Although COVID-19 is disrupting lives around the globe, resulting in 168,500 deaths and disrupting the economy, a positive effect of this pandemic has been noted worldwide. A significant global drop in pollution levels and improvement in air quality has been recorded, which is especially beneficial for Los Angeles because of the city’s high NO2 emissions and pollution levels.
Environmentalists think that this virus is positively affecting the environment. According to the New York Times, pollution levels have been decreasing significantly since stay-at-home orders and business closures have been enforced.
Environmentalists believe that this decrease is due to fewer people driving, therefore less nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide emissions. Marlborough student and environmentalist Delaney ‘20 is one of them.
“Our economy has slowed down and has decreased the carbon emission levels therefore has improved the overall environment,” Delaney said.
However, the drop in the pollution levels can also be attributed to closure of most factories. Since factories emit toxic pollutants such as carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and methane, a significant drop of which has been recorded by the Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI) on ESA’s Sentinel-5 satellite, resulting in visible changes in pollution in air and water.
Worldwide, people have been seeing drastic changes in air and water quality. In many countries that routinely experience high levels of pollution, residents have seen major decreases in smog and increases in water clarity according to The Washington Post. According to China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment, the average number of “good quality air days” increased 21.5 percent in February, compared to the same period in 2019.
Delaney commented on this phenomenon stating, “a city in China had consecutive blue skies which hasn’t happened for multiple years.” Furthermore, Delaney also said that in the Venetian canals, residents have seen increased marine life in the channels.
Despite the fact that pollution levels are dropping, environmentalists do not believe that this pattern will continue. After the economy reopens and life returns to normal, environmentalists predict that pollution levels will likely increase to previous levels if not escalate to unprecedented highs.
Environmental Science instructor Catherine Mino says that “as life returns to normal, pollution levels will also return.” Once people are able to go back to driving and flying, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane emission levels will rise. Additionally, when manufacturing and industries resume, their emissions will also contribute to increased pollution.
In addition, once the economy and businesses resume, companies might produce more to make up for being shut down for a long period of time. Ms. Ellis, a science instructor and environmentalist, is hoping that manufacturers will not increase production. However, she said the reality is that increased production is inevitable because companies will want to stabilize the economy.
“I’d like to put my faith in humanity on that but I’m not positive… unless we really put our minds to it, we probably will,” Ellis said.