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How has COVID-19 Impacted the Environment?

COVID-19 has drastically changed how we go about our everyday lives. Planes sit idly in empty airports, shipping has been reduced due to border closures, and streets with no traffic in sight have brought forth great change since the pandemic. On the other hand, it has also brought positive change to our environment.

empty covid roads

As we sit at home reducing our time spent driving, traveling , and shipping and manufacturing goods we have significantly reduced pollution. Currently, NOAA scientists are studying changes in the atmosphere, weather, climate and precipitation over the past months. They have gathered air samples from cities and studied pollution rates while also assessing impacts of reduced underwater noise on marine life (1). Craig McLean, assistant NOAA administrator for Oceanic and Atmospheric Research stated, “This research is providing new insight into the drivers of change for our oceans, atmosphere, air quality, and weather.”

Throughout history, spread of disease or global crises has caused lower emissions such as CO2. For example, the 2008-2009 financial crash caused a dip in emissions of 1.3%. Julia Pongratz, professor at The University of Munich, Germany stated, “There are hints that coronavirus will act the same way. For example, the demand for oil products, steel and other metals has fallen more than other outputs. But there are record-high stockpiles, so production will quickly pick up.” However, Glen Peters from the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo noted that, “Overall 2020 may still see a drop in global emissions of 0.3%.” This could bring hope in a slight reduction of emissions that we so desperately need. It has been seen before that times of change could lead to new lasting habits.

The European Space Agency (ESA) gathered satellite date from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite to observe the changes in nitrogen dioxide over northern Italy. They found that there was a decrease in nitrogen dioxide due to strict quarantine measures (2). Nitrogen dioxide is mainly contributed from cars, trucks, power plants and industrial plants.

Take a look at the video below to see the changes:

On the other hand, COVID-19 has caused negative impacts on our environment. In a less evident way, COVID has postponed major events such as the biggest environmental event of the year, COP26. This event will be held in November to discuss current climate issues and solutions with 30,000 delegates from around the world. Due to COVID we are now unsure if or how this event will take place (3).

With this insight, what does it mean for the future of our planet? Will people begin to change their ways and think more consciously about not only keeping themselves safe and clean, but the environment too? Could “cabin fever” as a result of self-isolation cause people to travel more? Or will we power up our gas guzzling vehicles and create even greater environmental problems?

One thing is for sure, COVID has taught us the urgency of taking action when humanity is threatened. This sense of urgency could be directed toward climate change bringing forth greater changes. We are clearly capable of change if the threat is great enough, but when will climate change be viewed as a big enough threat?




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