Very few aspects of life as we know it have been unaffected by the coronavirus pandemic, including the environment.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration explained that there has been a reduction of pollution in numerous geographic regions due to the response to the coronavirus.
“We must dig very deep to find a silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic, but there have been some noticeable environmental changes.” Goodhue County Board Chair Paul Drotos said, adding “The march toward more renewable energy is gaining momentum. This may be reflective of our heightened respect for science’s role in preserving and protecting the welfare of our citizens.”
In May, Rob Jackson, a professor of Stanford University, was interviewed for an article by fellow professor Rob Jordan. Jackson also highlighted the fact that global actions in response to COVID-19 may help the environment. Jackson explained:
“The drop in global emissions we estimate this year will surprise some people in being ‘only’ 4 to 7% because shelter-in-place rules are temporary and staggered across different countries. But it will still be the biggest emissions drop since World War II, though for undesirable and unsustainable reasons. More surprisingly, U.S. emissions declined one-third for part of April, a shocking drop driven by reduced mobility, manufacturing and electricity demand.”
Yet, while actions that have led to a lowering of emissions and pollution are good for the environment, they are not enough to curb years of climate change.
NASA published a piece in April that stated, in part, that air quality in numerous areas has improved, due partially to a reduction in traffic. But while cars can be converted to electric vehicles, airplanes are not expected to be environmentally friendly any time soon. And air travel is a large portion of the country’s annual pollution.
The Environmental and Energy Study Institute reported in October 2019 that air flight results in about 12% of the U.S. transportation emissions and 3% of the country’s total greenhouse production.
And, while there may have been a small drop in pollution, global carbon emissions are still sharply rising, according to a May article published by the United Nations. One item that the article pointed to was the use of electricity. According to the World Energy Outlook, 64% of the global electricity energy mix comes from fossil fuels: 38% coal, 23% gas and 3% oil.
“None of the fundamentals have changed," such as the shift to renewable energy, public transport, deforestation, the U.N. article stated.
The pandemic has also resulted in actions and new norms that have a negative impact on the environment.
For example, on June 4 President Donald Trump signed two executive orders that are predicted to be harmful to the environment. Coral Davenport and Lisa Friedman reported for The New York Times:
“President Trump signed an executive order that calls on agencies to waive required environmental reviews of infrastructure projects to be built during the pandemic-driven economic crisis. At the same time, the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a new rule that changes the way the agency uses cost-benefit analyses to enact Clean Air Act regulations, effectively limiting the strength of future air pollution controls.”
The pandemic has also led to an increase in the creation of waste. A study titled “Indirect effects of COVID-19 on the environment” was published in the journal of “Science of The Total Environment.” The study explains that due to quarantine policies around the globe, online shopping has increased in popularity, resulting in an increase in packaging. The study also looked at medical supplies.
“Hospitals in Wuhan produced an average of 240 metric tons of medical waste per day during the outbreak, compared to their previous average of fewer than 50 tons. In other countries such as the U.S., there has been an increase in garbage from personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves," the study said.
COVID-19 did not solve the problem of climate change. However, it can be used as a step toward a cleaner environment, officials said.
Jackson wrote that “COVID-19 may change commuting and transportation permanently. Cities from Milan to Seattle are closing miles of streets to traffic permanently and opening them to pedestrians and bicyclists. Telecommuting, even part time, might be the new normal. Traffic congestion has vaporized. Electric cars are fast and can be fossil-free, changing a sector of the economy that’s been hard to decarbonize.”
The majority of adults in the U.S. are in favor of working to reduce the impact of climate change. A Pew Research Center study published in April found that two-thirds of adults surveyed believe that the federal government is not doing enough to reduce the impacts of climate change.
A study published in February by the Pew Research Center found that 63% of U.S. adults believe that stricter environmental regulations would be worth the cost.
Evan Brown is the Red Wing City Council liaison to the city’s Sustainability Commission.
“I look at the reduction of pollutants and greenhouse gases from COVID-19 as a learning moment for us all," he said. "This moment is related to the issues raised by the murder of George Floyd. We have a long history of environmental racism. We push environmental impacts on to communities of color, whether in this country or in countries across the planet. Like other forms of racism, it is past time to stop this and take ownership of our impacts. I feel we have learned from COVID-19 that we do not need to travel so much. We have learned we have the ability to work in new ways that use less resources and are more equitable.”
Drotos concluded, "Most importantly, I hope I will continue to see families out walking together in a casual, less frantic pace, enjoying our beautiful natural setting.”