COVID-19 Reflections: An Opportunity for Renewal - One Committee’s Perspective
The Municipal Environment Committee asks: What does the COVID-19 pandemic teach us about addressing environmental issues? Many urban legends abound about the pandemic - Mother Earth’s revenge for depleting her resources and damaging the eco-system, our misuse of the animal world? Whatever it might be, the world is re-evaluating how we, Homo Sapiens, function as a species.
The lockdown exposes numerous gaps in our system. Millions of workers are left with no income. Many workers considered essential and at highest risk to contact the virus are among the lowest paid. Reduced funding and oversight has led to thousands of deaths in long term care facilities. Businesses have closed. The threat to the food chain is uncovered by the risk of importing food from our hard hit neighbor to the south. Outbreaks amongst meat processing and migrant agricultural workers expose the fragility of our made-in-Canada food supply. The need for change is in our face.
While some people are finding life more demanding, others have the luxury of less structure and more free time. We asked: How have our habits changed with the new reality experienced in the last three months?
• No need to hastily drive to the grocery store three blocks away – so we walk. Walking downtown in the early days of the lockdown, the silence is palpable – no traffic, no noise, an eerily peaceful feeling. Other walkers smile with a friendly wave and a ‘Hi’ as you step aside to keep distances. Bicycles have become the new toilet paper!
• No need to buy additive loaded convenience food wrapped in non-recyclable material as we take time to carefully prepare our meals. There is time to properly clean recyclable plastics to avoid their rejection by the recycler and disposal in the landfill.
• Out of town travel is restricted so dormant gardens, are being resurrected. In fact, the local nursery ran out of supplies much sooner than in previous years!
• There is time to go through old possessions and files for re-use, recycling, or refurbishment. The demand for more Curbside Swaps (with over 1000 members of the event’s Facebook Page) suggests others do the same and value re-use and refurbishing.
The pandemic gives pause to ponder: What challenges could we face with a widespread, extreme weather event? Will we be able to heat our homes and travel? Will there be enough food? The pandemic underscores how we can, and why we must, promote local food security, participate in more active transportation and find affordable alternatives to fossil fuels. Slowing down will protect the environment. We will save money and be healthier.
The threats we could experience with a climate event mirror our experiences with the pandemic.
Sustainable development has been defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. We protect the environment while protecting the economy. We protect the economy by protecting the environment. The time is ripe to take sustainable development seriously. Clearly, our fast life style, our fragile food chain, the waste we produce, and our excessive use of energy is unsustainable for both the environment and the economy. While some businesses have been forced to close with the pandemic, human creativity and innovation will expand other industries, and new ones will emerge: the gardening and bicycle business are such examples. Technology could change the workplace and replace the need to travel to meetings. If we walk and cycle more and consume home grown and local food, we will be healthier. We will protect the environment, save money and reduce the burden on the health care system. Rejecting the convenience of unnecessary, non-recyclable goods will result in demands for more sustainable packaging and products that do not pollute our lakes and oceans. This is the win-win-win nature of sustainability
COVID-19 teaches us about preparedness. With determination, post pandemic we will be on the road to cleaner air, better health and a new economy.
Submitted by the Sioux Lookout Municipal Environment