With the shutdown of mass factories in some countries, limited air travel, and less cars on the road during COVID-19, we’re starting to see the fall of pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and carbon emissions worldwide. But what happens when “life as normal” resumes?
Here are some the environmental benefits we’ve seen since shutdowns:
- Coal use has fallen by about 40% at China’s six largest factories since the last few months of 2019. China also saw a spike in good air quality days by 11.4% compared to the same time last year.
- Compared with this time last year, levels of pollution in New York have reduced by nearly 50% because of measures to contain the virus.
In Venice, the water quality improved so significantly that the water in the canals cleared and experienced a greater water flow
- Pakistan hired residents to work on planting 10 billion trees (the estimated global loss of trees) over the next 5 years
- Food supply being more local - more folks have swapped to shopping local and reducing carbon emissions
While we are seeing improvements in air quality, there are some negative environmental impacts we’re also seeing from COVID-19.
In Brazil, we’re seeing the virus being used as a cover for illegal deforestation operations. Satellite imagery showed deforestation of the Amazon rainforest surging by over 50 per cent compared to baseline levels.
We’re also seeing direct relations in how COVID impacts areas that are more affected by air pollution. In Louisiana, residents near “Cancer Alley” are experiencing higher death rates than the surrounding areas. A recent study at Harvard found that North Americans who live in places with higher air pollution year-round are more likely to die from the virus than people who live in less polluted areas. Even during a pandemic, we can see how the effects of environmental racism can have detrimental effects on the residents who live in these areas.There’s also the discussion of how the amount of PPE equipment will affect landfills and amounts of plastic in our marine environments due to the disposal nature of most masks and gloves.
Most of these benefits will likely be lost as soon as we return back to production, consumption, and travel as usual unless we look at long-term solutions and demand climate action from our leaders.