A look into how the global economy is affecting environmental investment.

By Meghan Beery, ‘21.

In early March, social media was full of pictures of clear canals, smogless cities and thriving wildlife. However, as countries reopen, the environmental community is holding its breath. Despite the initial decrease in emissions during the early stage of the pandemic, it is suspected that emissions will return to pre-pandemic levels, if not higher.

Corinne Le Quéré, a professor of Climate Change Science and Policy at the University of East Anglia, believes that the decrease in carbon dioxide during the global lockdown was a temporary relief. 

“We still have the same cars, the same roads, the same industries, same houses,” Le Quéré said to National Geographic. “As soon as the restrictions are released, we go right back to where we were.” 

Her hypothesis is supported by recent data from China. According to the Helsinki-based Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air, pollution returned to pre-pandemic levels in early May as factories in China reopened. As the rest of the world follows in China’s footsteps, it is likely that pollution will continue to rise.

Lukas Ross, a senior policy analyst at Friends of the Earth, warns that a potential increase in emission levels may be attributed to attempts to stimulate the economy. According to Ross, many industries, specifically oil and gas companies, are winning public funds that are allocated for pandemic relief. ExxonMobil qualifies for a potential $7.1 billion dollars from federal stimulus programs. 

“There’s a serious risk that polluters could emerge from this crisis bolder and potentially more profitable than ever,” Ross told National Geographic. His worry is shared by others in the environmental industry. 

In an official statement from the United Nations’ Coalition on Environment and Climate Change, the Coalition warns that the future for green investment may not be bright. 

“Once the pandemic eases, pressure on the environment will resume and risks being less constrained, if recovery investment goes to dirty industries and less finance is available for green investment,” the statement reads. The U.N. encourages governments to “build back better” their economies while keeping sustainability in mind. 

According to UAHS environmental science teacher Beth Bailey, accomplishing both tasks at once is possible, but not without challenges. 

“I think you can find ways to invest in both,” Bailey said. “When you’re supporting the economy, is there a way to do it looking at the product that you’re going to support? Whether it’s energy, whether it’s some kind of sustainable food production measure, a new technology that’s going to help down the road …  look for economic investments that can support something good for long-term.” 

However, Bailey acknowledges that sustainability is not everyone’s top priority at the moment. 

“When people are worried about how to provide for their families or don’t have jobs, I think that that’s your main focus and it’s hard to focus on bigger issues sometimes, like environmental protection,” she said. “When you have a strong economy, that also can lead to stronger aspects with the environment.”