will covid-19 actually have a lasting environmental impact?

One of the unseen positive effects of the coronavirus that gets cited quite often is the impact that it has had on the environment. With lockdowns and more people staying home, lifestyles are changing, resulting in things such as reduced pollution due to a decline in the use of transportations. However, I think people are overlooking some of the less optimistic aspects of the reality of the environment. Additionally, I think that we could all use some clarity of the likelihood of a positive and impact on the environment. I’ve seen so many different expert opinions and predictions that all contribute to the larger debate about whether or not the coronavirus will have a lasting impact on the environment, positive or negative. And like always, I have provided resources and articles at the end of this post.

what’s really happening to the environment? Before we talk about the future of the environment, I’m going to cover what’s currently happening and also fact-check a lot of what’s been seen on the media. A lot of metropolitan cities, like Chicago and NYC, as well as factory dominated areas, are seeing an immense decline in air pollution. Another effect (that may not be a real effect), is that the rivers in Venice are clearer. This doesn’t necessarily mean cleaner. I don’t want to focus on that too much but you can read this article for a fact-check on that.

reduction in air pollution. There is a lot of uncertainty around the future levels of gas emissions and air pollution, especially regarding the reopening of factories, rises in transportation usage, etc. This is also the biggest seen effect of the coronavirus. Various factors contribute to the cleaner air quality around the world and they all have different implications of the future. An effect of the lockdowns, people aren’t using their cars as much, which has had a large impact on air quality. People’s lifestyles aren’t going to permanently change, once lockdowns are lifted, car emissions are going to rise again. However, unlike factories, the decrease in pollution from cars isn’t going to be made up. Factories are going to have to catch up because of the loss of production. The consequential pollution is going to be made up in the future, as long as the current policy and lacking regulation remain the same. In the end, there may not be that big of a change, no matter how extreme the changes are right now.

an increase in single-use waste. It shouldn’t be surprising that with new sanitation policies and the necessary usage of single-use PPE, the amount of waste we are generating is rising. In addition to PPE, people are using more cleaning wipes, plastic bags, etc. A lot of the major legislation passed this year, like the ban on styrofoam or the reduction in plastic bags in grocery stores, has been reversed in efforts to be safer. Overall, a lot more waste is being generated as it becoming harder to circumvent health and safety precautions.

water usage. Even when people aren’t using single-use PPE or sanitation items, reusable items may have just as big of an impact. AND people are washing their hands more (I’m not saying you shouldn’t wash your hands- please wash your hands). This adds up to more water usage which inevitably means a larger chance of wasted water. In a time of panic, it’s understandable that people are going to prioritize how they can be the most hygienic and overly-certain that things are clean, however, that can mean that they aren’t thinking about the way to optimize their water usage. Here is an article about how to consciously wash your hands and the environmental benefits.

media’s over-exaggeration. This is just a quick note I wanted to make, based on my exposure to it on social media. Especially on Instagram, there are a lot of “click-bait” posts that mention a new and positive effect. I think it’s a good thing to acknowledge what’s happening in the world, especially when it’s positive – but it can be dangerous when blind optimism is being built. We all need to make sure that we are fully and credibly informed, to ensure that a full narrative of what’s currently happening is being shared.

conclusion. As sad as it is, there probably won’t be that big of a lasting impact on the environment. Whatever progress has made isn’t sustainable and probably won’t outlast the pandemic, especially if the world and country’s attitude toward the environment stays the same. Factories are going to be making up in the loss production, there will be an increase in large plastic waste to deal with, we may have lost the momentum needed to promote urgency on climate change, and countries may not have the funds needed to combat climate change.

I don’t want anyone to leave with a negative takeaway. Although the coronavirus won’t have a direct lasting impact on the environment, it can have an indirect impact. Why can’t it urge us toward regulations and policy that makes its effects a reality? Why can’t governments and nations take the positive, short term effects and use it as a clean slate? Now is the time to pass legislation, create regulations, develop policies, that can be used to sustain and maintain the current conditions of the environment. Covid-19 may not have ensured us a future of cleaner air, but it has shown us how bad things have been and how great they can be.


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