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Has strict self-isolation been beneficial for the environment?

By Zoe Ong

With millions of people retreating into their homes in a hibernation-esque manner, the environment has responded with gratitude. Strict self-isolation has had a number of positive impacts on humanity – increased time for mindfulness, friends, family and hobbies have been seized across the world and it seems the world around us has taken to this strange time in a similar manner.

Perhaps most notable is the change seen within Venice. Unfortunately, Italy has suffered through one of the worst nation-wide epidemics of Covid-19, however the forced isolation of entire cities has left the streets of Venice empty. Usually a bustling and energetic city, Venice is one of the most visited places in the world, but now the city streets and canals are empty of the usual millions of tourists and residents. The environmental impacts of self-isolation, however, have been positively profound, with many residents noticing considerable improvements to the quality of air and canals. Clarity of the water has also improved, a direct result of the lack of regular water traffic that pollutes canals and stirs up sediment.

The impacts of humanity's brief period of hibernation have also seen levels of air pollution and warming gases over certain major cities drop significantly. Researchers have observed that carbon monoxide levels (largely produced by the thousands of cars that tear up the streets daily) has been reduced by nearly 50% compared to last year. There has also been a 5-10% drop in CO2 over New York and decreased levels of methane. Whilst a 1% drop in carbon emissions seems like an insignificant figure, many in quarantined cities have observed clearer, bluer skies.

Ultimately, it seems the Covid-19 crisis has taken our attention away from the climate crisis, but after all the devastation the disease has had on the world, the positive environmental impacts are a silver lining during these dark times. It is still important to remember that the impacts of climate change are continuous and profound, and that a temporary decrease in human-induced pollution is not going to fix the entire issue. However, small steps like these and awareness of the good that arises out of reduced human traffic/activities serves as progress towards a long-term solution. If you’re as happy as I am about the current positive progress, or nervous about what’s happening around the world, here are some great ways to practice sustainability whilst you’ve got some free time.

1. Recycle or find new purposes for waste items

Your yellow bin is right outside and there’s plenty of time to procrastinate by doing some innovative crafts!

2. Try growing your own food

This is a great thing to try out and is really gratifying when something finally gets to the point where it can be harvested. Also great for when that random food-hoarder buys all 30kg of iceberg lettuce from your local grocer.

3. Minimise waste

You’re at home now, so there is plenty of cutlery to go around. Try not to buy individually packaged food items, if you’re stockpiling opt for big kilo bags instead. Try composting kitchen waste as well.

4. Reduce electricity use

Try not to switch on the lights during the day and switch off electrical appliances that aren’t in use.

5. Environmental mindfulness

The Washington DC Environmental Film Festival (DCEFF) just went virtual so you could watch a couple of films in your spare time.

Now is a great time to practice environmental mindfulness, so enjoy giving it a go!


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