Positive impact on the environment from COVID 19. What do we learn?

The novel coronavirus, which first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December of 2019, has just passed the 370,000 marks of total infections. By the time you read this article, that number will probably be higher. see the latest numbers here. Having claimed more than 16,000 lives thus far, one question that is on all our minds, When will this global pandemic come to an end?

In asking this question we are not alone – for just as we are anticipating the day things go back to normal, so too perhaps is nature dreading it.

Positive impact on the environment from COVID 19. What do we learn?

Undeniably, COVID-19 is having a beneficial impact on the environment. This shouldn’t come as a surprise since it is temporarily halting some of our society’s most destructive habits. I indicated below the main reasons why Coronavirus is positively impacting the environment, and what do we learn from this.

Positive impact on the environment from COVID 19

First and foremost, Coronavirus is causing a fall in global CO2 emissions. China, the first country to put entire cities on lockdown and restrict domestic travel, has seen its carbon dioxide emissions go down by 25%. This is a staggering number for the country which emits the most carbon dioxide in the world. Similar patterns were observed in Europe, where Italy has been on lockdown for two weeks with many others soon to follow suit.

By shutting down factories, stopping all non-essential activity, restricting travel, and ordering millions of citizens to say at home, countless millions of tons of CO2 are prevented from being released into our atmosphere.

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Pollution caused by international and domestic flights is down significantly due to travel bans and low demand. Even on a personal scale, our carbon footprints are bound to decrease.

Working from home reduced car emissions

Working from home means that, while we may be using more energy in our homes now than before, we are still saving lots of energy which would have been used to go to and from work.

Furthermore, by lowering emissions from private and public transportation, we will see a fall not just in CO2 emissions but also in other harmful pollutants. Most notably, the smog-inducing molecule NO2. The visual below shows how drastically NO2 levels have fallen in Europe.

Cruise ban also reduced pollution

The decrease in pollution levels, which can be felt as well as seen, isn’t limited only to the air. The change can be seen in the beautiful canals of Venice which have once again returned to their natural, clear state. Travel restrictions have prevented hundreds of thousands of tourists from flying or arriving on cruise ships to this touristic city, significantly reducing pollution levels locally as well as globally.

We don’t even have to look as far as China or Italy to see these improvements “on the environment side”. For many of us, these changes can be felt in the metropolitan cities in which we live. Once choked with pollution and smog, it is hard to deny the welcome change in air quality over the past few weeks.

An additional beneficiary from the ongoing pandemic is the global ecosystem. In China, new laws will regulate the country’s massive wildlife markets (where this virus and many others have originated). China’s wildlife markets have far-reaching effects that can be felt as far away as Africa where endangered species are illegally poached, and Southeast Asia where animals such as pangolins have become critically endangered due to their value in Chinese markets. Surely, this is a win for biodiversity – but for how long?

Are these environmental benefits just temporary?

It could be that once this pandemic comes to an end, things will go back to normal, or worse – production and consumption will go into overdrive to make up for losses incurred. Very easily, all the positive impacts COVID-19 we are experiencing can be reversed. Factories and power plants, spurred on by stimulus packages to help nations’ economies recover, could ramp up production and nullify all the environmental gains we’ve witnessed these past few weeks.

Alternatively, this pandemic could shift funding and political efforts away from fighting climate change in the near future. Voters could reasonably become more worried about public healthcare and unemployment rather than CO2 emissions and a warming planet. One environmentalist by the name of Bill McKibben puts it this way: “… economic disruption is not a politically viable way to deal with global warming in the long term, and it also undercuts the engines of innovation that bring us, say, cheap solar panels.”

The future, therefore, remains uncertain. Nevertheless, we must utilize this once-in-a-century opportunity and learn from it.

What do we learn from the positive impact on the environment from COVID 19?

Perhaps the most valuable lesson learned during the development of this pandemic is that humans are an adaptable species who can change their daily life patterns when pressed to do so. Despite initial hesitation, millions of people are now getting used to ideas such as social distancing, staying and working from home as much as possible, and decreasing unnecessary consumption.

Habits and presumptions we previously thought were necessary have been shown to be excessive. For example, commuting long distances to go to work when instead we could work from home with a stable internet connection. Departing on wasteful international flights and vacations on cruise ships, when there are far more sustainable ways to travel and see the world. Eating exotic and wild meats when we could have far healthier, eco-friendly diets.

We have also seen how the world was so ill-equipped to deal with an emergency of this magnitude. With global warming already affecting many parts of the world, we may face even more disasters and outbreaks due to climate change. It is clear that our current economic system is fragile, inequitable, and even harmful to ourselves and our planet in the long run. If nothing else, hopefully, COVID-19 will show us that we need to change it.

Though we can rest assured that soon enough everything might go exactly back to normal, the question we should be asking ourselves is: do we really want it to?

Let us know your opinion on social media.

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