Top Lessons Coronavirus Has Taught Us About Sustainability
We all live on the same planet. This isn't a profound statement, however, in the global economy, it can be easy to forget. Most of us live our lives through screens, in small comfortable environments we know to be home. What happens in other cities, states and countries may feel insignificant to our everyday lives. However, what begins as a news story from a distant location can quickly turn into a reality for the whole world.
In the grand scheme of things, borders cannot stop pandemics. Politics and wealth cannot change the way the human body functions, and the necessities that all humans require to survive. The current COVID-19 crisis has shown that what happens “elsewhere” can have a major impact across the globe. Collectively, we are experiencing large-scale change that impacts how our whole world functions and ultimately survives.
Globalization Turns Into Ecological Damage
Globalization, defined by the Peterson Institute for International Economics, is the “growing interdependence of the world’s economies, cultures, and populations brought across by cross-border trade in goods, services, flows of investment, people, and information.”
Globalization allows for free-trade which promotes global economic growth. In an open market, democracy can flourish, jobs are created, consumer costs are reduced, speedy travel is possible and information can be disseminated on a mass scale. The interconnectedness of our world is a direct result of globalization.
Yet, this growth in the global economy comes at a great cost to our planet and humanity. From a human cost perspective, companies from developed countries often outsource production to countries with lower labor costs. Unfair working conditions and exploitation of labor makes goods cheaper for consumers and profits larger for company owners and shareholders.
From an environmental cost perspective, goods produced internationally must be imported to developing countries. In turn, ecological damage and environmental sustainability are ignored. According to an article on Oceana.com, 90 percent of world trade is carried across the world’s oceans by some 90,000 marine vessels. These vessels use fossil fuels, and in turn, three percent of global carbon dioxide emissions can be attributed to ocean-going ships.
Fast Travel Leads To Long Lasting Challenges
Large shipping vessels aren't the only problem. As adventurous humans, we love to travel. Whether it be for business or pleasure, the idea of getting on a plane to experience something outside of our daily routine is romanticized by most. 4.1 billion people flew on a scheduled airline service in 2017. Fast travel (due to globalization) is a significant contributor to total annual CO2 emissions. CO2 emissions from all commercial operations in 2018 totaled 918 million metric tons—2.4% of global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use.
Fast travel also contributed to the rapid transmission of COVID-19. The impressive interconnectivity of human travel caused the virus to spread across borders in a matter of weeks. Asymptomatic carriers of the virus migrate from one place to another, unknowingly bringing more than memories home with them. Slow legislative response to the virus allowed for COVID-19 to spread on a massive scale. Without a vaccine, the only way to protect the people all over the world was to reduce travel itself.
The method of transportation is also key when determining how much pollution will come from fast travel. Once motorboat traffic ceased in Venice the waterways were repaired in impressive speed and goes to show how the environmental crisis affects local and global communities. Our global economy needs to rethink how we commute to focus on cleaner methods of transportation.
An Increased Need for Mindfulness
Not only did airlines halt travel, schools, businesses, and other non-essential services have shut down. People are asked to stay at home. Those who are lucky enough to be able to work from home are experiencing a huge change in routine. As silly as it sounds, it is not easy to stay still. Having hours in our day that are dedicated to physically getting up and going to work or school is what keeps many of us sane. When we lose the ability to leave our homes, our schedule may begin to blur together until there is no mental separation between work and play. As Twitter user Sarah McCammon writes, There is no longer AM and PM. There is just "coffee time" and "wine time."
Individuals around the world were forced to sit still and discover an intense need for mindfulness. A study by ClassPass reveals that yoga was the most popular remote workout of 2020 with a 25% increase in users taking online yoga classes. This comes as no surprise since the benefits of yoga and meditation are vast and include lowering stress levels, promoting self-care, increasing energy and brightening moods.
By becoming more mindful and self-aware during 2020 individuals are waking up to their impact on the world. A study conducted by Global Scan in June 2020 found that people want to make healthy and sustainable choices but simply don’t know where to start with 74% of participants claiming they want to reduce their impact on the environment by a large amount. Humanity is quickly becoming aware of the negative consequences their daily habits have on the world, especially as we have seen huge drops in emissions as nature flourished throughout 2020.
Lower Emissions Show Positive Signs of Regrowth
While we all stay home and practice self-growth, we are seeing changes in the environment. There have been rapid improvements in air quality globally. Flight cancellations have cut global CO2 emissions from passenger flights by around 11%. In China, carbon emissions fell by 25% over a four weeks due to reduced industrial production. In the US Northeast, nitrogen dioxide levels in March 2020 are about 30% lower on average. We are also seeing nature resurge due to our reduced presence. Multiple locations worldwide have seen animals reclaiming human spaces.
As the nationwide lockdown in Italy enters its second week due to the #coronavirus outbreak, Venice's canals appear to be crystal clear. Follow for live updates: https://t.co/IviOWyuNOu pic.twitter.com/yTyObHMZFX— Reuters (@Reuters) March 17, 2020
A pandemic is not a viable option for reducing greenhouse gases. Tens of millions of people being out of work should not be the path to decarbonizing our economy. Yet, when things begin to return to normal, how can we ignore that carbon emissions did decrease? Will we resume life exactly the way it was? Researchers say global carbon emissions are down by a record 7% in 2020 with an estimated drop of 2.4 billion metric tons. Although some worry that emissions will double when the stay-at-home orders are lifted due to expedited production in an attempt to restart the global economy. China’s government is already calling for an increase in its C02 emitting industries!
Clean Energy & Clean Habits Are The Way Forward
To prevent a rebound and growth of emissions, governmental efforts to stimulate the economy must be focused on clean energy. As Lauri Myllyvirta, an analyst at Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, writes, “targeting clean energy and energy efficiency investments would be a natural way to reconcile the perceived need to prop up economic growth with state-engineered spending.”
Times of radical change can lead to innovative thinking that drives cultural growth. Individually, we can use this time to reflect on our personal energy use, reducing non-essential travel, and cutting down food waste. Collectively, we need to focus on effective sourcing of protein- and nutrient-rich foods, freshwater, and the management of our fine earth’s resources.
The biggest takeaway from this “down time” is that we can choose to do things differently. Established ‘norms’ within the economy can be altered and improved. It is astonishing how quickly companies and individuals were able to establish new pathways toward survival, even though most of us are creatures of habit and find change daunting. Still, we see the difference that communities make when looking out for one another. Collectively, most of us sacrificed our comfort to protect the rest of the globe. Staying at home means keeping others safe. As we move into the new year we take away these important sustainability lessons 2020 has left us with to continue to strive towards a healthier lifestyle both for us and our planet.