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You Can Save Your Health and the Planet: How Environmentalism Can Coexist With COVID

In the beginning, everything took a backseat to the need to feel safe. The world as we knew it was coming down around our ears as the novel coronavirus moved through populations, quickly crossing borders and oceans. We didn’t have a lot of information but we had a lot of fear so we took any practical advice on prevention to the extreme. Early reports suggested that the virus was able to survive for a long time on surfaces. This seemed a likely vector for community transmission so we went in hard on sanitiser and plastic gloves.

When lockdowns came, we were still in panic mode, disinfecting our produce and quarantining our mail. When grocery stores banned reusable bags for the safety of their employees, that seemed reasonable. We were thankful for the few cans of beans left on the shelves; the plastic bags were the least of our worries. When coffee shops were allowed to reopen, the disposable cups seemed a small price to pay for the familiar comfort of an iced decaf latte. Even if it went against our conservationist instincts, it seemed the sacrifice was necessary to keep ourselves and frontline workers safe.

Now, as restrictions are easing in some places, they are tightening in others. Although this cycle of uncertainty is likely to continue for some time, we must use the available science to bring our need for comfort and safety and our social and environmental responsibilities back into balance. While the pandemic is still far from over, we now have a lot more information about how COVID-19 spreads. We know that airborne viral particles are much more likely to cause illness than surface contamination, so we should act accordingly. Our fear-based behaviours now linger at the planet’s peril.  

Step Away from the Plastic

Now that we know more about how COVID is most often spread, we can better evaluate which practices are actually helping us stay healthy and which ones we can let go. Don’t get us wrong, there are times when using plastic is necessary, like to deliver safe drinking water to disaster areas and in the PPE used by the medical community. Most of us, however, don’t need to use any more plastic than we did before the pandemic.    

The plastic industry, however, has jumped on this opportunity to undermine regulation. They have used fear to pressure governments into pausing plastic bag bans in the name of safety and relaxing industry safeguards in the name of the economy. If we don’t push back, we’ll be in much worse shape by the time the pandemic is over. Experts agree that that with common home hygiene practices, reusables are just as safe as single-use products. When we have a choice, it’s time to bring back our shopping bags and water bottles and say no to unnecessary plastic.

Remember Climate Change?

Climate change hasn’t gone away while our attention has been focused on the global health crisis. Quite the opposite. Although global lockdowns did result in a brief reduction in automobile pollution, the numbers went right back up again and are projected to skyrocket further as people choose cars over public transportation in the coming months.

The energy industry has been able to roll back environmental regulations in service of restarting economies. While the world is looking the other way, Amazon deforestation has accelerated due to illegal logging, which suggests 2020’s fire season could exceed even the devastation we saw in 2019. All over the world, bad actors are wilfully using the COVID crisis for their own financial gains.

We need to demonstrate that we’re still vigilantly looking out for the planet. We can protect ourselves against the coronavirus and act like environmentalists at the same time. We can begin to raise awareness of environmental issues again. We can let our governments know that propping up polluters is not OK by voting for green energy candidates. We can continue to support businesses that prioritise the environment over profits. It’s time to remember our responsibility to the future of the planet.

Healthy People, Healthy Planet

Mask wearing, hand washing, social distancing, outdoor activities. These are the most crucial things we can do to prevent the transmission of the coronavirus, keeping ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities safer. There’s nothing on that list about using plastic bags or plastic cups. No reputable scientists are saying, don’t worry about climate change anymore, I’m sure the universe is going to give us a break on this one.

We need to feel safe but we also need to make sure we’re not trashing the planet over here while everyone’s attention is on the pandemic over there. We can do both things. We can stop the spread and protect the environment. Caring for the health and safety of the Earth and its people are actually one and the same thing. So let’s all mask up and stand up for the planet. It’s time.

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