Experts think environmental upturn from COVID-19 may only be temporary


AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

Framed by saguaro cactus, the downtown Phoenix skyline is easier to see, Tuesday, April 7, 2020, as fewer motorists in Arizona are driving, following the state stay-at-home order due to the coronavirus, and it appears to be improving the air quality and decreasing the effects vehicle emissions have on the environment.

As COVID-19  continues to spread around the globe, more precautions and restrictions are being created to help slow the spread of the virus, forcing many people to abandon their jobs and daily lives to help combat the spreading of the virus.

Businesses, stores and the entertainment industry have been forced to shut down as well as several public parks and locations, while traveling has been heavily restricted. Despite the difficulties that people are facing in the wake of COVID-19, one of the few silver linings to come out of it is how the environment seems to be improving due to the decreased presence of humanity’s carbon footprint.

Several cities, including Los Angeles, Manila, New York City, and Milan have been reporting some of the cleanest air quality that they have seen in many years. Not only cities, but countries, including China, have been reporting improving air quality due to the reduced amount of emissions that are usually emitted by cars, buses, planes, and other forms of transportation. This is most likely the result of the quarantines restricting where people can go to via car and the increase of people walking as a form of exercise or entertainment.

While the improvement of the planet’s air quality has been a silver lining during these difficult times, there are concerns that the improvements that the environment has been experiencing will only be temporary.

While people aren’t currently driving around because they are unable to work, go out to eat, or enjoy some form of entertainment beyond their devices to help them occupy their time, it doesn’t mean that these improvements will last. Some experts believe that once the quarantine restrictions are lifted and life returns to a more normal state, o2 and co emissions in the air quality will rise once again.

Mark Potosnak, an associate professor of environmental sciences and studies at DePaul University, said that while the current lack of emissions in the atmosphere is currently helpful, it is only a short-term solution to a much larger problem. He also pointer out that these short-term benefits not only extend to the atmosphere, but also to national parks located around the country. With many national parks being closed to encourage social distancing, it helps reduce the amount of liter that gets left behind by tourists .  

“If you don’t have as many people there is a short-term benefit.” Potosnak said.

With this chance for the planet to recover, it does raise the question of whether countries or humans in general will begin to change their habits in an effort to end climate change. These changes don’t, however, take away the possibility that the emissions problems will disappear after COVID-19.

Barbara Willard, an associate professor of communication studies at DePaul who also focuses on environmental studies, said that the economic downturn from COVID-19, including the decrease in gasoline and oil sales, have helped contribute to the recovery of air quality. Willard had also stated, “I don’t think they would use COVID as an opportunity to that,” referring to current legislation or regulations on gas emissions remaining the same post-virus. The thought of restoring their economies may most likely be at the forefront of most countries, so the possibility that they would also monopolize this time to combat climate change is not a possibility.

The possibility of individuals taking climate change more seriously is a greater possibility. Some people have begun taking the initiative, such as going on walks more or getting less take out food, however these changes are most likely the result of people adapting to the current situation that they are finding themselves in. With all of the major events and changes taking place, environmentalism will most likely take a back seat with individuals as well. But there will be those who will use these changes as an opportunity to shine a light on how the reduction of emissions in everyday life would be beneficial to the rest of the world.

While the world may show interest for a while, the focus will mostly be on how the world is recovering post-virus. Alec Muschong, a senior at Northern Illinois University, said that the focus will eventually go away once COVID-19 becomes less of a problem. “I think people will pay attention for a short amount of time, but not enough to become hardcore environmentalists,” Muschong said.

COVID-19 has helped shed a light on how the human race needs to endorse legislation to better improve the planets air quality. With the virus spreading, there is currently no new or current environmental legislation to take advantage of the situation. It is still unclear whether or not scientists and world leaders will change gas emission policies once the virus has ended.