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Published April 21, 2020


Planet Earth is an unlikely beneficiary of the coronavirus

By John Toth / The Bulletin

TFish are now visible in the canals of Venice because Mother Nature cleaned the water when tourist-packed gondolas stopped functioning.

All around the globe, the environment is cleansing itself because people are staying home. That’s a good thing caused by the COVID-19, although it’s not all that comforting considering the human tragedies it has already caused.

But the unexpected side effect of people becoming less active is obvious. Earth is becoming cleaner. At a huge cost to the global economy, Earth is getting a rare gulp of fresh air as society shuts down in the face of the coronavirus outbreak.

It’s an environmental boon that decades of green activism could not achieve.
I have traveled around the globe on the Internet machine and found some beneficial changes this virus has made to the environment.

In cities across the world, the streets have emptied of people and vehicles, factories have shut down and flights have been grounded.

From Beijing to Los Angeles, formerly slow-moving freeways are suddenly all but deserted at the height of rush hour, and the envelope of smog that once greeted those commuters has disappeared. Environmentalists have been posting pollution maps and satellite images of clearing skies that resemble the 18th Century.

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 the Pearl River Delta.

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.

In Europe, satellite images show nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions fading away over northern Italy. A similar story is playing out in Spain and the UK. Only an immediate and existential threat like Covid-19 could have led to such a profound change so fast.

In New York, scientists at Columbia University reported a 5-10% drop in CO2 emissions as traffic levels fell 35%.

Tens of thousands of commercial flights have been canceled. Airlines have cut back about 70% of their operations. They also have stopped polluting the upper atmosphere as much as before the virus grounded many of us.

All this, just in time for Earth Day 2020. It is a strange coincidence, but we’ll take it. Smell the fresher air as you walk outside and keep your social distancing, because when this is over, we’ll be back to our polluting ways. Or, will we?

Maybe the country can treat climate change with the same urgency as the corona virus. Maybe after this is all over, some of us will continue to work from home because spending an hour in heavy rush hour traffic each way is really not that pleasant.

I have worked from home since 1983. It is a comfortable way to get a lot done, Home offices tend to be more efficient, and the commute is much shorter from bedroom to kitchen to office.

Maybe video conferencing will replace jetting around the world. Maybe walking and riding bicycles will replace getting in the car for short trips.
It’s not only good for the environment, but it is also a good for our health.
In China’s Hubei province, where nitrogen dioxide levels fell by 40% during the strict regional lock-down, businesses are starting to open back up, and people are driving again.

But that doesn’t mean that when we start getting back to normal that we have to go back to our old ways. We can choose a different path - if we want.

The Earth has shown us what’s possible. She can take care of herself if we just give her a break. When this is all over, the economy will rebound. We can keep the world cleaner and have a robust economy. It just takes a little tweaking and some common sense.

(John looks forward to hearing from you on this subject. Send me a note at john.bulletin@gmail.com. You can even send an old-fashioned letter to: The Bulletin, P.O. Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516.)