COVID-19: an opportunity for the environment?

Diogo Martins, Portugal – 16 years old

The recent outbreak of Coronavirus, a disease declared a pandemic, has had enormous repercussions not only at the national level, but also worldwide. From stopped cities, closed borders to paralyzed factories, there are numerous obvious consequences that the “plague” has caused.Despite these misfortunes, it is possible to verify some positive impacts,environmental issues, showing an opportunity to rethink our lifestyle.

First identified in China, in the city of Wuhan, it startled the world’s population, seeing that this new agent had never been previously identified in humans. In reaction to coronavirus in China, mass quarantines have been enacted by an authoritarian state, that led Chinese industry to stop abruptly.

This stop had a domino effect, since the use of transportation of people and goods was prohibited in this country of 1.386 billion people, affecting one of the largest migrations on our planet, the celebration of the Chinese New Year. NASA’s Earth Observatory reported that there was a significant reduction in nitrogen dioxide (NO₂), a polluting gas produced by industry and means of transportation. These figures were 30% lower compared to the same period in 2019. Another article in the Carbon Brief, which brings together climate and energy researchers, also points out the reduction in industrial activities at the time of the new Chinese year as a cause for the 25% reduction of CO₂ in the four weeks following the event.

This situation occurs annually, but the researchers affirm that the situation of COVID-19 brought an exceptional effect in the reduction of pollutants in quantity and duration. This effect was felt not only in China, but also in Italy, a country adversely affected by the virus, which is also noticing an incredible drop in emissions from NO₂, with a special focus on the north of this european country.

On a global scale, the coronavirus has had a huge impact on air transport, with a 10% reduction in flights worldwide expected. In Portugal, TAP reported a total reduction of 3,500 flights, which is equivalent to 7% of flights scheduled for March, 11% of flights scheduled for April and 19% of flights in May.

Teleworking: the future of the world?

With all the excitement caused by the coronavirus, most people have a problem to solve relatively to their workplace. How to continue working, if it was imperative to avoid social contact? All those workers would not be without work, since the economy does not stop, and a solution has emerged: teleworking.

Teleworking is the term used to refer to work done at home, which has been done for some time by some people, but which during the quarantine period has been vital for professionals to continue to do and perform their jobs without moving to the workplace. The fact that this large mass of workers does not go to the places of employment has some positive consequences on the environment, as it is another factor in the massive reduction of pollutants into the air. In the case of workers, who use public transport to commute to work, they have avoided its use and there are more and more people who choose the bicycle as a means of locomotion, making this a further advantage for the environment.

An opportunity for sustainability?

Fear of the new coronavirus is making some people more cautious and concerned about the need to shop in public places. However, they still need to purchase some goods and e-commerce platforms may be the solution. In the United States, nearly half of Internet users admitted in a survey last month that they were avoiding shopping malls. The same study, conducted by Coresight Research, indicates that 74.6% wanted to stay completely away from this type of location. So solutions began to emerge. The famous online commerce is starting to gain more ground as people avoid going to shopping centres or supermarkets.

Examples such as Uber, Glovo or the large platforms that make home deliveries, end up replacing the transports that customers would use, lowering their carbon footprint. With this, this online commerce proves to be very advantageous in environmental terms and with the whole population avoiding going to shopping centres or supermarkets, it ends up increasing the efficiency of this type of commerce.

Nowadays these small urban spaces gain another value.// Diogo Martins

Faced with this situation, cities reveal not to be self-sufficient in terms of production. As a result, another solution emerges, the enduring example of having an urban garden or a vegetable garden in a small space at home. Organic farming can provide, for example, vegetables that may be scarce on traditional trading platforms. In fact, urban agriculture has been more recognized lately and in times of crisis like this, it is proving to be an alternative to supermarkets. People tend to think better about it, changing the way we see cities and the advantage of farming at home. If we bet on urban agriculture the carbon footprint of each person will decrease due to the fact that there is no displacement to supermarkets, in the cases that use the car for that, and it also decreases the need to consume non organic food, which has a higher environmental cost in all its production and transport.

Following the idea of organic farming, why not have a chicken at home? This idea is commonly known in villages, and it is not very common to have a chicken at home in urban areas.  With the current crisis in which we find ourselves, the supermarkets being hoarded becomes a common sight, the food products that are quickly replenished become scarce, despite the rise in their price, this idea seems quite important. By the way, organic farming helps to overcome these difficulties, but a chicken at home can bring something else, it can bring eggs. This food is often used in a human’s current diet and having a hen at home can provide this good constantly, avoiding the need to go to the supermarket to buy them. In addition, having a hen at home still adds value to the wasted food which in this way no longer ends up in landfills and is part of the chicken’s diet.

The world begins to stand still, stagnating all the brutal daily activity produced which, as is well known, has a very strong impact on the environment, damaging it and consequently affecting us and all biodiversity. It is now time to stop and reflect to change the way we see the city and our exposure to the consumerist lifestyle that increasingly forces society’s wills to be served, fully ignoring the reflection of the consequences.

Nasa Earth Observatory (2020, March) Airborne Nitrogen Dioxide Plummets Over China. Acessed March 18, 2020.

Carbon Brief (2020, February 19) Analysis: Coronavirus temporarily reduced China’s CO2 emissions by a quarter. Acessed March 18, 2020.

Markeeter (2020, March 12) Coronavírus altera hábitos de consumo e alavanca compras online. Acessed March 19, 2020.

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