How to Preserve the Environment in the Wake of COVID-19
An environmentalist shares why it's so important to continue several of the behaviors we adopted during the pandemic in order to help with climate change.
The coronavirus pandemic has limited plenty—our mobility, our time spent with family, our travel plans both at home and abroad. COVID-19 has also restricted our daily choices. And for some, sheltering in place at home or taking a cautious, masked walk outside for a breath of fresh air remain their only options. In the midst of a global health crisis, so many of us have found a respite in this daily walk in nature—something that should reinvigorate (or continue to propel) our desire to save it, says Shyla Raghav, the President of Climate at Conservation International, who adds that the pandemic and the environment are linked in more ways than one.
"From a climate change perspective, COVID-19 has reduced mobility and some types of commerce, leading to marginal emissions reductions," she explains. "However, this does not mean that the threat of climate change has reduced. Unless we address the underlying and systemic causes and drivers of climate change, like shifting to clean and renewable energy, investments in conservation and restoration of nature, and regenerative farming, we will not see lasting change." Here, Raghav elaborates on how to continue important Earth-friendly behaviors post-pandemic and shares simple ways to continue supporting the environment long term.
Continue the healthy habits you learned in quarantine.
Look around your neighborhood—there's a good chance you see more people on morning walks and nightly bike rides now than you ever have before. This behavior benefits more than your health, notes Raghav. "Systemic change is happening in cities regarding transportation that is greener, such as the creation of more bike lanes and banning of cars and trucks, albeit temporarily," she says. If possible, continue to walk—not drive!—to the post office, your favorite takeout restaurant, or the grocery store, especially when the pandemic passes.
Monitor your own carbon footprint.
There are a number of contributors to a person's individual carbon footprint, explains Raghav, ranging from diet and how you get around to how much you consume. "Limiting overall consumption (buying less of everything), especially plastic, always helps," she says. "A lot of what we buy is unnecessary—so living leaner, lighter, and simpler is a lesson we can take beyond the COVID-19 quarantine." She recommends using Conservation International's Carbon Calculator, which can help you track your carbon footprint and provide ways to lower it, such as through the purchase of carbon credits to neutralize travel when the world stabilizes.
Integrate more plant-based meals into your diet.
Reducing your meat intake is one of the single biggest individual changes a person can make to benefit the environment, explains Raghav. "It has a much larger impact on emissions to eat a more plant-based diet than where your food comes from or how it's packaged," she says. "I always recommend shifting to more plant-based sources of protein whenever possible."
Get to work on a community level.
"Despite the indisputable fact that corporations and lawmakers have an outsized impact on emissions and the economic system that caused (and continues to cause) climate change, I am a true believer in the importance of individual action and behavior change," says Raghav. "Institutions and societies are a reflection of our collective individual values—and systemic change will be impossible without change at the personal level." So, instead of writing environmental solutions off as a large-scale project, help drive smaller changes in your immediate locale, she adds. But even doing this work on an individual level has impact: "Behavior is also a contagion—people model behaviors of those around them. Small, individual actions can invite and drive larger changes at the community level," notes Raghav.