While we are all struggling to adjust to the new challenges brought by self-isolation and nationwide lockdowns, many have begun to notice the onset of small, positive environmental changes brought on by this pause in everyday life.
In just a few weeks, our entire way of life has been transformed, from where we can go and who we can see, to the very air we breathe. As industries and transport networks have closed down, there has been a sudden drop in carbon emissions, with pollution in New York dropping by 50%, and China’s coal use falling by 40% (BBC). These are astounding changes which could only have been brought on by a profound national and international effort to slow the spread of the virus. Certainly then, if the past months have shown us anything, it is that we have an ability to make an extreme change when acting with compassion, urgency and concern for the health of our most vulnerable. It is my sincere hope that the need to act with similar vigour and cohesion in the face of our climate crisis will be recognised, as it is those who are most vulnerable who will be hit worst by climate change’s impacts (The Guardian).
In Venice, canals are the clearest they’ve been for 60 years (Classic FM) as lockdown measures have reduced tourism and the movement of locals. Due to less traffic along the canals (CNN) to stir up sediment, the water has become crystal clear, blue and beautiful. Though the water is not less polluted than before, its clarity appears to have attracted wildlife, with swans and small fish being more frequently spotted in the city. Users of the online Facebook group Venezia Pulita (Cleaner Venice) have described the clear water as a moment of brightness in this troubling time - “this virus brought something....beautiful," said Katia Fameli. Perhaps then, this sparks hope not only for the ability of our environment to recover from tourism and pollution but for us to recognise our hand in both environmental degradation and renewal. As group member Marco Capovilla speculates, “Venice a little at a time will recover with new awareness and new opportunities”. What is saddening is that despite this newfound serenity, residents are only able to take photos of their cleaner city from their windows.
But will these environmental changes last? If our focus on community, family, health and wellbeing lasts after this period of crisis, then perhaps (BBC). Depending on the severity of the impacts of the pandemic on individual economies, consumer demand may stay lowered, keeping greenhouse gas output and fossil fuel use low. However, as the economy recovers, global anthropogenic emissions may well bounce straight back to catastrophic levels. No one would have wished for such beneficial environmental change to happen this way, but ultimately, this period may be a turning point in our fight against the climate crisis. Though the uncertainty of coronavirus is overwhelming, I believe it is important that we keep the climate crisis in our minds, with the hope that we can carry the tenacity and willpower we have shown against this virus through to our next global battle. Though our climate strikes and rallies have been cancelled, there are still small things we can do - a change of diet, a change of lifestyle (BBCb).
Though the struggles of coronavirus cannot be understated, I believe that this period will be one of great transformation for humanity. In our struggle, perhaps this time has given those of us who must stay at home some time to reflect, a space to breathe to appreciate what we truly have - community, family, friends and a planet full of beauty and potential should we choose to care for it. I hope that seeing the environmental impact of coronavirus will inspire us to keep making this change, to keep choosing moments of beauty, pause and refection over the destructive instantaneousness of 21st-century capitalism. I hope that this will demarcate a point at which, as a society, we see that we can change. The current extraordinary events offer a unique and vital opportunity for us to document the positive side effects of the quarantine, and inspire the protection of our environment in the future.
Venezia Pulita - https://www.facebook.com/groups/378156922321320/