By Isabella Bjorkeson
Sleeping in, grocery store runs, brunch with friends, going for a walk, catching up on work – these are weekends. As humans, we recognize burn out and have built time into our lives to recharge. From hour-long recesses at school as kids to weeklong vacations from work as adults. We have two days baked into every week that are meant for enjoyment and preparing for the week to come. The COVID-19 pandemic has overturned everyday life and forced society to adjust. People have been home for months, travel has been limited, and large gatherings have been canceled. The strain humans have put on the environment has temporarily shifted – the earth is getting its first weekend in centuries.
The short-term effects of COVID-19 on the environment have popped up in the news as gleams of hope. It has been reported that animals are returning to touristy national parks, the waters in Venice have become clearer, and the haze that sits over many major cities has partially dissipated. Earth is finally getting a breath of fresh air to heal itself after years of strain, but how long will it last? As many countries are beginning to open their restrictions and return to a new sense of normalcy, it is vital to think about the human relationship with the environment. It is almost certain that once people try to revert to their old habits; the animals will retreat, the water will cloud, and the haze will sink in. While some of the short-term changes have been wonderful to see, there are more long-term environmental effects of COVID-19 brewing.
Human consumption has changed drastically across industries because of COVID-19. Less in-person shopping and minimal eating out may have immediately prevented emissions and food waste but other old human habits have returned, which have the long-term prospect of being very harmful to the environment. Several states, corporate, and municipal bans of single-use plastic have been rescinded during the pandemic due to the fear of transmitting the virus across surfaces. The repeal has encouraged companies to provide monetarily cheap and environmentally dangerous alternatives to reusable products. Trader Joe’s, a notoriously environmentally aware grocery chain, did not originally allow their customers to bring reusable bags at the start of COVID-19 lockdowns. Every customer received bags, though after a few months of adjustment they began self-packing stations which avoided opportunities for virus transmission and maintained environmentally friendly practices. Balancing extremes as Trader Joe’s did, is a lesson that can be applied across industries and experiences. There is virtually always a small compromise that can be made for the benefit of the environment.
Society today focuses so heavily on polar extremes when there exists a maintainable and rational middle ground. Humans don’t need to be afraid of the earth or conquer it, they need to find harmony. It is Sunday night; the earth doesn’t have much time before the week starts up again and the strain of human activity begins to push boundaries. Earth is trying to declare its limitations and breadth for resiliency, but no one is listening.