The Pandemic and Our Environment
The devastating hit to the economy from Covid-19 and the subsequent almost-global lockdown as we enter into a probable recession is most evident in the permanent closure of small business throughout towns and cities. We are seeing many of the once vibrant shop fronts and restaurants buzzing with a-la-carte diners instead closed, quiet and dark. Some of the bigger department stores have not escaped the effect of weeks and months of zero footfall. Debenham’s closure of all of its stores in Ireland and some of its UK stores will be especially felt in the smaller cities in which it was once a hive of activity at the heart of the cities. While the streets have filled up once again with the easing of lockdown restrictions across the continent, the public is returning to a different, more sombre and cautious reality to that it bade farewell to for a brief time while those of us lucky enough to be able to, stayed at home.
That said, there is a tangible upside to be gleaned from the pandemic crisis. As a result of the halting of people moving around, and of fewer vehicles on the roads and planes in the air, nature has had a chance to reclaim some space on the planet. Since lockdown began in March 2020, there has been a significant positive impact on the environment. Here we will look at two examples displaying the improved quality of our environment.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
The problem of ever worsening air pollution costs millions of human lives every year. The World Health Organisation has estimated that 3 million people die every year from conditions that are caused by pollution. However, measurements from the European Space Station in the early months of 2020 show a reduction in nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) emissions across the Eurasia area from the same time period last year, a reduction of up to 40 per cent. Major cities in the UK and USA have also seen a reduction in NO₂ emissions of between 30 and 60 per cent from that time last year.
The Guardian reports that the improvement in air quality in the UK alone due to the sharp reduction in traffic and fewer industrial emissions has contributed to significantly fewer reported cases of asthma developing in children, fewer pre-term births and an enormous reduction (1.3 million) in the amount of absence days from work. It is estimated that globally the amount of pollution-related deaths will also be greatly reduced as two of the world’s most populated countries, India and China have also seen a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions since lockdown.
Surface Water Quality
While pollution from non-industrial activities remained during lockdown (e.g. domestic wastewater), results of a study carried out on heavily polluted fresh water lakes in India by scientists in China and Japan suggest that pollution from industries and tourism had a significant impact on lake water quality, and that during lockdown SPM concentrations in Vembanad lake based on the relevant data showed that the concentrations during the lockdown period were lower than those in the pre-lockdown period by on average 15.9%.
Furthermore, in Italy, where the tourism trade came to a complete halt as parts of the North, one of the worst Covid-19 hit regions in the world, canals in one of the tourist capitals, Venice, were visibly clearer with little or no coat traffic. Fish could be seen swimming in the canals for the first time in what locals said was decades.
Life has begun to kick back into action in our towns and cities and indeed our countryside as we see many people taking their summer holidays on home soil this year. Eventually, all activity will resume. It many not be the normal that we knew before, there will inevitably be a “new normal” that we will have to get used to, and while we acknowledge that the Covid-19 pandemic has been devastating for people across the globe with so many losing their lives and even more losing their jobs as a result of the measures taken to curtail the spread, there is a renewed hope that the quality of the air we breath and the waters we use can once again be high if lessons are learned and new measures applied to keep up the good work.