By Laura O’Mahony
We are living in a very different society to the one that existed three weeks ago. Slowly but surely we are coming to terms with the fact that this is a state of emergency, and the fear of the unknown is becoming greater than the fear of the virus itself. But, intertwined in the doom and gloom that appears to flood my news feed each morning, comes a glimpse of something a little less pessimistic. It appears that perhaps in the midst of this devastating global pandemic comes the chance to overcome a different battle: climate change.
As global working routines come to somewhat of a standstill due to what is being referred to as the ‘Stay at Home Effect’, we are beginning to see some promising trends. In just four short weeks, China has seen pollution levels drop with an estimated reduction of 25% in carbon dioxide emissions. A similar pattern has emerged across cities in India where, for example, the Air Quality Index in New Delhi has been recorded at 74 this week compared to its average of 161 in March 2019. Since Italy’s lockdown on March 10th, beautifully clean water has begun to run through the canals of Venice because, without boat travel, the sediment can remain on the bed undisturbed.
However, despite the hope that these examples carry, it is feared that coronavirus will turn the climate crisis on silent. Many countries have abandoned environmental projects in a bout to wrestle with flattening the curve, Extinction Rebellion have cancelled their London protests and the IPCC and UN conferences have been postponed until further notice. The global plastic industry is booming once again as packaging for fruits and vegetables is reinforced in supermarkets, and chains such as Starbucks ban the use of reusable cups to combat the spread of the virus. These measures, although extremely necessary, have forced the climate crisis into an impressive balancing act and with this comes the strong likelihood that, in the midst of all this, the environment will become merely collateral damage.
After this storm passes and countries begin to rebuild their economies from the rubble, they will most likely do so desperately, sparing no expense to the environment. Governments will inevitably, and without thought to consequence, re-invest into unsustainable ventures and practices in order to lift themselves off the ground. In the desperate attempt to return to business as usual, it is more likely that we will fall back into environmental collapse instead of transitioning to a green economy.
I am not naive to believe that climate action is at the top of everyone’s agenda right now, but this crisis could be a fortuitous opportunity for us to change pace and adapt to a new rhythm of society. Perhaps Covid-19 is a both an example and a warning to us to start taking climate change seriously. So, in this sweltering climate of uncertainty, it is important that we consider this pandemic a lesson as much as we consider it is crisis, and maybe it will begin to induce knowledge rather than fear.