COVID-19 Benefits to the Environment and Other Good News Stories

As Lucy thinks about how she was supposed to be touring around the English countryside right now, and instead is touring around her house, she is aware that she has saved herself a lot of money, and has surpassed her New Year’s goal to reduce her carbon footprint by driving less and flying less. The same holds true for many of us. All this is thanks to COVID-19.

“One of the things that we can learn from the pandemic’s effects on the environment is that we CAN actually have an impact if there were a global effort to do so.” -Dr. Luz Claudio, Professor of Environmental Medicine and Public Health, drluzclaudio.com 

The connection between COVID-19 and climate change is being referenced regularly, and conversations about the environment are coming from outlets you would not typically see. Another bright hope.

UN Secretary-General Anthonio Guterres on March 13 says “We will not fight climate change with a virus,” but, we might see increased momentum on some fronts.

Here are a dozen plus good news stories that have come from this pandemic, and let’s hope that we can make as many of them stick as we can, as individuals, businesses and with policy changes at the government level.

Buying Local Movement

“A recent Angus Reid poll done in conjunction with Dalhousie found that as the pandemic wears on, 50 per cent of respondents intend to buy more local products once things are back to normal. The week before, that number was 42 per cent.” (This we read in:  CBC’s “What on Earth,” April 23, 2020 edition)

Thursday’s Urban Market in Timmins File Photo. ORG XMIT: POS1712131057420621

It is suggested that most impacts of COVID19 will be temporary but the rise of shrinking-supply- chains has been accelerated. For Example, Sparrow’s Nest, a CSA-Comunity Supported Agriculture venture in Alberta is thriving in this pandemic. It is a model that sees customers pay farmers upfront to guarantee their supply of vegetables throughout the season. Customers tell this farming venture that they’re worried about disruptions to the supply chain caused by COVID-19. Trending terms are: “local food”, “supply chain” and “food security”. https://bit.ly/2WvRKet

International trade might roll back as countries realize how reliant they are on the global supply chain and decide to produce their own goods, says the Yale Environment 360.

Working Remotely

It is also expected that there has been an acceleration in employees working remotely from home, and this will impact climate change into the future. Meeting remotely with apps like Zoom will also decrease travel, and work conferences may be fewer. This could mean fewer cars on the road and fewer flights. We shall see. https://bit.ly/2WBgVfP

Cities Enabling Continued Reduced Car Use

There are signs amid the pandemic that some cities are trying to keep car use in check. Milan, Italy, for example, recently announced a plan to transform 35 kilometres of streets to expand cycling and walking space. On CBC The National this week I saw Toronto set up pylons on the street to double the walking space for pedestrians. Let’s hope this is not offset by people buying cars to avoid public transit, which is also likely happening. It has to be inspiring to experince blue skies and fresh air in cities with extreme levels of air pollution, from Los Angeles to New Delhi. People are seeing the difference of what the air and life quality would be like if there were a minimal number of cars and emissions from polluting industries. Don’t we all want to live in that world?

Edible Gardening

According to ‘CBC What on Earth” on April 30, 2020, the current pandemic has heightened interest in gardening, especially edibles. Horticulturist Jim Hole has been spreading the gospel about regrowing vegetables indoors from scraps. We, and many of our friends, are now out building a garden, giving us a new activity while under lock down, extra physical exercise and fresh air, new opportunities to experience delight and wonder as we witness Mother Nature at work in our own backyards, plus, the satisfaction of growing organic food and providing for the family.

https://bit.ly/2L5ts5J

Coral Repairs of the Great Barrier Reef

We keep hearing recommendations about being productive and learning new skills while we have more time on our hands. That is exactly what some scuba diving tour group companies are doing in Australia. Since they are unable to currently give group tours, they have decided to give back to the beautiful ecosystem they show tourists every day by planting coral in the Great Barrier Reef! The once idle vessels are now working with conservation groups in coral restoration.

https://onetreeplanted.org/blogs/stories/good-news-april-2020

Increased Tree Planting

Pakistan

“Yet another example of how people out of work are taking to the streets to help the planet! In order to achieve Pakistan’s initiative called the 10 Billion Tree Tsunami programme, the country has begun to employ day laborers who have been laid off due to COVID-19 to be ‘jungle workers.’ What’s even more incredible is that this out of the box solution to folks being out of work has created 63,600 jobs! Nurturing nature seems like a great way to get through the crisis.” https://bit.ly/2YG0v8A

Australia

Speaking of trees and National Parks, ‘One Tree Planted’ recently shared a major announcement that they are planting 1 million trees in Bushfire Recovery Nurseries throughout Australia in partnership with the Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife. The first step is to scale up nursery seedling production. From there, they’ll begin to reforest National Parks and other public and private lands that were affected by the recent forest fires, ultimately aiming to rebuild habitats for koalas, kangaroos, and other native wildlife species. This is a non-COVID19 good news story.

Cleaner Air

Back in January, when China first began to contend with the coronavirus outbreak, it became clear how significant the associated lockdowns would be on reducing carbon emissions as a result of less vehicular traffic, energy-intensive production in manufacturing and overall power use. According to CBC’s What on Earth article, China’s lockdown led to a 25 percent decrease in CO2 emissions when compared with the same period in 2019 according to BBC News World on May 5, 2020.

Since then, much of the world has seen emissions drop dramatically. Satellite imagery shows startling reductions in air pollution over countries where traffic has been limited.

“Following global social-distancing measure, Madrid, Spain, saw nitrous oxide levels fall by 56% in March, while cities including Paris and Milan as well as Brussels, Belgium, and Frankfurt, Germany, have experienced similar drops.”

From April 23, 2020 CBC What on Earth

Saving Lives With Reduction in Pollution

Researcher Marshall Burke from Stanford University calculated that the reduction in emissions in China in January and February could save as many as 77,000 lives. To put that number into context, that’s more than 20 times the number of people who died from coronavirus in that time.

“Although we don’t yet have the data available, it is likely that the reduction in air pollution is responsible for the anecdotal observation of reduced numbers of asthma and heart attack episodes coming into the emergency departments in North America.” https://cnet.co/2xDJErF

Enjoying Wildlife

A recent Canadian Geographic article on how COVID is changing our life writes that, “People are observing what’s around their homes, appreciating nature, taking time to think about our impact and our relationship with nature,” says (James) Page (Canadian Wildlife Federation). “Maybe that will ultimately lead to rethinking how we go about our daily activities as things at some point get back to some sense of normalcy.” https://bit.ly/3ceLOx2

The Globe and Mail had an article recently about how the pandemic might be turning us all into birders. We know friends have been texting us about bird sitings, especially this week as the Sandhill Crane migration entertained Edmonton. https://tgam.ca/3b3giAM

As humans take to the indoors indefinitely, animals have been reported to have encroached on urban spaces. Unfortunately, we read,  many of these wildlife posts were fake news, as these animals were already local visitors or the location was misrepresented. People were just looking for feel good stories. Inspite of this, we want to share a special story that seems believable. After more than a decade of trying to coax pandas Ying Ying and Le Le to mate, the pair, located at a Hong Kong zoo in Ocean Park, have finally consummated their relationship— possibly thanks to a lack of ogling voyeurs during lockdown. https://cnet.co/2zeKDiE

Source: https://bit.ly/2SEQhRK

China Banning Wildlife Trade

Good news for wildlife, reports the New York Post: “Many experts blame the coronavirus outbreak on the notorious exotic animal trade, which includes the sale of bats, dogs, cats and more. This historically under-regulated and unsanitary industry, with a stronghold in some Asian countries, has furthermore been detrimental to populations of rhinoceros, elephants, crocodiles, tigers, turtles and pangolins. Under global pressure to reign in this black market, lawmakers in both China and Vietnam have decided to place a ban on the consumption of wild animals.” https://bit.ly/2SD7Lhu

Decreased Air Travel

It is hard to imagine the airline industry fully recovering, and we are in disbelief that we cannot fly out of the country right now, but most experts feel that when the coronavirus leaves us we will go back to travel as we did before, as this has been the case after other set backs like the 2008 Financial Crisis. It may be a slow recovery. We would be fine if the frequency of air travel declined a little, just saying, rather than the pre-pandemic prediction of a continued huge increase in global flights. In a past Blog post, we also were excited to learn about advances in the air travel sector toward clean energy fuel sources, including news of the first electric planes moving off the drawing board into the testing phase.

Countries Share Research and Work Together to Find a Vaccine

The international scientific community came together swiftly and is working closely on a COVID-19 response, including finding a vaccine. This proves that the global community is capable of working collaboratively to solve a problem bigger than any one of our respective countries. This could be our greatest win. https://bit.ly/3fsLaOi

Lasting Benefits from COVID Drop in Carbon Emissions?

It is still too soon to tell whether the dramatic drop in carbon emissions due to the world-wide economic standstill to fight the COVID-19 pandemic will be temporary or transformative and long-lasting. Analysts range from being optimistic to sceptical.

Some energy experts predict that post-pandemic, consumption of fossil fuels will return to their prior levels while other analysts are more optimistic that overall the world will move to adopt greener fuels. For more on this debate, readers may be interested in this Wired article on the pandemic and climate change (https://bit.ly/3djZgzR) or this BBC article on whether COVID can spur a green recovery https://bbc.in/2SFSWec

Clean Energy Becomes the Cheapest Source of Electricity for Two-Thirds of the World

This Bloomberg article gives us another reason to side with the optimists on their predictions of positive transformational change ahead for the future. There is no doubt that pocketbook economics can be as much of a driving force for change as government policy or entrepreneurial innovation. To that end, the good news is that solar and wind energy now make sense economically and environmentally.

Bloomberg reports that, “Solar and onshore wind power are now the cheapest new sources of electricity in at least two-thirds of the world’s population, further threatening the two fossil-fuel stalwarts — coal and natural gas…”

“…A decade ago, solar was more than $300 a megawatt-hour and onshore wind exceeded $100 per megawatt-hour. Today, onshore wind is $37 in the U.S. and $30 in Brazil, while solar is $38 in China, the cheapest sources of new electricity in those countries.”

“…Battery storage is also getting more competitive. The levelized cost of electricity for batteries has fallen to $150 a megawatt-hour, about half of what it was two years ago. That’s made it the cheapest new peaking-power technology in places that import gas, including Europe, China and Japan…”

“…Best-in-class solar and wind projects will be pushing below $20 per megawatt-hour this side of 2030,” Tifenn Brandily, an analyst at BNEF, said in a statement. “There are plenty of innovations in the pipeline that will drive down costs further.” https://bloom.bg/2A58gdT

“Build Back Better” – New Green Deals

Countries are at varying stages of beginning to map out their paths to economic recovery once the COVID pandemic threat eases.

We find this early news from Europe to be a source for cautious optimism.

Environment ministers from 30 countries met at the end of April for the “Petersburg Climate Dialogue” to focus on “how to organise a “green” economic recovery after the acute phase of the pandemic is over,” reports the BBC.

Hopeful signs of leadership in this direction come from the UK, whose Climate Secretary and president of COP26, Alok Sharma, said: “I am committed to increasing global climate ambition so that we deliver on the Paris Agreement (to stabilise temperature rise well below 2C).

“The world must work together, as it has to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, to support a green and resilient recovery, which leaves no one behind” … “Tackling climate change must be woven into the solution to the Covid-19 economic crisis.”

The European Union (EU) offers further cause for cautious optimism about government leadership where economic recovery and climate action are seen as “and, and” rather than “either, or” agendas.

The EU is already set on delivering a green stimulus. The Commission’s Green Deal chief, Frans Timmermans, said every euro spent on economic recovery measures after the COVID-19 crisis would be linked to the green and digital transitions.https://bbc.in/3b4pFA8

We like the emerging slogan of “Build Back Better.”

This topical May 6th BBC article explains, “The UK is one of several nations looking to reboot its environmental strategy by calling in favours from private industry. After all, it was government which bailed out employers when the crunch came in March. The catchphrase is “Build Back Better”.

“For those seeking a greener way out of the Covid-19 slump, renewable energy will help, along with electric vehicle charging points and broadband.”

“Frans Timmermans, vice president of the European Commission, is on the same track. He is leading work on a Green Deal to make the EU’s economy sustainable and says that not a single Euro should be spent propping up old, dirty industries.” https://bbc.in/2SFSWec

Timmermans and the EU Green Deal will be ones to watch and learn more from as Canada begins to map out its own pandemic economic recovery plan, one that we hope and expect will be intertwined with goals for growing a green economy and sustaninable future.

Book Recommendation

Thank you to our Reader Nora for this book suggestion.

Goodreads describes this informative book as, “…The Overstory Book distills essential information about working with trees into 134 short, easy-to-read, single-subject chapters. Each chapter shares key concepts and useful information, so readers can get back to planting and protecting more trees, gardens, and forests, more effectively. * Discover time-tested agricultural and conservation techniques from indigenous and traditional peoples * Work with beneficial microorganisms, from mycorrhizal fungi to nitrogen-fixing bacteria and more * Create abundance with fruit trees, timber trees, vine crops, vegetables, mushrooms, and more …”

Find the full book review at:https://bit.ly/2WBFokU.

Overstory Fun Facts

We were curious that Readers have recommended two different books about trees that share “overstory” in their titles. (The other is by Pulitzer prize winning author Richard Powers.)

It turns out that one official meaning for the word overstory is “the layer of foliage in a forest canopy.” Makes sense now. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary also tells us that the first recorded use of the word was in 1914, and offers this sentence to show an example of how its meaning has evolved and is now at play within the modern vernacular – “On one occasion a whole roasted sea bream hit the tables with soft skin, maybe dampened by its overstory of an otherwise colorful and enjoyable salad of radishes and cranberry beans.— Mike Sula, Chicago Reader, ” With Marisol inside the MCA, Jason Hammel paints a new canvas,” 13 Dec. 2017 (There you go – “overstory” – a new word for the tree-lover and foodie, alike!) https://bit.ly/2WAZLPl

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