Coronavirus and the environment

Do you remember the first lockdown? Of course, you do; we couldn’t leave our homes, holidays were cancelled, and flights were grounded. Why are we reminding you of such a sad time? 

Well, do you also remember how clear the skies were? There wasn’t a cloud in sight for days as air pollution from planes and cars decreased. Animals explored towns for the first time. We watched from our windows as the environment breathed a sigh of relief at the momentary respite and many of us thought – Well, at least that’s something.

But has Covid-19 continued to have a positive impact on mother nature? Let’s explore.

Impact of coronavirus on the environment: Data during the first lockdown

Our spirits were lifted somewhat during the pandemic’s first wave when we saw a positive impact on the environment. While it wasn’t a cure for the fear, anxiety and loneliness, it was somewhat of a welcome tonic. 

The stats that started to hit our TV and computer screens included:

  • Demand for coal predicted to fall by more than 1%, equating to 10 million fewer barrels per day compared to 2019
  • C02 emissions dropping by 17%, with predictions that levels could be the lowest recorded since the second world war
  • Global electricity demand falling by 20% or perhaps more, with forecasts that demand would fall by 5% for the year
  • Greenhouse gasses decreasing by 8%, which is six times more than the drop caused by the recession in 2008
  • A notable drop in N02
  • Noise pollution falling to the recommended decibel levels outlined by the World Health Organisation
  • Seismic noise (the buzz that stems from the Earth’s crust vibrating) also reducing

Which all looks and sounds extremely promising. The question is, what happened when lockdown ended, and started again, and ended again, and started again?

Recent figures regarding coronavirus and the environment 

Sadly, there have been some negative actions stemming from covid-19, including an increase in illegal deforestation. Between August 2019 and May 2020, there was 72% more deforestation across Brazil than the same period the year before. While the pandemic is not the leading cause of this, it has operated as a disguise, taking focus away from the illegal activity.

Additionally, daily emission decreases increased by -5% in mid-June, a noticeable rise compared to the -17% reported during the first lockdown. C02 levels are still at a record high.

It has also been predicted that if every Brit utilised a disposable plastic mask each day, it would result in 128,000 tonnes of plastic waste in just one year. Across the globe, 65 billion plastic gloves, and 129 billion face masks are used each month. While we whole-heartedly support mask-wearing to save lives, if we all invested in reusable face coverings, we would be taking an additional step to save the planet amidst the pandemic.

While fantastic steps have been taken to uncover the spectacular damage plastic has caused to our seas and wildlife; unfortunately, the pandemic has made the situation worse. Animals are getting trapped in our disposed masks’ wires, and it’s heartbreaking to hear that masks and gloves are now a common sight strewn across beaches.

What does all this mean?

While there have been some positives for our planet due to Covid-19, which is something to be pleased about, it is only temporary. Unless we take steps to reduce our carbon footprint, such as more companies working from home, travelling less in general, and implementing greener policies; carbon and other pollution levels will jump straight back up when things go back to normal. 

Additionally, we need to carefully and responsibly dispose of our masks and gloves safely, including cutting the wires on the masks so that we don’t entrap wildlife. Ideally, we would all invest in reusable face coverings to keep us safe while reducing single-use plastic waste.

Essentially, our fight is not over, and we can’t rest on our laurels. Sir David Attenborough put it the most poetically when he stated:

“We live in a finite world, we depend on the natural world for every mouthful of food that we eat and every lung-full of air that we breathe. 

“If it wasn’t for the natural world then the atmosphere would be depleted of oxygen tomorrow.”

In regards to coronavirus, his thoughts were:

“I think the pandemic is helping people to discover that they need the natural world for their very sanity.

“People who have never listened to a bird’s song are suddenly thrilled, excited and inspired by the natural world.”

We join Sir David Attenborough in his plea for us all to merge forces and help save our planet. While coronavirus has put our lives on hold and tragically taken the lives of so many people, we can use it as an opportunity to better our world. 

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