Coronavirus Environmental Effects Q&A

Coronavirus Environmental Effects Q&A

April 24, 2020

As we celebrated the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day this week, a lot of thought-provoking questions and topics have been circulating. We couldn't think of anyone better to help make sense of the current and future state of our planet, than Environmental Consultant, Gunnar Oberhoesel. Thank you Gunnar for the refreshing take on where our planet is heading and for reminding us that change takes time, so we might as well enjoy the journey!

Reducing single-use plastic and recycling has been a major focus globally over recent years. How is the current pandemic impacting this movement?

We find plastic on the highest mountains and the deepest seas. It is in our beer, honey, salt and even the air we breathe.
In the last two years people around the world have used social media to shed a light on to the tragic life after plastic – with a great success. We have become aware that plastic is destroying us and our natural world.

The current increase in sales of protection gear is understandably driven by our growing cautiousness. I am not against the use of masks and gloves, but we have to understand that those items are single-use. Once contaminated, they become non-recyclable. All too often we then find them carelessly discarded next to our sidewalks.

While I think this increase is a temporary phenomena, it is more worrisome that the plastic industry has taken advantage of the crisis. We’ve seen a spread of misinformation about plastic and even urges for states to rollback plastic bans.

From a long term perspective the days of plastic are numbered and we’ll see a further decrease in the following years. Plastic will become less attractive the more alternatives are available. A new age of consumerism has begun where people are willing to spend extra money for more sustainable solutions.

When the global economic machine turns back on and the world tries to play catch-up, do you foresee adherence to the climate agreements that are in place?

Coronavirus will be a key turn-around on our way to a green future. It is like an overdue wake up call.
It is proven that deforestation and the loss of wildlife increases the risk of infectious diseases like the Coronavirus. Along with our excessive use of plastic and fossil fuels, it is clear that we will face a dim future if we continue with “business as usual”.

In the next years we will experience a lack of funds and rising unemployment. It will however become increasingly evident that protecting nature, investing in renewable energy and promoting sustainability is a safe bet in the future.

Take one of the strongest economies in Latin America. Despite its small size, Costa Rica is internationally recognised for its focus on eco-tourism and protection of biodiversity. It is set to become the first plastic-free and carbon-free country by 2021.

The World Economic Forum mentioned that a dollar spend on nature restoration, can lead to 9 dollars of economic benefits in return.

The example of Costa Rica shows that it there is indeed an economic return on protecting wildlife and investing in sustainability.

There have been many positive environmental consequences since the world has slowed down. Although this is possibly only short-term, how could these positive effects contribute to a greener future for the world

We have all seen pictures of dolphins returning to the ports of Venice, air pollution plummeting in China and wild boars running through Barcelona. The spread of COVID-19 has given the world a much needed break.

Being under lockdown fuels our desire to be outdoors. Connecting with nature is evidently good for body and soul. There is also a clear indication that people who spend more time outside, are more willing to protect nature.

I think this is a thought worth considering: Everyone can contribute to a greener future and positive environmental effects.

We can take this chaotic situation to redesign our economic and social systems. To focus on planetary health and lead more heated discussions on universal basic income, a circular and zero growth economy.

Coronavirus Environmental Effects Q&A
Coronavirus Environmental Effects Q&A
Coronavirus Environmental Effects Q&A
Coronavirus Environmental Effects
Coronavirus Environmental Effects Reusable Shopping Bags

Communities are discovering the power of collaborating virtually to tackle the challenges of Covid-19. Could this present an opportunity for addressing climate change issues in the same way?

We are all aware that being able to work remotely and collaborate online has been a relief for all of us during these challenging times. Just ten years ago this would not have been possible.

Today many organisations, non-profits and campaigns like ‘Fridays for Future’ take their stance online. Often with great success.

I do believe that we will see a further increase in online, worldwide collaboration. It is our best chance to reach millions of people and share our world view with them.

What would you suggest to someone who generally uses reusable shopping bags, but is now purchasing single-use plastic bags due to the concern that reusable bags may carry contamination?

I would say “better be safe than sorry”. I think in these times it’s better to play it safe, but personally I will continue using my reusable shopping bag. Since soap and hot water kill the virus, I simply wash it after going to the shops.

Now is the perfect time to become aware of our household consumption and implement new habits. Where is a good place to start for those who haven’t gotten around to starting their ‘green journey’ as yet?

Living a more sustainable life looks different for each one of us. Some of you may want to go plastic free, bring more plants into your home or simply eat more greens.

I personally feel good about keeping a healthy and mostly vegetarian diet. In recent years I also switched from plastic to reusable containers and generally buy less. My rule of thumb: Instead of buying a pair of jeans instantly, I think about my purchase for a full week. After that I am sure if I actually need it.

This works great for me, but I am also aware that I am lacking in other parts. I fly a lot between Europe and Africa. This is not ideal and I do compensate CO2, but to me it is most important that everyone starts doing something. Every bit of effort counts.

It makes us feel positive and other people might acknowledge our change in behaviour. This will automatically lead us to expand our green journey to other areas.

Change takes time, so we might as well enjoy the journey.