Living in the age of this pandemic has been a very stressful and uncertain time for the entire world. The collaboration and commitment from people across the world for a common goal of flattening the curve and slowing the spread of this virus has been unlike anything I have ever experienced in my life. As a Master of Sustainability candidate, I fully understand that life as a student right now can be very difficult and the prospects of not knowing when things will return to normal again is very unsettling. While everyone would love to feel a sense of normalcy again, this is also an important time to reflect and assess what our definition of “normal” truly was. COVID-19 is going to have a mass ripple effect on our society and the way we live moving forward. Even though there will be challenges, and significant repercussions of this pandemic, there also exists a window of opportunity for change (Geels et al., 2017). At the global scale right down to local and personal levels, there are opportunities that exist and lessons that can learned to help prevent this type of global issue and transition towards a more sustainable way of living.
On a global scale, we are seeing some encouraging signs of our environment recovering due to our absence (Worland, 2020). Bodies of water are becoming clear again, carbon emissions have significantly decreased in some countries, and skylines and views that have not been visible in years are showing up again (Rogers, 2020). While many are amazed to see how our world and the natural environment can recover without us, it should serve as an eye-opening look at the negative impact our way of life has had on the planet. We should see this as a red flag and warning from our planet that it does not need us, but we very much need all of the resources our planet provides to us. While many of these positive environmental comeback stories will likely fade as regular life and business as usual return, hopefully this will serve as a wake-up call to humanity that we need stronger environmental policies and more importantly action (United Nations, 2020). Our society is reliant on the environment for our survival, this pandemic is providing evidence that the pathway we are on is simply unsustainable.
The pandemic has brought light to environmental impacts that make pandemics and viruses like COVID-19 more frequent (United Nations, 2020). While virus related pandemics are hard to predict (and in some cases) prevent, factors such as deforestation, illegal wildlife trade, wildlife markets and factory farm practices all increase the likelihood of zoonotic viruses occurring (Osaka, 2020). Working towards stronger environmental regulations and practices worldwide is definitely a practice the entire world can be on board with moving forward. Right now, people across the globe are committed to flattening the curve and stopping the spread of COVID-19. While the circumstances are unfortunate it shows that we can come together and unite for a common goal. The pandemic has successfully showed us how much our collective action could make a difference worldwide. This is the type of global unity that is needed to tackle existential issues such as climate change that will affect everyone. This sense of togetherness should remain strong after the pandemic ends in hopes that people, governments, and entire countries make decisions based on everyone’s wellbeing and with the future in mind. This pandemic should also encourage people to be more educated and involved when it comes to global issues moving forward. Too often, an issue needs to be right in front of someone before they take–action or care about it, but this should not be the case. While viruses can develop quick and result in a pandemic, global issues such as climate change represent more of a slow burn, which is why education and being informed can have a real impact to addressing these global issues.
On a smaller more individual scale, there are many actions and steps that can be adopted and learned moving forward. One of them, as many people have found out quite abruptly is the ability to be more self-sufficient. Things that seemed so normal before this pandemic such as going to the grocery store and shopping for clothes changed drastically with COVID-19. Not only can becoming more self–sufficient help you in tough situations such as these but it can also be much more sustainable. For example, those who have the resources to grow vegetables at home or create their own clothing could try to do so. We should value each item we bring into our homes and think about reusing and repurposing household items we may have once just tossed away. We should use this as an opportunity to become more resourceful with the everyday goods we have readily available; instead of throwing away sauce jars, we now reuse them for leftovers instead of needing to go out and buy another product. People have gotten so use to going to the one stop shops and large chains to simplify their shopping needs, but we have lost sight of supporting our neighbors and the Canadian economy. By supporting local we would also significantly reduce our environmental footprint. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a stark reminder of how precious life is and how fast our circumstances can change. The time spent in isolation will hopefully make people think about what is truly important and drive home the notion that less is more. At the end of this pandemic, appreciating family, friends, and what we already have should not fade away but instead be encouraged.
Geels, F. W., Sovacool, B. K., Schwanen, T., & Sorrell, S. (2017). Sociotechnical transitions for deep decarbonization. Science, 357(6357), 1242–1244. doi: 10.1126/science.aao3760
Osaka, S. (2020, April 1). ‘A common germ pool’: The frightening origins of the coronavirus. Retrieved from https://grist.org/climate/a-common-germ-pool-the-frightening-environmental-origins-of-covid-19/
Rogers, T. N. (2020, April 20). LA’s skies are smog-free and peacocks are roaming the streets of Dubai. Photos show how nature has returned to cities shut down by the coronavirus pandemic. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/photos-show-nature-is-reclaiming-urban-areas-amid-coronavirus-2020-4#you-can-see-straight-to-the-bottom-and-fish-have-returned-to-some-parts-6
United Nations: COVID-19 is not a silver lining for the climate, says UN Environment chief | UN News. (2020, April 5). Retrieved from https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/04/1061082
Worland, J. (2020, April 1). Coronavirus Drives Pollution Dip But It Won’t Last. Retrieved from https://time.com/5812741/air-pollution-coronavirus/