On Wednesday of March 11th, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. Since then, numerous countries have implemented safety measures to help prevent the spread of the virus. These safety measures led to economic declines around the world.
U.S. News reported the U.S. is moving toward a $1 trillion economic package. Meanwhile, theU.K. announced $398 billion for loans and cash grants for small businesses to survive the pandemic, and France pledged $50 billion to aid businesses and employees. The whole world has been busy surviving economically but one issue remains ignored by many and recognized by few.
In Italy, a miracle occurred: with the absence of boat traffic, water in Venice’s canals have become clearer. In India, , Delhi’s unbreathable air became bearable, and their neighbor China appears to have unclouded skies. Countries who have participated in confinement measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have seen clearer skies and less air pollution. Climate change, it seems, has slowed for the moment. National Geographic stated, “ In Delhi, where air is normally choking, levels of both PM2.5 and the harmful gas nitrogen dioxide fell more than 70 percent.”
PM2.5 stands for Atmospheric Particle Matter less than 2.5 micrometers. Small particle matter is highly deadly to humans who inhale it and can cause serious health problems. Nitrogen Dioxide is a toxic gas to humans, and according to NBC News “can irritate the lungs” and “increase the risk of asthma and inflammation of the lungs.” Experts say that while Nitrogen Dioxide is not the leading cause of global warming, large excess amounts of it help scientists identify the green-house gases that do drive global warming.
China is another country in which air pollution is a massive problem but has experienced a major drop due to the drastic decrease in economic activity. An article published by The New York Times reported that the estimated 25% drop in carbon emissions in China since February is the “equivalent to 200 million tons of carbon dioxide — more than half the annual emissions of Britain.”
However, these drops are primarily the result of the halt in industrial manufacturing. Some of the blame could be cast upon our personal consumption (or carbon footprint), but New York Times stated that air travel accounts for measly 2.5 percent of global emissions–compared to manufacturing, it's a small impact. In China, for instance, coal consumption fell by 36% and industrial operations 15 to 40 percent.
While COVID-19 produced ecological miracles around the globe, the positive effects on the climate are only, for now, short term. COVID-19 could likely spell disaster for the climate if demand for oil ramps up to almost 10 million barrels a day, as predicted by an oil-trading firm.
A global recession might limit trade between the U.S. and China, which would limit the latter’s crucial commercial exchange of solar panels, lithium batteries and wind turbines. Clean energy such as wind, solar, and electric projects could all slow down. Additionally, lockdowns and quarantine have slowed climate research around the world: NASA’s research in the Arctic has stopped, and fieldwork is being canceled. Gatherings of world leaders to address climate change have either been delayed or canceled.
Climate change has already hit vulnerable communities across the globe disproportionately harder, an inequality that will only be exacerbated should global warming worsen. Increased oil production and coal consumption could impact the world more painfully than ever before as the those around us remain ignorant of climate change.
However, it's not all gloom: as individuals, we can make small impacts toward helping the climate. Limiting air travel has helped limit amounts of greenhouse gases that have been released, and face-to-face interaction has limited non-essential travel. Though seemingly insignificant, that 2.5 percent air travel-produced carbon emissions is a colossal amount of pollution we release into the air. Among the most effective ways to counter climate change is by planting: a single mature tree can take in 48 pounds of carbon dioxide per year.
When the pandemic ends, let’s all help keep the skies clear.