Coronavirus: Era of Environmental Policy
Despite the economic and societal uncertainty COVID-19 is unleashing on our world, we are dealing with an incredible social experiment. There are few moments in history when we can understand the effects of limiting human interaction on the environment. The outcomes are incredible, and maybe not unexpected, but the resulting visible conclusion that decreasing consumption leads to cleaner air and clearer water is exciting.
Although widely accepted, anthropogenic impacts or the idea that environmental degradation originates from human activity hasn’t had the lens that this direct correlation can provide – until now. The immediate resilience of the Earth is especially noteworthy.
During the financial crisis of 2008, a similar disruption occurred, resulting in worldwide greenhouse emissions falling by 50%. When the economy was able to return to full output, emissions returned to normal. (1) While it is difficult to determine how large the economic backlash COVID-19 will have, the U.S.’s 3.6/3.5 unemployment rate seen in Jan/Feb is expected to jump to numbers as high as 10%. This means roughly 10 million people out of work within a few months. (2) As unfortunate as the employment situation is, greenhouse gas emissions are falling and will continue to fall as the virus spreads. Unfortunately, during the recovery of the 2008 crisis, sustainable policy wasn’t a priority. It is not too late to change our practices. If our current environmental atmosphere isn’t an indicator to promote sustainable growth and reorder our priorities moving forward, I am not sure what is.
The direct impacts of COVID-19 are clear and easily tracked, while the impacts of climate change are more ambiguous. Assessing the impacts of these disasters at the human level is a difficult feat. While these statistics are difficult to report, they shed an important light on the correlation between this virus and the effects of climate change. Currently, COVID-19 has infected an estimated 450,000 and killed an estimated 20,000. (3) According to the World Health Organization, air pollution kills an estimated 4.2 million people worldwide every year. (4) While these figures are all estimations, the scope and level of response is an important correlation. The uncertainty and fear inherently built into the dispersion of the virus have stimulated a rapid response, yet the indirect nature of climate change reflects its laissez-faire response.
During this unprecedented pause, we have time – time to reflect on our current business practices and how we can become more thoughtful environmental stewards. Do we need as many workers commuting? How many flights are required to maintain your portfolio of clients? What is the efficiency outcome of a telecommuting workforce? In addition, and perhaps most importantly, this is the time to connect. Connect to the people around us and the world. Turn to nature for solitude. During this tumultuous time of self-preservation, we can begin to understand how to take care of ourselves and our environment.
[1) Lyman, Eric J. “Coronavirus’ Unexpected Silver Lining Is Revealed in Italy.” Fortune, Fortune, 19 Mar. 2020.
 Nelson. “Coronavirus Recession Looms, Its Course ‘Unrecognizable’.” The New York Times, 21 Mar. 2020.
 “Coronavirus Cases:” Worldometer, www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/, 20 Mar. 2020.
 “Air Pollution.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, unknown.