Sustainability in the Pandemic Stricken World: Balancing Economic Development with Environmental Protection

Last Wednesday was the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and the first Earth Day without major gatherings worldwide, thanks to COVID-19 lockdowns.

Last Wednesday was the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and the first Earth Day without major gatherings worldwide, thanks to COVID-19 lockdowns.

Ironically, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), around the same time as Earth Day, announced the loosening of a series of environmental restrictions for many industries, including air and water pollution, supposedly to alleviate some of their financial burdens. The most fervent supporters of these relaxations are of course the oil and coal industries, using the coronavirus economic crisis as an excuse to justify the need for lifting environmental restrictions. Soon after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced their findings on how the virus survives on surfaces longer than scientists have previously estimated, the plastic industry was also quick to claim that single-use plastic products are more hygienic and are better options to stop the spread compared to environmentally friendly reusable products. It was a clear attempt to roll back the efforts made by environmental awareness organizations against the use of plastics over the past few years. In fact, the plastic industry emerged as a victor-many states, including Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, and Washington, have placed their plastic ban legislation on hold due to such so-called "hygiene concerns."

All of these actions are based solely on one cause: the coronavirus. Yet are we justified in using COVID-19 as an excuse?

The EPA's actions seem to be more detrimental than beneficial in the long run, as it could nullify the 50 years of progress and hard work that Earth Day's massive public awareness campaigns have prompted. Instead of relaxing environmental restrictions on businesses to sustain the economy, governments should support the clean and green industries and sectors to revive the economy and provide a "green stimulus" after the pandemic.

The argument that lifting environmental restrictions is necessary or effective in assisting certain industries to recover from the economic hardship brought by the pandemic is utterly invalid. Many other factors are contributing to a possible recession during the pandemic, such as inapt legislation in protecting workers' rights and the overloaded and inefficient social safety net system, incapable of dealing with a shutdown of the country. Loosening the rules limiting pollution will not help counter the likely economic downturn, and there are countless other measures that are much more effective in aiding the suffering industries, such as releasing more targeted financial aid packages. It is imperative to mobilize the public to advocate for more effective and comprehensive packages than current ones from the government. The claim that single-use plastic products are more hygienic than their reusable counterparts is also flawed. It doesn't matter if the product is made of plastic or not; as long as additional sanitization measures are in place, reusable products are just as safe and clean as single-use ones. Ultimately, hygiene is not an excuse for not continuing to go green; we can and should take care of our own health through other means.

As we can see from the efforts of corporate America in lobbying the EPA for relaxed restrictions, the concept of so-called "corporate sustainability" is merely a façade: businesses claim to uphold social responsibilities such as sustainability before the pandemic began, but when their revenue dropped, they no longer cared about protecting the environment and only focused on their own financial health. In these turbulent times with widespread panic and rampant misinformation, we must stay alert and police these corporations and institutions that are trying to take advantage of the pandemic.

It is more crucial than ever to recognize the importance of environmental protection, especially in the context of this virus. This current pandemic is the perfect example showing us why we must care more about and work harder on sustainability since it serves as a dire warning to us that pollution is closely linked to public health. According to Harvard University researchers, pollution has damaged our lungs, and as a result, we have a higher risk of succumbing to the coronavirus. Needless to say, pollution and chemicals we released into the environment have also led to other diseases. The rising coronavirus death toll is proof that the way we treat our planet directly determines our health and well-being. In fact, going green is not just about protecting our health, but more vitally, protecting our world after fears of the virus subside. Climate change, in the long run, is an even more substantial existential threat than this pandemic. Rising greenhouse gas levels have been scientifically proven to cause global warming and the many horrifying consequences: increases in vector disease transmissions such as mosquito-borne illnesses, rising sea levels that will submerge many major coastal cities and create more "climate refugees," and the rising temperatures that may eventually make all species-including us-go extinct.

In the post-pandemic world, traditional economic reopening programs will certainly damage ecosystems more than ever before as businesses boost their productions to revive the markets. We are at a crossroads here, and our choice determines our future. We either build up green businesses and tackle climate change, another potential global disaster, or allow traditional businesses to continue polluting our environment for short-sighted goals.

Thus, governments and investors should support the development of clean energy and green industries during this pandemic that can provide a large portion of the job opportunities required for the unemployed. This "green stimulus" solution upholds all three pillars of sustainability: not only does it revive the economy by creating new jobs and technologies for the market, it also fosters environmental protection, improved public health, and social wellbeing. We could emerge stronger and better than ever in the post-pandemic world, but only if we tackle the fallouts from the coronavirus with sustainable rather than expedient measures.

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