Although we’re coping fairly well in New Zealand, COVID-19 has been devastating worldwide. Businesses are unable to trade. Events are being cancelled. And people are dying. Is there a silver lining? Well, one that we hear a lot about is how the pandemic has benefited the environment.
Breathe the fresh air
For many Kiwis, living through last year’s five-week lockdown was a strange experience. On one hand, we were concerned about our health and financial security. On the other, we kind of enjoyed slowing down and taking time out to focus on other important things in our lives, like our families and homes. Yes, it was pretty quiet — there were very few cars on the road, and you could almost hear Mother Nature breathing a sigh of relief.
Worldwide, there is no doubt that forced shutdowns have resulted in some positive environmental outcomes.
For example, last year, smog levels in the UK peaked at three (10 is the norm). In China, carbon dioxide emissions dropped by 25 per cent. There have also been strong reductions in nitrogen dioxide concentrations in European cities such as Paris, Madrid and Rome.
So, after enduring hundreds of years of human progress, the environment has been given ‘time out.’
Will this all last?
So, have we learned our lesson? Will things just keep improving from now on? Well, unfortunately, that’s unlikely.
As restrictions begin to ease, many experts believe that the benefits COVID lockdowns have had on the environment will be temporary.
Why? Well, to kickstart an economic recovery, governments are ‘slamming the brakes’ on climate-change initiative—their priorities have changed. And, they are pumping resources into industry. For example, the US government has been pouring money into fossil fuel, oil and gas companies through subsidies. In China, where emissions are now back to normal, they are constructing multiple coal-fired power plants. To make matters worse, plastic pollution is growing because of the disposal of single-use PPE and waste from increased home deliveries.
It’s inevitable — and understandable — that emissions will return to previous levels as governments worldwide desperately try to get their economies back up and running. Let’s hope, though, that lessons have been learned and that the environment will benefit in the long run.