Recently, I was fortunate enough to have been asked to represent Teensinai and my generation at CogX, as part of the Genz stage, curated by Teensinai. My topic is the impact that Covid-19 is having on our environment, and how we hope that in the midst of all this tragedy, the pandemic will have a positive effect on the future of our planet.
Before the pandemic, many of us were protesting regularly to drive change in our countries’ policies and society’s attitude towards climate change. We had begun to make great strides, and there were many conferences planned for this year to try and tackle the biggest problem our planet has and will likely ever face. Whilst many of these will go ahead online, others have been postponed. But even those that take place this year will not have the same impact as if they were to go ahead in person.
Just a month after lockdown measures were introduced, the positive impact across the world on nitrogen dioxide levels, a measure of industrial pollution in the atmosphere, was staggering. Reductions of around 50% were seen across Europe and other regions. The huge cutback in air travel and other modes of transport also had a very positive influence on our air quality.
As well as atmospheric improvements, the pollution of water across rivers and oceans has greatly reduced, so much so that in Venice the water is the clearest it has been for 60 years!
Wildlife has thrived as the negative human influence has diminished, and we can see amazing scenes of animals on land and sea in environments that would not be safe for them in a pre-pandemic world. However, once lockdown measures start to relax, animals who have become used to minimal human contact will quickly make themselves scarce.
The fact that these animals have expanded into our areas demonstrates that humans have been encroaching on their habitats for too long. After many weeks of lockdown we can start to empathise with their need for space and I hope we can strive to make our post pandemic world their post pandemic world as well.
After the pandemic is over, the most important question we need to ask ourselves is “What do we do next?”. There will be some who want to go back to the way things were. However, as Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum said, “The pandemic represents a rare but narrow window of opportunity to reflect, reimagine and reset our world.” Many large corporations are asking governments to take this opportunity to restart the economy by encouraging green projects. Scientists are exploring various avenues such as carbon dioxide removal and solar radiation management systems.
Although these initiatives are great, unless we all do our best to support the change, the consequences won’t be felt long term. After months of being stuck in lockdown, we have all realised that there are many things we thought we couldn’t live without that actually are not that important. We have learned to repair instead of buying, to cut our own hair (with varying degrees of success, I can tell you that from personal experience), to use active transport and some are even starting to grow their own produce or at least to buy products grown locally.
Our new situation has forced us to challenge our presumptions, to change seemingly unbreakable habits and leave our superficial, consumerist mindset behind. People who were convinced they could not work effectively from home have realised it is doable, or those who would buy new clothes to keep up with fashion trends realising they can spend weeks in their pyjamas! We have all been provided with an invaluable opportunity to reevaluate our situation and misguided beliefs, and overcome them for the good of the planet and for everything and everyone on it.
Of course, at the moment this is little more than wishful thinking, but we really hope that the progress that has been shown to be possible throughout the pandemic, can be sustained and focused on addressing the biggest challenge this planet has ever seen. This will not be possible if we all think it’s somebody else’s responsibility. It is our responsibility to protect our future, because our planet is the most finite resource — there is only one Earth.