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3 Ways Coronavirus Is Destroying The Environment & Impacting Climate Change

Photo: Stephen Ray Chapman / shutterstock.com
The Environmental Impact Of Coronavirus & How It's Affecting Climate Change

Coronavirus was not a term known to most of us until 6 months ago. And yet, since then, our lives have been radically changed by it.

More than 440,000 people have died from the disease worldwide, and millions more have been infected. Even for those of us who have not experienced the disease, restrictions, shelter-in-place rules and quarantine have shifted life as we knew it.

COVID-19 dictates the world, and even our environment is not immune. 

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We’ve all seen the viral images of the dolphins returning to clear canals in Venice, Itay, or elephants roaming freely in Yunnan, China — debunked stories that give a false hope about the future of our environment post-coronavirus.

The head of the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), Carroll Muffett, issued a statement warning us not to lose sight of our environment’s needs, saying, "We cannot let COVID-19 provide cover for environmental destruction, profiteering, and continued human rights abuses.”

Even though the world has a lot more immediate concerns right now — such as protecting vulnerable populations from the coronavirus, or ending police brutality — climate change cannot wait. Some of the countries worst affected by the coronavirus are also the biggest contributors to climate change, such as the U.S. and China.

As we rapidly relax coronavirus restrictions, perhaps it is time to focus some of our attention on how coronavirus is destroying the environment.

Because there will be a lasting environmental impact of this pandemic. It is possible to care for current and future generations at once. 

Here are some of the ways COVID-19 has impacted the environment, and what we can do to offset these problems:

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1. Our emissions may have decreased, but this is nothing to celebrate.

Across the world, stay-at-home orders have caused a massive decrease in our greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.

In New York City, decreased traffic has allowed carbon monoxide output to be reduced by nearly 50 percent when compared with last year. Los Angeles has witnessed its best air quality in almost 4 decades as blue skies replace smog.

But these temporary drops do not mean there will be a permanent improvement for our climate.

As factory work and transport resumes, China’s emissions are already on the rise again. The 2008 financial crash caused a similar drop in CO2 emissions, only for it to spike again once the economy picked back up. 

What you can do:

Saving our environment should not be based on severe job loss and threatened livelihoods. As individuals, we can learn from coronavirus restrictions and see that some of our environmentally damaging habits are easily altered.

Do you really need those gas-guzzling cars that have been sitting idle in your driveway for months? For businesses that have sustained working from home, maybe commutes to the office are unnecessary going forward.

But greenhouse gasses are largely a governmental problem and require a shift to a decarbonized, sustainable economy that many have been advocating for decades. We can’t save the planet if there are no structures in place to do so.

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2. Tidal waves of plastic waste have entered our oceans.

As it stands, more than 13 million metric tons of plastic pollute the ocean every year, but the increase in single-use medical masks and latex gloves is expected to make this figure spike.

Hospitals in Wuhan, where the virus began, generated 6 times as much medical waste at the peak of the outbreak as they did before the crisis began.

And it’s not just medical waste that has surged. Increased levels of takeout and grocery store purchases mean more plastic containers getting tossed in the trash daily. Starbucks has banned the use of reusable cups, bags, and containers amind the pandemic, leading to more single-use plastic. 

All of our work to decrease plastic waste over the last couple of years has been rapidly dismantled.

What you can do:

It’s not necessary to choose between being environmentally friendly and protecting yourself from coronavirus. Simply buying or making a reusable cloth face mask will lower your plastic waste and save you money.

Many food delivery apps like UberEats and Seamless allow restaurants to display that they use compostable or biodegradable packing. This means you can support local businesses and the environment.

When grocery shopping, opt for loose fruit and vegetable or products that use as little plastic as possible. 

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3. Environmental activism has been put on pause.

As the world ground to a halt to tackle the coronavirus, so did climate action. What was once at the forefront of our global concerns, is now at the bottom of our collective to-do list.

California has lifted its ban on plastic bags and the Environmental Protection Agency announced that the Trump administration has relaxed regulations that prevent pollution because of economic pressures.

As our governments drop the ball and neglect climate action, sea level and pollution continue to rise. 

What you can do:

In a time where justice and equality are the words on all of our lips, it’s important to keep sight of our long-term environmental goals.

Climate activists have urged people to continue to put pressure on their local and national governments to protect the environment during the pandemic. Extinction Rebellion, one of the leading international organizations against climate change, is encouraging digital activism with weekly seminars, protests, and other events.

If anything, coronavirus has exposed the importance of human solidarity in tackling issues that face our planet.

Whether it’s overcoming a global pandemic, dismantling racism or lobbying for environmental protection, as a society we have the power to work together to enact change.

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Alice Kelly is a writer with a passion for lifestyle, entertainment, and trending topics.