The focus of COVID-19 has been the impact on human health – and rightly so. As the global mantra accompanying the pandemic has been stop the spread to save lives there has not been a significant emphasis placed on the indirect environmental ramifications of the virus.
Sure, we’ve all heard reports of dolphins cruising the canals of Venice as a result of the city’s usually murky brown – turned pristine waters. But these sparse reports do not warrant the world throwing in its proverbial hat in a defiant declaration that nature is healing and climate change is being combatted. It’s not. Or, is it? Early reports from the Global Carbon Project 2020 state, as clearly as the cleansed Venetian canals circa May 2020, that there has indeed been a distinct decrease in carbon emission since February 2020. In fact, the CSIRO has reported on the findings of the preliminary analysis on daily global carbon dioxide emissions since the onset of COVID-19 published in Nature Climate Change which states that carbon dioxide emissions in April 2020 had decreased by 17% relative to April 2019. Seemingly, this is excellent news for the environment. This news, however, is temporary. As the world (albeit slowly) returns to normality, emissions and pollution will increase and the portion of 2020 that saw carbon emissions decrease will just be a blip of the past. This discourse is opening an entirely different can of worms, deserving of its own discussion.
Let’s take a look at the environmental ramifications of COVID-19 happening right now as humans across the globe have retreated indoors in a bid to do their part in curbing the spread of COVID 19. Staying home with nowhere to go has meant a significant reduction in the amount of cars on the road. Consequently, there has been a significant reduction in carbon dioxide. Those pesky delivery trucks that usually zoom past your window at 4am have been off the roads, subsequently improving your sleep and by derivation, your wellbeing, as noise pollution has decreased significantly in most countries.
COVID-19 has also seen the onset of some negative environmental ramifications. There has been a significant increase in organic and inorganic waste production. As the demand for online shopping increases, the quantity of waste produced per household has been surging as the plastics and carboard used to deliver goods and take-out meals piles up exponentially. Additionally, the disposal of medical waste has also increased globally.
Oh, more cardboard, more plastic, more recycling, right? Wrong. Due to the pandemic, various countries such as certain states in the USA and Italy have temporarily ceased or altered their recycling programs in attempt to prevent the spread of the virus.
Many tourist destinations abroad, specifically beaches including those in Spain and Bali, have seen a significant reduction in the quantity of floating garbage clustered along the shoreline since the onset of COVID-19. In Western Australia, fortunately our recycling programs haven’t ceased and our radiant white sand beaches weren’t peppered with rubbish or befouled by questionably coloured waters to begin with.
The query that now must be posed and examined is – how do we move forward and retain the positive environmental ramifications of COVID-19, namely the global reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and how do we leave the negative environmental effects of the virus behind? What do you propose?
Written by Andrea McLure