It only takes one glimpse into the empty streets to see just how much COVID-19 has impacted everyday life. One notable impact that a lot of people observe right now is the more transparent sky, likely due to fewer vehicles running and belching emissions. As people limited their activities and confined themselves indoors, it seems like the environment is starting to recover from human impact.

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However, don’t be fooled. Arguing that the current pandemic is healthy for the world is insensitive, considering the thousands of lives at risk due to the novel coronavirus. Any impacts will be short-lived, and the world will remain on track towards catastrophic climate change unless we do something about it. Studying the link between COVID-19 and the environment should help us learn valuable lessons on how to take care of our environment properly.

Temporary Relief

COVID-19 spreads through physical contacts, such as by inhaling droplets that infected people release whenever they cough or sneeze. To slow down transmission, communities imposed social distancing measures that reduce unnecessary contact among people. Many companies required employees to undergo remote work, reducing the use of transportation systems. Lower business activity also means lower demand for utilities such as water and electricity.

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Air pollution levels usually dropped in areas where people were no longer required to report to their workplaces. People also drastically reduced their need to travel. Many countries banned non-essential flights, further reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Many businesses whose income streams were affected had to lay off employees, establish pay cuts, or postpone promotions. The uncertainty, as well as lower revenues, forced many households to cut spending. As the economy slowed down, environmental impacts such as pollution also diminished.

The threat of a global recession has a silver lining: lower greenhouse gas emissions. The world only has around a few years left to reduce emissions. Otherwise, we will face the worst effects of climate change, which include severe weather patterns, food insecurity, and escalating tensions.

Barriers And Consequences

However, all the positive impacts of COVID-19 on the environment aren’t permanent. Once lockdowns end and the economy jumpstarts, emission rates will rise again. The air will become laden again with dust and fumes as people resume their commutes. Fossil fuel power plants will belch out carbon dioxide, worsening global warming.

The effects of social distancing measures may lead to even more environmental destruction. Governments and companies will feel the pressure to catch up with missed economic growth at any cost. To accomplish this goal, they might choose to halt environmental protections. For example, they might lift carbon taxes on fossil fuels to encourage consumption.

At worst, attempting to recover lost economic growth can offset any environmental benefits due to the global pandemic.

It’s important to note also that the response to COVID-19 clearly shows the link between the current economy and the environmental burden that humans impose on the planet. It took large-scale lockdowns and economic slowdowns to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It would take an equally momentous effort to make the same impact on our environment.

The Availability Heuristic

If the current pandemic has minimal long-term impacts on environmental sustainability, then why do people keep on insisting that COVID-19 is beneficial for nature? The short-term positive results, like cleaner air, are easy to observe. People tend to put more weight on evidence that is easy to recall, so they conclude that the environment is healing due to the coronavirus outbreaks.

This tendency is called the availability heuristic. Daniel Kahneman, Ph.D., states that “people tend to assess the relative importance of issues by the ease with which they are retrieved from memory.” Unfortunately, this heuristic is a source of bias. It makes people discount the bigger picture: that any positive impacts of a pandemic aren’t likely to persist in the long term.

Moving Forward

What can we do? Dispel the notion that COVID-19 helps the planet. It is a disease that is actively disrupting our lives. The current pandemic needs to end as soon as possible, and we all need to cooperate.

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Society should also move towards a more environmentally-conscious future. We don’t have to make things as they were before COVID-19 appeared. As we start to rebuild, the world should take steps to establish new economic policies that tackle programs like renewable energy transitions and sustainable growth.

Remember that COVID-19 is not the savior of the environment. We need to be accountable to our duty towards nature. The responsibility of environmental stewardship rests on the human race.

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