Global Blue Skies: The Environment and COVID-19

Updated: Jun 2, 2020

May 8, 2020 by Marina Fabris

As tragic as this pandemic is, the Earth has undeniably taken a breath of fresh air. An economic shutdown and virus isn’t the way to go about fighting climate change, however, it’s fascinating to think about what this means for the future health of our environment and what we as humans will choose to learn from this situation going forward.

Although there definitely are some negative impacts on Mother Nature as a result of COVID-19, there’s an overwhelming amount of good news; stories that would have seemed totally unrealistic just a few months ago are happening everywhere. We’re seeing a dramatic fall of air pollution globally, marine life is returning to previously noise polluted harbours, beaches have cleared for endangered sea turtles to hatch in Brazil, dolphins and fish are back in the canals of Venice, goats are literally roaming the streets again in Whales. It’s beautiful.

For the first time in decades, people in the north Indian state of Punjab can see the Himalayas. The air pollution is usually so thick, that from only 150 kilometers away, the mountains are invisible on a typical day. In just one week of lockdown in New Delhi, the city saw a 71% fall of nitrogen dioxide and PM 2.5 (particulate matter). Stories like these are happening all over the world. If you look at any big city during April of 2019 compared to today, the decrease in air pollution is major.

Fewer fossil fuels and harmful pollutants in the air are crucial for mitigating climate change and continuing to repair the ozone layer, but it’s also directly related to human health. The WHO estimates that every year 4.2 million people die from outdoor air pollution alone. On top of those deaths, air pollution aggravates and acts as a catalyst for many pulmonary diseases. This fact especially matters right now because people who are the most at risk for the coronavirus are those with compromised lungs.

In addition to our health, COVID-19 has exposed how fragile our economy of consumption is. It forces the question: How much and what do we really need? By stripping away greed, and the modern mask of ‘success’ we live behind– we see that all humans really depend on community, clean air and water, good soil, sunlight, and the biodiversity of plants and animals (a healthy planet). This economic pause is an opportunity for us to change our broken systems and habits and set our priorities straight; we should support and encourage local business and community, take care of our health, invest in clean technology and ideas, and reduce.

This pandemic is yet another example of how humanity can solve problems and cause change when we need to. Millions of people have adjusted their way of life to slow the spread of this virus, and it’s working. Our planet is extremely capable of change. By coming together globally, there’s still hope in the fight against climate change because its effects don’t end at borderlines.

We now have the opportunity to come out of this crisis and make meaningful changes to our lives individually and collectively. Maybe we don’t need to travel as much as we thought we did or maybe we should be spending more time outside with our families. When the pandemic is behind us, will we take the clear skies and waters as a meaningless fluke and dangerously return to business as usual? Or will we choose to rebuild our habits and routines with the health of us and our planet in mind?

Marina Fabris ('21) is a Senior Editor at SPR, a Co-Head of the Green Team, and a Head Prefect for the upcoming year.

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