Coronavirus and the Environment

Malavika Santhosh, Reporter

It seems that the only good news we have gotten during this pandemic, aside from John Krasinki’s Some Good News of course, has been the news of how the environment is benefiting from the pandemic. With the majority of the population inside, it’s no wonder that nature has hit the reset button. But does this change really mean anything?

Over the past few months, the air has cleared, cities emptied, and animals are venturing onto our abandoned streets and waterways. Before and after pictures from populated cities like Delhi, Venice, and Beijing show how much air pollution has decreased. Air pollution rates have been linked to COVID-19 mortality rates, and a national study on reports that an increase of 1 microgram of fine particulate matter per cubic meter leads to an 8% increase in the COVID-19 death rate. Due to studies like this and many others, the decrease in particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide has been welcomed. 

Nitrogen dioxide, a gas produced by combustion, can lead to respiratory problems, irritate airways and inflame the lining of the lungs says the EPA. According to new studies by the American Geophysical Union, nitrogen dioxide pollution in China, western Europe, and the U.S. has decreased by 60% in early 2020 compared to the same period of time in 2019. The one downside to the decrease in nitrogen oxide is that it could lead to an increase in surface ozone, which is harmful to humans states Science Daily. AGU also says that particulate matter in northern China, a region plagued by high rates of air pollution, has decreased by 35% in 2020 when compared to 2019.

Aside from air pollution, carbon emission rates have fallen drastically. A study on Nature states that daily carbon dioxide emissions decreased by 17%. It is estimated that emissions fell by one billion tons in the first four months of 2020 when compared to April of last year. This is mainly due to the decreased activity due to lockdowns all over the world. Nature notes that almost all sectors saw a decrease in activity when quarantine began. The aviation sector was hit the hardest, with a decrease of 75%. Surface transport activity has decreased by 50%, industry by 35%, public by 33%, and power by 15%. The only sector that has increased in activity is the residential sector by 5%, which makes sense considering most everyone is stuck inside. The studies also project that the annual decrease of carbon emissions this year will range from 4% to 7%, depending on when places start opening up, which will be the largest drop in emissions since World War II.

Though the environment has been recovering from human activity during the pandemic, this is more of a warning than any real change. It has been predicted by many sources and experts that carbon emissions, climate change, and other environmental problems will just rebound back to where they were before the pandemic, maybe even increase as economies push themselves into high gear so as to compensate for losses. The pandemic has given us a look into what the world can look like if we make changes and move toward an environmentally friendly and carbon neutral society and economy. Though there are many important things happening in the world right now, it is imperative that we take the time to think of this as it concerns our future. I urge you to use the abundant amount of free time you have and think of ways to reduce your carbon footprint as we recover from this pandemic. Think of this as the perfect opportunity to alter your lifestyle, raise awareness, and push for reforms so that we can make change happen.