Prof. Madhur Anand

Earth Day is typically a time to contemplate humanity’s impacts on the environment.

While not the initial intention, our rapid behavioural changes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have already brought about healthy changes in our environment, says a University of Guelph expert in global change ecology and sustainability.

Prof. Madhur Anand, School of Environmental Sciences and director of the Guelph Institute for Environmental Research, said the global slowdown of industry and vehicular traffic has led to dramatic and rapid changes to air pollution. Photos from around the world in recent weeks show less hazy skies in major cities that are normally grey with smog.

“In some rural areas in India, people can see, for the first time in generations, the snow-capped Himalayas outside their windows because of this reduction in pollution,” Anand said.

In Canada, many urban dwellers may have a new appreciation of the natural areas around them, seeing parks, forests and fields as important areas of respite during the lockdowns.

Anand thinks all of us can learn from this unique year that rapid societal changes are possible and that social norms can change.

“These changes are ones we don’t need to imagine anymore – we’ve seen them, we’ve seen them come about,” she said.

“My hope is that once the threats of the new coronavirus are contained, we can remember this very transformative power of human behaviour.”

Prof. Anand recently received federal funding to study the impact of human behaviour on climate change and climate change’s impact on human behaviour. She is available for interviews.


Prof. Madhur Anand