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Architect's Daughter | COVID-19 & Climate

You guessed it, this blog is about COVID-19, the current topic of all conversations worldwide, and rightfully so. There are so many different avenues, thoughts, and theories on this prevailing worldwide pandemic, and of course, health is the most important. However, today on our blog, though we deem global health the most important issue when it comes to the COVID-19 virus, we are going to focus in on global climate change, and what the repercussions of this virus will have on our planet in terms of environmental impact and sustainability. Of course, we chose this topic due to the nature of what we do at Architect’s Daughter – to strive for a more sustainable and upscale lifestyle. Without further ado, let us get started.

Since we will be referring to the term COVID-19, and we are sure you have seen it everywhere by now, let us first shed some light on where this name came from. As most of us now know, the COVID-19 virus originates from the Wuhan animal market in China. However, the term “coronavirus” refers to a group of pre-existing viruses. Thus, one might ask, what is the story behind the name COVID-19? Well, the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses, an organization of expert virologists that is responsible for having the final say on naming new viral diseases, first decided to designate the coronavirus as SARS-CoV-2. The name here is one that was developed due to research suggesting that the coronavirus is a close relative of the SARS virus (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). As one can imagine, the word SARS was bound to cause even more panic during this stressful time, and so the WHO re-considered the name. For a plethora of reasons, the WHO cannot associate a name of a virus with any geographical location, animal, group of people, or word that is not pronounceable. And thus, on February 11, after a death toll of more than 1000 persons, came the realization of the name COVID-19, a shortened conglomeration of the words “corona”, “virus”, “disease” and the year of which it emerged, 2019.

CORONA VIRUS DISEASE 2019

Now that we know why the coronavirus from the Wuhan market in 2019 is named COVID-19, let’s get into what this virus means for the planet and our future sustainability. Over the course of the last 2 months, the lifestyles of many across the world have become subject to drastic change. Whether this be to remain homebound for 2 weeks straight to quarantine yourself, avoiding travel as much as possible to reduce your chances of catching the virus, or eating less animal product since the virus is said to originate from animal products sold at the Wuhan market, the actions people are taking globally to avoid the coronavirus may also be temporarily helping our planet and giving mother nature a well-deserved break. Whether these habits will create an actual long term benefit on the other hand is something that is less likely.

Carbon dioxide (GHG) emissions worldwide have seen a significant reduction since the coronavirus outbreak. The large downward curve the economy is currently facing means much less travel and production as a result. Furthermore, less travel and production means a reduced demand for oil and thus a reduced output of emissions. Let’s focus in on China for a moment, the country where the COVID-19 virus originates. China, not surprisingly, the largest GHG emitter in the world, has seen a 25% reduction in CO2 emissions just from February to March 2020. If you have not stumbled upon it yet, this is NASA’s photo illustrating the drop in NO2 (GHG released when fossil fuels are burned) from month to month. An incredible concept to grasp.

 

As an environmental activist, it feels weird to look at this photo, because part of it makes you feel very happy for mother nature, but the reasoning behind it, thousands of people dying, takes that good feeling back away from you. Yes, we have seen a rapid reduction in GHG emissions since the COVID-19 outbreak, however, should history repeat itself, a slight dip in emissions during this unfortunate time will not create a difference or save us in the long run. Most articles are comparing this situation to the 2008 recession, where there was a similar drop in emissions, but one which came back in full power, and offset any benefit that would have taken place. With that being said, the Chinese government has already pledged that they will be making a large comeback for lost time due to the the virus, and thus, it doesn’t look like any environmental benefit will be lasting much longer.

And what about airlines then? A drastic decline in people traveling worldwide will relieve oil demands for air travel, but unfortunately this is probably not going to have a long lasting positive effect either. Prior to COVID-19, airlines were focusing on green initiatives to cut their GHG emissions, however now, due to the present financial crisis, this will likely be pushed to the bottom of their list of priorities. On top of that, with respect to air travel, various important U.N. climate meetings have been cancelled, not to mention some of the most important meetings since the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. This is just to show that although travel is taking a huge plunge, so is the priority of climate action.

So there you have it in a nutshell, even though by indirect default, the environment may be temporarily winning due to the coronavirus, this seems to be a false pretense, and we haven’t even touched on the amount of plastic the virus has encouraged people to use (we decided not to go there for this blog).

What an unfortunate and eerie way to look at things: because of a virus that is killing thousands of people, the environment is actually benefiting for once.. temporarily. It just isn’t right. We also don’t want to encourage the thought process that the only way to solve a climate crisis is for a global pandemic to create action. This will not be true nevertheless, as carbon emissions will likely bounce back very quickly and above and beyond once the virus has run its course.

A question you may be asking yourself by now is, so what was the point of me reading this then? Is there ANY climate positive takeaway from this global crisis we are currently facing? The short answer is yes, and it has all the world to with human behavior. In the matter of days, and by days we MEAN DAYS, 48 – 72 hours, the behavior of humans all around the world has drastically changed, as we first mentioned in this blog. People are reducing their travel, creating social distance, eating differently, and actually thinking about how their small day to day actions could potentially have life-saving or life-taking impacts on others around them. This goes to show that we as a human species can change so much in the matter of hours. This my friends, is not a bad thing, but one that we need to focus on more when it comes to the well-being of our planet and our future. For example, did you know that since the COVID-19 outbreak, NYC has seen a drastic rise in bicycling as a mode of transport in order to avoid potentially viral laden public transport? So why not use this same motivation to contribute to the sustainability of our planet? We do not one bit neglect the importance of health right now when it comes to COVID-19, and this is always going to be top priority at this time, but could we perhaps, while sitting at home in isolation, think about how we could also be using these lifestyle changes to better our carbon footprint on our one and only planet Earth?

Could we take a moment to learn that it has now been proven that we as humans can change our behaviors and lifestyles for the better? Could we put maybe a half, a quarter, an eighth, of the motivation to change behind COVID-19 toward changing for the global climate crisis? Let’s hope we can.

- Architect’s Daughter.

Remedios, Jesse. How does coronavirus connect to climate change? EarthBeat. March 12, 2020. https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/how-does-coronavirus-connect-climate-change
Harvey, Chelsea. How the Coronavirus Pandemic is Affecting CO2 Emissions. Scientific American. E&E News. March 12, 2020. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-the-coronavirus-pandemic-is-affecting-co2-emissions/

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