• News & Blog Committee

The Environmental Consequences of COVID-19

By Jane Cameron

A pandemic brought devastation to the world this year, but the environment has profited.

It is disheartening to see that the environment has only seen such immense improvement as a consequence of the drastic lifestyle changes the pandemic has necessitated for millions of people. This pandemic has shown that the population must work to develop their standard of preserving the environment.

The world has not seen a severe drop in carbon emissions like this take place since 2009 during the global financial crisis. When it hasn't been an economic crisis that has temporarily aided the environment, it has been a health crisis. In the past, epidemics of smallpox, influenza and other instances like the Black Death have led to atmospheric CO2 dropping and global temperatures decreasing.

COVID-19 has taken the lives of over 6 million people, demobilized the economy, and caused most countries to go into complete lockdown. As this has occurred, global emissions have dropped by 4.6%, which is the largest drop ever recorded in history. Additionally, air and water quality around the world have improved, which has allowed wildlife to thrive. Even urban and industrial centers have experienced a decrease in pollution and emissions.

Financial crises have forced people to change their behavior in a way that the environment needs. The world has seen a drop in consumption when people must accommodate financial constraints. Moreover, a struggling economy may force people to adapt to different methods of obtaining energy. During the 2009 financial crisis, coal-fired power plants began to go dark, and people turned to natural gas to generate electricity, which is much less harmful to the environment. These changes caused carbon emission to reach their lowest point in twenty years.

National health crises have constrained people and stopped them from mistreating the planet for their own benefit. In history, fields previously used to farm crops were abandoned with no one left to farm them, which gave forests a chance to re-emerge and flourish. Today, travel is uncommon and there are less planes in the air, cruises in the sea, and cars or trains being utilized. While some see a cruise as a luxurious ride around the ocean, they fail to understand that cruises, such as Carnival Corporation, have emitted merely 10 times more sulfur oxide around European coastlines than all 260 million European cars. The population’s indulgences are at the universe’s peril.

What we have seen in the past is a disregard for responsibility and for the population to return to their normal lifestyles after any type of crisis. After the last drop in fossil fuels in 2009, fossil-fuel combustion and cement production increased by 5.9% in 2010. Rather than feel a level of culpability for the state of the environment, people felt the need to return to life and were eased by the small sign of improvement. It is almost as if any type of advancement leads people to feel permitted to behave more poorly.

These different instances should be a signal to the people that a change in lifestyle is the proper course of action for the future. This year, destructive storms and wildfires have been a common experience, showing that this improvement is only temporary, and we need to continue living this way to prevent disasters from occurring. People should not have to be put through exceptionally taxing times to stop abusing the earth. A better environment leads to better quality of air and water which directly impacts the human population.

The COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated a new way of life that could be beneficial for the future of the planet. With remote work, there has been a cut down in transportation which has high environmental costs. Additionally, research suggests more people are now in support of the Green New Deal than prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. The world must continue the momentum around environmental protection and implement changes. The population must not regress after the setbacks it has encountered and instead take this moment in time as an opportunity.

Jane Cameron is a sophomore majoring in journalism and mass communication, from Fairfield County, Connecticut.

Note: The GW College Democrats News & Blog Committee’s mission is to highlight, empower, and facilitate the political expression of its members. As such, the views expressed in this article are based on the opinions of its author, and do not necessarily represent the views of the whole of GW College Democrats, its executive board, or its deputy director board.