How Coronavirus Has Helped The Planet
Since the desolation of Wuhan, Coronavirus has spread all over the world, and WHO declared it as a pandemic. Considering all the harm it has already done, it is hard to imagine any good things coming out it. However, “For every bad thing in life, there are more good things to tip the balance.” -Richelle Mead. Here we discuss how Coronavirus has helped the Planet.
China is sending an expert team to help Italy and Spain contain the recent death toll surge. “The Happiest Place On Earth” – Disneyland is closing its doors. St. Patricks Day Parade is canceled, Broadway theatres are postponing their shows, and it is all due to the deadly coronavirus.
Since the desolation of Wuhan, coronavirus has spread all over the world, and WHO declared it as a pandemic. Considering all the harm it has already done, it is hard to imagine any good things coming out it. However, “For every bad thing in life, there are more good things to tip the balance.” -Richelle Mead.
Hong Kong (CNN) Factories were shuttered and streets were cleared across China’s Hubei province as authorities ordered residents to stay home to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
It seems the lockdown had an unintended benefit — blue skies.
The average number of “good quality air days” increased 21.5% in February, compared to the same period last year, according to China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment.
And Hubei wasn’t alone.
Satellite images released by NASA and the European Space Agency show a dramatic reduction in nitrogen dioxide emissions — those released by vehicles, power plants and industrial facilities — in major Chinese cities between January and February. The visible cloud of toxic gas hanging over industrial powerhouses almost disappeared.
“This is the first time I have seen such a dramatic drop-off over such a wide area for a specific event,” says Fei Liu, an air quality researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “I am not surprised because many cities nationwide have taken measures to minimize the spread of the virus.”
A similar pattern has emerged with carbon dioxide (CO2) — released by burning fossil fuels such as coal.
From February 3 to March 1, CO2 emissions were down by at least 25% because of the measures to contain the coronavirus, according to the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), an air pollution research organization.
As the world’s biggest polluter, China contributes 30% of the world’s CO2 emissions annually, so the impact of this kind of drop is huge, even over a short period. CREA estimates it is equivalent to 200 million tons of carbon dioxide — more than half the entire annual emissions output of the UK.
“As a measure that took place effectively overnight, this is more dramatic than anything else that I’ve seen in terms of the impact on emissions,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst at CREA.
But while lockdown measures designed to stem the spread of the virus have caused a momentary uptick in China’s pollution levels, experts warn that when the county starts to reboot its economy the toxic chemicals could up to higher levels than before the epidemic hit.
Governments should act with the same urgency on climate as on the coronavirus, leading campaigners say, as evidence mounts that the health crisis is reducing carbon emissions more than any policy.The deadly virus outbreak, which has killed more than 4,000 people and infected more than 116,000, has caused alarm around the world. However, unlike the response to global heating, it has shown how political and corporate leaders can take radical emergency action on the advice of scientists to protect human wellbeing.In China – the source of the disease and the world’s largest carbon emitter – the actions taken by authorities have inadvertently demonstrated that hefty 25% carbon dioxide cuts can bring less traffic and cleaner air with only a small reduction in economic growth, according to a study by Carbon Brief.If this trend continues, analysts say it is possible this will lead to the first fall in global emissions since the 2008-09 financial crisis. Even a slowdown in CO2 could buy time for climate action and, more importantly, inspire long-term behavioural changes – particularly in travel.On the advice of health authorities, millions of people are avoiding school journeys, shopping runs and office commutes. Tens of thousands of flights have been cancelled. Italian bishops are not conducting mass. Across much of central China, factories have been closed, with knock-on effects around the world.The virus has disrupted several events linked to the fossil fuel industry. In the past few weeks, the Geneva Motor Show was cancelled, after Switzerland banned all public gatherings of more than 1,000 people. In Houston, the giant annual CeraWeek gathering of oil and gas executives was called off, as was the Formula One grand prix in Shanghai.More carbon savings will come from the cancellations of international conferences. Donald Trump has postponed a 14 March summit with the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The London Book Fair, the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, Adobe’s annual live summit and even South by Southwest, the huge annual film, music and media conference in Austin, Texas, have all been called off, which means thousands of tonnes less CO2 from flights taken by international delegates.The worlds of entertainment, fashion and sport are similarly affected. Stormzy, Mariah Carey, Slipknot and New Order have all cancelled or postponed gigs, though most of the attendees were likely to have been local so the climate impact will be more modest. A bigger effect is likely to come from the postponement of Art Dubai, the biggest art fair in the Middle East. The closure for several weeks of Tokyo Disneyland and Disneysea, or the Universal Studios theme park in Osaka, Shanghai Disneyland and other attractions that usually draw tens of thousands of visitors every day, are also expected to result in fewer flights.Global air traffic decreased by 4.3% in February with cancellations of tens of thousands of flights to affected areas. But Rob Jackson, the chair of Global Carbon Project, said this would only be meaningful if it led to long-term behavioural change, particularly in aviation, which is one of the fastest growing source of emissions.“If this could change the way we travel, it could lead to more virtual meetings,” he said. Otherwise, “I see no silver lining to the coronavirus. If gas emissions drop temporarily then great, but it won’t be a meaningful change in the long term unless it shocks us in a global recession. Nobody wanted that in 2008 and nobody wants it now.”There are encouraging signs. The 189-nation International Monetary Fund and its sister lending organisation, the World Bank, will replace their usual spring gathering in Washington with a virtual teleconference. This is a one-off emergency measure, but the economic and carbon savings could prompt calls for this to become the norm every year.The question is whether changes are temporary. China’s climate gains – so far estimated at about 200 megatonnes of CO2 – could be short-lived if factories later reopen and crank up production to make up for lost business. President Xi Jinping has indicated the government will provide extra stimulus packages to help the economy recover. Some reports suggest this could prove counterproductive for the climate if this means ramping up coal production or relaxing environmental controls. The last time China suffered a major threat to GDP growth was during the 2008-9 financial crisis. Within a year, extra government spending ensured both the economy and CO2 were back on an upward trajectory.Analysts say it is too early to know if coronavirus will push global CO2 emissions onto the downward path that is needed if the world is to have any hope of keeping global heating to a relatively safe level of 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. That depends on how far the outbreak spreads, and whether the economic effects are prolonged.Corinne Le Quéré, professor of climate change science at the University of East Anglia, said that so far the crisis is only likely to slow CO2 growth, not reverse it. “Over the past 10 years, emissions have grown at an annual rate of 1%, or about 317 megatonnes, so you would need a really big reduction to see a fall this year. It’s plausible but I don’t think we can say at this stage.”But, Le Quéré noted, even a slowdown would gain time for action – advances in technology, lower renewables prices and more public pressure on governments to change tack. The response to the coronavirus could also demonstrate that radical steps can work.“You can see that when governments see there is an emergency they act straight away with measures commensurate with the threat. That assessment has not yet been made in the case of climate change although governments have declared it an emergency,” she said.If the outbreak continues, there are concerns that the virus could also force the cancellation of the EU-China summit in Leipzig in September, which would be bad news for diplomatic efforts to build a climate alliance between these two powers.US author and environmentalist Bill McKibben wrote that no environmentalist should welcome a crisis, but they could learn from it: “Completely apart from the human toll, economic disruption is not a politically viable way to deal with global warming in the long term, and it also undercuts the engines of innovation that bring us, say, cheap solar panels.”But McKibben is more optimistic about the demonstration that people can change. “It’s worth noting how nimbly millions of people seem to have learned new patterns. Companies, for instance, are scrambling to stay productive, even with many people working from home.“The idea that we need to travel each day to a central location to do our work may often be the result of inertia, more than anything else. Faced with a real need to commute by mouse, instead of by car, perhaps we’ll see that the benefits of workplace flexibility extend to everything from gasoline consumption to the need for sprawling office parks.”
How Coronavirus Has Helped The Planet
Coal consumption falls
A fall in oil and steel production, and a 70% reduction in domestic flights, contributed to the fall in emissions, according to the CREA. But the biggest driver was the sharp decline in China’s coal usage.
China is the world’s biggest producer and consumer of coal, using this resource for 59% of its energy in 2018. As well as running power plants and other heavy industries, coal is also the sole heat source for millions of homes in the vast rural areas of the country.
The country’s major coal-fired power stations saw a 36% drop in consumption from February 3 to March 1 compared to the same period last year, according to CREA analysis of WIND data service statistics.
“The largest consumers of coal — coal-fired power plants — have been affected a lot because electricity demand is down,” said Myllyvirta. “I think it’s clear that this effect will continue for the next weeks and months, because there has also been a major impact on the demand side of the economy.”
In 2017, President Xi Jinping promised to make combating pollution one of China’s “three battles,” and the following year the Ministry of Ecology and Environment was created.
The policies have resulted in a significant impact, with overall pollution levels 10% lower across Chinese cities between 2017 and 2018, according to a report released last year by Greenpeace and AirVisual.
Climate activists say the crisis could provide a window to ramp up these promised reforms.
“We would very much advocate for China to foster this opportunity to transform its economy, to break apart from the old,” said Li Shuo, a senior climate policy adviser for Greenpeace East Asia.
The concern, Li said, is that once the coronavirus threat has passed, China will be solely focused on restarting its economy, which was already hurting in the wake of the US-China trade war. That could come at the expense of the environment.
“There might be a round of economic stimulus which would inject cheap credits to heavy industries in China, and as a result of that we might see increasing pollutants and also carbon emissions in the second half of this year,” Li added.
This bounce-back effect — which can sometimes reverse any overall drop in emissions — is something Li calls “revenge pollution.” And in China it has precedent.
In 2009, the Chinese government launched a giant $586 billion stimulus package in response to the global financial crisis — the majority of which went to large-scale infrastructure projects.
But the resulting explosion in pollution in the following years — particularly in the “airpocalypse” winter of 2012-2013 — led to a public outcry which ushered in the Chinese government’s first national air pollution action plan in September 2013.
President Xi has made clear that workers and factories need to ramp up activity as soon as possible if the country is to avoid a steeper economic downturn.
Myllyvirta hopes China has learned lessons from the past.
“It was really those previous episodes where it boiled over,” says Myllyvirta, who also warns of a public backlash if the skies turn gray again.
“The reduction in air pollution has been very clear so if the pollution does come back, because of stimulus measures, because of heavy industry going into overdrive to make up for lost time, there could be a counter reaction.”
Hong Kong pollution falls
In neighboring Hong Kong, air quality has also improved since the city entered partial shutdown mode to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
Key air pollutants dropped by nearly a third from January to February, according to data from Hong Kong University School of Public Health, which was analyzed by environmental organization Clean Air Network.
Monitoring of stations in the busiest areas of Hong Kong, including Central, Causeway Bay and Mongkok, revealed that the fine particle pollutant PM2.5 decreased by 32%, while the larger particle pollutant PM10 fell by up to 29%, and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) was reduced by up to 22%.
Pollution in the city is mostly caused by motor vehicles, marine vessels, and power plants in Hong Kong and around the Pearl River Delta, the government says.
The declines in harmful pollutants came in direct correlation with the Hong Kong government’s introduction of measures including working from home procedures, the closure of some public facilities, and a partial closure of the border with China. A drop in pollution in mainland China during this period also resulted in less regional smog from the industrial powerhouse cities in the southern province of Guangdong.
“There are lots of people who work from home, and that has reduced the traffic and the traffic congestion,” said Patrick Fung, chairman of the Clean Air Network. Hong Kong’s measures were nowhere near as drastic as those in mainland China, but there was still a significant impact.
Fung has been campaigning about the long-term health impact of the air pollution in Hong Kong, which he says causes on average 1,500 premature deaths per year in the city.
“For the last decade, Hong Kong’s air pollution has been double the World Health Organization’s recommended safe level,” Fung says. “Especially at the roadside, where a lot of pedestrians and commuters are exposed to that kind of toxic and carcinogenic air pollutants.”
Hong Kong’s government did introduce a raft of green policies in its recent budget, including a roadmap on cleaner public transport vehicles. Fung says the announcement was a good “first step,” but much more needs to be done.
Now, Fung believes this brief period of cleaner air should send a message for people to push for longer-term changes. “If we want the children, the elderly, who could live healthily in Hong Kong, then we should think how to make business as usual change,” Fung says.
Reducing The Dangers Of Climate Change
China, the world’s largest carbon emitter (over 12 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide due to coal electricity generation and coal mining) is producing 25% less carbon dioxide. Giant cruise ships, i.e., “The Climate Killers” or “Floating Quarantines,” are also significantly reduced in their presence and mobility across the world seas.
The reduction of carbon emissions due to current events related to the coronavirus disease proves we are capable of doing much more for climate issues than we are already doing. Unfortunately, it took a world-wide virus outbreak to show us that. Corporate heads and political leaders can take similar emergency actions to save our planet from a much slower, but no less disastrous sickness.
To top it all, the reduction in economic growth is very little compared to the benefits it made. Coronavirus is also helping with the regulation of expenditure of fossil fuels. Events like Geneva Motor Show in Switzerland and CeraWeek gatherings in Houston have all been postponed or canceled, resulting in much-needed carbon savings for our planet. Entertainment is also experiencing a similar cutback, with many artists canceling and postponing their concerts.
Raising Awareness In Dealing With Global Problems
Let’s face it; climate change is real. We are losing our planet’s biodiversity. We are killing Earth. Just because our world gets sick slower than we do, it does not change the fact that there will come a time where we will lose the illusion of control we have over our environment, just like with the coronavirus. We can see how much effort everyone is taking to stay productive, whether it is online education or remote working.
If we take a step back and reexamine everything that has happened so far in the case of coronavirus, we will realize that we can learn a thing or two from such a crisis. And maybe we can stop a different disaster in its making. If people continue to avoid airplanes, cruise ships, and make adjustments to try and work from home, the fear of the virus may result in lasting shifts in the carbon footprint.
The quick responses that many of the world’s countries had in the face of this pandemic are an indicator of how we can also make all sorts of social and economic changes needed for the climate change crisis. When the governments were confronted with the case of the virus, they made measures to try and stop the threat. Such actions are still much more significant than those made in the case of climate change, even though they are both declared as an emergency.
The destruction of our economics is, of course, a wrong way to deal with such a problem in the long run, and all the death and suffering are not a great example of how we want to reduce emissions from climate change. Still, maybe it will help us see a better alternative for the other threats that are waiting for us and our planet. Perhaps the harmful emissions will return after the economy bounces back, but maybe, and just maybe, the horrors of this pandemic will open our eyes for a brighter future with a healthier planet.