deal of deliberation regarding how companies and government could swiftly and viably limit their carbon footprint, albeit the individual level demands parallel concentration. At a cursory glance, it’s a seemingly large undertaking for one person to combat climate change, even with the simplified motto of reduce, reuse, and recycle. However, government data suggests an increase in our recycling of municipal solid waste and food composting between 2015 and 2018.
Another approach to reform on the individual level is by focusing efforts on diets. According to the Environmental Working Group, if every American were to opt for a plant-based alternative to meat and cheese for merely one day of the week, “it would be like not driving 91 billion miles or taking 7.6 million cars off the road.” Livestock and animal-based products generate considerably higher amounts of greenhouse gases than plant-based products due to the differences in resources required to manage them. The nonprofit has also found that American adults’ meat consumption far exceeds the recommended amount, as specified by the government’s Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of protein. A small reduction could go a long way for the environment and our health in one fell swoop.
Thirdly, demanding world leaders invest their efforts into promoting climate change solutions is a constructive means of securing the future of the planet – especially those leading a larger economy. The U.S remains a salient key to curbing the effects of climate change, seeing as they are the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases. The Biden administration announced that the U.S would rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement as early as February, while also introducing updated goals. These events will serve as a prominent turn of tides, considering the countermanding of environmental legislations carried out by the Trump administration. The likes of Pope Francis, and his advocacy for governments to take ‘drastic measures’ on climate change, is perhaps a testament to how climate reform should transcend religion, culture, and politics. “We have caused a climate emergency that gravely threatens nature and life itself, including our own,” he said.
Additionally, ordinary civilians can be trusted to keep governments accountable and ensure that administrations fulfill their campaign promises. Because climate change efforts tend to occur locally, vocalizing support before a city councilperson or by joining forces with community-based stakeholders may be an ideal medium to encourage the government to remain true to their word.
2020 has been a fascinating year for our natural environment. The pandemic brought humanity to a standstill, and it inadvertently forced us to become more climate-friendly. Yet, climate change has not been completely solved, as we can see from the wildfires, hurricanes, and other natural disasters connected to global warming. We, as an international community, must decide to combat these issues. As we look to the future, we must hope that our national leaders will learn from the pandemic and make the best choices for the American people and the world.
Momina Tashfeen is a graduate from The Ohio State University, where she earned a bachelor’s in journalism. Previously, she was a reporter for The Lantern, and a writer for Bahath Magazine and Mvslim.com. She also runs a blog - Eunoia.