COVID-19 has opened the door for speculations about the trajectory of climate change. Although initially I would have expected the pandemic to solely have beneficial impacts on climate change, there are plenty of negative developments as well.

The pandemic decreased in transportation and industrial activity leading to a 17 percent drop in daily global carbon emissions in April. But…

“CO2 levels in the atmosphere reached their highest monthly average ever recorded in May — 417.1 parts per million. This is because the carbon dioxide humans have already emitted can remain in the atmosphere for a hundred years; some of it could last tens of thousands of years.”

Some long term issues COVID-19 may cause in terms of climate change include…

Amazon Deforestation:  The Amazon rainforest absorbs two billion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere a year and is one of the most effective ways of mitigating carbon in the atmosphere. While Brazil was focusing on controlling the virus, illegal loggers were taking advantage of the forest: 464 square miles of the rainforest was destroyed. 

Climate policies: Countries and companies are inclined to delay or cancel investments in climate action policies if their income has been impacted by the pandemic. 

For example, President Trump has weakened the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to speed construction permits. 

Scientific research: Quarantine and travel bans have restricted scientists from traveling to do their fieldwork, and there’s a limit to how much can be accomplished with data and computers alone. 

COVID-19 may result in an approximately five to eight percent reduction in average global emissions for the year, and while this is a small amount in the context of the whole system, it offers a rare opportunity to see how Earth responds to cuts on carbon emissions.“

Plastic: COVID-19 has increased the need for plastic gloves and masks, and plexiglass dividers in public spaces.

This results in more litter, particularly gloves and masks. Covid related waste is already washing up on shores around the world. The use of plastic packaging and bags has soared because restaurants rely on take-out and delivery food. Ordering all sorts of other items online has also resulted in more packaging materials, increasing the carbon footprint of e-commerce. 

More cars: The CDC has urged companies to offer incentives to encourage people to ride or drive alone to minimize contact with others. These guidelines are prompting more individual car use, which will cause traffic congestion and air pollution, and increase greenhouse gas emissions. Also, people are moving out of cities and to suburbs which result in more driving. 

Looking at the positive climate outcomes of the pandemic…

Green recovery: “The European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, has put forth the world’s greenest stimulus plan — a 750 billion euro ($825 billion) economic recovery plan with the goal for the EU to be carbon neutral by 2050.”

The U.S. Treasury Department has given renewable energy projects more time to take advantage of tax credits.

Transportation: To give alternatives to public transportation, cities have closed off streets for pedestrians and increased bike lanes.

Travel: Transportation is responsible for 23% of global carbon emissions, with 11% of it’s greenhouse gas emissions due to aviation. The decrease in international air travel due to COVID-19 has reduced CO2 emissions.

With people working from home, there will continue to be less international business travel. International trade may also decrease as countries recognize the need to produce more goods domestically.

Living simply: The pandemic has restricted eating out, also restricting the processing, packaging and transporting of food that add to our carbon footprint. More people may be trying to eat less meat, eat more locally or grow a garden, and stay away from processed foods to maintain a healthier immune system. With the scary reality of empty shelves in stores at the beginning of the pandemic, there is a lasting inclination to not waste food. 

In AP Bio class, we recently learned about the internal effects of eating unhealthy, even comparing two lifestyles in a lab. We found that a person’s food choices directly correlate with the demand for insulin. When a person eats more unhealthy food, they gain more glucose than they would eating healthy food as seen in the chart. When a person had two unhealthy meals they gained 40 glucose and used 18 insulin while when they had two healthy meals they gained 20 glucose and only used 8 insulin. They have to regulate the glucose in their body much more when they eat unhealthy rather than when they eat healthy. In learning about the immune system,  in order for the system to protect the body from pathogens, cellular defenses benefits from healthy cells. The different systems of the body are all connected, when you eat healthy, it benefits your systems at a cellular level.

There has been a drop in the production of consumer goods which contribute to climate change with raw materials extraction, processing, logistics, retail and storage. 

With “normal” sources of daily entertainment shut down, people have been spending more time in nature, potentially growing an appreciation for nature. Hopefully people will protect and care more for the environment.

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