Coronavirus Is Helping The Environment, But The Aftermath Could Be Worse

23 March 2020
Coronavirus, Health, Environment, Covid-19, Italy, UAE, China, NASA
Image: Stijn te Strake

Are the environmental effects of the lockdown permanent?

Let’s be honest, you’d have to be a real piece of work not to have been moved by the sight of the Venice last week. As a result of Italy’s coronavirus lockdown, the once choked and choppy waters of the ancient city now lap gently against it shores in a sparkling shade of blue.

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It was followed by satellite images from NASA’s Earth Observatory pollution satellites that showed “significant decreases” in pollution over both China and Italy since the outbreak first began. Other environmental boosts, such as improved quality and lower levels of nitrogen oxide, all seemingly came as a result of the stay at home coronavirus directives.

Has the environment improved because of the Coronavirus?

Well, in a way, yes. Largely due to the lockdown in various countries, research has already discovered that carbon dioxide emissions have fallen by 25 percent in China, while research at Stanford University claims that thousands of lives in the under-five and over-70 categories may already have been saved by virtue of clearer airs across the Hubei province.

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It’s undoubtedly a big deal. “This is the first time I have seen such a dramatic drop-off over such a wide area for a specific event,” explained Fei Liu, an air quality researcher at NASA’s Goddard space flight center, to The Guardian.

Elsewhere, climate experts were predicting that global emissions should drop for the first time since 2009 – a result of the financial crisis.

How has it happened?

The reduction in emissions is really all about the lockdown. Less people on the move, less cars on the roads, the slower pace of life. Airlines such as Emirates have either grounded their entire fleet or offered up a vastly reduced service, which has naturally led to a drastic, if unplanned, dip in carbon emissions, too.

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Will it stay that way?

Unfortunately, probably not. Experts see this as a blip and that it will be business as usual along with the rest of 21st century life once the spread of the virus has been controlled.

While the improved air quality and other benefits are a positive sign that our eco system is still quite robust, the key to real, long-term improvement will lie in the global response. As economies face a titanic struggle to not only survive, but then return, the big question is whether they will then have the resources to invest in clean energy initiatives. Unfortunately, the chances are unlikely.

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“I’m concerned about a sustained downturn in the economy and the narrative that we no longer have the luxury of addressing emissions,” said Rob Jackson, an environmental scientist at Stanford University and chair of the Global Carbon Project “That would just be devastating.”