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Iceni Magazine | January 23, 2021

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The Environmental Impact Of COVID-19

The Environmental Impact Of COVID-19

When the world first started locking down in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, we all first looked inward at the immediate ways our daily lives were changing.

No more commute, new restrictions on time outside for exercise, and figuring out how to do all our shopping online. But gradually, we started to notice how our altered behaviour was having an impact on the planet.

From the canals in Venice turning clear (and even having fish return to their waters) to reduced traffic smog emissions, there were some much-needed highlights in a difficult time. However, as we come to the end of the year and look ahead to 2021, new issues have continued to come into light that could cause lasting damage in the years to come.

Disposable Masks Are A Real Issue

While the race to secure enough PPE for medical personnel has been an ongoing problem in the UK, the use of disposable facemasks in the general population is a growing cause for concern. Yes, we all need to be wearing facemasks in public spaces, but the number of people using single-use coverings before incorrectly disposing of them has raised alarm bells with both marine charities, who reported on “an explosion” of masks and other related materials discarded in rivers and on beaches since the start of the pandemic, and with the RSPCA, who have stated that animals have been getting tangled up in the straps of masks carelessly abandoned masks. There needs to be a greater push to help people understand that re-usable masks are vital to fight back against this growing environmental threat, and a better way to dispose of, and phase out, the use of disposable ones outside of the health service and key workers.

An Unplanned Strain On Burial Sites

This subject heading may sound somewhat alarming, but the concern here reflects how even a minor change can have wide-ranging and lasting effects. Burial sites and cemeteries must meet strict environmental requirements to protect groundwater, and any planning for new burials must take these into account. For example, plots are required to be more than 30 metres away from rivers, canals, lakes, wetland, the coast, boreholes, springs and wells. They need to be more than 10 metres away from field drains/ditches, and must have at least 1m of dry soil below the base of a burial in order to be considered fit for purpose. A cemetery or burial site may have met these requirements prior the pandemic, but even a minor upswing in the numbers of burials could have serious consequences on the wider environment due to increases in associated burial pollutants impacting groundwater quality. The CDS Group is available to help pandemic planning for cemeteries, and their website contains details of how to contact them and the services they provide.

Falling Back On Fossil Fuels

As governments struggle to find ways to respond financially to the pandemic and support its business sector, many countries’ recovery plans are going to mean that the environment is going to take a big hit. Business is the focus, and even countries that are budgeting for improving their green infrastructure are earmarking spending for tax relief for fossil fuel companies and spending on fossil fuel industries. Canada, for example, has plans for road expansion, and India has continued to rely on coal even as it spends hundreds of millions to go green. Keeping the economy going has meant that pledges and promises are falling by the wayside. What’s more, as countries start to come out of lockdown and make a determined push back towards the old normal, those once-promising drops in carbon emissions are booming back to their pre-pandemic levels. If there’s no plan in place to address them, even Joe Biden’s promise to bring down greenhouse gas emissions in the US won’t be enough to cover the damage being done.

We’re Still Seeing Baby Steps

As promised, the UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson has unveiled a new plan for a greener Britain with the aim to hit net zero by 2050. His 10-point plan certainly sounds impressive on paper, with pledges to boost wind and nuclear power, funds to insulate public building and homes, and investments in carbon retention schemes. He’s also laid out plans to plant 30,000 hectares of trees and ban combustion engine sales by 2030. His plans come with a £12 billion price tag, but is it really enough to make the dramatic changes needed? The announcement was met with both praise for taking a step and criticism for the heavy reliance on nuclear power and hydrogen, and for delivering an outline that doesn’t match the steps being taken by other countries. As the grim realities of the impact the pandemic and Brexit will have on the economy come into focus in the coming year and beyond, it is more vital than ever that the government take real action and make serious commitments to change.


 

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