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How COVID-19 has impacted the environment

by Wilma Wei

Humor Editor

As normal, everyday activities and ‘regular’ life pauses during quarantine, the environment is recovering. Wildlife – bears, deer, and other animals all over the world – roam empty streets and roads in national parks and public places now.

Implementation of lockdown and quarantine has decreased air pollution globally, but most notably in China, with a five percent decrease in carbon emissions. Cars that would otherwise release greenhouse gasses like carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides no longer clog up city streets, helping the air become cleaner. According to National Geographic, areas normally heavily concentrated with air pollution, especially Delhi, India, have noticed levels of particulate matter and the harmful gas nitrogen dioxide falling by more than 70 percent. Researchers also found that areas with a high concentration of small 2.5 particulate matter were correlated with higher rates of COVID-19 – countries with higher rates of air pollution have higher death rates, but a decrease of air pollution from factories and car emissions has helped save lives. 

As for wildlife, national parks have seen a decrease in vehicle-caused mortalities. As coyotes, elk, and countless other animals roam freely without the obstruction of cars or humans on trails, a decrease in boat traffic and beach activity has also positively impacted marine life. Leatherback turtles and manatees, for example, are facing fewer fatalities with beach closures.

Despite the decrease in air pollution, plastic usage has surged. Although essential items, plastic gloves and other single-use plastic items like bottles and bags used to prevent contamination have increased in landfills. With limited options for taking food home, further plastic waste comes from takeout packaging that is thrown away after one use. Forbes reiterated the harm of plastic waste, saying, “recycling and municipal waste services in the U.S. and beyond have been significantly limited, which means that the extra plastic we’re now using might not get recycled.”

As the environment and decreased levels of pollution can be seen as a bittersweet side effect of COVID-19, researchers see this event as a sign of hope that the ecosystem can still recover from global warming damage. The rapid decrease of air pollution and cleaner air shows the resilience of the environment, and gives hope that converting to clean energy resources in the near future can further benefit our ecosystem. 

(Sources: National Geographic, ABC News, Forbes)

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