One of the results of the Coronavirus pandemic is that there has been some reduction in air pollution levels and warming levels as travel has been impacted severely. Thousands of flights have been cancelled globally leading to cleaner skies. Governments have advised people to stay in their homes, and there has been lockdowns in many parts of the world. All this has had an unprecedented impact on the world’s economy and the lives of everyone. But what about the nature? Has coronavirus made the world eco-friendlier or is it the other way around? Let’s take a look.
Is Coronavirus making the world eco-friendlier?
New York city researchers have said that the carbon monoxide due to cars has reduced by 50% as compared to last year. CO2 emissions, a gas which contributes to global warming and has major effect on oceans also has dropped sharply. As governments have cancelled thousands of flights, as well as cancelling public transport and advising the restricted use of private vehicles, the emissions from transport have gone down.
Usually, in May, the carbon dioxide emissions are the highest due to the leaves decomposing as well as the emissions from vehicles. This year the levels would be much lower, predict scientists, as traffic levels are down by 35%. There was a drop in 5-10% CO2 drop in New York, and a drop in another GHG gas methane was also observed.
If the restrictions continue for a longer period, there could be a significant effect of Coronavirus on climate change, especially if the governments impose rules and regulations on gas emissions when the factories start functioning at full scale.
Pollution levels have fallen in China and Italy
The coronavirus outbreak in China has led to shutting down of industries as well as reduction in vehicles. An analysis for the Carbon Brief website suggested that there was a 25% drop in the emissions as well as energy use in China over a period of two weeks. This would probably lead to overall reduction in 1% in carbon emissions of China. And, there wasn’t a significant shutdown of industries either.
Northern Italy and China have also seen a significant fall in NO (nitrogen dioxide), that is related to decreased industrial activity and car journeys. Nitrogen Oxide is a dangerous pollutant as well as a potent climate warming chemical.
The coronavirus scare has led to the cancellation of events as it would have meant that a large number of people would have gathered at the same place. Coronavirus is an extremely contagious disease, and it can spread through respiratory droplets. The virus can stay potent for about 12 hours and if people touch a surface which was earlier contaminated, then they are exposed to it as well. The deadly disease has affected hundreds of thousands of people, spreading from person to person.
As a result, gatherings are strictly no-no in many countries. Switzerland has banned public gatherings of more than 1,000 people, which is why the Geneva Motor Show had to be cancelled.
In Houston, the annual CeraWeek conference of gas and oil executives were called off. The Formula One Grand Prix was cancelled in Shanghai. Other international conferences were cancelled as well, including the March 14 summit of Donald Trump with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The Mobile World Congress to be held in Barcelona, London Book Fair, Game Developers Conference, San Francisco, and the biggest annual, media, music and film festival, South by Southwest, Texas, has been cancelled.
These are just a few of the events cancelled, but many more events at a smaller scale have been scrapped. This means that thousands of CO2 tons from flights have been eliminated.
Mariah Carey, Slipknot, New Order and Stormzy have cancelled concerts. Art Dubai, the biggest art event of the middle east has been cancelled. A bigger effect has been due to the shutting down of entertainment parks such as Tokyo DIsneyland, DIsneysea, Universal Studios theme park in Osaka as well as Shanghai Disneyland and other such attractions all over the world has stopped thousands of people from visiting and adding to the pollution.
Events, conferences, music shows and more also mean that thousands of tons of plastic waste which would have been dumped in the landfills, have been saved from polluting the environment. When large or small meetings and events are cancelled, then the water and energy that would have been used by the delegates or visitors are also saved. So an effect of Coronavirus on climate change has been to reduce waste and conservation of energy, as well as emissions from fossil fuel use.
Less pollution due to closure of educational institutions
Colleges, playschools, schools have been closed all over the world, from US to India. The emissions from school buses as well as private transport dropping and picking students has been eliminated. Some of the data has indicated that the school closure has reduced traffic flow and traffic jams. Rush hour traffic is down or negligible as people/students have been asked to stay at home.
Thus, the forced or self-imposed quarantine and suggestions to stay inside has played a big role in reducing CO2 emissions.
Are people utilizing more energy at home?
As people are placed under quarantine or asked to stay at home at work, or study, as in the case of students, the question is whether they are using more fossil fuel energy at home. Homes need to be heated up, or cooled according to the part of the globe one resides in, as well as family lifestyle.
It takes more energy to heat up a cold home, so staying at home could also mean that less energy is consumed. In many parts of the world, the weather is moderate right now, which does not require extra heating or cooling, which consumes more energy than watching television.
Reports have also suggested that there has been a spike in shopping online as people are afraid to step out and are having groceries home delivered. Besides, as people have to avoid public spaces, groceries have to be bought and online is the only option for many people.
Online shopping has its own carbon footprint due to the carbon footprint of the travel miles, energy consumption of storage, and the waste generated by packaging. Therefore, though personal transport use has reduced, sitting at home and ordering online may not be helpful in reducing CO2 emissions as desired.
In China, the domestic carbon footprint of people went down even as industries faltered. In US and other countries where lockdowns have been announced, and all public transport has been cancelled and private transport is used only for essentials, people’s carbon footprint will decrease, even if they order online.
Lessons that we can learn
The coronavirus has stalled the economy, but one good fallout of it has been the reduction in greenhouse gases’ emissions. The one difference has been that people are choosing or have had the choice made for them, to lead a much sustainable life.
After the virus comes under control, when governments encourage industries to bounce back, there should be restrictions imposed on industries for reduction of emissions, in order to maintain the cleaner air and lesser levels of pollution.
Historically, it has been observed that after a global disturbance has ended, global emissions tend to get back to earlier levels, due to uncontrolled productions in factories. The major difference of the Covid-19 disaster from other natural disasters, is not the destruction of infrastructure, but the slowing down of economy, and the behavioral changes in people.
Governments can take the opportunity to encourage environmentally friendly in citizens and impose stringent emission standards on industries. Eco friendly infrastructure can be built, such as bicycle lanes and walkways, so that people who are now walking and cycling can continue to do so, when the situation becomes normal.
Things such as not going to the movies, not eating out, or going for a drink, taking holidays around the globe and other such entertainment was unthinkable for almost everyone. Now, to be safe from the virus, people have had to stay at home and do without any kind of outdoor entertainment where people gather. This has led to reduction of vehicle emissions, conservation of fossil fuel as well as drastic reduction in plastic and organic waste.
Work from home would be more prevalent
Some environmental scientists are optimistically predicting that social distancing which is being adopted now, and leading to people working from their homes, will continue after the pandemic is over. Working from home is a much more environmentally friendly behavior, and as companies realize that 20-30% of their workforce can work from home, this trend would continue even after the virus is no longer a threat.
People have to resort to videoconferencing and virtual meetings, and this can easily be done in future. If conferences are held virtually, it would save emissions, conserve fuel and food produce used for breakfasts, lunches and dinners, as well as food and plastic waste will be reduced drastically. In fact, this could be a choice for most companies, as they anyway would not have the financial resources to conduct meetings on site, while trying to recover their finances.
The coronavirus has made the world eco-friendly, but whether the changes in behavior will be retained and thus make a permanent reduction in pollution and global warming, remains to be seen.