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Coronavirus pandemic highlights importance of the climate change debate

With the world starting to emerge from lockdown, how has the health crisis affected the environment?

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The Coronavirus pandemic hasn’t only brought a ‘new normal’ in terms of its social and economic disruption. It has also brought positive changes for our environment.

While restaurants have remained shut, pub gardens empty and roads deserted, fish have returned to clear blue lagoons in Venice and deer in East London have ventured into an estate in Harold Hill. Nature has seemingly taken back control or, as Gianluca De Santis said on Twitter recently, “nature has hit the reset button on us”.

COVID-19 has resulted in the decrease of carbon-emitting transport. Road traffic in the UK fell by 70% in the last month, and air traffic by mid-march this year was half of what it was last year. This one of the most visible ways in which the virus has positively affected the environment. With the grounding of planes and the absence of daily commute into cities coinciding with the prediction of global carbon emissions falling by as much as 5%, the virus has highlighted how a greater choice of holiday destinations and improved transport links have all come at a cost.

Although Rob Jackson from the Global Carbon Project labelled the reductions in carbon emissions as ‘global and unprecedented’, it is likely that these reductions will only be temporary and that politicians will trade off environmental commitments and concerns for short term economic gains considering the bleak economic climate.

Alternatively, the crisis could now be the ideal time and opportunity for companies and employees to make changes to working habits that have become a permanent feature during the pandemic. The rise in the use of the video platform Zoom by large corporations and businesses during the crisis could prompt a re-think about the necessity in flying to different countries for business meetings, as the crisis has proven that these could simply be conducted in the comfort of people’s homes at less expense and pollution.

Sir David Attenborough has drawn attention to the possibility that working from home could become a more permanent characteristic of the workplace; although he has questioned people’s willingness to put the environment before holidaying to foreign destinations. Individuals making small changes to their lifestyle, such as refraining from using plastic carrier bags or taking less flights, all make an important contribution to the fight against climate change.

Though Meehan Crist, a writer in residence in biological sciences at Columbia University, has raised the dangerous prospect of society becoming complacent with changes to ‘personal habits’, when what is needed are changes to ‘larger structures that shape our lives’. The fundamental importance of this opinion is most evident in aviation emissions only making up 2.5% of global emissions. What Attenborough labels as “our greatest threat” will most likely require profound structural changes in the global economy and a determination amongst world leaders to not allow climate change to be left on the back burner.

As the COP26 climate summit, which was set to take place in Glasgow, has been postponed, it is of critical importance to climate activists and researchers that the fight against climate change isn’t also postponed while the media outlets and politicians are focused on the most immediate crisis at hand.

The most recent edition of the New Statesman spoke of a “coronavirus timebomb”. It is most likely that how states, politicians and people react to this current “timebomb” will shape the discourse of the climate change debate that continues to lurk in the background.

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1 Comment

Patrick Walker Posted on Monday 25 Jan 2021

Ceci n’est pas une jeu vidéo