Global pandemics often change human behaviour and routines as a measure towards ensuring resilience and protecting the general public health. How we live and our interaction with each other as well as with the environment are all impacted.
Our built environment influences the public’s health, particularly in relation to the spread of infectious diseases. According to Collaborative on Health and Environment, physical structures and surfaces can be significant vehicles for transmission and by allowing or restricting access to physical activity, transportation and social interactions, we can limit this spread. The built environment in particular does not only influence our health; it’s also responsible for almost 40% of CO2 emissions that contribute to the deterioration of our planet. This alone is an indication that the primary cause of global climate change is man-made, and the solutions are, therefore, within the human sphere of influence.
Inadvertently, the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the positive impact of reduced industrial and commercial activities on a global scale. For example, air pollution has reduced greatly across previously smog-filled urban areas (Source; Forbes; NBCNews; NASA). Clogged waterways have become crystal clear and a home again for aquatic life. Most encouraging of all has been the rate of change, with the planet demonstrating a tremendous ability to begin self-repair when given the chance.
Our recent behavioural changes are however, not considered the norm, may not be sustainable in the long term and we are quick to return to old habits. Whilst a socially and economically active world is essential, it is important to ask ourselves what “normal” could look like for the future. Can we learn from these current changes, find new ways of living and sustain some of the environmental benefits that we are currently witnessing?
Lessons from past economic and social shocks – the 2008 crash or 9/11, for example – have demonstrated that the way we live is almost always altered to a certain degree. Things therefore cannot go back to how they used to be post the COVID-19 and oftentimes, the impact from such situations often breed new innovations and ways of thinking that spark new businesses, policies, behaviours and opportunities. What then can we learn from COVID-19 and the changes it has brought to our lives, that can define a “new normal”, and that is more positive than how things were before it?