While it may only be as temporary as the lockdowns that have precipitated it, there has been a sharp decrease in CO2 emissions around the globe since measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus began. The daily global emissions of CO2 plummeted by 17% in April of this year. The stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders turned some of the world’s largest cities into relative ghost towns, leading to this drop in greenhouse gases.
Yet experts caution that because lockdowns will lift and humans are humans, this change is likely to be fleeting. In addition, as noted by Corinne LeQuere, professor of climate change at the University of East Anglia, there are still 83% of global emissions left in the world, and those cannot be tackled via lockdowns. Change must be gradual structural according to LeQuere.
Perhaps the lockdowns are not the answer to tackling global climate change, but looking to the municipal responses as well as the small-scale changes that have occurred since the pandemic can be the catalysts for larger-scale change. Airlines have made tremendous changes in their operations, and travel experts believe the changes — at least some of them — will be permanent. All these new regulations have made much of air travel limited to what is absolutely necessary, and this self-imposed restriction could continue, lowering travel numbers and thus our reliance on fossil fuels.
The coronavirus outbreak may very well be an unintentional wake-up call to the human species. As the world heats up while leaders preach that global warming is a myth, the permafrost melts, potentially releasing our next pandemic. The concept may sound dire, but a realistic and proactive approach to the environment is needed to prevent widespread damage in the future. It’s essential to find and adapt to the lessons COVID-19 is leaving us with, so we are immunologically healthier and better prepared for a future pandemic.
The Spread of the Coronavirus from High Amounts of Travel
Besides the damage that fossil-fuel-based transportation is causing to the environment, the high level of travel is responsible for the global spread of COVID-19. The highly contagious nature of the coronavirus has brought to light our proximity as humans and how easy it is to spread bacteria, viruses, or disease from one country to another.
In a different world, in which air travel was limited, coronavirus may have been a regional problem that only affected the originating province of Wuhan. But as people hop on planes for weekends abroad or to satisfy their wanderlust, they potentially spread pathogens and microbes that other parts of the world are not prepared for. It can happen so fast that by the time local governments find out and develop a containment or eradication plan, whole clusters of outbreaks have spread.
As mentioned, global warming could unearth ancient dangerous pathogens and microbes that have been dormant in the permafrost for millions of years. Two of the biggest culprits of global warming are the greenhouse gases and carbon emissions caused by our society’s obsession with traveling long distances.
Airplanes are one of the largest contributors to CO2 emissions. According to the BBC’s Science Focus, you could drive 336 cars from London to Edinburgh, Scotland, for the same amount of carbon emissions as one airplane emits.
As the world shelters in place to reduce the risk of spreading the virus, our reduced commuting has dramatically altered the earth’s trajectory. Air quality has improved around the world. Animals are taking to the streets for the first time in decades. These examples present concrete arguments of why our world leaders need to take a closer look at global warming and the effect our use of fossil fuels has on the environment.
Climate Change is Real
There is another reason world leaders need to look at climate change with more urgency. The rhetoric from politicians that a hurricane or a fire is an isolated weather incident needs to stop. There is a big difference between weather and climate change. Climate change is difficult to reverse because of its long and slow pattern. The earth’s current warming trend originated back in the mid-20th century and is manifesting as the events the world has been seeing in the last few years. Events include melting polar ice caps and extreme weather in the form of heavy rainfall and flooding. These are not unrelated incidents — they’re the effects of climatic changes.
The longer we wait to address the problem, the more difficult it will be to implement changes that effectively slow climate change. The COVID-19 shelter in place orders have proven how sweeping changes can impact the environment in a positive way, but meaningful and sustainable change is needed to sustain the improvements.
The Effect of Poor Air Quality on Our Health
The adverse effect of pollution on our health is significant. The World Health Organization reports that air pollution is responsible for 4.2 million premature deaths. Air pollution can trigger and worsen respiratory conditions, such as asthma. And recent findings tie together air pollution and increased deaths from COVID-19.
A Harvard University study found that higher COVID-19 deaths were associated with higher-pollution areas in the United States. Coronavirus is known to attack the lungs and respiratory system. It makes sense that pollution, which can weaken the respiratory systems of people living in congested cities, can cause a higher risk of complications and death from COVID-19. Addressing air quality in communities may help solve or reduce many of the widespread illnesses our society is suffering from.
The Response to COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light how our planet is an interconnected ecosystem. If the earth is struggling, all species will suffer as well. A problem such as an outbreak halfway around the world can cause severe illness, death, and even halt the economy in our own backyard. And it can all happen in a matter of days or weeks.
It’s important that we, as individuals, begin to see how we’re interconnected. The decisions we make, even if they seem insignificant, can have far-reaching consequences. Banding together in groups to create change as women, cultures, communities, or as countries, can foster the change world leaders are hesitant to initiate. And living a sustainable and environmentally conscious lifestyle and doing our part to reduce our carbon footprint can make a difference.