by Alice Wright
There is no doubt COVID-19 is causing devastating effects around the world, not only physically and emotionally, but also economically. In the midst of the depressing news I see on a daily basis I decided to take some time to reflect on something good. This in no way balances out the tragedy that has resulted from this pandemic, but a grain of hope that may help lift your spirits during this troubling time is the positive effect that it is having (and could continue to have) on climate change and our planet earth.
While many of us may be twiddling our thumbs, desperate to feel ‘productive’ again and back to our normal routines, this time of social distancing and quarantining seems to be giving our earth a much needed break from the wear and tear of industrial activities. With less air, road, and train travel, fossil-fuel usage has dramatically decreased causing a noticeable drop in greenhouse gas emissions, ultimately helping to slow global warming somewhat.
Furthermore, industrial cities that have been under quarantine are showing a drastic improvement in air pollution. Nitrogen dioxide, a harmful chemical to human lungs, and other particle matters that pertain to lung health, have been shown via satellite images to have massively decreased over the major cities quarantined. For example, San Francisco has seen a 40% reduction in particle matters when compared to last year’s figures (Forbes.com), and this is thought to have actually saved lives.
The canals in Venice finally have clear water; encouraging species of fish to inhabit there again and local wildlife to flourish. What’s perhaps most impressive is the speed at which ecosystems are recovering from years of aggressive industrial activity, suggesting it’s ‘not too late’ when it comes to climate change. Even where I live, in the small town of Flagstaff where life already moves at a more leisurely pace, there is an added stillness; encouraging wildlife to inhabit.
Obviously it would be unfeasible to suggest the world should stay under quarantine forever and as the economy starts to recover, greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution will inevitably rise back up to pre-pandemic levels. But one thing that I think we can take from this is what Coronavirus is teaching us about ourselves, not only as citizens and employees, but as inhabitants of this planet. These trying times have shown us what we are capable of in the face of dire circumstances, and the sacrifices we are willing to make in contribution to a greater cause–saving lives. I am not equating this pandemic with climate change, but the latter does pose a threat to human life–it is just masked in the latent nature of the effects. So why not make small compromises in the long term after shifting out of the significant sacrifices we have made in the short term?
This time of social distancing and working from home will bring an expansion of more locally-focused economic activity and introduce practices that can chip away at our social footprints: online meetings to reduce long-haul business flights and other perhaps unnecessary travel, more opportunities to work remotely and reduce road traffic, and a greater inclination to opt for recreational activities that do not cause pollution. Earth Day is next month (April 22nd) and I think we should focus our attention on how our current low-carbon lifestyles could be continued to some extent post crisis in order to help prevent future threats to humanity (i.e. climate change!) and protect our precious Earth since we rely on it for so much. As athletes, the earth is our office and our playground, and I believe it’s our responsibility to look after it for a more sustainable future.
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