The pandemic and our planet
Eco-impacts of COVID-19
COVID-19 has been challenging at best and tragic at worst for people around the world. Along with on-going sickness and death, some 500 million more people will likely join the ranks of the desperately poor, having lost their jobs or had their work severely limited. Below are some of the environmental repercussions of the pandemic.
The environmental origins of the outbreak
The pandemic had an environmental origin, as it was almost certainly launched as the CV-19 virus
jumped from animals to humans in a wet market in Wuhan, China. This, as other such zoonotic diseases
(dengue, rabies, Ebola), was the result of human interaction with nature – in this case, incursions into
forests and extraction of exotic wild meats. (photo: monkey meat for sale in East Africa) As humans
continue these invasive activities, we can expect more such nature-to-human transmissions.
Impacts of this global crisis on the environment
Some countries, including China, have banned sales of wild meat (China also closed its “wet markets”
temporarily). This can be good for us as well as for the forests and the creatures being hunted
(including the endangered pangolin). The pandemic has also led to border closures, curtailing – for the
activity, after drugs, weapons and humans, generating some $20 billion per year in illicit profit.)
However, as the pandemic increases poverty, the lure of the wildlife trade as an income source will be strong.
A serious downside of the crisis is a drop in tourist revenues for parks and preserves around the world, as this income is a key for funding operations - including protection of endangered species.
NCP is providing financial support to a Kichwa eco-lodge in the Ecuadorian Amazon, which faced foreclosure as tourism dried up during the pandemic. Theirs is the only native owned and run facility in the area. They have set aside
100 acres around the lodge as a protected zone – no animal or tree harvesting, and will be
reforesting nearby areas destroyed by oil companies and others. The NCP network contributed
over $8,000 in an April 2020 campaign (with $7500 added by our If a Tree Falls... fund) to keep
their dream alive. A key to saving our last wild places is to empower native communities to
Other positive environmental aspects of the current situation:
greenhouse gas emissions could drop by 7% this year globally, giving the global climate a brief respite – the UN says we need to average reductions of 7.6% per year to keep the planet under the gold standard 1.5 degrees Celsius to avoid climate chaos
as we sheltered-in-place, hundreds of thousands fewer animals and birds were being killed by vehicles every day in the USA (human vehicle-related fatalities are also down significantly)
tens of thousands of people around the world who would have died will not, as air pollution has dropped in synch with reduced fossil fuel combustion
once the prying eyes and snapping cameras of tourists disappeared, two pandas in the Hong Kong zoo finally got together after 10 years of "social distancing"; other creatures out and about in areas typically frequented by humans don’t have to waste time and energy avoiding us as they try to go about their lives
there is less noise on land and in the seas as transport of all kinds has scaled back, making it easier for everything from whales and warblers to communicate: e.g. birds don't have to shout anymore!
The real gain would be if we can keep these trends with us into the post-CV-19 world: driving less, on-going work from home, more locally-focused economies. NCP’s Sustainable Living Centers are using this moment to seek changes in their communities to carry these changes with us into the future: promoting green energy in Virginia & expanding community gardens in Vermont. The national government seems bent on “getting us back to work”, with little thought for “greening” any stimulus packages being put forward – or any such plans for long-term recovery. So once agin, it will be up to grassroots groups to create this new world.