COVID-19's effect on the environment

Universities and schools are closed, companies encourage their employees to work from home, flights are canceled, and we are all told to stay at home and avoid contact. This is all caused by the little particle called COVID-19, also known as the corona-virus.

This kind of disruption state, as we have heard from the Danish Prime Minister, will only get more severe in the coming weeks and perhaps months, but might it come with some unforeseen benefits?

The enormous lockdown, due to the spread of COVID-19, has caused a dip in global greenhouse gas emissions in different parts of the world. This is due to the falling demand for oil, air travel, transportation in general, and activities in the local communities, and a lot of other factors.

Below you can see two maps from NASA, depicting the difference in nitrogen dioxide levels in Wuhan (where the Coronavirus started) from January 1st to  Feb 25th in 2019 and then compared with the same dates in 2020. As you may see, the maps show an enormous difference in the amount of emitted NO2, which is a bi-product from burning fossil fuels.

It’s not only China that is showing a decrease in pollution, but also Italy has reduced its NO2 pollution drastically when closing all shops, except for supermarkets, pharmacies, and stores selling essential items, to try to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Even though the emission of greenhouse gasses is in decline at the moment, it is still due to the lockdown caused by COVID-19 and is likely only temporary. Since COVID-19 affects the economic output, the fact is that companies and people want to get back to normal routines, like getting back to work, shopping, traveling, and vacationing.

So the interesting part is that COVID-19 has already made big changes in human behavior, and it has, in such a relatively short amount of time, made a noticeable impact on greenhouse gas emissions and the environment, but will we see any long term changes in behavior, when this is all over? Have we rediscovered other unforeseen benefits?

Will people start working more from home, might some reduce the number of business trips, because they can do zoom meetings instead. Will people enjoy more vacations near home, and reduce the number of long flights overseas, and will they continue the online grocery shopping that saves us the trips to the store? 

While the current situation is extremely challenging for most companies and world citizens, it is also an opportunity to see how “simple” behavior changes, like only buying what we actually need and exercising moderation and restraint in various aspects, can have a much bigger effect than we think, especially when we decide to do it collectively.

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