Will the Coronavirus Lead to a More Sustainable World?

Let’s think positively about something so negative shall we?

In the midst of all of the bad news surrounding the coronavirus, one piece of good news is making its way into the headlines. The current pandemic is good for the environment. Normally polluted skylines are clear. Animals are free ranging in places where humans usually dominate. The skies are nearly free of planes, and vehicles no longer crowd the streets. Estimations of CO2 emissions during the coronavirus indicate a potential decline of 8% this year from 2019 levels. A full accounting of the environmental benefits will not be known for some time, but can the coronavirus lead us to a more sustainable world after the crisis subsides?

What the Coronavirus Is Teaching Us

There is no doubt that not even the most ardent environmentalist would have wished the pandemic on the world in trade for a greener environment, but it’s here, and the best we can do is to learn something from what the coronavirus is revealing about the road to sustainability. Across the globe, we are seeing how quickly the environment changes when drastic measures are implemented. These are perhaps the goals the world should have been aiming for in the first place.

One of the challenges in implementing measures to reduce greenhouse gases is that people often do not truly understand the repercussions for their actions because they do not see immediate results. Now, we are seeing immediate results, and it is possible to understand what can happen when everyone pulls together for a similar purpose. At the moment, that purpose is to reduce the impacts of the coronavirus, but the same cohesiveness can move us forward in sustainability efforts.

Another challenge is that people see change from a framework of immediate inconvenience and challenge. It is difficult to fully understand how the changes will improve overall quality of life. This second issue is a tougher one in terms of the pandemic. Few people are experiencing the benefits of changes to the environment or in their behavior. Linking the coronavirus and environment together does not necessarily equate to a recognition of the steps we can take for a more sustainable world going forward.

Moving on From the Pandemic

There are three possible outcomes once the current crisis abates, each of which will have an impact on sustainability. The first is a return to business as usual. The second is a life that looks much like the current one in terms of changes to work-travel-home life behaviors. And the third rests somewhere in the middle. There are few who think the first or the last are likely. The truth will be somewhere in between the two extremes. Where our reality lands along that continuum will determine what our future environment and climate will look like. We can take lessons learned from the pandemic and apply them to climate change action and sustainability if we have the will to do so.

The coronavirus crisis has demonstrated some surprising lessons about the ability of humans to work together toward a common goal. It has also revealed to us the impacts drastic measures can have on improving environmental conditions. A more sustainable world going forward is not a given, though some positive changes are likely to endure. There is a chance, however, that we can use the lessons from this crisis to springboard us towards a more sustainable future.

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