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The significance of World Environment Day in the midst of a pandemic

Posted by Jo Harris on

World environment day 2020

Today, June 5th, is World environment day. It was enacted in 1974 to make people more aware of the importance of environmental issues. Every year there is a different theme and this year's theme is biodiversity. "The emergence of COVID-19 has underscored the fact that, when we destroy biodiversity, we destroy the system that supports human life. By upsetting the delicate balance of nature, we have created ideal conditions for pathogens–including coronaviruses–to spread" (https://www.worldenvironmentday.global/about/biodiversity

By now we humans must have understood the message the all life is interlinked, no part can live healthily when another part is destroyed. The point of World Environment Day is to get people to think about and be more aware about the way we consume and the impacts we have on the environment, businesses and sustainability and awareness raising.

Have you noticed how much the COVID-19 pandemic has helped raise the issue of the environment to the forefront of people's minds? People have been noticing that everywhere there is less pollution, a direct correlation with less traffic (road and air) due to people forced to stay at home, less pollution from factories due to global shutdowns, cleaner rivers and clearer skies allowing for views that haven't been seen for 30 years or so. Demand for coal and oil have decreased. Particle pollution is down, meaning air quality is up (Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, CAMS). By the way, did you know that around 90% of the world live with less than good air quality (WHO, 2016)? In January 2020, there was a 25% decrease in carbon emissions in China (Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air), a 17% decrease in global carbon emissions (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-020-0797-x), 50% less nitrogen oxide emissions (European Space Agency), cleaner water ways in Venice, less fishing allowing fish stocks to replenish and cleaner beaches worldwide. 

Of course all of this has happened out of necessity, to slow down the speed of the transmission of the virus, out of a public health crisis. People can't remain shut in their houses forever, just as industry can't remain at this low level of productivity forever. Everything will start up again and the wins to the environment from COVID-19 will be negated to some extent. or maybe even a large extent. However, it has shown us what we can do if we need to, to allow the environment and the planet to recover. What is clear from the shutdown during the pandemic is that we can not keep living as we were pre-pandemic. The pandemic is something like a wake up call for all of us and allows us to see what we can do differently, how we can live in better harmony with the planet in a more sustainable, less damaging way. 

Of course there have not only been positive environmental effects due to the shutdowns but there has also been a negative side to all of this with a reduction in recycling, coupled with an increase in waste due to increased hygiene measures (disinfectant wipes, disposable masks, gloves, suspension in the use of reusable coffee cups, bags & other containers).

But the big question is what will happen now? Will governments in their strategies to start up again after the COVID-19 crisis put the environment at the forefront of their recovery strategies and place renewable energies and such measures at the forefront of such strategies? Will people choose to shop locally, supporting small businesses and travel less? Will people have the environment at the forefront of their actions now that we have seen the effect we can have when everyone acts together? This is the question. 

What can we do as individuals to support the environment? Here is a list of 10 simple things you can start doing right now which can be done by everyone regardless of your economic situation.

1. We can buy only (or mostly) unpackaged foods

2. We can take our own bags/containers/bottles to the store - when this is again allowed

3. We can use less electricity for heating & cooling & turn off lights and appliances when not needed

4. We can compost our fresh food waste

5. We can recycle according to local recycling guidelines

6. We can use private cars less, walk more, cycle or use public transport

7. We can reduce consumption of meat and animal products in order to lessen methane gas emissions from livestock farming

8. We can be more aware of what we are washing down the drain (no fats, oils etc.)

9. We can be more mindful of our water consumption, have shorter showers, water the garden early in the morning or evening to lessen evaporation & turn off the tap when brushing our teeth etc.

10. We can support small local business to lessen international freight and support our local community

What else do you do to support the environment? I would love to hear from you.

Photo from Unsplash by Juanma Clemente-Alloza

 

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