Coronavirus and the environment: 7 changes to expect
From a rapid fall in air pollution to curious wildlife exploring our city streets, the coronavirus crisis is set to leave a notable imprint on our environment — but not always for the best.
Better air quality
As the world grinds to a halt, the sudden shutdown of most industrial activities has dramatically reduced air pollution levels. Satellite images have even revealed a clear drop in global levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a gas which is primarily emitted from car engines and commercial manufacturing plants and is responsible for poor air quality in many major cities.
CO2 emissions fall
Like NO2, carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) have also been slashed in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. When economic activity stalls, so do CO2 emissions — in fact, the last time this happened was during the 2008-2009 financial crisis. In China alone, emissions have fallen by around 25% when the country entered lockdown, according to Carbon Brief. But this change is likely to only be temporary.
A new world for urban wildlife
As everyone retreats to their homes, some animals have been taking advantage of our absence. Reduced road traffic means little critters like hedgehogs emerging from hibernation are less likely to be hit by cars. Meanwhile, other species like ducks may be wondering where all the people have gone and will need to find other sources of food besides breadcrumbs in the park.
Drawing attention to the global wildlife trade
Conservationists hope the coronavirus outbreak will help curb global wildlife trade, which is responsible for pushing a number of species to the brink of extinction. COVID-19 likely originated in a Wuhan wet market, which sells live produce and is a hub for both legal and illegally trafficked wildlife. A crackdown on trading live wildlife may be one positive thing to come out of the crisis.
Waterways run clear
Shortly after Italy entered lockdown, images of crystal clear canals in Venice were shared around the world — the pristine blue waters are a far cry from their usual muddy appearance. And with cruise ships docked for the time being, our oceans are also experiencing a drop in noise pollution, lowering the stress levels of marine creatures like whales and making for a much more peaceful migration.
Plastic waste on the rise
But it's not all good news. One of the worst environmental side-effects of the coronavirus pandemic is the rapid increase in the use of disposable plastic — from medical equipment like disposable gloves, to plastic packaging as more people opt for prepackaged foods. Even cafes that remain open no longer accept reusable cups from customers in a bid to stop the virus from spreading.
Climate crisis goes ignored (for now)
With the coronavirus dominating, the climate crisis has been pushed to the sidelines. But that doesn't make it any less urgent. Experts are warning that important decisions regarding the climate should not be delayed — even with the UN climate conference postponed until 2021. While emissions have dropped since the pandemic began, we're unlikely to see widespread and long-term change as a result.