Are the Positive Changes From COVID-19 Permanent?

Amid all the chaos and tragedy of COVID-19, there have been moments of hope. In this time of crisis, people are coming together and making changes for the better. One of the most substantial positive outcomes from the pandemic is its effect on the environment.

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As economies slow down and people stay inside, the world’s carbon footprint begins to decline. You’ve probably seen plenty of posts about this by now, whether it be pictures of dolphins in Venice or clear Los Angeles skies. These signs of recovery offer hope, but will these positive changes last after the pandemic fades?

Falling Energy Consumption

It may come as a bit of a surprise that global energy usage has dropped during quarantine. After all, you stay inside a lot more now, which probably means more Netflix or video games. Residential energy use has indeed increased by up to 25%, but overall, the world is using less.

The biggest factor behind this is the decrease in industrial and commercial energy. Factories are making less and stores aren’t open as long, so they’re using less electricity. The concern here is that when the outbreak subsides, these places may resume their normal levels of consumption.

Many of these companies are only using less energy because they don’t have as much business. When the economy goes back to normal, they’ll likely return to the way things were. Unless organizations commit to moving forward instead of back, this change probably won’t last.

Transportation Changes

A lot more people work from home now than they used to, thanks to social distancing regulations. Travel has also decreased as people worry about spreading the virus. These changes in transportation have caused a substantial drop in global emissions.

The decline in transportation means fossil fuels are also plummeting. Falling demand for gas has sent shockwaves throughout the oil industry, with some companies even going bankrupt because of the price collapse. Not all these effects will last, but unlike with energy consumption, some of these trends will likely stay.

Travel will eventually pick up again, and some people will resume commuting to their jobs. On the other hand, many companies may allow their employees to continue working from home. More businesses have the tools necessary for remote work now, so they can enable it even after the pandemic.

Historical Precedent

The Great Recession of 2008 also caused some positive environmental changes as industries slowed production. Unfortunately, after this recession ended, some nations’ responses grew their carbon footprint larger than it was even before the crisis. As economies rushed to expand to make up for their losses, they worsened their impact on the environment.

If the global coronavirus recovery follows this precedent, the positive changes won’t last. There is hope, though, given that society today is generally more concerned about the environment than in 2008. Increasing social pressure to go green could inspire businesses and governments to pursue sustainability in recovery.

The pandemic does present an opportunity to shift toward eco-friendliness. If people pressure their governments and companies to take advantage of this opportunity, it could lead to more positive changes. Whether or not organizations will respond this way, though, is still uncertain.

The Environment Before and After Coronavirus

There are mixed signals when it comes to the longevity of COVID-19’s positive environmental effects. Given that economic slowdowns are the leading cause behind most of them, they won’t continue in full after the pandemic. At the same time, some of them — like remote work — may remain, now that businesses see it’s possible.

With enough social pressure, these trends could continue. Without it, they’ll likely revert somewhat, but not entirely. Environmental causes will still be crucial after the pandemic, but the world may make some progress, too.

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