Pollution reduced during quarantine

Lower emissions, less smog and clearer water: effects of global COVID-19 lockdowns

Professional and social media photographers have captured images of clearer water in Venice canals. Residents have also noted that wildlife not usually present has returned to the area during Italy’s lockdown.

In order to counter the spread of COVID-19, countries all across the world have been shut down. However, the global shutdown may be combatting more than just COVID-19, as climate researchers are citing drastic reductions in pollution levels during the lockdowns.

Examples of the bettering state of the environment have been captured and documented across the globe.

The previously cloudy, grey, smog-filled skies of California, particularly the Los Angeles area, are now being photographed as sunny and clear.

Some local residents of Venice, Italy have cited that the water of their canals is clear, as opposed to the typically cloudy state it would traditionally be. This reduction is thought to be due to a lack of boats and tourists using the canals.

Satellite maps over China, one of the premier pollution-producing sites, captured a notable reduction in nitrogen dioxide released during the country’s lockdowns at the beginning of the year.

In addition, climate change activism group, Carbon Brief, calculated in February that while large industries in China were shut down, the country’s emissions as a whole decreased by 25%.

According to Wharton professor of decision sciences, business and public policy Howard Kunreuther, the relation between COVID-19 and climate change is even deeper than this. The notion that individuals must ‘flatten the curve’ to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 can teach people about the complex ideas of climate change. 

“The coronavirus pandemic is teaching us a valuable lesson about the perils of ignoring destructive processes — and perhaps even larger, longer-term disasters — that increase exponentially,” Kunreuther said.

However, scientists are concerned about whether the impact on the environment will be sustainable. 

According to Human Rights Watch, global reductions in carbon dioxide coincided with the Great Recession in 2008, but were followed by an even greater rise in carbon dioxide (CO2) in subsequent years. This was likely due to the lessening of restrictions on emissions enacted by governments in an attempt to help the global economy rebound.

There are already signs that this could be the case again after COVID-19 restrictions are lessened.

Since the shutdowns from COVID-19, there have already been several countries that have begun to lessen their restrictions on CO2 production,  including the United States and Brazil. 

The United States’ Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a statement at the end of March that stated it would not sanction corporations that failed to meet federal standards if those failures are linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, the Trump administration announced a rollback of restrictions on car exhaust emissions in recent weeks.

 Similar to the United States’ EPA, the Federal Environmental Agency in Brazil has announced that it will not enforce its regulations on climate issues, which could adversely affect the Amazon rainforest and surrounding areas.

With 2020 being cited by climate scientists as a critical year for changes to be made, some have pointed to  world leaders’ inabilities to discuss climate issues as a massive hindrance to the progress of fighting climate change worldwide.

COVID-19 restrictions have temporarily had a positive impact on environmental issues around the globe. It has not yet been made apparent if these changes will be lasting, as projected by some climate scientists, or only temporary, as shown by the 2008 precedent.