One of the positives to come out of these difficult times has Covid’s environmental impact. The reduction in travel, for example flying and commuter traffic, as well as factory production, has led to a drop in emissions. Cities in China and India, used to being covered in smog finally have clear skies. New York has seen a reduction of 50% in Carbon Monoxide compared to last year. For the first time in years many people finally have access to clean air.
This reduction in pollution also has health implications. A study suggest that air pollution is a bigger killer than smoking and has has been linked as a contributing factor to the deaths of 9 million people. Recent research also suggests that air pollution may be a key contributor to Covid-19 deaths. Whilst we have got used to public health campaigns about the impact of smoking and unhealthy living we still see very few public health campaigns around reducing pollution.
Post Covid will we start to see a shift as people demand we do more to keep our air clean? Will we see governments demanding more environmental scrutiny as they hand out loans to struggling businesses? Will we start to focus more on health and the environmental factors that are harmful?
The other impact from the current lockdown relates to animals. Nature has been reclaiming the streets. There have been numerous wonderful videos of goats and sheep in city centres or fish returning to canals and waterways. People in lockdown have also taken a keener interest in their gardens and resident wildlife. Some animal shelters have also reported being empty for the first time ever as people flocked to foster and adopt animals. Working from home or being furloughed all of a sudden opened up the opportunity to have time for a pet. Others have sought the companionship of a pet as they faced weeks in lockdown alone. There has long been a clear link between pet ownership and improved mental health. There have been plenty of heartening videos now of people confirming how their pets have “saved” them during lockdown. Many people have found a new appreciation for animals.
Covid-19 has been linked to China’s wet markets and its trade in wildlife, including the endangered pangolin. China has now (again) temporarily banned the trade in wildlife. Will this link, but also more people’s exposure to their own local wildlife, mean people will start demanding better protection for animals? Will we start to see employers being more flexible so people can keep pets and reap the health benefits?
Maybe one of the benefits of the current situation will be a great realisation that we can do so much more work remotely. We can reduce the amount of unnecessary travel for meetings. More people can work from home and keep pets, and keep those shelters empty.
The pandemic however has not been all positive for the environment and our wildlife. One of the big down sides has been the increase of some disposable plastic. Rubber gloves and plastic aprons for health workers for example, discarded after use. Single use face masks are now adding to the plastic waste clogging up our oceans. At risk households, like my own, have to rely on deliveries, all of which now come in plastic bags again to reduce contact and risk. We can no longer pop to the shop and use our own bags, but now face a growing mountain of plastic bags.
Single use and disposable plastic is disastrous for our environment. Over 1 million marine animals are killed each year as a result of plastic waste. Turtles eat plastic bags thinking they are jelly fish. Marine birds get caught up in discarded plastic and drown or starve to death. Fish eat the micro- plastic particles floating in the ocean. They then end up in our food chain. No one would argue that eating plastic is not good for health.
Hopefully though as life returns to normal we can move back onto the path of reducing our plastic use. Maybe COVID-19 and the devastation this pandemic has caused will be our wake up call. Maybe now people will realise that we only have one planet and we must learn to respect it. We must learn to stop exploiting nature, as if it was an eternal well of resources. Homo Sapiens must learn to love and respect other species. As we come out of lockdown we must speak up and demand action. It is time to fight for our clean air and for nature. I truly hope, plastic aside, that we can sustain Covid’s environmental impact. The health of the planet, and of us as a species, depends on it.