How Much Has Covid-19 Affected The Planet?
At this point, we don’t need to exhaust the ways in which Covid-19 has changed our lives. (Anyone want to hop on a Zoom call?) But it has, in a number of different ways, affected the environment for good and bad. So how much has Covid-19 affected the planet? Let’s take a look.
When talking about climate change and the environmental impact of Covid-19, there are so many players involved. So for the sake of brevity, this article will focus on three prominent areas of environmental impact for climate change: wildlife, emissions, and waste.
1. Impact on Wildlife
When most of the world went into lockdown in the Spring of 2020, tourism and travel stopped too. You probably saw the pictures of dolphins returning to Venice. Yeah, those pictures were fake.
But there were enough other real wildlife comebacks that were noteworthy. Dolphins just did a better job of capturing our attention. Great Orme Kashmiri goats wandered through a coastal town in northern Wales, and leatherback turtles laid eggs on Phuket Beach in Thailand.
▴ Only 2,300 adult females of the Pacific leatherback remain
On the flip side, poaching increased because the lack of tourists wandering nature reserves meant fewer eyes to keep watch. And conservation efforts in many places are running out of funds because those projects are supported by tourism.
One thing that this pandemic has taught us is that wildlife can and will thrive again if given the opportunity. And people in positions to do just that are noticing. Exhibit A: The Natural Resources and Environment Minister of Thailand, Varawut Silpa-archa, said he plans to close national parks each year now for a few months at a time so “nature can rehabilitate itself.”
2. Our Emissions Output
The lockdowns in 2020 dramatically reduce transportation emissions. Carbon dioxide emissions dropped 7% throughout the world last year. That’s good. But even 7% is not enough to save our planet.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme, greenhouse gases worldwide need to drop 7.6% every year between 2020 and 2030 to keep us on track with the goals of the Paris Climate Accord. So all those changes, but they weren’t quite good enough.
There has also been fear that the pandemic would make things even worse for the environment, as many of the biggest polluters pleaded with governments for regulatory rollbacks to help with restarting economies damaged by Covid-19.
But those fears have been eased a bit since Joe Biden was elected President of the United States, the U.S. re-entered the Paris Agreement, and this news came out.
3. Waste and The Rise of Single-Use PlasticWe were already drowning in a sea of plastic before this pandemic hit. Then add all the extra layers of packaging and precautionary steps to the mix.
With travel down and transportation crawling at a turtle’s speed, oil prices have dropped. And that oil is turning into more and more single-use plastic. Gloves, masks, and bags since most grocery stores banned bringing reusable bags.
▴ American families take home approx. 1,500 plastic bags a year
But a lot of this wasn’t for no reason. Covid spreads primarily through aerosols. And face masks work for decreasing the spread of the virus. And so we saw the rise of single-use face masks. But we now know that reusable masks are also effective at decreasing the risk of transmission. Woven fabrics such as cotton or hemp do a fine job. (Pssst… go with hemp. The environmental benefits over cotton are too numerous to list here.)
Grocery stores in some areas are allowing reusable bags again, which will again decrease the amount of single-use plastic bags. But how many people will refuse to switch back, preferring plastic and believing it’s safer? That’s a question that can’t be answered quite yet.
There were many articles and studies that showed Covid-19 lives on surfaces for much longer than the average virus. But they were also controlled laboratory studies. New research shows it’s quite difficult to contract covid through surfaces.
The CDC now claims that the odds of contracting covid through surfaces is “generally less than 1 in 10,000.”
And according to Dean Blumberg, MD, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at UC Davis Children’s Hospital, “you’d need a unique sequence of events” to contract covid via surface transmission.
▴ American Airlines in-flight food and beverage
The above picture shows a plastic water bottle and bag of pretzels served in a plastic bag during an American Airlines flight in March 2021. Does the additional plastic bag make much of a difference?
Probably not. No matter how many extra layers of protection are added, someone will always need to touch the outer layer to get through to the product.
It makes sense on the airlines’ part to let their customers see them proactively taking the pandemic seriously. They might ask fewer questions about why they have to fight for elbow room with someone occupying a middle seat. It’s a good visual reminder. But the idea of “out of sight, out of mind” could also apply here. If an additional plastic bag wasn’t served around a plastic bottle, would most people even notice? Or would they simply accept the bottle because it’s a plastic water bottle? The guess is the latter there.
But back to the visual reminder, the plastic bag can definitely let people know covid is being taken seriously, considering most people can’t see the state-of-the-art HEPA filters most airlines have since installed due to covid. So it’s actually pretty safe to fly with regards to covid.
And because nothing is truly 100% known with this virus, it does make sense that airlines would go to extreme measures to win back customers. But with new information, it’s time to stop the flood of single-use plastic as a means to combat covid.
If you have any examples of unnecessary plastic use in the last year, we’d be curious to hear about them in the comments. And on the flip side, any examples of companies eliminating single-use plastic requirements because of new information.
Article by Impact Snacks Contributor, Nate Tyler | Website