Covid–19 and Environment: Will the impact last for long
Air pollution has been reduced due to measures taken to prevent the spread of the virus.
By Dr. Ashaq Hussain
Air pollution and unhealthy gas emissions have decreased in all continents of the world because the world is currently taking precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the corona virus. But is all this temporary or will the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions be lasting? This is not for the first time that a global pandemic has left its mark on carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Outbreaks appear to be exacerbated during human history, even before the modern industrial age. The two epidemics one during the 14th century when the plague or ‘Black Death’ spread in Europe and other in the 16th century, the measles epidemic had caused a slight difference in the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in the past and now same is true for today as he world has changed in the last few months.
Thousands have died and hundreds of thousands more have been infected with the corona virus. There are millions of people who have survived the ordeal, but their lives have changed dramatically.
The streets and highways of the world were deserted when authorities announced a complete lockdown. World has never had a travel ban as extensive as it is today. The modern world, where pubs, clubs and theaters were usually seemed at full, but now people are closed and people are strongly urged to stay at home. Air travel around the world is suspended and the civil aviation industry is under severe pressure. All of these measures are aimed at preventing the spread of Covid-19 and keeping the death toll to a minimum. But there are also some extraordinary consequences of these measures. As industries, transportation and businesses are closed; carbon emissions into the atmosphere have plummeted to a large extent. World’s gas emissions fell around fifty percent this year as people were forced to live in homes, factory doors were closed and the use of coal in the largest factories was reduced by 40%. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the proportion of people in world who had access to high-quality air for breathing was 19.4 percent higher than last year. Satellite imagery in Europe shows that the impact of nitrogen oxide emissions on northern Italy is diminishing. The same is true of Spain and Britain and other countries of the world.
In India the results were similar too; a significant dip in air pollution levels was measured across the country. Cities like Delhi, Bengaluru, Kolkata and Lucknow saw their average Air Quality Index (AQI) staying within two digits. Another example of cleaner air was seen when, residents of Jalandhar city in Punjab state, woke up to a view of the Dhauladhar mountain range, a rare feat in normal times, considering the distance between the two places- lying nearly 213 kilometres apart from each other and have not been visible from the city in recent memory.
Water bodies have also been clearing and the rivers Yamuna and Ganga have seen significant improvement since the enforcement of a nationwide lockdown. According to the real-time water monitoring data of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the average water quality of 27 points of the Ganga seen in recent days, is suitable for bathing and propagation of wildlife and fisheries. Only an immediate and serious threat to human survival like Covid-19 could have led to such a dramatic change.
In addition to the improvement in environment, the untimely deaths caused by this global pandemic, millions of people facing unemployment as numerous businesses are facing severe economic hardship due to sanctions imposed due to the corona virus has emerged as major problems.
Economic activity is stagnant and stock markets are falling sharply, with air pollution levels dropping. This is in stark contrast to the picture of a carbon-free, sustainable economy that has struggled for decades to convince the world. Thus, a global pandemic that is causing loss of human life should certainly not be seen as a solution to air pollution. Further it is unknown at this time what will happen when this pandemic is over.
Eventually, when the epidemic dies down, emissions of carbon and pollutants will resume. Will this period of clean and transparent atmosphere be the same as it never was? Or will the change we are seeing today be lasting? These emissions have been reduced in countries where people have been told to stay indoors to prevent the spread of the epidemic for public health reasons, and unnecessary movement has been eliminated, as emissions during air and road travel which alone account for 11% and 72% of greenhouse gas emissions, respectively. We know that emissions will remain low as long as transportation is limited during a global pandemic. But what will happen when these restrictions are lifted?
Thus it can be said that although the coronavirus pandemic has caused a global reduction in economic activity as a major cause for concern, the ramping down of human activity appears to have had a positive impact on the environment. Industrial and transport emissions and effluents have reduced, and measurable data supports the clearing of pollutants in the atmosphere, soil and water. Although the time we spend indoors during lockdown will never come back, but what about the time when people are allowed to travel again after being locked up in their homes, won’t they travel more?
These test moments should make people realize how important these priorities are and how much they have helped them focus on the health and well-being of their family, relatives, friends and community. If this change in people caused by the global epidemic continues, emissions will also be reduced. But it can also be reversed. People are delaying their plans to travel to distant places and plan to do so later. People who travel long distances more often emit more carbon emissions. Once the ban is lifted, people will return to their normal routines with double bang.
In conclusion, the takeaway from this is that once nations come to grips with the coronavirus, better implementation of the environmental, transport and industry regulations should be considered a priority to ease the detrimental impacts of human activity on the environment.The international community, as it fights to regain an accepted normal, ought to take into consideration, the enlightening results of this pandemic. The environment, for one, bounced back faster than we thought it could. And it would be downright irresponsible to let that knowledge take a backseat once social distancing and nationwide lockdowns are no longer required.
The author is Assistant Professor in Chemistry at Govt. Degree College Chatroo and can be reached at [email protected]