By Tammy James April 2020
With coronavirus cases across the globe set to climb to over the 400,000 mark at the time of writing, many of us are practising self-isolation and social distancing to help reduce the spread. Although this comes with its challenges which we’re sure you can relate to, it appears that this is helping our health in more ways than one.
As well as reducing the risk of contracting the virus, the global lockdown is having a positive impact on the environment, with countries across the world reporting improvements in air quality, reductions in CO2 emissions and the return of wildlife even in urban areas. So, in the wake of the crisis, we wanted to share a little bit positivity.
Although the dolphins in Venice canals sadly turned out to be a hoax (more on that here), we are noting some behavioural changes in nature. This is down to a change in the so-called ‘landscape of fear’, believes Jean-Michel Gaillard, director of research at the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), and the perception that threats are no longer there in certain areas. Deer have been spotted more frequently in city centres and in larger numbers too, and small birds can be heard chirping more loudly than ever, even on workdays when they would be more likely to retreat to their nest or safe spaces.
Also, Venice may not have dolphins in its canals, but The Guardian reports that the waterways have transformed regardless. Locals have noted crystal blue canals thanks to the reduction of boats and tourists; multicoloured plant life making an appearance; fish and crabs; as well as ducks who are nesting around the city. One local Gloria Beggiato, the owner of the Metropole hotel just a short distance from St Mark’s square said: “We Venetians have the feeling that nature has returned and is taking back possession of the city.”
Better air quality
With more people staying at home and a reduced need for travel or non-essential operations, levels of the planet-heating gas, CO2 has rapidly decreased. For example, China saw a 25% drop in carbon dioxide emissions over four weeks (starting in late January) in comparison to the same period the previous year. Northern Italy also reported significant falls in nitrogen dioxide levels as a direct correlation to reduced car journeys and industrial activity, and New York reported a staggering 50% carbon monoxide reduction compared to 2019.
Back in the UK, air pollution halved in some cities on the first day of the COVID-19 lockdown. The Department for Energy, Food and Rural Affairs monitors data for nitrogen dioxide in Cardiff, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Bristol, Newcastle, Manchester, Leeds and London, comparing concentration levels with the same time last year. Edinburgh saw the biggest drop with a daily average of 74µg/m3 in 2019, to 28µg/m3 in March 2020, as commuters faced travel restrictions to the capital, with only essential workers able to travel. Closer to home, Cardiff also saw a significant drop, decreasing from 32µg/m3 to 21µg/m3. Not only will these reductions effect outdoor air quality but will have a direct, positive impact on indoor air quality too, something that we’re very big advocates of.
If this lockdown lasts between three to four months as predicted, it’s likely to have an impact on global emission levels for 2020. Despite all of these positives, some sceptics have noted that once normal life resumes, these trends will simply go back to the normal, higher levels we witnessed previously, particularly when governments look to re-stimulate economies. After all, we can’t stay home forever, and people will need to travel to work and where industrial production has perhaps been on-hold, it will need to start up again, naturally increasing CO2 levels. However, some have now queried whether we should be addressing climate change with the same urgency that we have responded to the pandemic. An important question and one which we’re sure will be a topic of interest for quite some time. But for now, let’s appreciate the positive changes we’re seeing in the world.