Despite the fact that the pandemic has devastated Italy's population, news outlets cheer the fact that Venice waterways are the clearest they've been in 60 years. With less boat traffic, surface sediment has had the chance to wean, attracting animals like swans and fish.
Image Source: Artur Staszewski on Flickr
Down in southern Italy, people have even spotted dolphins in waterways that were once seemingly devoid of aquatic life. With Cagliari's port all quiet and still, the aquatic mammals dove right in.
Meanwhile, in February, the air in major Chinese cities saw upwards of a 30% trim in fine particulate matter when compared to the previous three years.
And while the act of quarantining, social distancing and cancelling non-essential travel has made for cleaner air and more confident wildlife, I can't help but wonder what the long-term effects of sustainability will be.
Sure, the environment seems to be taking a liking to this global pause, but does the change go deeper than surface level? And how will our desperate ecological efforts fare when we can only fight about so much?
Why Clear Skies Don't Mean the End of Climate Change
Image Source: Markus Spiske from Unsplash
Today's rapidly accelerating climate change means more than just dust in the air and dirt on the floor. It's a deeply rooted issue that's propelled by systemic short sightedness and downright injustice. It's the result of a global population bent on convenience and corporations bringing profit to the rich.
The world has been pretty burdened for a few months now, with economic and social change swiftly sweeping region after region. But industry structures resulting in fast fashion and overfishing (among others) still exist. Rooting for sustainability in the long-term means keeping in mind that an economy based around convenience cannot be crushed all at once, just as it took decades to build.
While our focus remains on the virus (heck, that's what this article is about), it's important to note that movement will trickle back, and emissions will once again rise. In the meantime, it's possible that high-ranking nation officials will disregard, or even roll back, climate policy. In fact, this may already be happening.
What Happens When We Shift Our Attention Away from the Environment?
Whether within or between nations, climate negotiations are a big deal. They're constantly ongoing, and only a result of steadfast vanguards pushing for change. Without headlines on climate change, it's easy to let rollbacks fall through the cracks.
Some of these make sense, like when the UK decided to postpone their global climate summit, COP26. Originally set to take place in November, it's been pushed back to sometime in 2021.
Members of the UN were also supposed to submit their 2050 plans to address climate change in accordance with the Paris Agreement, though that's one of the many deadlines that's been postponed.
Most recently, American President Donald Trump rolled back his predecessor's environmentally focused fuel standards. You might ask why an administration would go out of their way to revert environmental progress, particularly during a global pandemic. I guess some deadlines just can't be postponed...
We've seen all too terribly the consequences of those who denied warnings of a pandemic. We can't afford any more consequences of climate denial. All of us, especially young people, have to demand better of our government at every level and vote this fall. https://t.co/K8Ucu7iVDK— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) March 31, 2020
What Do Environmentalism & Coronavirus Have In Common?
We're seeing the effects of coronavirus on every industry. The main industries that are safe are grocery stores, delivery services, health and digital platforms. Even then, these folks are overwhelmed. On the opposite side of the spectrum lies gig work and brick & mortar business. Other businesses lie somewhere in between, but all are affected in some way.
Environmentalism is like the pandemic in that it, too, affects every industry. Promoting ecological mindfulness can make small-batch fashion labels and farm-to-table restaurants feel safe. Meanwhile, it can also prove detrimental to a mega-sized fuel industry or monopolistic corporation. Everyone has a stake in something.
Of course, their widely applicable effects are about as similar as environmentalism and coronavirus get. Most people welcome one with open arms while fearing for their life in the wake of the other. As for which one's which, I think you get the hint.
Are Sustainable Targets from Major Fashion Brands On Pause?
Like I said, everyone has a stake in something. For Tydløs, it's obviously fashion. The truth of the matter is that current events have piqued the team's curiosity: what's going to happen to all those major fashion brands who've spent so much time reconfiguring their production models to adhere to a more sustainable norm?
Take Nike, for example. They've really invested in their eco-friendly angle, pumping out products made from post-consumer recycled materials like they've been doing it since day one. They were actually planning on releasing totally recycled Team USA medal-stand uniforms at this year's Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. Clearly, that's also been put on the backburner.
As for their written sustainability targets, Nike was already on the Move to Zero. This means they were aiming for net zero carbon emissions and waste output. They haven't been vocal since the onset of the pandemic, but I'm hoping they find a way to stick to their guns.
Since deadlines, events and nonessential travel are currently floating by the wayside, it may take some time for science-based targets in the name of the environment to get back up to speed. Some companies, like Neiman Marcus (who was actually considering filing for bankruptcy pre-pandemic), may lose their footing altogether. In that moment, environmentalism won't matter to them at all.
Basic Needs are the New Black
Image Source: Tembela Bohle from Pexels
As a result of stay-at-home orders and the fear of transmission, anti-bidet countries like the US are suffering through a serious toilet paper drought. People are stocking up on the stuff like it's their last chance, leaving households that have a dwindling supply wondering if they'll wind up on their last roll. The same goes for disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer (good luck finding the stuff).
Basically, basic needs are in.
As someone who's invested in the environment, how do you fight for talking time when people hardly have the mental capacity to adjust to what some refer to as "the new normal?" By making it easy and relating it to the ultimate woes of today.
- Right now, reusable grocery bags are better for the environment and healthier for the community. You don't have to use those plastic bags in the checkout lane and, if you bag yourself, you're less likely to transmit germs between people.
- Right now, food waste reduction caters to the planet and your need for a firm sustenance supply. With additional food, you'll feel more confident about staying home and won't have to go out as often to acquire the essentials.
- Right now, purchasing clothing and other products from small or in-house businesses is friendlier to the planet and allows you to buy with only a few hands touching your goodies. All the while, you're working to stabilize your local economy, making for a smoother transition back to normalcy.
These are just some ways that sustainability intersects with the modern basic needs of health, happiness and financial security, all of which this virus has highlighted.
If We Play Our Cards Right, Coronavirus May Be Our Reset Button
Image Source: Jose Antonio Gallego Vázquez on Unsplash
As every nation deals with the realities of the pandemic, each one is beginning to see the parts of their systems that just aren't working. For-profit health systems. Neglected, overburdened health systems. Global supply chains. The prioritization of cheap, imported products (fast fashion included). Genetically modified food production. Devalued labourers. And the list goes on.
But as we sit in our homes (if we're lucky enough to have a shelter of our own), I can't help but wonder if this is our chance to press the reset button.
For businesses, this may mean redirecting strategy to appeal to the global ethos of security, comfort, trust and — yes — sustainability. For governments, this may mean evaluating the current systems in place, tweaking what isn't working and fighting for policy that benefits the common citizen instead of just the rich. For individuals themselves, this may mean determining what's really important in life, and putting that at the top of our to-do list.
Where Individual Change Starts To Add Up
While corporate-level sustainability targets and sweeping climate policy may suffer some backlog, there's one place where sustainability may actually be ramping up. Let's take a look at the individuals.
Wondering if individual change really makes a difference has been a discussion for quite some time. Stevie Van Horn, creator of zero-waste self-care line YAYFOREARTH, is all about enthusiasm (as you may garner by the all-caps name).
"I’m not saying because I picked up these items from the park, I’m alone saving the world, BUT there are probably a thousand pieces of trash in the park and if only 100 of the 1000 people that walked in the park today believed that they make a difference - we would have an entirely healthy ecosystem. We must remember the human species makes up a collective consciousness. Cat and cute puppy videos don’t go viral on their own. Are you part of the 100 people that believe we can save the planet?" - Stevie Van Horn via Instagram
With the world's sudden slowing down, many of us have the time to think about the way we're leading our lives. We're faced with the reality of our day to day, no longer requiring utmost convenience but rather having time to take the long way home. And once we realize that the long way is only long until you get the hang of it, and that the views are always worth it, perhaps individual change really will start to add up.
A Future Uncertain
Recently, seventeen-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg showed symptoms of coronavirus and decided to self-quarantine.
Image Source: Wikipedia
A Nobel Prize nominee, Thunberg has dedicated her young life to raising awareness of environmental issues and making real change. Rather than focusing on single industries — like fashion or food or fuel — she addresses the whole, making it known that we owe the world some hefty reparations. What's more is that she doesn't place the blame on the general population, but rather the one-percenters who hold so much wealth and power.
The reduction of pollution during this era may actually save some people. At the same time, COVID-19 will hurt many of them, too. It's a catch 22, and I think all of us know which one we'd choose right now. If it meant being able to mingle with our loved ones, hold hands and celebrate together, we'd give it all.
Still, without sustainability, our future is just as uncertain as it is right now. Without major repairs to the way we run things, climate change will continue to gain traction, wildlife will continue to die and people will continue to suffer the brunt of an environment in utter crisis.
Emerging On the Other Side of Crisis, Sustainability In Tow
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What happens when we come out on the other side of a dark and winding tunnel? Some of us may feel pummelled, but we'll all be stronger for it, and maybe even more aware of the downside of the systems that came before us.
“COVID-19 is the most urgent threat facing humanity today, but we cannot forget that climate change is the biggest threat facing humanity over the long term.” - UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa via UK Government
While COVID-19 takes centre stage, sustainability remains a root that will get us through. Local food and made-with-love clothing will always be stronger than global supply chains in times of crisis. As it turns out, the sustainable route may also be the pandemic-proof one. To value our earth as well as the people who work to bring its beauty to us: that may be the greatest lesson of all.