This article was produced and published by Dora Hoong from Global Initiatives. Lead Editor: Racia Yoong.
Many are struggling to find a silver lining in the midst of this global pandemic. As travel bans and lockdowns have eased air pollution levels significantly in areas like Paris and China, some have even called the pandemic a ‘silver lining’ for the environment.
While it is good to be positive in such trying times, the coronavirus outbreak is by no means a ‘silver lining’ for the environment.
Coupled with traffic economic loss and widespread human suffering, labeling this global pandemic an “environmental benefit” is simply myopic.
No matter how “beneficial” it may seem to the environment, this pandemic is telling of how unsustainable current practices are.
The current pandemic has shed light on the most devastating forces of our time: economic and social inequality, deepening the disparity between communities of people.
Research suggests that there are disproportionate impacts on the poor and vulnerable, with those in the lower economic strata more likely to catch the disease and also likelier to die from it.
Battling the coronavirus in the age of sustainability
A huge majority of diseases are zoonotic and this is because of human activities that constantly encroach into natural areas. Unsustainable consumption choices have led to an ever-increasing demand for goods and space.
As we continue to invade those natural areas, the contact between humans and wildlife becomes ever more common, and those diseases can pose a public health risk on humans.
While it is easy to pin the blame of this pandemic on some unhygienic wet markets, we have to take a step back and recognise that our very own consumption choices could contribute to human suffering as well.
Monkey malaria describes the spread of a fatal disease caused by deforestation in Malaysia.
For some time, we’ve known that our constant demand for food, land space and other products drives deforestation, creating an uninhabitable planet for the animal kingdom.
In the case with Malaysia, those monkeys are forced to leave their natural habitat and seek shelter elsewhere, coming in contact with farmers and hence, spreading the disease on to humans.
The true silver lining amid this pandemic
The effect of the virus on the environment gives us a preview of how the climate crisis could be alleviated should we demand less. The drastic drop in air pollution is attributed to a huge decrease in transport-related pollution that came with travel bans and lockdowns.
This is proof of how our consumption habits can have a very real effect on our battle against climate change.
Of course, this is not to say that travelling bans should continue even after the pandemic blows over. Rather, we should re-evaluate the way we choose to consume and move around, like switching to public transport instead of driving to control the number of cars on the road.
Drop in nitrogen dioxide emissions over China from Dec 2019 to Mar 2020. (European Space Agency)
Fortunately, amid this pandemic, economists have warned us to make long-term shifts in the way we spend, work, and live, and more people are slowly shifting to change their habits.
Soon, these efforts to lifestyle changes will be required to accelerate.
Sustainability holds a pivotal role in the choices we make. From the food we eat to the clothing we wear, and beyond that.
Collectively, more eco-conscious choices on our part can alleviate issues that currently plague the Earth.
Should governments, corporations, and individuals switch to more sustainable systems and lifestyles, we can significantly reduce our impacts on the Earth while maintaining healthy economies.
Perhaps the true silver lining in this chaos is the revelation and need to integrate more sustainable systems. Because without structural changes to pivot us toward greater sustainability measures, any social or environmental reforms brought about by this pandemic will not stand the test of time.