2020 was not a year any of us expected. All of us went through so many life changes that were only exasperated by the pandemic. Not all of these changes were welcome. The year brought so much fear and devastation. However, earlier in the year, we saw that the pandemic was positively affecting our planet. Today, we can confirm that these changes continued throughout the year in never-seen-before ways.
2020 has seen a record 7% drop in carbon dioxide emissions. This is approximately 2.4 billion metric tons—a more considerable drop than the ones we saw after World War II or the 2009 global financial crisis. Researchers have concluded that a large part of this drop is due to more people staying home and avoiding traveling both by car and plane. When the pandemic hit its first peak in April, vehicle transportation was down by half, and now, we’re seeing a 10% overall decrease from previous years.
Per the Paris Agreement, we need to cut emissions by 1 to 2 billion metric tons every year to prevent further climate change and start reversing some of the damage already done. It is not realistic to expect the changes from this year to continue forever; however, we can learn from them as we move forward. 2.4 billion tons is a massive cut to our global carbon emissions; even if we only get half of this moving forward, we will still be in line with the Paris Agreement and helping our planet.
Before COVID-19 ravaged all of our communities, most of my transport involved driving to work or school. Since then, many of our jobs went remote to protect other employees, and many schools offered either entirely remote or hybrid classes to protect students. Since then, I’ve barely been in the car. Now I’m in a car maybe two times a month since I can walk to get groceries. It is estimated that 3.2 tons of CO2 are generated per person every year just from commuting to work. Of course, not all jobs can be performed remotely, but if companies had personnel that didn’t have to be in a particular physical location to complete the job, not only would they save a lot of money on renting out an office space and paying for the upkeep of running the building, but they would also help reduce the amount their employees have to drive.
Americans, in particular, also reduced a lot of their spending during the pandemic. According to a survey distributed among 2,000 citizens, 63% of Americans cut back on their spending habits during the pandemic. It is essential to support our small and local businesses; however, needless consumption has depleted our resources and polluted our land, water, and air beyond reckoning. When we don’t buy into all of the latest fads and trends pushed by society, there is lower demand from clothing industries to technology companies. Therefore, these brands will produce less of the product, effectively reducing emissions as well.
We’ve even seen more Americans try plant-based eating in 2020. Studies have shown that 57% of people are consuming less meat and dairy since the pandemic started. This again shows a change in demand to the factory farms, which hopefully means fewer animals will be bred and slaughtered in the long run. (In the short term, however, millions of animals were slaughtered and their dead bodies discarded due to the COVID-19 closure of meat-processing plants. In Denmark, millions of minks were also killed to minimize the risk of spreading the coronavirus.)
Encouraging companies to move non-essential employees to remote locations and continuing to be mindful about our consumption of various products across all industries are both realistic goals that we’ve seen made a difference this year. Although we’re still in the midst of this pandemic, I have hope that some good has come out of this turbulent year.
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Photo: Linda Christiansen on Unsplash