In these dark times that we live in, many people have tried to find an upside to COVID-19, including the impact on the environment. This impact is undeniable. Air travel has dropped for the first time in eleven years; carbon emissions in China have reduced by twenty-five per cent; Venice’s canals are clear; dolphins have returned to areas that were too polluted, and the drop in air pollution has saved thousands of lives. The list goes on. Environmentalists are celebrating internationally. So, why will COVID-19 be such an issue for climate change?
While this change is good, it is temporary. Humans have been severely damaging the planet since 1760 when the industrial revolution began. A few months will by no means undo the extent of the strain that we have placed on the earth. Secondly, a huge focus of climate change movements is policy change: alter the policy and you can make a large difference. It is hard to imagine that when the world is on the edge of economic breakdown, the environmental policies will be prioritised. After the recession of 2009, most environmental policies were cast aside due to the perceived need to focus on the economy. It has been predicted by OBR that the UK economy will temporarily shrink by thirty-five per cent. That is the most significant drop since the Great Freeze of 1709, and the result will be a significant increase in unemployment resulting in less tax payment. Therefore, the government will have less money: it will and should prioritise helping collapsing businesses, individuals and institutions like NHS.
Additionally, a large industry that has suffered immensely is manufacturing. In 2018, almost eighteen per cent of our GDP came from the manufacturing industry. Naturally, when non-essential workers can go back to work, these industries will return with full force to try and make up for the enormous economic hit which they will inevitably experience. Once factories open, fossil fuels will be consumed at higher levels, undoing all the good that has happened.
The next issue will be a shift in mentality. It is very easy to reach into our pockets, or give time, and help environmentalists in the fight against global warming, when life is easy. It is less easy when you are working overtime or are now unemployed. The support from a large majority of the public could be reduced. Furthermore, there have been many articles discussing how we may have realised that we do not need to be so dependent on activities such as flying. However, after months of being locked up, I am not sure that most people will think to reduce their activities, but rather do everything they haven’t been able to do since March. Who doesn’t want to jet off to Ibiza right now?
I do not think the public has fully comprehended the full effect that COVID-19 will have. Most importantly, many people will have to mourn the loss of their loved ones, and on top of that will be scrambling to try and save their careers. Governments across the world should prioritise people and try and resist economic crashes. The vital environmental cause may well take a hit and one from which it may take years from which to recover.
Image: Wikimedia Commons.