Building a greener “normal” after COVID-19
Two crises. One is incredibly immediate, but the other will have just as dire effects. The COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis are incredibly intertwined and the pandemic should be a huge wakeup call to anyone not taking the climate crisis seriously. Today I want to talk about what we could bring forward from quarantine to help with building a greener “normal” after COVID-19. But first, I want to summarize how these two crises are so interconnected and why it’s so important that we recover from this with the environment in mind.
Inger Andersen, the UN’s Environment Chief has explained that COVID-19 is a clear warning shot of what could come. Outbreaks like these can be attributed to 3 main things – growing population, destruction of habitats and global warming. As our population grows, we need more space to house & feed humans. Getting this space means destroying animal habitats, giving wildlife a smaller area to live in. Wildlife ends up living in closer proximity to humans, making viruses found in wild animals more easily transmitted to us. Andersen says that the long-term response to COVID-19 must be to tackle habitat and diversity loss or there will be further outbreaks (and there are a lot of viruses present in the animal world that are worse than COVID). The response of individuals, companies and governments as we come out of this, will be imperative to determine what happens next. We need to focus on building a greener “normal” and not just go back to status quo or worse.
People keep talking about how pollution in many cities are lower due to less road & air traffic and how animals now have more room to roam with turtles having eggs on a normally popular beach in Brazil and pandas mating in Hong Kong. But what happens when things go back to “normal?” Will everyone go back to their old lives? I certainly hope not. These are my hopes for post-quarantine behaviour.
People aren’t going to stop traveling for pleasure, but I hope that companies decrease the amount of business travel that occurs. They have had the opportunity to see how virtual meetings can work instead of flying people back and forth all the time. $1.33 trillion was spent on business travel worldwide in 2017. Not only can companies save a lot of money, but those weekly or monthly trips can reduce pollution immensely.
Right now all workers who can are working from home. I’d love to see this trend become even more acceptable. Some industries already allowed working from home but now that companies have seen the productivity that can be accomplished I hope more of it continues. This would allow less people to drive to work, reducing congestion & pollution. Governments could even give tax deductions to companies for the number of work from home days they allow employees as an added incentive.
So many businesses, particularly small businesses have jumped on the online shopping train in order to stay in business. I imagine that many will keep their online store open once this all ends. I hope that businesses work to optimize their delivery routes to be as efficient as possible and work to reduce packaging or source eco-friendly options.
Supporting local businesses have been more important than ever during COVID-19. These businesses rely on us to stay afloat until they can open their doors again. I hope that consumers find their favourite local spots and continue to support them once they reopen. I really feel like our community has come together to support local even when physically apart and I hope that continues. Shopping from smaller, local companies can have big effects on the environment and local economy with less distance products have to travel, no large warehouses and distribution centres to run and often (but not always) smaller shops are more environmentally conscious.
As things return to normal, live events will be allowed once again. Some large-scale events could and should contemplate having more virtual events or at least an online aspect to some of their larger events. There are a ton of new platforms that work great for virtual conferences and events. It would allow reaching a farther audience, would reduce the amount of travel and would decrease waste caused by events. There will of course still be a demand for live events, but more may be able to incorporate a virtual element.
Sense of Community
Communities have come together. Offers of assistance, grocery delivery and more have sprung up all over social media. Community members are asking for advice, recommendations and used items. The difficulty purchasing new items & getting them in a timely fashion is having people seek second hand options within their communities. This is fantastic for reducing consumerism and reusing products so they don’t end up in landfill.
Appreciation for Nature
With parks and trails closed, appreciating nature when you live in a city has become quite hard. I for one miss the trails and hiking so much. I am so appreciative of my backyard and the walks I can go on and I feel once this is over, I will want to get outside and explore every conservation area I can. I think others will have this appreciation too, particularly those who have stricter rules about going outdoors. This could benefit the environment as more people interested in nature, will keep more natural habitats from being developed and the money from parking and day passes at conservation areas help to preserve these areas.
There you have it! I hope people will carry these behaviours over once social distancing is done. And I hope governments take a look at some of these elements as they rebuild our economy with what kind of stimulus package they put in place. We don’t have to go back to exactly what was before – this can be an opportunity, a refresh to help with building a greener “normal”. It will make us a more compassionate society and will cause environmental benefits too! What are you hoping to see continue after social distancing is over?