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Is The Covid 19 lockdown Healing Planet Earth?

Created on 06 Apr 2020

Wraps up in 4 Min

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Updated on 01 Oct 2020

Earth is healing during the COVID 19 Lockdown.
In a matter of a few months, the world has been transformed. Thousands of people have had an unfortunate death and several hundreds of thousands have fallen ill, from the infamous coronavirus that was previously unknown before initiating in the city of Wuhan in December 2019. For millions of others who have not caught the disease, their entire way of life has changed by it. Lockdowns have been announced across the globe as the world prepares for an indefinite amount of social distancing. But if there's a sliver of good news, it's about how this lockdown has been decreasing air pollution, and possibly even saving lives in the process.

Worldwide, as industries, transport networks and businesses have closed down, it has brought a sudden drop in carbon emissions. Wuhan the epicenter of the coronavirus is also a major industrial hub, with a hazardous level of air pollution. The lockdown in China’s Hubei province has drastically brought emissions under control. There has been a considerable improvement in air quality. Satellite images released by NASA have proved this showing a drop in nitrogen dioxide pollution, caused by unhinged emissions from cars, power plants and industrial processes. 

Image captured between 1st to 20th January 2020 by NASA

Image captured in February showing how the pollution has cleared over China.

After Italy went under lockdown, the reduced tourism appeared to have improved water quality along the canals. Locals were surprised seeing the clear waters, and at being able to see fish swimming about. The air quality has turned out to be better, due to restricted boat traffic and resident movement. Compared with previous year’s recordings, the levels of pollution in New York have reduced by nearly 50% because of measures to contain the virus. In China, emissions fell 25% at the start of the year as people were instructed to stay at home, factories shuttered and coal use fell by 40% at China’s six largest power plants since the last quarter of 2019

Animals too are taking advantage of a lack of human activity to wander around to cities and towns. Many cities in India have reported spotting wild animals very close to human habitat. The internet is abuzz with pictures and videos of these animals being spotted.  Mumbai shores have seen dolphins advancing towards the coastline due to the lack of fishing trawlers that disturb the waters. A herd of Spotted deer was seen on the road towards Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh. The endangered Olive Ridley Turtles are day nesting on the beaches of  Odisha due to a lack of human movement. A nilgai (blue bull) was spotted moving on a Noida main-road. Wild pigs are seen roaming the empty streets of Paris since the lockdown went into effect.  On the streets of San Francisco a coyote was spotted during the coronavirus lockdown. All these wild animals showing up again because we halted our traffic... makes you want to ponder on the impact of the human movement into the animal territory.  

Historic epidemics

This is not the first time an epidemic has left its mark on atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. Throughout history, the spread of the disease has been linked to lower emissions – even well before the industrial age. Epidemics such as the Black Death in Europe in the 14th Century, and the epidemics of diseases such as smallpox brought to South America with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th Century, both left subtle marks on atmospheric CO2 levels. The reduction in emissions then was largely due to reduced industrial activity, which contributes carbon emissions on a comparable scale to transport. 

A Fleeting Change?

Pollution and greenhouse gas emissions have reduced across continents as countries put in efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Is this just a fleeting change, or would this lead to a longer-lasting fall in emissions? A global pandemic that is claiming people’s lives certainly shouldn’t be seen as a way of bringing about environmental change either. It’s far from certain how lasting this drop in emissions will be. When the pandemic eventually subsides, will carbon and pollutant emissions “bounce back” so much that it will be as if this clear-skied interlude never happened? Or could the changes we notice today have a more lasting effect? Driving and aviation are key contributors to emissions from transport, contributing 72% and 11% of the transport sector’s greenhouse gas emissions respectively. 

This lockdown may bring about a behavioral change that people who are avoiding travel right now are really appreciating spending time with families and focusing on those really core priorities. These moments of crisis can highlight how important those priorities are and help people focus on the health and wellbeing of family, friends and community. If this change in focus as a result of the pandemic sticks, then this could help in the reduction of unnecessary travel contributing to lower emissions. The coronavirus pandemic is a clariant call to stop exceeding the planet’s limits.


 

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Bernadine

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An MBA Finance graduate, having worked in the Telecom and Banking sector as a Risk and Compliance Manager. An avid blogger with a penchant for traveling

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