ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS OF COVID-19
Updated: Jun 29, 2020
EFFECTS ON THE ENVIRONMENT
As flights are canceled and countries are enacting travel bans, changes in carbon emissions are being seen drastically and quickly.
In the Scientific American article, How the Coronavirus Pandemic is Affecting CO2 Emissions, writer Chelsea Harvey dives in to how the current pandemic is affecting our communities and environment. She writes, "the transportation sector is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. As schools and businesses close their doors, reduced travel could temporarily drive down carbon emissions in communities where people are spending more time at home."
Oil demand and air travel are at an all time low, and the spread of the disease in China alone caused factories and refineries across the country to shut down. According to the New York Times article, The Coronavirus and Carbon Emissions, the closure of factories and lack of demand of oil production has resulted in a 25percent decrease in China's carbon dioxide emissions compared to the same time last year. This could be both a benefit and harm to the environment, because once China is able to control the outbreak within their country - production could ramp up to make up for lost time.
Although there may be an impact on greenhouse gas emissions, the virus will have detrimental effects on the local and global economies, and this may inhibit the creation of laws that protect the environment. When the focus is on the economy, many times the environment is not placed as a priority. Yet this still may be an opportunity for companies and countries to review how prepared they are in times of crisis.
FACE MASKS AND THE PUBLIC
During times of crisis, sustainability and the environment can often come second place. The focus on cleanliness and disinfectants brings with it single us plastics and non compostable cleaning wipes.
In Hong Kong, used face masks have been found improperly discarded in forests and beaches. This is not only dangerous for those infected, but also for our environment and wildlife that could confuse it for something else.
"Once face masks are left as marine debris polluting our shores, they can be mistaken as food by marine life inhabiting our local seas, including turtles, dolphins, and finless porpoises," says Sally Ho, Green Queen writer.
Single use face masks are made of polypropylene and are hard to decompose. They are bad for the environment and there is no scientific evidence to prove that these masks prevent the spread of disease.
Surgical face masks and N95 masks have different purposes and are needed by medical professionals who are trained in the best ways and situations to use them while treating patients. So if you are just going to the store, wearing a mask may not do much, but washing your hands and avoiding contact with people will.
Masks can protect people with respiratory illnesses, but you may want to consult your doctor to find out which may be best for you.
CLIMATE CHANGE TO COME
Coronavirus is currently showing us how unprepared in many ways we are to an epidemic. As healthcare workers slave away to take care of patients battling this disease, the economy is taking a hit, retail stores are emptied and large public gatherings are banned. Yet, an epidemic does not only have to come from a virus, but as a result of climate change.
In her article, Coronavirus is an environmental wake-up call, Madhvi Ramani says "humans frequently ignore or repress uncomfortable thoughts of death and extinction, on an individual and planetary level. Only in the face of suffering and death are we forced to view the bigger, longer term perspective."
With this worldwide lockdown in an effort to reduce contact, and spread of this disease, we are reducing atmospheric pollution. As the infection begins to contain itself, we cannot forget how pressing it is for changes to come in our every day lives.
If companies are able to function with work from home capabilities, can this be expanded to after the virus is controlled? With the lack of sanitary supplies available, could we become motivated to create more products at home and reduce the plastic utilized in product packaging? Could there be a shift from retail and product consumption to a higher demand of handmade goods or reusable/ second hand items?
In a recent Forbes article, Francois Gemenne, director of the Hugo Observatory, which studies the interactions between human migrations, politics and environmental changes says
that "the discrepancy in how we react to these divergent threats could give us pause to consider why it is that we respond so strongly to one" than the other.
Being sustainable and making changes to lead a life that has a positive environmental impact is already hard as it is. Add on top of that a medical and global crisis in which we have to sanitize everything we touch so as to care for ourselves and others. What ideas do you have for how we can be sustainable amid this crisis? Comment below and share ideas!