The Positive Effects of Covid-19 on our environment

by Benoît Bleau (June 2020)

We are bombarded by negative facts in the media, every day. Yes, the pandemic is a catastrophe in many respects. Although, if we compare the number of deaths attributed to it, with the number of deaths from other natural causes, one has to ask one’s self about the importance given to this virus. But, this is not the goal of the present article. Enough of the negative talk, let’s try to highlight the positive effects of this pandemic. It is undeniable that since the beginning of confinement in Quebec, i.e. in mid-March 2020, a great many lifestyle habits have been turned upside down and some, we hope, permanently.

The first one, because it affects most people, as everyone eats, is the choice of how one shops for food and what one chooses to eat. We are shopping much less frequently and we are grouping our errands. Some people have been having their groceries delivered, often thanks to volunteer helpers. It’s a great collaboration between customers, merchants and members of the community. We are also seeing a growing awareness of where food comes from, noticing an increase in buying from local food producers and processors. This supports our local economy and has a real impact on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Our way of working has also changed drastically. Working online, has increased phenomenally, showing us that many tasks can be accomplished in this way. Of course, this will never replace face-to-face meetings, but when face-to-face meetings are not mandatory, why not work remotely? Imagine the effect it could have on daily traffic if half of the workforce worked from home? Those who have had to venture into major urban centres since mid-March are happy to see this improvement.

For communications, we have had to use our imagination. Tele-conferencing platforms, which already served a tiny part of the population, have now been adopted by a large number of individuals who use them for family gatherings, interviews, board meetings, general assemblies, international meetings, choir practices, etc. It certainly requires adaptation, but on an environmental level, it greatly reduces the need for travel. A friend of mine even told me that his organization was saving thousands of dollars a month in transportation costs and that once confinement came to and end, he was questioning whether he would go back to the old ways.

The pandemic has also had a positive effect on certain aspects of medicine. On the one hand, we will have been confronted with the limitations of the current system, which will enable us to improve it. On the other hand, techniques such as telemedicine, which were very difficult to establish, have been propelled forward. Now you can have an appointment online with your doctor or specialist without having to go out and wait for hours in a waiting room. The renewal of prescriptions has also been facilitated. Some habits, such as hand washing for 20 seconds, which has become a virtually automatic practice, have had positive effects far beyond Covid-19. In some countries, such as Japan, flu cases have been reduced by 70%.

The Tourism sector has been hard hit. Foreign tourists will be scarce for a long time to come. On the other hand, since it will be just as difficult for us to go abroad, we will have more of an incentive to discover our own regions and better appreciate our environment. And since there is still a reluctance to socialize with friends and extended family, the holidays will certainly be more “family-oriented” this summer.

The planet has been doing much better in the last few weeks. It is reported that if restrictions on air transport and travel are maintained until the end of 2020, global CO2 emissions could fall by 7%. Have you noticed, the air seems cleaner in the city and you hear the birds more. You even see animals that normally stay further away from homes.

Will these effects last? And what are we going to learn from this particular adventure? Let’s hope we’ll keep the good habits we’ve picked up. Hopefully, lessons will have been learned by our leaders and we will agree to change our priorities by putting people and their environment at the centre of our concerns. I hope we will have developed a taste for eating as locally as possible by continuing to encourage the small producers that we will have discovered, while looking for alternatives to large food chains. Hopefully, we will think twice or three times before buying a plane ticket when it is possible to do otherwise. Hopefully, we will develop new strategies for employment, working remotely and tele-conferencing to avoid unnecessary travel.

Finally, I hope that the bonds of solidarity that we will have established to help the most vulnerable in our community will be maintained and that we will take the time to appreciate the wealth that surrounds us.