The Coronavirus has taken the world by storm – so far, over three-quarters of a million people have tested positive with the disease, thousands have died, countries have gone into lockdown in an attempt to contain the virus and help their health care systems cope with all of the infected. With about a quarter of the world’s population in lockdown, you could say that due to the rapid reduction in human activity, we are giving the earth some time to recover.
Starting in China, cities and counties began to go into quarantine. China is the largest emitter of carbon dioxide gas in the world with 9.8 billion metric tons in 2017 – the main source of their CO2 emissions is from burning fossil fuels to generate power and by their industrial facilities. China is also one of the largest importers of oil – which emits more CO2 emissions through the use of vehicles. An image which has been spotted circulating online recently is that of the satellite images provided by NASA. You can see that there is a massive difference in pollution from January and February at the start of this year. The pollution in the photos which is significantly less is nitrogen dioxide (NO2). NO2 is a harmful gas which is emitted by industrial facilities and vehicles – it contributes to global warming as well as being poisonous to life in high quantities. The drop in the NO2 happens to corollate with the drop in manufacturing in China due to the coronavirus; According to Bloomberg Economics, Chinese factories were operating at 60% to 70% of capacity this week. The factories are reliant on hundreds of millions of workers to keep the cogs turning, however, due to quarantine restrictions, a third of workers haven’t been able to come in. Due to the decrease in products the factories are producing, which may bring a shortage in items, could this encourage people to reuse and fix things instead of buying new: meaning fewer things have to be produced in the future. As well as the factories not working to full capacity, so, therefore, pumping out fewer pollutants, the drop in NO2 will also be partly shared with the fact a third of workers don’t be using their vehicles to travel to work every day, meaning fewer pollutants produced through combustion.
Then, the coronavirus made its way west, and so did the urgency to contain the virus from spreading even further. In a bid to slow down the virus, lots of events, gatherings and holidays have been cancelled or postponed. While this will have caused a lot of frustration and or upset (spare a thought for those planning to go to Disneyland), everyone is aware it is for the greater good. This means that thousands of people won’t have been travelling to and from their plans. Airlines have cancelled flights, and have reduced their services, and a lot of public transport services are offering reduced timetables. People who were planning on using their own transport to travel in will no longer be making the trips. Because of this, the pollution which would have been emitted through everyone travelling to their events has significantly dropped. Unfortunately, the effects of this are likely to be short-lived – as soon as it is deemed safe to do so, events will be back on, and most people will be travelling again as usual.
As of this March, everyone where possible, have been instructed to work from home. Non-essential workplaces; such as restaurants, hairdressers, and high street shops, have been ordered to close. Children have been told not to go to school. Almost everyone is at home which means no more commutes to work, and no more school drop-offs. In turn, this means a whole lot less traffic. The Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs reported that air pollution levels were low across the country and said that air pollution in London has dropped by almost a third, as people are working from home or going into self-isolation due to the coronavirus pandemic. Once Covid-19 is over, people’s behaviour from the self-isolation could stick around. ‘It’s quite possible that once things revert back to pre-virus conditions that companies and their staff may have seen the benefits of working from home and so the actual number of commuters may reduce,’ said Colbeck. This could mean the pollution may not rise to the levels it was at before the pandemic, as more people may work from home, fewer people could be commuting. More people may begin to walk or cycle to work in the future – this could be because they were going for walks or bike rides as a way to occupy themselves in self-isolation – and these new habits might stay on to become a part of people’s lives once everything is back to normal. There is a good chance that once the virus is over with, everyone’s habits will have changed, meaning the pollution levels may not reach the levels they were at before self-isolation.
In Venice, Italy, wildlife is already reaping the rewards of the cleaner air and reduced human activity. With the tourist’s cruise ships and boats gone, it has cleared the waters, giving view to shoals of tiny fish, crabs and colourful plants. Dolphins and swans had also been spotted making a return – however, there are rumours that this is fake news. Due to the strict rules that Italians now have to abide by, they can now only leave their house to walk their dog or go to the shop, the human activity disappeared overnight; leaving the city tranquil and calm from what it was. The cleanliness of the water is not actually due to the pollution, it is due to all the water activity which is churning up the canal floor. Birds are making the most of the now clear waters; cormorants have been swooping in to catch the fish that they can now see, and ducks have been making use of quiet streets to set up nests and lay eggs outside shops. With the mass crowds in which tourism brought still in the picture, this would never have been the case. “I honestly believe we should take the opportunity of this lockdown to reflect and see how we can be more organised in the future to find a balance between the city and tourism.” Says Gloria Beggiato, who owns the celebrated Metropole Hotel. Tourism in Venice had been in the centre of a campaign because the locals wanted a more eco-responsible, sustainable model of tourism. Due to the effects of lockdown, hopefully, tourism in Venice can be reduced in the future once the coronavirus is in the past.
The coronavirus is currently a dark time for most countries – families losing loved ones, people getting sick, healthcare systems overflowing and people losing their livelihoods. The positive impact the virus is having on the environment just shows how there is always a bit of light in dark times. Even though quite a lot of the effects will be short-lived with everything resuming as normal before the virus took over, it has shown just what is possible with reduced human activity. This means that the coronavirus could help people change their mindset on protecting the environment as they have seen how quickly the earth has bounced back.