The Surprising Environmental Benefits of the Coronavirus Pandemic

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Early this year, a new and dangerous virus emerged in China. Similar to the pathogen that caused SARS and MERS a few years ago, the novel coronavirus – later designated COVID-19 – has started spreading at an alarming rate, first in the Chinese city Wuhan (the capital of China’s Hubei district), then in other countries around the world. The disease is by far not as dangerous as its four-letter predecessors – the majority of those infected can be expected to recover completely – its rapid spread, not to mention the lack of a cure or a vaccine, has caused a massive scare all over the world. And a series of restrictions ranging from travel bans to all-out quarantines.

But like all other things, the coronavirus pandemic has an upside. It is the reason why cities are going green all over the world.

A surprising side effect

(Photo: NASA)

The Chinese authorities have taken some truly serious measures to slow down the spread of the virus, including travel restrictions across the entire district, ordering the citizens to stay in their homes, with only one person allowed to leave home once a day. 

The surprising side effect of these measures was the clearing of the air.

According to NASA (based on satellite photos taken of the area) the levels of nitrogen oxide, one of the air pollutants released by the burning of fossil fuels, has decreased, on average, by as much as a third compared to the levels just a month prior to the measurements. 

At the same time, China’s carbon emissions have decreased by 25% because of the coronavirus slowdown – for the country where 1 million people die each year because of the bad air, this is an important development. 

Going global

The virus has gone global at surprising speed. The virus first emerged in Wuhan in the final days of 2019, spreading to Thailand and Japan in less than three weeks, and six more countries by the end of January. Since then, the virus reached a total of 101 countries around the world and infected more than 100,000 people.

A side effect of the spread of the virus was the significant reduction of flights – an area of transportation responsible for about 3% of all the greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale. Airlines all over the world are canceling thousands of flights because of the lack of passengers or the various restrictions imposed by governments. 

Does this mean that the coronavirus is good?

No – not at all

While these measures do have an overall positive effect on the environment, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. The cost for these benefits is, in turn, way too high.

When thinking of all the carbon not dumped into the atmosphere by the grounded planes, we have to think of all the employees airlines will have to lay off because of the lost business. When thinking of the clean air in China, we mustn’t forget about the millions of people confined to their homes, the businesses that can’t work without their employees that may be on the verge of closing shop because of the quarantine. 

And when thinking about the reduced pollution, we must always remember the people who lay sick on hospital beds, infected with the novel coronavirus. Not to mention the global effects of the economic recession and the stress of the people having to live through a global pandemic.

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