The destruction that COVID-19 has caused to the global community is immeasurable, with death tolls rising throughout the world and economies ground to a standstill. However, data suggests that with the lockdown measures in place the environment is receiving a well-earned break from the punishment industry provides.
40,000 deaths annually in the UK are attributed to air pollution, a shocking figure in itself (just 261 below the current total UK deaths from COVID-19). However, through a significant reduction in transport usage as well as global industry reducing its output, evidence suggests that nitrogen dioxide levels are seriously declining throughout Europe. NASA published images from one their space probes showing a significant reduction in harmful elements in the atmosphere, across the world. Not only has the atmosphere been given an opportunity to repair itself, but our oceans have received welcome respite from human activity. There is evidence to indicate that the reduction of fishing due to the pandemic, will enable marine ecosystems to flourish, last seen with the reduction in fishing during both world wars.
The pandemic has provided us with an opportunity to see for ourselves that environmental issues can be tackled, and that environmental damage is not just an obscure issue that will affect later generations. The small changes we can see now are proof that changes in our lifestyles can and do make a positive difference to the world we all share. COVID-19 has unquestionably changed the way that society functions; people are working from home, remaining in doors and social distancing. Undoubtably when the virus fades away life will return to much of what it was before the outbreak, but lessons that may aid us in environmental protection must be taken on board by governments.
What has been shown clearly is that with information technology, much of the workforce can do their jobs remotely from their own homes. If this measure were to be adopted as ‘normal life’ post outbreak we would surely see a great reduction in the number of people commuting to work each day and consequently see a continued reduction of emissions. An additional (and highly positive) benefit felt by those not commuting to work is that they are able to spend more quality time with their families rather than traveling to and from work. This should become the new normal for as many roles as is possible.
The government needs to acknowledge the difference that can be made and put in place plans to protect our environment. Schemes to promote and improve public transport would enable us to reduce even further the number of cars on our roads, alongside a change in the way work, would be of the utmost benefit. While the chaos caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is, and will continue to be devastating, we have been provided with an unprecedented opportunity to ensure that our relationship with the environment can evolve to become more sustainable.
By Phil Smith