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Environmental Studies

Lessons on sustainability in a pandemic

On April 15, Dr. Rob Kingsolver gave a lecture as part of the Sustainabilty Speaker series hosted by Bellarmine's Environmental Studies Department, Bellarmine Green Knights and Terra Learning Community. The title of this lecture was "Stewardship in the Time of the Pandemic: What the Coronavirus has taught us about Sustainabilty."

In his talk, Kingsolver outlined 12 key lessons about the environment, the market, and ourselves that we have learned from the pandemic; below are a few highlights.



What we learned about the environment

Kingsolver noted that the Global CO2 emissions went down in 2020, with a 6.4% decrease from 2019. In the US, there was a 12.9% decrease from 2019 due in part to the pandemic’s impact on our economy and the ripple effect on the industry.

“Because of quarantines and travel restrictions, not as many cars were on the road. A lot of manufacturing plants shut down. And so, pollution improved, and this happened all around the world. You can even see that reduction in pollutants from satellite data,” Kingsolver said. Specifically, behavior in the early day of the pandemic significantly reduced air pollution. Globally, we saw that the negative effects of air pollution are reversible, though the reduction was short-lived.

Kingsolver pointed out that disasters do not take turns. Even amid a pandemic, Texas suffered the consequences of a polar vortex shifted because of global warming.


What we learned about the global market

Kingsolver also discussed the hoarding, fragile global supply chains, and self-sufficiency brought on by the pandemic. One key takeaway should be the fragility and interconnectedness of the global economy. Friction points in the global supply chain have been exposed, at first, by the shortages of medical equipment experienced at the beginning of the lockdown. Even now, as rich countries buy up COVID vaccine supplies, many less-developed countries are left struggling to manage the virus.

“The first obvious one is a social justice concern. A woman who is 70 years old in Somalia who might have other complicating medical conditions will have to wait until every other person in wealthy countries is vaccinated before she gets a chance,” Kingsolver said. “Obviously, the death rates from this disease will be higher in poor countries than it is in wealthy ones. It would be wise for the rest of the world to help the poorer nations to get access to these vaccines.”

Kingsolver observed on a more positive note, many of the individuals who were forced to transition to working from home are now investing in the personal wellness industry.


What we learned about ourselves

Perhaps the most unifying theme of Kingsolver’s lecture was interconnectedness. During the pandemic, we as a population moved away from certain “artificial boundaries,” not unlike how the coronavirus seamlessly crossed international borders.

Where the pandemic exposed divisions, it has also allowed us to come together. We observed divisions between essential and non-essential, and the pandemic fostered an appreciation for those that serve us and a keener awareness of the necessity of their work. The phenomena of online school showed us the true size of the digital divide but recognizing the true scope of this rift is a first step in bridging that gap and improving outcomes for young people.

“But the point is we cannot afford to waste creativity and the intelligence and the motivation of those other children who don't have access to computer technology. We found this to be the case right here in Jefferson County last year when most of public schools went to online instruction,” Kingsolver said. “Some kids were in households where they had a quiet place to work and their own computer equipment and broadband access, and they were able to keep up pretty well. Other children lost nearly a whole year of instruction.”

Kingsolver emphasized that even something as challenging as this pandemic brings the gift of opportunity and growth. We’ve learned that every nation is connected, and world leaders must be brave enough to tell the truth and understand the impact of their words.

In the end, we must persist, and it is undeniably best to do that together.

Tags: Environmental Studies



Located in the historic Highlands neighborhood of Louisville, Kentucky, Bellarmine University is a vibrant community of educational excellence and ethical awareness that consistently ranks among the nation’s best colleges and universities. Our students pursue an education based in the liberal arts – and in the distinguished, inclusive Catholic tradition of educational excellence, the oldest and most rewarding in the western world. It is a lifelong education, worthy of the university’s namesake, Saint Robert Bellarmine, and of his invitation to each of us to learn and live In Veritatis Amore – in the love of all that is beautiful, true and good in life.