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COVID-19 Lockdown: Take aways for climate change activism

Updated: Mar 26, 2021

Do you remember the photographs of the Himalayas from Saharanpur (200 km) and the return of blue hues in the almost dead river Yamuna? Why do you think that happened? You guessed it right, reduced human intervention of the environment by factory effluents and extreme transportation. Just a month’s absence releasing factory and domestic discharges in Yamuna made the water cleaner giving hopes for the ressurection of the river. A month of lockdown in India, made the air cleaner and increased the visibility to make people spot Himalayan ranges from 200km distance after 30 years. The bigger question now is that can we sustain this achievement? Can we route the earth back to its nature?

The Yamuna near the Wazirabad Barrage reported on April 7, 2020. Picture: Abhinav Saha/Indian Express

Climate change initiatives all over the world have pursued the same motive but have failed to get enough support from the governments of the world to recede the change of climate. The extreme steps taken by the governments and individuals all over the world have shown a glimmer of hope of possibly achieving carbon neutrality? Has it shown us a path of eco-friendly lifestyle? In my opinion, yes. The large scale lockdowns throughout the world have shown us that the governments and public at large can take the risk of economic slowdown to achieve a better future. Here I have listed some of the changes which can be brought into long term practice to reduce climate change:

Himalayas visible from Saharanpur (200km away) reported on April 30, 2020. AQI dropped below 50. Picture: The Times of India

Human development versus calamity:

After a long time in the history of the world, a calamity had brought the world to a standstill. A major section of the developing and developed world chose to tackle the calamity and put human development on hold. Though the lockdowns have brought heavy unemployment with about 25 million job losses all over the world, the choice of tackling the calamity by shutting down all the non-essential services has reduced the spread of COVID-19.

Strict lockdowns cannot be imposed for the long term problems like climate change. However, sections of it can be imposed in the developed countries to reduce pollution caused by the factories and transportation which can at least reduce the devastation caused by climate change.

Global solidarity:

In April, when the coronavirus pandemic epicentre moved to the West, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution, co-sponsored by 188 nations, on COVID-19. The resolution titled ‘Global solidarity to fight the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)’ was the first such document on the global pandemic to be adopted by the world organisation. Simultaneously, data sharing on a global scale has changed the world view about the pandemic and also brought an appreciable amount of transparency which has accelerated the research related to COVID-19.

Solidarity needed for climate change initiative is slightly complicated due to the involved timeline. Certainly, solidarity in this case would not just need cooperation and collaboration between countries, it will also need the developed countries to be more compassionate towards the developing countries to ensure a sustainable development of humans in every part of the world.

Priority to healthy living:

With more focus on natural produce and reduction in usage of processed food, the world has moved to increasing immunity to tackle the coronavirus infection at home. Decreased usage of processed food and reliance on the food processing industry, the load on factories producing processed food has reduced. The emphasis on personal immunity has also increased making people more aware of their health conditions and has motivated a large section of population to take preemptive measures for a healthy lifestyle without much stress on the environment.

Closing down of the gyms and swimming pools has motivated people to get together in creative ways to interact online and form activity groups to perform physical activities with least possible resources. A long term choice of such practices will certainly increase human longevity and reduce the load on healthcare and artificial systems like swimming pools and gyms.

Work and learn from home:

The work and learning from home format that has developed during COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented. From primary to higher education, most of the world has shifted to online platforms. Similarly, most of the occupations that do not require people to be physically present at their place of work have moved to a work from home format. This change has not only prevented people from gathering at their workplace but also reduced the requirement of office space and transportation to get to work. Additionally, it has promoted architectural designs to accommodate office spaces inside homes. Such work and learning from home initiatives have restricted human movement and can be easily applied to certain occupations for long-term benefits that climate change initiatives can reap.

Carbon neutral forms of transport:

Berlin, Bogota, Auckland, Budapest, Mexico City rolled out emergency cycleways to boost bicycle use during the COVID pandemic, besides planning an increase in their city’s permanent cycling network. Calgary, Vancouver, Oakland, Philadelphia, Denver, Minneapolis, had opened up some streets only for cycling and walking.

In New York, San Francisco, Berlin and across the UK, bicycle shops were considered an essential service and allowed to remain open. France had declared that post their lockdown the bicycle will be the principle means of transport enabling social distancing.

The World Health Organization (WHO) also recommends cycling during the COVID-19 crisis. According to WHO:

  • Better bicycle accessibility can support economic recovery after COVID-19

  • Bicycling can improve public health and quality of life

  • Bicycling infrastructure can help cities become more resilient to future shocks

Promotion of carbon neutral forms of transport is certainly a great take away for climate change activism as it is an easily adoptable solution on a long time scale.

Limited physical globalisation:

Since COVID-19 pandemic has made travelling all over the world difficult, 12 museums of the world including The Louvre, The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.,The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, The British Museum, Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Dali-Theatre Museum, NASA and The Vatican Museums have digitized their collections and created virtual experience tours of the museum galleries to help tourists visit some of the world’s most famous museums from the comfort of their own homes.

Along with the museums, all the public gatherings including conferences have also moved online which has helped in development of more interactive means of communication online.

Technology can be continued to use and further expanded to reduce some carbon footprint of humans on the earth.

Choice of sustainable food systems:

Many people in the USA have turned vegetarian due to the shutting down of many meat processing industrial units. According to Bloomberg, there are more than 10,000 U.S. meat-plant workers who have been infected with the SARS-CoV2 and the American beef plants are operating at 81% capacity as compared with previous years. Appearance of coronavirus infection clusters in Brazil, Canada, Australia, Ireland, Spain, Germany, the United Kingdom and France has forced people to turn vegetarian and call for a more sustainable food system.

Broken supply chains due to regional lockdowns led to shortage of supplies in many regions of the world. On individual’s level, this has encouraged people to reduce food wastage and if possible create a kitchen garden. On a grander scale, failure in supply chain management has pushed policy makers and industries to work on better food storage facilities and fail safe automated supply chain systems which can eventually prevent losses incurred by debilitating storage conditions or delays in food supply systems.

A sustainable supply chain of food and individual’s choice of vegetarian food will certainly reduce the load from the ecosystem since livestock is considered to be one of the major contributors of methane gas in the atmosphere.

Reduced consumerism:

While big supermarkets struggle to cope with demand, many local shops have stayed well-stocked and have been going above and beyond to adapt to help their communities. Understanding that our supply chains are complex, and often unnecessarily long geographically-speaking, could see us make more effort in the future to support our local producers, shops and businesses. Perhaps we will even take the time while we have it to grow our own fruit and vegetables.

Also, a third of all the food produced every year is wasted and around 815 million people worldwide are hungry. For those of us that usually take a full cupboard for granted, this could be the wake-up call we need to understand what it’s like for others and how we can do our bit in the future. Simply just buying what we need and what we know we will eat, as well as freezing food to make it last longer, could make a massive difference to food waste numbers, while donating to food banks both now and after the crisis will help those who struggle to put food on the table everyday.

Considering livestock and food wastage are two major contributors to climate change, a long-term adoption of such habits will definitely reduce the rate of climate change.

Increased trust on scientific information:

Asscientists all around the world are trying to find the best treatments of the COVID-19, the world is looking towards the scientific community to find the treatment as soon as possible. Specifically, searches for “coronavirus” increased by about 36% on the day immediately after the first case announcement. In the US, people responded to the first report of COVID-19 in their state by immediately seeking information about COVID-19, as measured by searches for coronavirus, coronavirus symptoms, and hand sanitizer. Searches for information regarding community-level policies (e.g., quarantine, school closures, testing) or personal health strategies (e.g., masks, grocery delivery, over-the-counter medications) also got triggered during the initial phases of the pandemic[1].

This increased faith in scientific research and scientific information gives hope to climate change activism which needs a higher determination of humans to take action on the increase in the climate change signals that the scientists are contributing to the popular knowledge.

Although the COVID-19 crisis has had devastating and long lasting effects on human life, these effects will gradually fade as they are limited to the economy which can be reversed by taking appropriate actions. Climate change is a long term phenomenon which has been creating non-changeable effects on environment and the reluctance of people to take appropriate actions has accelerated the advent of the worst. It is high time for humans to understand the devastation that climate change is creating every day and take some learning from the strong actions that were taken during the COVID-19 crisis to ensure at least a slow down in the deterioration of environment.


  1. Ana I. Bento, Thuy Nguyen, Coady Wing, Felipe Lozano-Rojas, Yong-Yeol Ahn, and Kosali Simon. Evidence from internet search data shows information-seeking responses to news of local COVID-19 cases. PNAS. 2020.

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