By Virginie Francoeur, Ph.D.
The forests lead the people, the deserts follow them – François-René de Chateaubriand.
On a planetary scale, the health and subsistence of our human population rest firmly on the viability of our ecosystems. Globalization has weakened our natural environment.
The biggest causes of this degradation are anthropic – in other words, provoked by humans. Research on human behavior and activity has to be carried out given the overexploitation of our natural resources, the increase in atmospheric pollution and the growth of our carbon footprint.
Human activity has greatly increased over the course of civilization to the point that its consequences now outstrip the planet’s capacity to absorb its consequences. Over the course of the last 50 years these activities have irreversibly damaged our ecosystems, and have had a greater impact on the environment than in any other period in history.
The last report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change mentions that human activity has caused the climate to warm up, which has caused “rapid changes in the atmosphere, the oceans, the cryosphere and the biosphere.” The influence of human activity on the degradation of the environment is a well-established fact.
The United Nations predicts a major increase in the world’s population over the next decade. In 2030 it will reach 8.5 billion, compared to 7.6 billion in 2020. An increase of a billion people will cause an automatic rise in needs, with all the environmental consequences that this entails.
Environmental questions constitute a crucial issue for humanity’s long-term survival. The COVID-19 pandemic illustrates an example of a major crisis that has engendered important transformations on many levels, including social, environmental, economic, technological and organizational.
Despite these dramatic implications we noted, as a result of a brutal stoppage of a large part of our economic activity over several months, a significant decrease in our greenhouse gas emissions.
This stoppage only, in the end, produced just a slowing down of these emissions, and not a reduction of their concentration in the atmosphere. But we saw a net lowering of atmospheric pollution produced by nitrogen dioxide (NO2). Nitrogen dioxide is given off by the use of fossil fuels, and constitutes one of the principal markers of modern society.
These observations provided a glimmer of hope for some environmentalists who have been pushing for decades for real sustainable changes in our habits.
From the many lessons we can get out of this pandemic, that of minimizing environmental degradation by changing our behavior patterns is a promising road to take to renew our commitment to an ecologically viable way of life.