2020 is a phenomenal year. It is not just the last year of the decade, but was also a milestone year for many projects for many countries. One of the milestones for almost every country around the world was to bring about a change in the man-made environmental degradation that had reached threatening levels.
As human consumption of energy had increased, the race for production of goods to meet the supply had increased pollution manifold in the last two decades. The environment was on a downhill roll and there were dire predictions that painted an apocalypse in the near future due to climate changes.
However, when COVID19 turned into a pandemic, it was astonishing to watch countries go into lockdown, shut down factories and see an overall decrease in waste generation. Within a few months, earth started showing signs of recovery as human interference slowed down. Today we look at the positive impact of COVID on the environment.
COVID19 – Is it a boon for the environment?
This pandemic is a globally disruptive spectacle. The first and foremost area of disruption was in international travel and foreign trade, as that also turned out to be the primary way to contain the spread. This brought the airline industry to a standstill. The positive aspect of this measure was a significant decline in air pollution and clear skies within a month or two.
Next disruption occurred in the manufacturing sector as factories were shut down and carbon emissions reduced substantially. Because of the lockdown measures, transportation activities within countries reduced and this lowered the release of harmful fumes into the atmosphere.
According to the Global Carbon Project, a study by Stanford University researcher Rob Jackson, the carbon emission drop is the biggest since World War II. Though a 4-7% drop in carbon emission may sound measly, the effect on the environment is staggering. The most recent drop in CO2 was in the recession of 2008, which measured only 1.5%. But in 2009, the emissions reached back up to 5% as if nothing happened the previous year.
In the lockdown period, carbon emissions in China reduced by 25% and nitrogen oxide emission reduced by 50%. In April 2020, US experienced a third reduction in carbon emission due to decrease in the usage of fuel/vehicles.
Here is a quick statistical overview of the changes as per Wikipedia:
Between January and March of 2020, the European Space Agency observed a drastic decline in nitrous oxide emissions from cars, factories, power plants, etc. after Italy was in lockdown. NASA also pointed out the drop in pollution levels in Wuhan, China by a maximum of 40%, which is ground zero for the COVID19 pandemic. NASA’s ozone monitoring instrument (OMI)recorded that the nitrogen dioxide emissions reduced first in Wuhan, and then spread across the world as it affected the supply chain.
Water pollution decreased considerably in the COVID19 situation,as there was less traffic across oceans, fewer pollutants added to the seas, etc. An example of this being the canals of Venice experiencing higher water flow and sediment-settling due to less boat-traffic.
In oceans, the fish biomass increased due to a mass decline in fishing,indicating aquatic recovery, however anecdotal it may be. Due to lockdown, some of the sea turtles returned to the beaches they earlier avoided, to lay eggs. There is a ban on consumption of animals, including bats and pangolins in the Gabonese Republic. Thus, wildlife showed some areas of improvement.
So, are the Positive Impacts here to Stay?
The positive effects of the pandemic may be significant but do not come close to what the environment needs and what we need to do to sustain it. Though air pollution decreased significantly, the levels can come up once the lockdowns are lifted, or after a vaccine is developed.
So are other types of pollution likely to increase?
Not only that, the pandemic has proven to be a cover for illegal activities like deforestation in Brazil, increase in poaching in South Africa and increase in plastic waste due to the excessive use of face masks, PPE, etc.
Where are We Heading?
COVID19 is an eye-opener for the human species as the impacts of the pandemic suggest that we are can do a lot in saving the environment and returning it to its previous glory if we wanted to. This would require refraining from excessive consumption of resources and use only what we need.
One of the most notable observations of COVID19 has been the fact that our spending on our lifestyle outweigh our needs. Simply put, we can live a very healthy life if we allow nature and other living beings to thrive along with us. COVID19 is a wake-up call that shows that we are dependent on the environment and the nature in more ways than we comprehend and sabotaging it for our personal gains will inadvertently eventually shorten the lifespan of human beings as a species.