By Isadora Marshall, G11

Something that many people probably haven’t been thinking about in such crazy times like these is the environment…How is COVID19 having an effect on greenhouse gases and air pollution? Despite this pandemic causing an apocalyptic feel, there are some benefits and the environment is a massive one! I mean, is it just me who’s noticed clearer skies in Phnom Penh over the last few weeks?

Greenhouse gas and carbon emissions have dropped dramatically because of industries and businesses being closed down, travel restrictions, less airplane voyages, less city bustle and just in general, humans doing less, we’re all staying at home to prevent further spread of the disease and to diminish the death toll. As an example of how much emissions have dropped, in New York City, levels of pollution have reduced by nearly 50%. In China, the culprit of the disease, since the last quarter of 2019, coal use fell by 40% in China’s six largest power plants.

For those of you who have done a basic Biology unit or Environmental Science class, you would know that the transportation industry is responsible for around 23% of global carbon emissions because of burning fossil fuels for energy. Putting two and two together, it is nothing but obvious to presume that the reasons that worldwide carbon emissions have been dropping since the pandemic outbreak is because of less transportation, less movement of people. So what does this mean? What will happen when the coronavirus is over and people begin travelling again and getting back into their routines of driving to work, flying overseas, when factories are back up and running, when industries, businesses and companies are back? Will the levels of emissions return back to how they were before? Will people have learned? Will they have changed their ways?

According to Julia Pongratz, a professor at the University of Munich, Germany, after studying historical epidemics and their relevant environmental impacts, she believes that after the coronavirus, the dip in emissions will rebound,

“For example, the demand for oil products, steel and other metals has fallen more than other outputs. But there are record-high stockpiles, so production will quickly pick up.”

Julia Pongratz

The length which the virus will last is also going to have an effect on whether or not emissions bounce back. If this pandemic continues on to the end of the year, it is possible that fossil fuel use might not recover quickly due to lost wages and low customer demand. Economic prosperity will have a big impact on fossil fuel use once the pandemic rolls over, whenever that may be.

In times like these, it’s important to learn from the impacts we humans have on the world. The importance of hygiene for example has taught us a lot, the effect of consuming wild animals with unknown viruses, how diseases and viruses are spread and how to be aware of it. Personally, (and I believe this is a popular opinion), many of us humans who weren’t so conscious of washing our hands, what we touch, what we eat, and our health in general has now become a lot more apparent to us because of how serious COVID 19 is.

Hopefully, we can also learn that, yes, these carbon emission statistics are proof of how we humans impact the environment, the significant change in emissions just from less human activity worldwide is astonishing and is a very powerful statistic in representing how we impact environmental destruction. Coming out of this pandemic, we should not only be more aware of hygiene standards but also of how we individually contribute to carbon and greenhouse gas emissions through our lifestyles.

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