Coronavirus’s Environmental Implications


Jennifer McLaughlin, Guest Columnist

In the last few weeks, headlines showcased the reduction of air pollution in China and New York City as communities were forced to shelter-in-place. The analytical maps were striking in how fast the cities went from smog-filled to blue sky.

Still, there are arguments that the pollution reduction seen across the globe is only temporary; and as soon as we are allowed to travel freely, pollution will rise back to its pre-COVID-19 level.

So, maybe the drop in pollution won’t sustain beyond the pandemic unless we change our ways. Or maybe it gives us a glimpse into what could be and guidance on what needs to be done.

Letting nature be nature is proving to be important in many facets. Every day the natural environment plays a critical role in our daily lives. Trees clean the air before we breathe it and the ground filters out pollutants from water before it enters rivers and aquifers. This water eventually becomes our drinking water. However, when we cut down trees or insert structures that minimize the ground’s capacity to filter water, nature is wounded in its ability to perform. It is known that polluted water opens doors for spreading diseases and that air pollution exacerbates human respiratory issues, making human health more vulnerable.

Leading health experts have warned of a deadly pandemic for several years. Many nations’ lack of preparation has led to supply shortages and an inability for hospitals to manage a large surge of patients. Similarly, scientists have warned for decades that continued anthropogenic changes in our atmospheric conditions will lead to severe droughts and floods, rising sea levels, loss of biodiversity and water and air pollution. They have emphasized that the sooner we adjust our course, the less dramatic the changes will be.

As the pandemic carries on, consider the blue skies over China and New York. They offer a glimpse of hope that despite damaging our natural ecosystems, the environment can bounce back if given a chance. By no means do we wish for humanity to shelter-in-place for eternity. But perhaps the pandemic can show us how we as collective humanity can have a major, positive impact on our planet.

Post-pandemic, life will be different. There will be changes in healthcare. There will be changes in restaurants. There will be changes in travel. Will there be changes for the good of the planet as well? Each of us in our own way can continue some of our shelter-in-place life adaptations – such as only driving to the grocery store once a week instead of three times or walking our dog in the park a few blocks from our home without driving across town to the dog park or Zooming for quick business conferences vs. flying across the country. These will keep us – and our human home – healthier.