Covid’s Negative Environmental Impact

globe with corona virus spikes

The Covid pandemic altered the lives of almost everyone on the planet, but it’s completely on us that Covid’s negative environmental impact will help put the nail in the coffin of our planet. Now we’re at a less critical stage of events, we can look back and see that even for a short time, Covid actually had a positive impact on climate change. Covid had a positive impact?

On a human level, nothing positive came out of the pandemic, but on a save the world level, there were positives like cleaner air and water. The problem we now face is the bounce back from the respite we gave the planet.

Positive Impact On Our Environment

What positive impact did covid have on the environment?

  • Less vehicle traffic, improving air quality
  • Less flights, reducing CO2 emissions
  • Less shipping, so water became clearer and sea life returned

During the pandemic, we travelled less than we did in the weeks before. You remember there were lockdowns, we stayed at home, we didn’t work. Car use dropped, flights ground to a halt as international borders closed. International shipping took a steep drop too.

Working from home became normalised and we realised there’s no need to drive into the office every day of the week for a lot of people. The non-essential people anyway.

With less people going on holiday and conducting business, we saw benefits to the environment. Air quality jumped, water quality became much better in many places worldwide. We saw the environmental effects of coronavirus were positive for places like Venice because the water became much clearer and people saw dolphins (allegedly swimming in the canals in 2020, but apparently for real in 2021) swimming nearby when they hadn’t been seen for years.

For sure, global air traffic dropped 60 percent in 2020 when we compare that year to air traffic levels in 2019 according to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

How about calculating your carbon footprint now?

Negative Impact On Our Environment

What negative impact did covid have on the environment?

  • Flights taking off with almost nobody on board
  • Increase in traffic to remote air hubs
  • Positive benefits were reversed almost instantly
  • Increased sea freight to clear delivery backlogs
  • More people discarding masks and gloves

Maybe it’s the most disgusting things in Covid’s negative environmental impact was people dumping their used masks and gloves on the floor when they left the supermarket. It’s like they were saying “F you everyone else. I’m protected, now I’m leaving my virus-laden PPE on the floor for everyone else to get sick. Especially for people cleaning up the streets because I have no respect for them.” Truly, this demonstrated the worst traits of humanity.

dumped covid mask

Ghost airline flights

Now the bounce-back effect when we got out of Covid was not good. Money got in the way of sensible actions we could have taken. As air travel opened up again, the problem of ghost flights became a reality, though they’d actually been happening during the pandemic also. Probably explaining part of the 30% remaining air traffic.

Airlines should have reduced the number of flights they offered and expanded as demand increased, but did they? No, because they couldn’t. Under contract to deliver a set number of flights, established airlines didn’t want to lose juicy slots to rivals, so ran planes empty just to maintain their position.

Why can’t we add more freight to these empty services? If the resources are being used already, we may as well fill empty cargo holds with freight. Great idea and planes already carry freight alongside passengers, but you’re still losing the space in the cabin, so how about taking out the seats too?

Respect to Lufthansa for being honest about ghost flights and publishing data on it. But then again, as Ryanair’s head Michael O’Leary pointed out that ghost flight seats could be sold at a heavily discounted rate. As with many things humans do, we’d rather leave something empty while demanding a high price for it than sell it cheaper.

The problem large carriers faced as the pandemic came to a close was airports could not continue to waive their use-it-or-lose-it slot restrictions and risk alienating fast-growing, low-budget airlines like Ryanair and Wizz Air. Those low budget guys are the ones providing much of the growth in the airline sector and to continue that growth, they desperately want access to some of the most prized slots tied up by the aviation giants. This is why we’re facing an energised environmental crisis after Covid has passed.

Activity near Alaska

Another thing that bounced back during and after covid was flights to Alaska, USA. The airport started to be considered as a destination for freight planes because they can be packed with more freight and charge more, then stop off in Alaska to refuel before going on to its final destination. With a war in Ukraine and Russian air space being closed, passenger planes might not be tempted back to Alaska for stopovers.

Even worse is while global temperatures are trotting toward the precipice where we can’t return from, people are dreaming about a sea route around that area, through Canadian waters to Europe. We guess saving a bit of fuel is a great idea, but why are polar sea routes around Canada a terrible idea?

  1. It means polar ice is melting
  2. The ships will bring pollution
  3. Sea traffic will disturb wildlife

Sure we can think of hundreds more downsides, but the money will be good and this is all that seems to matter.

Sea freight increases

Sea freight has been up again because ships can run, but this means the sea will be polluted by marine diesel and mechanical oil from the ships. Then there’s a shortage of containers that in turn has helped the price of transporting goods by sea to jump up dramatically.

Where there is money, there will be more opportunities, so shipping companies are splashing out and expanding their fleets. maybe that new Arctic shipping route through Canada will see a lot of traffic if it ever comes into use.

Have a listen to this podcast talking about why sea freight has become so expensive over the past two years.

Nothing Stops Humans

In the end, nothing stops humans. Can’t we get away from profit and growth even for a couple of years? We’re destroying our planet for love of a ‘resource’ called oil that is worth far less than clean air and clean water because you can’t put a price on those things.

We need to come to a point where we’re wiling to make important changes and start going carbon neutral. Covid had a terribly negative effect on our lives and many of us died, don’t let us continue to die because of an entirely predictable and preventable crisis.