You may remember the lockdowns. On 11th March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Covid-19 outbreak to be a pandemic. This resulted in significant global changes. And it had both positive and negative impacts on the environment. But how exactly has Covid-19 impacted sustainability?
Travel restrictions and a dramatic reduction of social and economic activities brought some obvious benefits for the environment. There have been reductions in:
Fossil fuel consumption and therefore greenhouse gas emissions
Resource consumption and waste disposal, resulting in reduced pollution and improved water quality
Transport and industrial activities leading to less noise pollution and better air quality
Pressure on tourist places
But there has also been a negative impact on the environment. Mask wearing and extra pressure on hospitals have meant:
An increase in medical and hazardous waste
Poor disposal of PPE resulting in plastic waste, soil and water pollution
An increase in community waste meaning more air, water and soil pollution
Reduction in recycling activities leading to increased environmental pollution
Pandemics and environmental exploitation go hand in hand. As do public health and the environment. And Covid-19 emerged within the context of an already damaged ecosystem, increasing urbanisation, international travel and climate change.
Scientists assume that the environmental consequences of Covid-19 are short-term. But to protect the planet, we need a global united strategy. And this strategy must consider the environment in order to protect us from future pandemics as well as climate disasters. That’s why the National Centre for Biotechnology Information has published an article proposing strategies for global sustainability.
The article highlights several points that we should all be aware of.
We need to shift towards less energy-intensive industries. We must opt for cleaner fuels and technologies. And we need to implement energy-efficient policies. This means shutting down industrial areas in a circular way to reduce emissions without damaging the economy.
Use of green and public transport
We need to be using more public transport and reducing our use of private vehicles. We can use bicycles, for example, and share them through public bike-sharing systems.
Use of renewable energy
Renewable energy lowers the demand for fossil fuels. Energy sources such as solar, wind, hydropower and geothermal can meet our energy demand and reduce emissions.
We need to properly treat our industrial and urban wastewater before discharging it. And reusing treated wastewater for things such as toilet flushing and road cleaning will massively reduce water use.
Waste recycling and reuse
We absolutely must recycle and reuse. That will involve implementing a circular economy to minimise the use of raw materials and waste production. And we should properly manage our hazardous and medical waste. Governments should roll out awareness campaigns regarding waste disposal.
Tackling global environmental challenges head-on will benefit our health, wellbeing and the environment simultaneously. The pandemic has shown that we have the potential for collective action when faced with an emergency. Society and governments must reflect on what to do differently and what to stop doing altogether.
When thinking about how Covid-19 has impacted sustainability, we need to consider our actions going forward. The idea that we are a part of nature and not separate from it is a concept that our ‘developed’ societies seem to have forgotten. But it’s not too late to change.