The Coronavirus, or Covid-19, pandemic is having at least one positive effect on the planet: it is reducing pollution and carbon emissions, at least temporarily. With the illness sweeping across the globe and governments imposing strict measures to contain it — limits on travel, large gatherings and events, dining out and shopping — commerce and consumption worldwide are plummeting. Factories in China and elsewhere are being shuttered, millions of businesses have suspended operations, air travel has dwindled, and people everywhere are staying home from work and play. Coal and oil and gas-fueled plants have stopped burning, auto and air-travel emissions (among the biggest contributors to our individual carbon footprints) have declined, among other reductions.
The results have been immediate and astonishing. Skies have cleared across areas of China usually beset by smog and air pollution. CO2 emissions in China declined 25 percent in the last week of February, for example. Meanwhile, scientists across the globe are tracking and quantifying meaningful reductions in greenhouse gases and carbon emissions across Europe and North America. One unfortunate consequence came to light as oil prices dropped significantly — causing the price of making “virgin” plastic cheaper than using “recycled” plastic.
The direct link between the worldwide economy and CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution is nothing new. The last time emissions and pollution came close to flat-lining was during the last economic crisis in 2008-2009.
This time as then, leading scientists hailed the news as clear evidence that it is within humanity’s power to reduce worldwide carbon emissions. But many are also sounding various alarms: economic crises are not how we want to combat climate change, they are saying, cautioning that once this coronavirus crisis is contained the world’s carbon-emitting economic engines are sure to crank up, offsetting the short-term CO2 emissions reductions. Observers are also expressing concern that the crisis will drain key government and private sector resources that are needed to make the transformation to sustainable and clean energy, while the falling costs of oil and other fossil fuels will doubtless discourage investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy, and, instead, encourage the use of oil and gas emissions.
You might want to listen to Bill Gates in his most recent TED talk on the subject (hosted by head of TED Chris Anderson and current affairs curator Whitney Pennington Rodgers. Recorded March 24, 2020). And, if you have kids, here is a project for kids to take action and influence congress in supporting clean energy and climate justice initiatives as legislation moves through the government in response to covid-19.
A more recent analysis (4/2020) looks at dozens of climate rules being rolled back during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
More recent still (May 15) is the conclusion of a report published by the Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration which takes the position that the current pandemic is a dress rehearsal for climate change.