COVID-19: A Boon Or Bane For Sustainability?
The global pandemic has drastically altered the ways in which we live and work.
In cities where lockdowns have taken place, trains and buses have stopped operating, industrial production has slowed or even halted, and individuals have curtailed unnecessary travel, confining themselves to their homes. The environmental impact of these changes has been felt almost instantaneously: Murky waters in Venice have become clear, NASA has reported that pollution levels over China and Northern Italy are the lowest it has seen in years, and in New York, one of the worst-hit US cities, scientists have reported a drop of 5-10% in carbon dioxide emissions.
And as more governments shut their borders to tourists in an effort to minimise the spread of the virus, airlines worldwide have been forced to cancel hundreds of flights in a travel-hostile environment. As the economic upheaval is predicted to crush airlines and strain economies, the only silver lining appears to be that of the sharp fall in carbon emissions stemming from the lack of air travel.
If anything good has come out of this public health crisis, it is the healing of the Earth.
But of course, COVID-19 is not our generation’s one-off solution to climate change. The need to fight climate change still persists. In Hubei, the epicentre of the outbreak, officials have lifted travel restrictions in response to the fall in infection rates. People are starting to go about their daily lives as per normal. In several months’ time, when the outbreak is over worldwide, and lockdowns everywhere are lifted, we can expect to see carbon emissions rise to the same levels pre-outbreak. Economists have even argued that carbon emissions may rise steeply as companies double up on production to make up for the lost profit.
Notwithstanding this possibility, COVID-19 may still bring about long-term environmental positives.
As more individuals work from home, more are able to afford time to follow through with plans to install solar PV systems. Here at SolarPVExchange alone, we have seen a fourfold increase in residential enquiries regarding the installation of solar PV systems. This means that a greater number of people will install solar PV systems, which greatly reduces their carbon footprint, thus cutting carbon emissions.
Furthermore, as more families stay at home instead of travelling, installations of solar PV systems are not disrupted by travel plans, thus we can expect to see a sustained increase in the number of homeowners purchasing solar PV systems.
Moreover, as millions of employees worldwide have had to telecommute to work without being in the office, if successful, companies may continue to allow more instances of telecommuting in the future. This will directly reduce energy consumption and thus decelerate the pace of climate change.
Ultimately, whether or not COVID-19 will be a boon or bane for sustainability depends on the actions of corporations and the political will of governments to take tangible steps into the sustainable direction. Meanwhile, let us exercise social responsibility and avoid crowded places. When at home, we should strive to conserve energy as much as we can for a more sustainable future.