COVID-19’s effects present chance to possibly save the environment

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People wearing protective face masks walk through an alley in Beijing on Friday, Feb. 7, 2020. (AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

Bryan Ramirez, Contributor

The tragedy that is the infection of thousands from the devastating COVID-19 does not come empty-handed. Tracing the domino effect started by COVID-19 eventually leads us to the world around us and the myriad of ways it has changed throughout this horrendous devastation.

Though many see the change in the world around them and the lowering levels of air pollution as a silver lining to a very grim year, it does not come without its own host of negative effects.

Increase of waste pollution, for example, is one of many harrowing effects this illness has brought with it as we strive to decimate this terrifying disease we have been using more one time use plastic (Picheta, 2020) in hopes of lessening the chances of infection. However, despite the thinly-balanced good and bad the environment is facing as of this moment, I believe this is the most opportune time to revitalize our planet and put into effect new ways to protect the world from further pollution.

More specifically, now is the time for China to act and take advantage of the grim situation to maintain their levels of pollution at this new all time low, rather than see it shoot back up after the disease dissipates and normal life is to resume again.

As it stands, a study on the air pollution in China concluded that thirty-eight percent of the Chinese populace lives in areas with long term air quality averages deemed “unhealthy” by other country standards (Gamer & Toops, 2017, p. 321).

This information, although frightening, is only the beginning of a long list of facts that must be visited to be able to understand what we are facing and what is occurring in the world around us.

The positive effects that COVID-19 has had on the environment may not be numerous but have been impactful.

In a time when air pollution has been so distressing and devastating that an estimated 1.6 million people die each year from health-related issues caused by heavily polluted air (Gamer & Toops, 2017, p. 321), even the slightest drop in air pollution is an amazing thing that could help millions if not more.

This came after mass quarantines took place in several different countries, as more people began quarantining and more factories began to shut down and cease all operations.

As more people remain quarantined at home, that amounts to less drivers on the road producing less carbon dioxide, something China has benefited greatly from, considering that China was found to be the world’s biggest carbon dioxide emitter in 2006 (Gamer & Toops, 2017, p. 320).

Due to the shutdown of countries’ borders, tourism has come to a complete halt, and although from a financial point of view this may seem disastrous (Grillot & Franken, 2020), less tourism means less litter and of course less litter for an elongated period of time allows the planet to slowly but surely heal.

To further add to this, the ban of mass gatherings means little-to-no people visiting locations such as parks and beaches and the shutdown of many tourist attractions such as amusement parks, as well as the cancellation of many festivals, concerts, and other such gatherings.

It would be reasonable to assume from the situation that less people outside of their homes means less litter out in the world (James, 2020), or at the very least less cars on the road emitting CO2.

Sadly, all these positive effects do not come without their necessary evil.

As previously mentioned, litter has been going down thanks to mass quarantines and air pollution has also decreased from its previous frightening numbers.

However, in our attempt at stopping the spread of COVID-19, we have begun creating more waste pollution. In hopes of lessening the spread of this disease, we have all resorted to using plastic bags once again.

Medical items such as gloves, surgical masks, body bags, and protective equipment have all added to this increase in waste (Picheta, 2020), for during this pandemic, surgical masks have become a must in our arsenal to fight off the infection of COVID-19.

They have also become the new normal when being outside for needed supplies and have even become a necessity to be allowed entry to some stores.

The quarantine that the world is facing is but an overflowing flood gate waiting to burst and drench the world in pollution once more if nothing is done to better the situation. The only way we can hope to keep this new reality for our environment is to take advantage of the situation in front of us and find ways to implement new measures that would help lower the rise of pollution.

It is time that we began to touch on the subject on how China can take this time to implement new measures to help lessen the strain on the environment, therefore helping the planet and its citizens.

Switching to renewable energy is an excellent plan and would help severely, but I believe the focus should lie on the citizens of China and the factories.

Putting a household limit on vehicles and shutting down the sale of all gas vehicles henceforth would help lessen the amount of carbon dioxide that is being put out yearly.

Furthermore, making it easier to obtain electric cars and giving citizens of China an incentive to turn in their old gas cars would, in turn, motivate them to switch to electronics, also lowering the emissions.

The government could then scrap the vehicles and find new uses for the scrap metal.

One last idea would be to begin to give rewards to companies and factories for lowering their emissions, again motivating them to help in the fight against pollution.

In a time surrounded by the dark and grim, we must always try our best to find the silver lining. Despite how rusted the silver lining that is the environment’s bettering during a time of chaos and fear may be, we must also look at the opportunities that have arisen and take advantage of them.

This could in fact be the best chance China gets at lowering its air pollution, therefore saving its citizens from a life of difficulty and a future masked in uncertainty.

We have seen what it takes to lower pollution and although this exact scenario is not favorable and unobtainable by other means, we must find a way to replicate the results one way or another.

For I fear if we wait too long, it will truly be too late and the next massive global event we pay witness to will not be as easily dealt with, nor avoided, but instead be the center of our regret as we look back and wish we did something more to change the course we are on.

We have but one life and our survival is directly connected to that of this planet. If we have any hope of having a future, it begins with the changes we make today.