COVID-19 has no doubt been the source of countless tragedies, headaches, and panics. Whole cities have been locked in quarantine, rice and toilet paper are nowhere to be found, and the death toll-- as of today-- is 7,000 and rising. It has been officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, and is an event that will grace our kids and grandkids’ history books.
Of course we know all of that already. But amidst all the bad news, what you may not know is that COVID-19 is actually allowing us to take a peek at a less polluted world.
With governments and organizations encouraging citizens to limit travel and quarantining whole cities, human pollution has severely decreased. And as a result, immediate effects have appeared— many of which can help illustrate how big our carbon footprint actually is.
Perhaps the most famous of these effects is the return of clear water in Venice’s canals. The absence of boat traffic has managed to give the romantic waterways an even more idyllic appearance.
In Wuhan, China, where the outbreak started, blue skies have returned. The city is usually blanketed with smog, but with lockdown and quarantine, citizens have had a brief respite from the gloomy grey.
And while not easily visible to the naked eye, NASA has released satellite maps illustrating the decrease in nitrogen dioxide over China.
In addition, China’s carbon dioxide emissions have been reduced by at least 25% following the Lunar New Years. This is attributed to the drop in activity of coal and oil industries.
These few months of reduced pollution may prevent many premature deaths in China.
Stanford University scientist and Earth Systems Professor Marshall Burke actually states that,
“[p]utting these numbers together yields some very large reductions in premature mortality. Using the He et al 2016 estimates of the impact of changes in PM on mortality, I calculate that having 2 months of 10ug/m3 reductions in PM2.5 likely has saved the lives of 4,000 kids under 5 and 73,000 adults over 70 in China.”
Now you may be thinking that this has no point, and that the environmental benefits pale in comparison to the damage COVID-19 has been wreaking on human civilization. You may be right, but I would like to think of this as a glimpse of hope. Once COVID-19 has run its course, pollutant levels will probably rise to what they were before and we'll be right back on track to irreversible climate change.
However, I hope that this instilled even a modicum of optimism for a less polluted world in you. I hope that we all realize how much power we really have to help the world. I hope that everyone sees that if we all band together, we can return blue skies and blue waters faster than you can say coronavirus.