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COVID-19 has environmental takeaways – The Daily Utah Chronicle

COVID-19, while catastrophic and disruptive in many ways, has forced the world to dramatically change its ways. The protocols of the COVID era have given us insight into our relationship and our dependence on the environment. More importantly, it has shown us that there is a lot we can do as humans to change our behavior to create a better future.

The lessons we have learned from the pandemic should lead us to restructure our relationship with the environment. Rather than reverting to pre-COVID manufacturing techniques as we are starting to do, we should take this opportunity to practice more respect for the environment, institute cleaner energy production, and review our waste management.

Environmental origins

Since its inception, COVID-19 has been an environmental issue with ecological repercussions.

To learn more about its environmental nature, I spoke with Professor Jennifer Shah from the Department of Environmental and Sustainability Studies at the University of Utah. This conversation allowed me to learn more about our environmental role in creating and spreading the pandemic.

As we have created more extreme environmental conditions, such as increased heat stress and extreme weather events, we have increased the burden of disease.

Professor Shah highlighted another point of influence where we may have contributed to the severity of the pandemic. She described how severe habitat loss, especially in “areas where many viruses are emerging”, results in “poor loss of diversity” and “loss of hosts” for viruses. When this happens, “various viruses then have to jump species to find new hosts.”

We know COVID-19 is a zoonotic disease because it spreads from non-human animals to humans. This tells us that COVID-19 arose from some aspect of our interaction with the environment. And if we continue to destroy biodiversity, we may see zoonotic diseases become more common.

Some completely ignored the lesson we should learn from this information, and instead made racist accusations and blamed the Chinese.

The COVID-19 outbreak should have taught us something about our relationship with the environment. Disregarding nature’s purpose by treating animals and land as commodities makes us vulnerable to crises.

A World Health Organization investigation provided further evidence, citing human exploitation of wildlife as the likely cause of COVID-19.

Stop of industrial activity

During the most distressing times of the pandemic, however, there were short-term environmental improvements.

During mass containment, global CO2 emissions fell 17% from 2019 levels. At its peak, each country reduced its CO2 emissions by an average of 26%.

With declining demand and industrial production shutdowns, we have seen significant improvements in air, water and noise pollution levels. In India, the decrease in air pollution during lockdown allowed the Himalayas to be seen for the first time in decades.

Containment has also drastically reduced human movement. In areas where tourism had previously hampered the ability of animals to reside in natural habitats, some species have started to return. For example, giant tortoises began to return to deserted beaches in Florida and Thailand.

Reducing air travel has also had positive effects on the environment, as aviation is one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions.

After only a few months of shutdowns, the environment flourished with reduced human impact. This highlights the importance of changing our behavioral habits.

Professor Shah underscored this need, saying, “The cumulative impact of small decisions has had such an effect on improving the air. While our previous traffic jams and business practices created higher pollution levels, a brief lockdown created a temporary “normal” that has proven to be better for the environment. Regardless of the circumstances that led to the closures, COVID-19 has proven that one way or another it is possible to reduce CO2 emissions and restore declining biodiversity. In times of “normalcy” in a non-pandemic world, this may seem like an infeasible goal.

Poor random elimination

Despite our sharp declines in inactivity, we have managed to maintain our negative impact in the form of waste.

Rapid increase in plastic waste from personal protective equipment like rolled up masks in the ocean, making sea creatures more vulnerable.

The more than 1.5 billion masks in the oceans can take up to 450 years to decompose. Scientists found that the masks increased the levels of microplastics in ocean environments and made animals susceptible to entanglement.

The global trade in waste and the production of plastic, along with improper disposal, has become a staple of our capitalist society. This disaster was made worse by COVID-19.

To slow the spread of the pandemic, we have dramatically increased our production of disposable masks. 75% of these masks end up in landfills or float in the sea.

Before disaster struck, we should have largely replaced single-use plastic production with bio-based and biodegradable plastics. Now, to prevent the same events from happening again in the future, we need to implement a transition to sustainable materials.

Changing the way our society operates is a challenge, especially on a global scale that we need. However, Professor Shah has detailed some ways we can work to achieve this ambitious goal.

One is to “change our own conception of what well-being is. The growth of the economy is so inextricably linked and depends on the people who buy things. We can no longer rely on this system to deliver environmentally friendly results. While change is difficult to achieve nationally and globally, we can pursue aggressive reforms in local arenas where our voices are stronger.

Now that COVID-19 has focused on so many areas for improvement, people need to take initiative and implement new ideas, whether through “entrepreneurship” and “starting a business.” green, ”as Professor Shah mentioned, or whatever.

COVID-19 has allowed us to reassess our environmental practices. Our divorce from ecological values ​​has led to the creation of the unsustainable systems in place today. However, this unprecedented period of shutdowns and reduced human activity has shown us that our propensity for change is far greater than we realize. Instead of running away from difficult transitions, let’s start creating a new normal: ideally, anchored in sound, enduring principles.

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@sarah_buening

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Mary Cashion

The author Mary Cashion