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As businesses, cities and countries around the world came to a grinding halt while COVID-19 swept across the globe, commentary around the positive effect isolation had on the environment began popping up everywhere.
The pandemic certainly decreased foot, road and air traffic almost entirely for a short period of time, but was it enough to have a significant impact on the environment – or did we simply hit the pause button?
Deakin University School of Life and Environmental Sciences Associate Professor Kelly Miller says it’s probably too early to tell, but suspects we’ve only paused our growing environmental impact.
‘We have already seen many examples of tourist hotspots flooded with tourists as soon as restrictions ease, so in many cases we may just see a return to “business as usual” or even more environmental impact as people eagerly come out of isolation,’ Assoc. Prof. Miller says.
While many were touting the positive impact of the forced isolation, others questioned how the crisis might also pause climate change action.
Not to mention, the long-term impact of isolation is still unknown. The increase in hand washing, driving to avoid public transport, discarding plastic bags and face masks will likely have an enormous impact on the environment.
‘Will this be offset by the savings we make by working from home, travelling less? We should try to find ways to ensure it is,’ Assoc. Prof. Miller says.
Assoc. Prof. Miller says isolation also provided people the opportunity to reconsider many aspects of their lives.
‘Through necessity, we have had to cut out a lot of the things that have an impact on our environment,’ she says, suggesting we try and hold on to the aspects of isolation that were good for the environment and for our health and wellbeing.
Assoc. Prof. Miller points to the minimalism movement as a way to ask ourselves ‘what do I really need at the moment and what can I do without?
‘Things won’t change unless large numbers of people want them to,’ Assoc. Prof. Miller says.
'Things won’t change unless large numbers of people want them to.'
Associate Professor Kelly Miller,
School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University
In all movements we often hear someone try and argue their actions as an individual won’t help the cause, but Assoc. Prof. Miller points to COVID-19 as an example where the actions of the individual had a huge impact.
‘Have a look at the COVID graphs. Our individual actions at this time have had an enormous impact on the trajectory of the virus in Australia – our individual actions can also have enormous benefit for our environment.’
Plus, Assoc. Prof. Miller reminds us that living more sustainably can be considered an act of self-improvement. ‘There are numerous benefits for us in considering sustainability in our everyday lives,’ she says.
So, as your life begins to head towards its new normal, consider how you might incorporate changes to commit to a more sustainable life.
‘Our overconsumption is one of the main causes of the environmental problems we see today,’ Assoc. Prof. Miller says.
There are a wealth of online resources to help you calculate your own ecofootprint. You can start by looking at:
While it’s important we take individual action, Assoc. Prof. Miller says we also need ‘strong leadership from governments and leaders around the world to promote environmental sustainability’.
How can you impact the actions of governments and world leaders? ‘Get involved, contribute your ideas, and make your vote count at election time too!’
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