Eye on KELOLAND: Impact of COVID-19 on the environment


The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on the world in so many ways, including environmentally.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic both nationally and globally, restrictions led to less traveling, which had a significant impact on the environment.

“The biggest thing is the substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, notably carbon dioxide, which is really brought on by everyone staying at home,” Laura Edwards the SDSU Extensions State Climatologist said.

Edwards says there was a 17-percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in April of this year compared to April of 2019.

“There have been other studies that I’ve seen where there’s been an improvement in air quality in a lot of areas, again due to reduced emissions in industrial ways too. In commercial settings, not just transportation,” Edwards said.

The question that still remains, however, is how long those improvements will last.

“A lot of scientists agree that this is a temporary situation, of course, as we know the pandemic won’t go on forever, but how quickly will people get back to driving or going out places? How quickly will industrial and commercial operations come back up to speed to what they were before the pandemic,” Edwards said.

Edwards says we can each take what we learned from the pandemic to help lessen our own carbon footprints.

“Maybe we don’t have to drive as far, maybe we don’t have to commute as often, maybe we found some alternative ways to work or do business or do our shopping that maybe lowers our impact on the environment,” Edwards said.

Living more sustainably can be done in various ways.

“I think that probably most of us could reduce our energy use by half and not even notice it and not have any reduction in the comfort of our lives. Just being smart with, wash your clothes on cold, if you’re able to dry it without using the dryer. If you’re able to carpool places, if you’re able to telecommute. If you can drive rather than fly, if you can eat less meat or other animal products,” Meghann Jarchow, the chair and associate professor of the department of sustainability and environment at USD, said.

Jarchow says living a sustainable life doesn’t have to be an all or nothing experience, though. You can look at behavioral changes that work best for you and decide how you want to lessen your global footprint.

For example, maybe you don’t want to buy all of your clothes second-hand, but you’re willing to cut back on your meat intake.

“Sometimes people have the idea that sustainability is about shaming people. About thinking you can’t do this, you shouldn’t do this, you ought to not do that, and I don’t find that to be very inspiring or motivating. I see sustainability as saying like, we can make a beautiful world that people would love to be in and let’s think about how to do that,” Jarchow said.

Jarchow says one thing the pandemic taught us is how quickly we’re able to make a difference.

“I think sometimes we forget just how quickly once we decide something is important or something is essential, that we can make the behavioral changes and switch almost immediately. As we saw with the pandemic, we have made global level changes in how we live as a society and we were able to do it within days, weeks, months,” Jarchow said.

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