Global Lockdown As A Temporary Respite For Nature

What Is The Impact Of Coronavirus Lockdown On Nature?

Nature is reclaiming its space. But is this just a temporary respite or will it bring a lasting change? 

The rapidly infectious coronavirus leading to a global lockdown is having its unusual reverberations on our planet’s ecology. People around the world, peeping out of their windows are sensing a pleasing change in the environment. Skies have become bluer and the air is fresher than ever.

These small yet significant changes in the environment are evidential in the animal kingdom as well. More birds are seen chirping now. Animals from forests close to urban areas are having a happy time – roaming freely on roads – with the little needed privacy. Coyotes of timid nature have been spotted on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

A picture of a wild boar roaming boldly was captured in Barcelona. While in Washington, deer were found grazing a few miles from the White House. And interestingly, a family of geese was spotted taking a stroll along a tarmac of Tel Aviv Airport, Israel.

These are just a couple of examples of what humans and animals are experiencing. But even delving into the latest environmental research brings some good news. Amongst this panic, let’s take a few minutes to explore some positive changes – that a few months ago – was never expected.

Climate Change In China

After Chinese authorities implemented strict lockdown, economic activities came to a halt. With no traffic and travel; factories and industries shutdown; emissions fell. China, the world’s biggest source of carbon witnessed emissions falling by nearly 18% – between early February and mid-March. 250 tonnes of reduction was seen which is equal to over half the UK’s annual output. One of the main reasons is the decreased use of fossil fuels. The coal use declined by 40% in China’s six largest power plants.

When comparing the air quality of 337 cities in China in 2019. The number of days with air quality rose by 11.4%. The data comes from the Ministry of Ecology and Environment. Satellite images show a dramatic drop in pollution levels. The US space agency NASA confirms that this is ‘at least partially’ due to the lockdown. The NASA maps are showing falling levels of nitrogen dioxide – the noxious gas released by vehicles and factories.

When NASA compared the first two months of 2019 with the same duration in 2020 it noted something worth understanding. The dramatic decline in pollution had a straight link with restrictions on transportation and business activities.

The New Normal In New York

Decrease In Gases Released From Transportation Vehicles

It is unfortunate that New York became the epicentre of coronavirus spread in the US. But looking on the brighter side, the pollution levels in the smart city have come down by 50%. Emissions of global warming culprit CO2 have drastically dropped and so has methane. 

In addition, researchers at Columbia University have also marked a sharp decrease in a variety of other gases released from transportation vehicles. The early findings show that carbon monoxide emitted from mainly cars and trucks has reduced by approximately 50%. Not to mention, it is due to the traffic levels that have come down by 35%. This is in comparison with the emission levels of 2019 – during the same period.

Going further, by May 2020, it is anticipated that the CO2 emissions could drop to an extent lowest since the financial crisis of 2008. Researchers say that they have witnessed the cleanest climate ever seen. It is less than half of what is usually seen in the month of March. A similar scene is being marked in other regions across the US – where lockdown is strictly being followed.

However, some US scientists also point towards other factors. What will happen to the environment and the climate when the pandemic is under control? It is likely that a sudden resumption to normal life may worsen the situation with the rise of warning levels.

The Situation Across Europe

In London, the normally crowded pubs, bars and theatres have been shut down. Italy is following the most far-reaching travel restrictions since World War II. And in Spain as well, people are following strict rules of lockdown.

With no traffic on the road and in the air – pollution level has significantly dropped across Europe. The satellite images of the continent show nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions are fading away over Northern Italy. The place is the epicentre of COVID-19 in the nation. Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite provides evidence for the decline in air pollution, particularly NO2.

Air quality in the UK cities is improving on account of restricted travel and outdoor activities. The news comes from Professor Alastair Lewis of the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, University of York. A sharp decrease is seen in NO2 which is a primary exhaust of motor vehicles.

Furthermore, fine particles have also reduced. For instance, in London, PM2.5 is reportedly lower than it is generally during this time of the year. While in Spain, the reduction is significant in Madrid and Barcelona. These regions marked “historic lows” during the early days of lockdown. The report comes from the environmental group Greenpeace.

To be specific, in Madrid, the average level of NO2 was nearly 75% lower than the previous week. In Barcelona, NO2 levels dropped by 45%, as per Adrian Fernández, the head of Greenpeace’s Mobility campaign.

In addition, Fernández indicates that storms during the beginning of the week were also responsible for the improvement in air quality. That said, the decline in pollution was found to have a direct link with the decline in traffic that came down by over 60%.

Is Lockdown Teaching Us How To Behave With Nature?

Until now, the pandemic has taken the lives of over 1.14 lac people around the globe. But also saving the lives of over thousands of people. Many argue that this time of the year is witnessing a much lower death toll due to road accidents. Not just in humans but also in animals.

For example, in the UK, road accidents lead to the death of nearly 100,000 foxes, 100,000 hedgehogs, 50,000 badgers and 30,000 deer. Plenty of birds and insects face the same thing.

Besides, councils in the UK have postponed cutting the roadside grass – the only habitat left for wildflowers. This is expected to be an accelerator for the revival of vibrant countryside in summer – supplying more pollen for bees. But it is certainly not right to see lockdown as the solution to the brighter changes happening to our planet’s ecosystem.

Amidst all of this, there is a greater concern coming to light. What will happen when pandemic actually comes to an end? Will pollution levels “bounce back”? Or could these pleasant changes being sensed have a long-lasting effect?

As per Kimberly Nicholas, a sustainability science researcher in Sweden, there is a possibility of two different situations. In the first case, people are staying at home with family and focusing on their core priorities. These moments of crises may be a realisation for people about how important are these priorities. They may realise the importance of health and wellbeing of family, friends and community.

As lower the pollution greater will be the inner strength to fight disease. More exposure to traffic means weaker lungs. Hence, if people truly understand this, it is likely that it could help keep emissions lower. If not, the opposite is likely to happen. However, as per Bill Gates, efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic will aid against climate change – in the long run.

Moving the focus back on nature, it is sending us a message. If we keep ignoring the planet, we will put our own wellbeing at risk. This is as said by Inger Anderson, environment chief, United Nations.

And for many other experts, this period is giving us a glimpse into what the world might look like without fossil fuels. Perhaps, it is certain that for what humans have done, nature is implementing its harsh ways to restore its breathable existence.