The unexpected Upside of Covid-19: A cleaner Planet

Updated: Mar 26, 2020

Every country across the globe is feeling the effects of Covid-19. Major sporting events such as the NBA, NCAA, and the NHL have postponed their seasons, Coachella and The Tokyo Olympics have pushed back their opening dates, and residents are asked to self-isolate and stay home. The physical and emotional impacts of Covid-19 have affected our daily routines and altered the way we work, move, and interact with each other.

However, these changes in our routines have had a surprisingly positive environmental effect. In particular, cleaner air and clearer water. This global crisis has challenged our perception of normal life, and the burden of the constant flow of goods and people is lessened on our planet. In response to this, there is proof that our planet can heal, given the chance to do so.

“If we can think about how to prepare for climate change like a pandemic, maybe there will be a positive outcome to all of this,” said Christopher Jones, lead developer of the CoolClimate Network. “We can help prevent crises in the future if we are prepared. I think there are some big-picture lessons here that could be very useful.”

Here are just a few unexpected positive outcomes of the Covid-19 outbreak:

In China, blue skies are increasingly common:

Earth Observatory: Airborne Nitrogen Dioxide Plummets over China

The country-wide lockdown in China has had an astonishing positive effect on the country’s air quality. The Climate Website Carbon Brief reported that China’s CO2 emissions are down by 25%, with the average number of ‘good air quality days’ increasing by 21.5% . The reduction in C02 emissions have actually reduced the amount of smog seen in many cities in China, resulting in clearer, bluer skies.

"This is the first time I have seen such a dramatic drop-off over such a wide area for a specific event. ’ Says Lei Liu, air quality researcher at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre. ‘I am not surprised because many cities nationwide have taken measures to minimize the spread of the virus."

In Italy, the Venice canals runs clear:

In Venice, the normally crowded streets have emptied and the reduced canal traffic has led to clear waters in the canals. As a result of less traffic boat traffic on the canals, sediment in the canals has settled to the bottom, leaving the canals with astonishingly clear waters. In fact, many locals have commented that the canals are running clearer than ever seen before.

Photo by Frank Suffert

In Phillidalpheia air pollution is at an all-time low:

In Philadelphia, approximately 400,000 people drive to work every day. However, since the city and state officials officially shut all nonessential businesses, the levels of nitrous oxide (one of the noxious gas emitted from burning fossil fuels) have decreased. The upside? Marilyn Howarth of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology notes “It’s significant for reducing asthma exacerbation and heart disease and heart attacks. And it will probably have positive impacts on babies, pregnant women, and other vulnerable populations”.

Photo by Luma Pimentel on Unsplash

Around the world:

Unsurprisingly, many people have been forced to cancel their travel plans for business and pleasure. As a result, Global air traffic decreased by 4.3% in February alone with cancellations of thousands of flights worldwide, forcing people to adapt to remote work and enjoy their local neighborhoods instead of traveling abroad.

Amid a global pandemic, we are now faced with an opportunity to adopt new habits that could positively impact our global emissions. Covid-19 has presented us with a learning opportunity to change the way we move, work, and interact with each other. An economic slowdown allows the economy to prepare for action towards more sustainable perceptions and technologies - such as remote work, or integrating renewable energy and electrification.

“The idea that we need to travel each day to a central location to do our work may often be the result of inertia, more than anything else. Faced with a real need to commute by mouse, instead of by car, perhaps we’ll see that the benefits of workplace flexibility extend to everything from gasoline consumption to the need for sprawling office parks.” ---Bill McKibben, Author & Environmental Scholar

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

While COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on our lives and the lives of others in our community, recent climate data presents a silver lining and shows us what sort of change is possible when we band together. The Covid-19 crisis will likely be over within a few months, but climate change still has a long way to go before it is resolved. It is important to learn from this crisis and take the opportunity to adopt more long term sustainable habits that will continue to allow our earth to heal.

Get the latest information about the Covid-19 Corona-virus from the World Health Organization (WHO)


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