Coronavirus Shutdown Decreasing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Paige Dalto, Head Copy Editor

In a period of illness and fear, there has been something quietly flourishing in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic: the Earth.

Since the spread of coronavirus and the impact of social isolation and stay-at-home orders, a multitude of major cities have seen decreases in fossil fuel emissions and overall cleaner air quality.

China, where the virus originated, has seen a 25% decrease in carbon dioxide emissions from February to March, according to the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA). As China is responsible for nearly ⅓ of the world’s CO2 emissions, this drop will have huge impacts on worldwide air quality.

As China is weeks ahead of the United States in the spread of the virus, the clean air quality and dropping greenhouse gas emissions were predicted for the U.S. to see in the coming weeks. Italy, another country hit hard by COVID-19, has nearly mirrored the drop in China’s carbon emissions, further supporting the forecast of cleaner air in the U.S.

Even in the short time since the virus surfaced in the US, there are clear, positive environmental benefits ahead. According to the Philadelphia radio station WHYY, City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said air pollution levels are expected to drop in the city as “the number of vehicles in the streets are less, and we know that vehicles are our biggest source of air pollution.” With traffic lessening due to statewide stay-at-home orders, levels of fossil fuel emissions have seen significant declines. 

Nitrogen dioxide worsens coughs, decreases lung function, and has been linked as a major cause of asthma. This gas, in addition to other types of air pollution, leaves lungs in a vulnerable state and more susceptible to infections like the coronavirus.

Nitrogen dioxide emissions, the gas emitted from burning fossil fuels, are on a rapid decrease in these major cities as traffic dwindles. As many statewide orders require increasingly restricted interaction outside of home, many businesses have implemented work-from-home options for employees. Due to this decision, there are far fewer vehicles and congestion on roadways, lower factory emissions, and therefore cleaner air.

Robert Routh, a staff attorney with the Philadelphia conservation organization Clean Air Council, said in an interview with WHYY the decrease in emissions during the coronavirus pandemic “should demonstrate that climate change is driven by human activity and our actions.” 

Routh encouraged people to adopt cleaner ways of living after statewide orders to stay home are lifted in order to combat the climate crisis when emissions are expected to rapidly rise.

Many climate activists have rallied together during this pandemic as the answer is now clear – The government has the power to put their resources into the climate crisis but refuses to acknowledge its severity. As world leaders have dropped everything to stop the rapid spread of COVID-19, activists bring attention to the lack of action surrounding the health of our Earth. But it should not need to take a pandemic to bring attention to the condition of our planet.

In order to help the temporary environmental benefits of the quarantine to become more long-term, people are encouraged to adopt cleaner habits during the temporary quarantines.