By Andrew Iida I Head Writer and Resident EMT
The world is really weird right now.
The COVID-19 lockdown has been a major drag. It’s a difficult time for most of us, and comes with an unprecedented set of challenges (especially for parents). We’re confident that we’ll get through this together and emerge as a stronger, more capable society in time. For now though, this situation sucks.
But it’s not all bad news. We seem to be making great progress towards controlling the pandemic, so businesses and public spaces have been slowly reopening. It feels like we're starting to get back to normal. But while we've been staying at home, some great things were happening to our planet. If you’re feeling overloaded with the pessimism of the 24-hour entertainment news cycle, here’s a look at the positive impacts of coronavirus.
Fossil fuel emissions are plummeting
Fossil fuels and carbon emissions worry us, especially because we know that they have such a huge impact on our oceans. With businesses temporarily closing and a huge reduction in travel, the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically reduced the amount of coal and oil being used around the world.
We’re heading into the biggest decrease in demand for oil in the last 25 years, and the lowest demand for coal since World War II. By some projections, we will prevent 3 billion tons of carbon dioxide from entering our atmosphere and ocean because of the lockdown.
Renewable energy is on the rise
Every industry in the world is struggling, and renewable power is no exception. But despite the setbacks, it looks like renewable energy is in a much better position than the fossil fuel industry.
Whereas the demand for coal and oil is decreasing, the demand for renewable energy is actually increasing, even during COVID-19. People aren’t just using less energy; they’re trying to use more energy from green sources.
The fossil fuel industry is volatile during global disruptions. Maintaining a supply of these fuels means you have to rely on someone to drill or mine for the fuel, someone else to refine and store the fuel, and a lot of other people to ship the fuel to its destination.
All of these variables mean that the global fossil fuel industry has to make major changes to adapt to our changing world. In contrast, the sun hasn’t stopped shining and the wind hasn’t stopped blowing. The pandemic could accelerate the shift to clean, renewable energy.
Animals are thriving
All over the world, animals are taking advantage of the sudden decrease in human activity. In California, sightings of black bears by Yosemite National Park staff have quadrupled as they occupy the space left by humans. Other animal sightings are on the rise, too as Yosemite's furry residents reclaim their natural habitats.
In beaches all over the world, sea turtles are building more nests than they have for two decades, now that people aren’t constantly walking over their breeding grounds. In Mumbai, the flamingo migration is 25 percent larger than last year, and in Hong Kong, giant pandas at the Ocean Park Zoo had enough peace and quiet that they were able to mate for the first time in 13 years.
Our air is cleaner
Our reduced demand for fossil fuels means that we’re producing fewer emissions. NASA satellite images show us how huge of a change this has created, with a 30% decrease in nitrogen dioxide emissions.
The cleaner air is giving us some of the most clear, beautiful skies that we’ve seen in decades. The city of Kathmandu, Nepal has seen a 70% reduction in particulate matter in the air, and for the first time in years, Mount Everest is visible from the city. Get out and enjoy some of that fresh air!
Our oceans have a chance to recover
Fish markets have been closed, and fishing fleets have been staying in the harbor. This is great news for ocean animals. The pause gives our overfished species a chance to replenish their populations, a much needed reprieve since a third of our fish stocks are overfished.
Marine mammals, highly sensitive to the noise and pollution from ships, are undoubtedly enjoying a period of silence that they haven’t known for decades.
The decrease in carbon emissions is a huge benefit to our oceans. When carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, a lot of it is absorbed into the ocean, which causes ocean acidification. The decreased pH affects a multitude of ocean life and threatens to disrupt global food chains for humans.
Although the lockdown isn’t enough to completely restore our oceans, it presents exciting opportunities for researchers to study the effects of human activity on marine life, and we hope that it spurs an interest in ocean conservation.