Reflecting on Earth Day 2020: could this pandemic mark the start of a greener future?
Lately there have been a number of media reports highlighting a call for a radical rethink in climate change policies in the face of the current worldwide health crisis, and voices in the research community are proposing ways to rebuild our economy in a cleaner and more sustainable way.
There is no denying that we are currently facing one of the biggest health crises in a long time. The question is; how will this impact our actions in the future? Will this pandemic make us reflect on how we treat our planet or are we postponing all climate action until later? Could we come out of this crisis with stronger action plans to save the planet and will governments commit to stricter policies? Only time will tell.
The 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (short: COP26), scheduled to take place at the end of this year in Glasgow has been postponed to 2021, providing us with additional time to come up with an action plan for a greener future. One of the widely reported ideas to make this happen, is that the government should combine bailouts for businesses impacted by the consequences of COVID-19 with incentives or conditions to step-up clean energy and action climate change. According to an article in MIT Tech Review the research community’s view is divided on this idea. For now, researchers agree that the main priority is to make sure people can access health care and food and remain in their homes. But after the economy starts growing again, the focus should be on sustainability and green energy, according to researchers.
Heike Langenberg, Chief Editor of Communications Earth & Environment, agrees with this in her article 'Some Silence this Spring', “Now is the time to think deeply about how we can find a balance between equity, global welfare and individual freedom in the course of climate change mitigation. We need to find a way to apply the insights and innovations that are coming out of unprecedented global-scale restrictions on societies. And we should ensure that climate action is hard-wired into the global economy as it is being rebuilt.”
Worldwide governments have already had to rethink certain structures, such as distribution chains, making sure that people can buy food and other necessary goods, and countries are also working with national manufacturers to produce previously imported goods locally again, such as protective gear for health care professionals and ventilators. “I think that this time of crisis is an opportunity for governments to reflect on how the extravagant way we are living (consumption, mass production) impacts the world and has a negative effect on the environment,” says Juliana Pitanguy, Publishing Editor Applied Sciences at Springer Nature.
At a time where never had to think about the availability of a wide choice of different foods, as a result of this lockdown, we suddenly experienced shortages of certain goods, as people went into panic mode and started stockpiling. Whilst this only lasted a short time and food chains have been secured, this might no longer be the case for future generations because of our actions. This pandemic, as well as previous outbreaks such as SARS, MERS, H1N1, have made it painfully clear that there is a need for a more sustainable way of living, if we want to make sure our planet will continue to be safe for generation to come.
The current lockdown is already having an impact on our environment. Air pollution levels have come down as a result, and people in India, for example, have been reported to be able to see the Himalayas again for the first time in decades. The decline in energy consumption due to a decrease in industrial production and electricity demand caused by the lockdown has led to a reduction in oil consumption, which again has resulted in a reduction in carbon emission. The decline in energy consumption is not only having an impact on oil prices, it actually has a negative impact on renewable energy. According to Nature Energy investments in new solar and wind power are likely to fall and major solar panel producers are struggling to access certain raw materials and labour. Lower oil prices might fuel usage of fossil fuel over green energy, once the economy is up and running again. That is, unless governments implement economic stimulus packages driving energy consumers to sustainable energy sources.
“Ultimately, there are many hard choices here that politicians need to make, but there are also opportunities to provide greater support to other goals. This doesn’t have to mean not supporting certain industries but could involve additional strings on bailouts to motivate action,” says Nicky Dean, Chief Editor at Nature Energy.
For now, we will all have to work together to support the most vulnerable in our society and after that re-build our economy again. While we don’t know if this crisis will lead to a green new deal in the future it doesn’t mean we should ignore our responsibilities around climate change.
For further reading around climate change and sustainability, check out these Springer Nature eBook titles and journals below:
Making Green Cities Jürgen Breuste; Martina Artmann; Cristian Ioja; Salman Qureshi
Ecological Rationality in Spatial Planning Carlo Rega
Foregrounding Urban Agendas Simonetta Armondi; Sonia De Gregorio Hurtado
The Emergence of Biophilic Design Jana Söderlund
Adaptive Strategies for Water Heritage Carola Hein