Monday, 19 April 2021

How you can act to support a green and just Covid-19 recovery in Canada

Covid-19 and climate change: Pandemic's positive impacts on pollution were temporary, but damaging effects will be lasting

Covid-19 and climate change: Pandemic's positive impacts on pollution were temporary, but damaging effects will be lasting


Climate change took a backseat in the media as the planet's greatest threat when the Covid-19 pandemic swept the globe in 2020. It's been more than a year since the first Covid-positive case was reported and we are entering another lockdown in Ontario. Looking back, I remember how optimistic I was the first time we entered a lockdown. Not just optimistic about the health and safety of our nation, but optimistic for the health of the planet. During that lockdown, we saw wildlife emerge from the wilderness and take their rightful place in our urban areas that were one their home. We saw marine life break the surface of the water in places it had not been seen before. The planet took a deep, cleansing breath. 


This created a misconception that the Covid crisis would heal the climate crisis. Remember the wayward Humpback whale seen swimming in the St. Lawrence River near the Montreal harbor? The whale died months after it was first spotted. It's a perfectly drawn parallel to the impact of the pandemic on climate change. The deep, cleansing breath the planet took was actually a gasp. It came up for are then retreated back down to the depths, and the climate crisis continued as expected, while no one paid attention.

Covid-19 and climate change: Pandemic's positive impacts on pollution were temporary, but damaging effects will be lasting


What positive impacts did the Covid-19 pandemic have on the environment?

During that first gasp, the initial months of lockdown, you may remember that China produced an estimated 200 million fewer metric tons of carbon dioxide, compared to the same time period in 2019. Europe's air quality improved significantly as well. Here in Canada, our largest cities, like Toronto and Montreal, saw air pollution fall by a third. We halted air travel, slowed down industrial emissions, and transportation burned fewer fossil fuels. But it wasn't just air quality that improved.


Marine creatures surfaced in urban areas because water quality improved. The primary reason was that there were fewer boats in the waterways. But industry and animal agriculture slowed, which also slowed the amount of waste runoff that found its way into watersheds. The fishing industry took less from our oceans. Tourism on the shoreline reduced trash pollution. Noise pollution reduced globally and in the quiet, wildlife explored our cities. Telecommuting reduced emissions. It all looked so promising when The Global Carbon Project released a report stating carbon dioxide emissions fell by 7% in 2020, marking the highest drop on record. 

Covid-19 and climate change: Pandemic's positive impacts on pollution were temporary, but damaging effects will be lasting


What negative impacts did the Covid-19 pandemic have on the environment?

A year later that emissions drop is blowing away like that initial gasp in a cool, April breeze. In fact, according to a study done by the International Energy Agency, CO2 emissions in December 2020 were 2% higher than they were in December 2019. As we try to bounce back to a new normal, it's not just our lifestyles that are bouncing back- it's carbon emissions too. Something that may surprise you is that the pandemic has increased deforestation. The unemployment epidemic that went gloved hand-in-hand with the pandemic increased illegal deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil. While the Brazilian government was burying their Covid-deceased in vertical graves, trees were being chopped and timbered into the horizontal position in one of the planet's most important carbon sequestering forests. The Amazon Rainforest is the lungs of the Earth, and the pandemic offered the perfect distraction from the deforestation of this vital, green organ. 


We also need to prepare for the impacts the pandemic has had on wildlife. The wildlife boom appeared to be a positive byproduct of the pandemic. However, species like deer and elk have learned to live side-by-side with humans for generations, and as a result, they avoid certain lands during hunting season. Exploring outside of their usual migration patterns could put more of them in a rifle's range come next hunting season. Wildlife in tourist areas that rely on human visitors for food is starving due to the lack of travelers. 

Covid-19 and climate change: Pandemic's positive impacts on pollution were temporary, but damaging effects will be lasting


What is easy for us all to see is the increase in biomedical waste. When you walk down a street in your city, how many discarded facemasks do you see littered on the ground? How many latex gloves do you see? Hospitals are generating more biomedical waste, much of which can't be recycled. But it's not just hospitals creating this waste, it is members of our communities. Facemasks are washing up on shorelines all over the planet and an estimated 1.56 billion or more facemasks could end up polluting our oceans, making this an environmental epidemic that could spread faster than Covid-19. Generations to come will be cleaning up this litter long after the world is vaccinated and Covid-19 is buried in the headlines. 


What is the ideal post-pandemic new normal when it comes to the environment? 

If you haven't enjoyed the Covid-19 lockdown measures and have been affected financially or mentally by the isolation created by physical distancing, then you need to take action against climate change. Why? A warming planet means a greater risk of infections diseases in wildlife, which could lead to more novel, zoonotic viruses and diseases jumping from their species to ours. To put it plainly, a warmer planet equals a greater likelihood of future global pandemics like this one. We are creating the perfect temperature for these vectors to survive in. Think about all of the mosquito-borne diseases that already exist. A warmer planet means a longer mosquito season, another disease-risk global warming creates. We are already seeing a surge in infectious disease outbreaks in certain species of wildlife, and these outbreaks coincide with climbing temperatures. This means that if we want our new normal to be a pandemic-free future, then human-caused climate change should be at the top of our Covid recovery list.


This means reducing global greenhouse emissions significantly. We need to phase fossil fuel employees into renewable energy jobs, securing their employment as we step into a sustainable energy future. This needs to be a big step- more like a leap. The technology is there and it's time to use it to its full capabilities and businesses and households switching to renewables should receive substantial financial incentives. 'Build Back Better' can't be a catchy slogan said to ease the minds of the voters; it needs to be an honest commitment. We need to introduce sustainable industrialization with more environmentally aligned policies. We need accountability for the biggest carbon emitters. Funding should go toward increasing green transportation and we should defund subsidies given to the fossil fuel industry and redirect them to green transport. 

Covid-19 and climate change: Pandemic's positive impacts on pollution were temporary, but damaging effects will be lasting


Covid recovery should also include a massive clean-up initiative. Massive community and shoreline clean-ups need to be organized when it is safe enough to do so. In Ottawa, you can register for Clean Up the Capital, and participate in city-wide litter clean-ups. In Windsor, you can participate in the Spring Rose City Clean Sweep Program and participate in city-wide litter clean-ups. It's not just litter cleanup to rid ourselves of all the discarded facemasks that factors into the Covid-19 pollution problem. Covid-19 has increased our single-use plastic reliance. Because of this, policymakers in Canada are being pressured to reverse or suspend legislation that would address plastic waste pollution, including Canada’s proposal to ban harmful single-use plastics by 2021. This can not happen. We need to tell our government that the importance of reducing plastic pollution should not be trashed because of the pandemic. In fact, we should be researching ways to manufacture more sustainable and recyclable PPE rather than promoting plastics.


We also need to clean up our act as consumers. How you behave as a consumer is a great way you can control your direct eco-impact. During Covid-19 we preached about the importance of shopping at locally owned, small businesses. This is important with or without the presence of a contagious novel virus. Shopping locally reduces the carbon footprint created by shipping the products you purchase. Small businesses create fewer carbon emissions on average than large corporations. Purchasing package-free and plastic-free products made ethically in your home country will further reduce your carbon footprint. So support that local business after Covid-19!

Covid-19 and climate change: Pandemic's positive impacts on pollution were temporary, but damaging effects will be lasting


It's time to stop avoiding the obvious parallels between the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change. Both crises will disrupt our way of life. Both cause significant economic decline, a rise in disease and death, poverty, destabilization of food security, and political instability. Climate change also causes an increase in natural weather-related disasters, mass migrations, water shortages, increased terrorism and war, and massive biodiversity loss and extinction, and a rise in sea levels. Now that we've seen the loss of control that can come from a global disaster, how can we put the blinders on and ignore human-caused climate change? Were you complaining about your civil liberties being taken from you during the pandemic? That was nothing compared to what we will experience when the climate crisis reaches its peak. 


How you can help secure a green Covid-19 recovery?

The biggest lesson we've learned from the pandemic is that it is possible to act fast. We saw our government, economy, and communities alter their daily practices and provide resources and aid in response to a global emergency. This is proof that it's possible to do the same to combat climate change. Human-caused climate change is the greatest existential threat to every living thing on the planet. If our government can act fast and we can sacrifice our status quo so we can survive a pandemic, then we can do the same for climate change. There is no pandemic recovery that doesn't include climate focus planning and funding. We need a green recovery implemented by a government that is going to be transparent and we need to hold them accountable. 


Changing your lifestyle and participating in litter clean-ups is a great start, but change comes from the top down. Decision-makers in my home city of Ottawa are working on the 2021 budget. This will be a recovery budget that will help us bounce back from the pandemic. Parliament is figuring out how to allocate billions of our tax dollars- up to $100 billion over three years! This budget needs to bail out the economy and the planet. As climate-focused Canadians, we must take action to ensure the budget funds a sustainable and equitable future. Don't let the pandemic be our last gasp. Please add your name to this ACTION via the David Suzuki Foundation and send a message to your elected officials to demand a green and just recovery from COVID-19. We don't need a new normal, we need better than normal. 

 

How you can act to support a green and just Covid-19 recovery in Canada


CLICK HERE to add your name to the Green and Just Covid-19 Recovery ACTION! 

How you can act to support a green and just Covid-19 recovery in Canada

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Covid-19 and climate change: Pandemic's positive impacts on pollution were temporary, but damaging effects will be lasting


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