Updated: Jul 6
Whether through news reports on TV or conversations with friends, much of the talk right now is about flattening the curve so that we can leave the comfort of our homes. In the midst of a global pandemic, this is understandable. However, the World Meteorological Organization recently released their Earth Day report, reminding everyone that COVID-19 is not the only existing crisis, and the pandemic curve is not the only one that needs to be flattened.
Before COVID-19 took over the news, experts warned about another crisis: climate change. The warning included that we are at the point where urgent action is necessary in order to prevent a serious worsening of global warming. An absence of change in our behavior would have detrimental effects for the planet, such as an increase in the natural disasters that we’ve only gotten a sneak peek of.
As the pandemic emerged and heightened, people began to stay in their houses and greenhouse gas emissions started to fall. In fact, China’s total carbon emissions decreased by 25% in just four weeks due to the measures taken against COVID-19. Other countries seem to have similar trends, as in just the month of March, Italy’s power demand decreased by 27%. Although many may see these statistics as a much needed form of relief, the WMO confirmed that while these changes are positive, they are also temporary. If the economy eventually returns back to usual, so will pollution levels.
Of course, these numbers represent the effects of extreme behavioral changes; with the unfortunate reality of homebound and unemployed families, the changes are neither favorable nor sustainable. However, the numbers do serve as proof that we have the ability to make a difference through lifestyle adjustments—which is exactly what the climate experts called for. As discussion of returning back to daily life begins, the conversation can include how to make the temporary climate improvement not so temporary, after all.
In terms of business, we know that 71% of the world’s industrial emissions are caused by only 100 companies. When it comes to rebuilding the economy post-COVID-19, statistics like this need to be kept in mind, as well as the fact that this is an opportunity to begin to do things right. From improving the energy efficiency of businesses to switching to zero-emission forms of transportation, there are significant actions that can be taken throughout the recovery process that will improve both the economy and the environment, essentially fighting two crises at once.
People want things to go back to normal, and in a state of uncertainty, we don’t know how or when that will be. However, through a lens of rising temperatures and melting glaciers, what we do know is that our past definition of normal wasn’t working in our favor. Since returning to previous behaviors would lead us to jump from one crisis to another, we need to redefine normal—and with a definition that includes less air pollution and more sustainable business and lifestyle practices. The key is finding balance between a daily life that isn’t confined to our homes, and a planet that isn’t burning in response to it.