Research finds environmental effects as a result of COVID-19

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The coronavirus pandemic has affected many areas of everyday life. Physical distancing, mask-wearing, travel restrictions ,virtual meetings and other activities have become the main focus within society to ensure the flatlining of the virus.

One aspect directly impacted by the pandemic is the environment. Since many functions of society have had to adapt to the current health crisis, the environment has seen multiple changes due to COVID-19.

Mariah Vertulfo, senior environmental science major, explained how environmentally friendly efforts became less of a priority due to the severity of the pandemic.

“COVID has caused policymakers to invest more in economic cushioning and resurgence over environmental diplomacy,” Vertulfo said. “The work that was being put into green technology and sustainable development was almost put to a halt as the focus shifted to immediate action on public health. Disposable materials have also contributed to more non-recyclable solid waste accumulating in our landfills and ending up in our waterways.”

Justin Lindemer, senior environmental science major, added that “panic buying” was a catalyst for a lot of the pandemic’s environmental problems.

“In mid-March of 2020, we all experienced the shortages of canned or nonperishable food, disinfectant, hand-sanitizers, toilet paper and other necessities,” Lindemer said. “This widespread panic and fear due to COVID-19 cause a spike in the purchases of these items.”

This has directly impacted the environment. “The increase in consumerism had detrimental effects on the environment.Fear of the pandemic led Western culture to again turn to this unsustainable habit,” Lindemer said. “More consumption leads to more waste produced and more energy used in goods production as demand increases, and that is exactly what we saw happening.”

Not all of the effects that the pandemic brought to the environment were detrimental. There were several positive changes brought on by COVID-19 that impacted the environment. 

Because of closures and limited capacity at many tourist attractions, experts have been able to witness the ways the pandemic has improved the natural environment.

Dr. Jacob Lanphere, associate professor of environmental science, elaborated on these positive changes brought on by this season of COVID-19.

“I visited Yosemite back in November 2020,” Lanphere said. “A forest ranger I was talking to pointed out that all the different flora and fauna were coming out and weren’t driven away by all the noise pollution that larger groups of people can produce. Species like the river otter, which was thought to be going extinct, was spotted coming back because of the lower human pollution levels.”

Vertulfo explained that not all the changes to the environment were negative.

“Traffic decreased significantly and less mass waste was being produced by major tourist spots when they closed down,” Vertulfo said. 

“A greater appreciation of nature as people go on more hikes and visit national parks will hopefully result in a better understanding of environmental protection.”

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