Coronavirus lockdowns across the world seem to have a number of positive effects on the environment.
Millions of people have been cooped up indoors, but the natural world outside has continued to rumble on and the natural world is benefiting from our absence.
Below are some important positive effects of COVID-19 on the environment and it’s quality.
1- Air Quality And Climate
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that the outdoor air pollution kills about 7 million people each year worldwide and more than 80% urban population is exposed to unhealthy air (WHO 2020).
Since people stayed home, these last few months have paved significant improvement in air quality, especially in hard-hit areas like Wuhan, as well as in northern Italy and a number of metropolitan areas throughout the USA.
In China, emissions of harmful gases and other pollutants dropped to 25% at the start of the year 2020 and the quality of air improved up to 11.4% with respect to start of the last year, in 337 cities across China.
WHO estimated that this change has saved 50,000 lives in China. It is shocking to realize that millions of people die every year because of polluted air, especially by smog and soot which are considered to be slow killers.
Also, a particulate matter (PM) called PM2.5 which is one of the most dangerous pollutants, included in the group-I carcinogens.
The 2.5 refers to the particulate size (in microns), or about one thirtieth of the width of a human hair (Xu and Ren 2019). PM2.5 is so small that it can travel from lungs to blood stream which will not only cause respiratory problems, but also heart attack and can also cause early deaths.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that every year, worldwide, more than 4 million deaths occurred due to PM2.5, causing heart diseases, strokes, lung cancer, chronic lung diseases and respiratory infections (WHO 2019).
The baseline of PM2.5 in many cities in the world is above one hundred, measured in micrograms per cubic meter. After COVID-19-induced lockdown, the level of PM2.5 has decreased drastically and thousands of lives have been protected from its worse impacts.
Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is a toxic gas that is emitted from the engines of automobiles and factories. The World Health Organization stated that if the concentration of this gas exceeds 200 µg/m3, then it can cause inflammation in respiratory track which ultimately leads to asthma.
Now, due to current lockdown the transport is restricted and factories are closed, hence, in cities all over the world the concentration of NO2 in air has dropped drastically (from 5.6 µg/m3 to 0.2 µg/m3) (Otmani et al. 2020).
This decrease in concentration of NO2 began in China and slowly it was observed in the rest of the world.
The decrease in NO2 concentration was significant in China because the pandemic of COVID-19 happened in the same time when they were celebrating lunar year (Spring Festival) in China, when all the factories, transport and businesses were already closed followed by COVID-19-induced lockdown.
Lockdown in Pakistan has brought a drastic decrease in pollution level across the country.
The carbon dioxide (CO2) emission is responsible for the climate change.
The transportation sector, industries and electricity have a huge contribution in carbon dioxide emission.
Due to coronavirus lockdown, the emission of CO2 has decreased worldwide (NASA 2020).
The experts are predicting this to be the biggest decline in anthropogenic CO2 emissions after World War-II.
During the period of lockdown, global air traffic reduced by 60% which have led to a temporary dip in CO2 emissions from their pre-crisis levels. Due to COVID-19 lockdown, CO2 emissions in China have minimized by around 200 million metric tons.
Scientists estimated that this reduction may have saved at least 77,000 lives (CAT 2020).
Scientists in Europe have observed a similar effect in northern Italy while a 5–10% reduction in CO2 emission have been reported by the scientists at Columbia University, New York within a week (14–20 March, 2020.
The Ongoing COVID-19 lockdown across the world is showing a direct relationship between air pollution levels and economic activities such as industrial activities, transportation and energy production along with the small-scale interferences at city levels.
This suggests that clean energy-based system has to be adopted as the corona outbreak ends.
2- Water quality and aquatic life
Reports indicate that during COVID-19-induced lockdown, not only the air quality, but water quality in rivers and water bodies also improved.
The stoppage of discharging industrial effluents and other wastes into water led to an apparent positive effect on water quality.
India’s holiest river Ganga has been one of the most polluted rivers in the world. Waste from domestic and industrial setups along the banks of this river cost the government in millions without any success.
According to the real-time water analysis of the Central Pollution Control Board of India (CPCB) and reports of Dr. Mishra, an IIT professor in Banaras Hindu University, a 40–50% improvement has been observed in the water quality of the Ganga River (CPCB 2020).
The parameters monitored online were dissolved oxygen (more than 6 mg/L), biochemical oxygen demand (less than 2 mg/L), total coliform levels (5000 per 100 ml) and pH (range between 6.5 and 8.5).
Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee, has reported that the water of Ganga River has become fit for drinking after decades.
Not just the Ganga, but its sister river the Yamuna has been improved as well, as dissolved oxygen (DO) has been recorded 2.3–4.8 mg/L in Yamuna which was considered null in 2019. Lockdown has been able to achieve what the governments could not for decades.
In Venice, the water are looking clearer after the two months of COVID-19 lockdown and aquatic life is now visible which hasn’t been seen for many years in the cities.
Clean rivers and other water bodies have a significant positive effect on the aquatic life. Many species are returning to their natural habitats since induction of the lockdown.
The closure of factories and commercial establishments has dipped the pollution level across the globe.
Not only the land animals returning but even the sea creatures seem to enjoy this break from the noise and water pollution.
With many cruisers suspended, the tourism subdued while all other marine activities being suspended, consequently, the aquatic species are taking control in their hands.
Marine scientists have already started investigating the effects of lockdown on marine life. Commercial fishing industries have been hit hard due to the closure of main buyers, the restaurants and hotels.
The social distancing at sea has caused the fishing vessels to be anchored at ports. Carlos Duarte, a research chair at the Red Sea Research Center (RSRC) in Saudi Arabia, said COVID-19 lockdown between February and June or July will accelerate the recovery of fish stocks and other marine organisms, as it already showed spectacular recovery after the 1st and 2nd world wars, and this accidental lockdown will help us to grasp conservation aims faster.
Sound travels much farther and faster in water than a so-called imagine plight of the aquatic life.
The noise pollution from shipping and powerful blasts from the seismic air gun tests, used to locate the deposits of gas and oil in the deep oceans, must be traumatizing for marine life.
Noise levels from shipping traffic are generally 20–200 Hz and disturb the aquatic life which is decreased by six decibels with a significant reduction below 150 Hz (GeoNoise 2020).
The study of humpback whales and other marine life by Michelle Fournette, a marine ecologist at Cornell, said that the removal of just the cruise ships would bring about an instant massive change in the amount of ocean noise.
A study examining the feces of the right whales reveals that limited movement in the water was directly proportional to lowering of stress hormones in these species.
In addition, this lockdown is also providing a flawless condition for olive ridley turtles in the beaches. Turtles are less disturbed by tourists during this lockdown.
The decreased human interruption this year would give these turtles enough time to incubate and hatch in peace. Since the beaches are people free, that resulted in no accidental crushing of eggs, less garbage and plastics disposal to the marine environment.
The indigestion and entanglement due to the plastic and marine debris which are the leading causes of injuries to sea creatures will be wiped out during this lockdown.
Not just the oceans but even the rivers and other water bodies are clearing out indicating lesser toxic and harmful materials entrance to the water bodies.
There have been visible positive signs of this lockdown, but few weeks or months of lockdown will not be enough to eradicate or reverse the damage caused during many years.
Data gathered by several studies can be utilized for devising better environmental policies.
The lockdown gives us hope that there is a possibility of minimizing the unnecessary human interferences and letting these wonderful creatures back in their space and habitats.
If the governments construct sewage treatment plants in the right manner and make strong regulations for the companies and industries to treat their wastes accordingly, then the lockdown induced ecofriendly impact on aquatic life can be long lasting.
3- Slow moving life
Mobility has been wedged all over the world during COVID-19 lockdown.
All modes of mobility like public transport, micro-mobility and individual auto commuting have seen a melodramatic diminution across the globe.
Public transport has been reduced in many countries and up to 95% decline in users has been reported by many transport authorities.
Reduced road transport and fewer air travels across the globe considerably decreased fuel consumption. According to the data collected from a Norwegian energy consultancy, Rystad Energy, the demand for oil, gas and diesel could be decreased by 9.4 percent over 2020 (Rystad Energy 2020).
However, this pandemic is a great opportunity for us to learn how urban traffic and transportation can be monitored to reduce the expenditure of fuel, its consumption and maintain a healthy environment.
We look forward to keeping you up-to-date with relevant discoveries on this topic. Let’s know what you think about this post. CLICK HERE to comment, please!