Are global lockdown measures really facilitating a green recovery?

Images have surfaced online of animals thriving in nature as humans are forced to self-isolate. It has been a couple of weeks now that the Venetian canals have been near-transparent. Biologist, Andrew Mangoni, told CNN he was able to capture a video of a jellyfish that “was swimming only a few inches below the water surface” of the canals. The canals have cleared ever since the imposed lockdown in Italy, enabling aquatic life to be seen. Despite the definite decrease in pollution, officials have said that the clearer waters are due to the decrease in boat-use in the canals which would usually stir up the sediment, rather than it being caused by less pollution. According to social media, not only have the jellyfish in Venice been thriving, but the bears in Yosemite National Park have been said to be “having a party” by Ranger, Katie Patrick, and the bears “have been seen more frequently than usual”.

But can these viral posts be trusted? Similar to the fake news surrounding Covid-19 updates, the positive stories that began spreading on Twitter recently that swans have returned to the Venetian canals, are also a case of false news. Posts like these have made headlines with people arguing that if there are any upsides of the pandemic, it is how animals are making the most of a ‘humanless’ world. But even though the pandemic is causing some positive environmental impacts, these viral posts about nature are often not accurate. National Geographic reports that the swans shared in the viral posts regularly visit the canals of Burano, an island near Venice.

This highlights how quickly fake news can spread, especially now that people are actively searching for something to distract them from the difficult reality of current events. Kaveri Ganapathy Ahuja’s tweet about the swans that had ‘returned’ to Venice has reached a million retweets. She said, “the tweet was just about sharing something that brought me joy in these gloomy times”, and that she was unaware of the inaccuracy. She does not plan on deleting the tweet as it is a ‘personal record’ that she would not like to erase. Erin Vogel, a social psychologist, has explained that getting a lot of online attention “gives us an immediate social reward”, and that the “need to seek out things that make us feel good may be exacerbated right now”. However, Vogel explains how these positive posts can cause more harm than good at this time as people are already vulnerable and so “finding out good news isn’t real can be even more demoralising than not hearing it at all”.

It is clear that Covid-19 has inadvertently helped the environment, but will these changes last? Due to travel restrictions across the world, we have seen a significant reduction in air pollution. However, as we have witnessed in the past, when carbon emissions drop significantly there is almost always a substantial bounce back that overthrows any short-term changes made. Therefore, whether or not we see positive long-lasting environmental change after the pandemic all depends on actions made following the lockdown. The current travel restrictions have also meant that wildlife has encountered less human disturbance which has created a friendlier world for some of the most crucial ecosystems.

Government advisors have warned that the UK must avoid falling into a deeper climate crisis post-pandemic. They are already communicating to other countries the need for climate change solutions to be in mind when tackling the coronavirus economic crisis. A government spokesperson stated: “As we rebuild our economy in response to the coronavirus pandemic, we must continue to shape an economy and society that is clearer, greener and more resilient”.

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Lauren Bramwell