Is Covid Giving us a Chance to Tackle the Eco Crisis?

Gilles Berdugo
6 min readJul 28, 2020

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As the world is slipping deeper and deeper into a vortex of uncertainty and fear brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, we are all tired of the word “crisis.” Most of us are going through major change. Our relationships, the way we work, the way we shop, how we exercise, and the way we interact with strangers are all affected. Having to think of a “crisis” on top of that is just too much for most of us. But, the thing is, we have to. The pandemic is not the only crisis we are currently faced with. What can be as urgent as a deadly disease rapidly spreading across the world?

The Climate Crisis

Our ongoing ecological crisis is intensifying, and only by tackling environmental threats now will we be able to conserve our planet for the future. While some of us think the climate crisis is not nearly as life-threatening as the pandemic, quite the opposite is true. In fact, it could even be what caused the pandemic. According to the WHO, UN, and WWF International, pandemics like this are the result of humanity’s destruction of nature. Consider the following:

  • Covid-19, SARS, MERS, HIV, Lyme disease, Lassa fever, Rift Valley fever, and Ebola (and others!) are all zoonotic. This means that they are transmitted to humans from animals. MERS comes from camels, SARS and Ebola from bats, HIV from chimps, and Covid-19 possibly from pangolins.
This figure is excerpted from a US GAO report GAO-12–55: www.gao.gov/products/GAO-12-55
  • As habitats are destroyed, animals search for food and shelter in areas where humans live. This leads to diseases spreading.
  • According to research, a staggering 75% of all emerging infectious diseases have come from wildlife.
  • Because of wildlife trade, millions of animals are moved from country to country every year and with them, the potential for disease.

The exploitative and unhealthy relationship between people and the environment has proven to be unsustainable. Our policy of choosing consumerism, industrial growth, and development over the environment is leading us to complete ecological collapse. Can this be prevented? I hope so. And what better time to do something about it than right now?

The Perfect Timing

Yes, we are REALLY tired/annoyed with/over the “crisis” and most of us struggle to find anything positive in it. We are filled with uncertainty, fear, and thousands of questions: “Will I have a job?”; “Will I get sick?”; “Will anybody close to me die?”; “Will things ever get back to normal again?” But instead of dwelling on all of this, it’s crucial that each and every person on earth use this global moment of pause to reflect and use it to our advantage. It is the perfect time to tackle the climate crisis and everybody can do something about it whether they are a politician or an average person.

A Growing Awareness

Global lockdowns have forced everyone to slow down and take stock of what’s going on in the world. Thankfully this has spurred on a growing sense of urgency and solidarity in governments to take preventative action so that we can avoid going through this again. Hopefully the shock of the pandemic is enough to jolt them out of ignoring the climate crisis and will lead to systemic change across the globe. As for ordinary people who are not in control of international policies and regulations, well, what we can do is raise awareness by talking about environmental issues and educating people on how they can make a difference (for example, see my post on flexitarianism and reconsider the amount of “animal products” you consume), even if it’s small. It takes millions of drops of water to fill a well, but without these drops, the well is dry. Before talking about the next steps governments and people can take, let’s explore what’s currently happening.

The Environment During Covid-19

The impact of the pandemic on the natural world so far includes:

Improved air quality

The skies in cities across the globe are dramatically clearer. Landmarks in polluted cities have become clearly visible for the first time in years, like the India Gate war memorial in New Delhi, India. Pollution levels dropped so significantly, the difference in our atmosphere is even visible from space. If lockdowns continue, the global CO2 emissions could drop by as much as 8% by the end of 2020!

Data from the Ozone Monitoring Instrument on NASA’s Aura satellite shows less air pollution over the Northeast United States in March 2020 compared to average values for the month of March between 2015 and 2019. (Image: © NASA)

Improved water quality

The water in canals around the world cleared. Fish, swans, and even dolphins became regular visitors. The drop in atmospheric pollution also improved water quality by lowering nitrogen and other chemicals. When these pollutants drop into the water from the air, it causes excessive algae growth which causes a reduction of life-supporting oxygen in the water.

More fish in the ocean

The unexpected decline in commercial fishing has resulted in fish living and spawning for longer periods of time. This caused a massive rebound in fish populations.

Improved safety for wildlife

With travel restrictions in place, animals have been able to roam more freely. Sea turtles started laying eggs on beaches that are ordinarily full of tourists. Less road travel meant less fatal collisions with animals. Countries like Gabon banned human consumption of animals like pangolins and bats.

With all of this happening, the world is getting a glimpse of what a greener and more sustainable world might be like to live in. The question is whether humanity is able to learn from this crisis or if we’ll go back to the way it was before. For us to limit global warming to under 1.5°C higher than pre-industrial temperatures, we would need to keep pollution at the reduced rate the Covid-19 pandemic forced us into for the next few decades. Is this possible? Again, I hope so.

Investing in the Planet = Investing in Humanity

We need the planet, it’s our home. As the Covid-19 pandemic swept across the globe, governments began to take drastic measures like immobilising citizens and suspending entire economic sectors to flatten the curve of infections. This has highlighted the incredible power they wield, when they decide to protect their populations. It also shows that it is possible to affect massive positive change when it comes to tackling the climate crisis. As citizens of planet earth, it’s up to us to create awareness of what can be done and that it’s possible, even as lockdowns ease. We need to work together to make sure our governments hear us and do the right thing. Here are some of the things Covid has shown us our governments can do to fight climate change:

  • Improve digital infrastructure — The more people work from home, the lower our carbon footprint. The pandemic has made it abundantly clear that this is possible across many industries.
  • Create more space for cyclists and pedestrians — Less cars, less pollution! When lockdowns began easing and people were allowed outside to exercise, more people walked and cycled. Let’s keep this trend going.
  • Increase fossil-fuel taxes — This would not only reduce fossil-fuel usage, but also provide much-needed revenue for countries as they recover from the economic slump due to the pandemic.
  • Plant more trees — The more trees we plant, the more carbon dioxide is absorbed and the more natural habitat is created for wildlife. If we restore the natural order of things, we’ll be less vulnerable to zoonotic diseases.

The Covid-19 pandemic has given humanity an awesome opportunity to make the right decisions about our future. We need to act now and save ourselves by saving the environment!

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Gilles Berdugo

Eco-friendly globetrotter seeking to make the world a greener place and creator of https://facilementecolo.com/