COVID-19: A Chance to Re-Evaluate our Approach to the Environment

Coauthored by Ashley Smith

While many of us are concerned how Corona Virus will affect our health and economy in the long term, another area of our lives is being affected by the pandemic in some positive ways – our lived environment.

NASA scientists are some of the people reporting their findings on the environmental impact of the pandemic. They have been monitoring air pollution since the shutdowns in China began, focusing specifically on levels of nitrogen dioxide, which is released when we burn fuel. With less travel happening around the globe, (overall air traffic is down 60-70 percent) the amount of nitrogen dioxide in the atmosphere has decreased.

Satellite images showing a dramatic decrease of air pollution in pollution hotspots made their rounds on social media as a promising sign for the environment, but many are questioning the sustainability of these efforts.

Teleworking and Staying at Home 

According to VirtualVocations in a blog called, 8 positive environmental effects of remote work, In total, Americans use about 392 million gallons of gas daily. In the same article they state that Telecommuters can save 79 million metric tons of carbon emissions annually by not driving to work on a daily basis. Not only do they save more in gas and energy but they also use far less paper and plastic. With remote working conditions documents are typically shared via email. Far less disposable plastics are used in from telecommunicators they no longer have to convince lunches or coffee containers made from disposable plastics.


Lower pollution levels we see are also due to everyone being forced to stay home, many unemployed. The current work-from-home telecommunications practices are far from perfect and are not ideal for every type of job. While telecommunication is working in some fields, restaurants and retail businesses are struggling to keep their employees on payroll. While the environment is important, the economy is too, and there must be a balance. However, pushing for continued teleworking in the future can be beneficial to the employees, employers, and the environment.


From my (Ashley’s) personal experience during the pandemic I have cut my travel from 7 days per week with an average mileage of 114.6 miles and 6.2 hours of travel to 31.6 miles 1.3 hours of travel to get to my essential job 2 days per week. All of the time and money  saved by simply by not having to unnecessarily travel to and from my college classes during the week. Plus I would typically grab convince lunches at least 5 days per week, as well as an occasional coffee. I no longer have the need to do these things and I now buy whatever food I can in bulk containers.

Commuting and Air Travel

Some people have taken the decreased levels as a promising sign that electric vehicles will become more common, therefore keeping the pollution levels down. While this may become true for the general public, Jennifer Kaiser, one of the scientists working with NASA, says that airplanes are not going to be electric anytime soon.” Seeing as airports are the biggest hotspots for nitrogen dioxide emissions, the air pollution we saw before the pandemic will likely return as air travel picks up post-pandemic.

It’s the precisely opposite of the drive towards a decarbonised, sustainable economy that many have been advocating for decades.

The UN’s annual climate summit, at which 196 countries planned to revamp their plans to reduce emissions, was also postponed for the foreseeable future, meaning that plans on how to sustain the economy and the environment have been stalled.

Moving Forward

Inevitably, as the world opens back up, pollution will rise too. While airports and big companies are producing a bulk of the pollution, the general public can and should try their best to be advocates for our environment, even when the circumstances seem less than favorable. Here are some suggestions from Lilly on how you can be an advocate for the environment as we look beyond our current crisis:

Practice actions that reduce your carbon footprint. 

Practicing more environmentally friendly actions such as walking or biking instead of driving and reducing plastic waste by using metal water bottles and cloth tote bags can help reduce your individual impact on the environment. Want to do more?

Encourage others to practice these same actions.

Telling friends and family to adopt these same practices can help reduce the carbon footprint of a community. Imagine how much pollution could be stopped by you telling five friends, and those friends telling five friends, and so on! But communities arent the only ones responsible for pollution.

Buy from sustainable businesses or donate to charities.

Some companies like Amazon are huge contributors to pollution. If possible, buy instead from businesses that strive to help the environment. There are also many charities that revolve around saving the environment. Some companies, such as 4ocean, sell products that directly benefit the environment. Still want to do more?

Write to your elected officials.

Government is meant to represent their citizens’ beliefs. If enough people call their local senators, governors and other lawmakers, these elected officials will realize that the environment is important to the people they’re representing.

For a more detailed list of ways you can help, click here.


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