Lockdown has impacted everyone’s lives hugely; where it hasn’t wreaked havoc it has put almost everything on pause, with many of us locked up inside for months, struggling to get on with our lives, postponing our plans.
There is, however, a bright side to the lockdown, and that is the fact that the environment seems to have responded very positively to our absence. Here is a recap of the effects which lockdown has had on the environment and what may happen when we return back to ‘normal’.
Air quality improving
As we have previously reported, during the earlier stages of lockdown the air significantly cleared up globally. Scientists had previously urged citizens and governments to send carbon emissions dropping by 2020 to avoid climate change from worsening, and the truth is that Covid-19 slowing down modern life has had a major positive impact, triggering the biggest fall in anthropogenic carbon emissions (emissions which human activity generates) since World War 2.
Transport makes up for nearly a quarter of carbon emissions in Europe, and people not being able to catch flights has been a significant reason as to why carbon emissions have dropped, therefore having a good impact on the environment as a whole. This is great news – it means our planet is finally getting a breather after years of damage caused by human activity.
Sources have reported a significant drop in carbon emissions within different countries ever since lockdowns were announced by governments worldwide. In late April, VICE stated that carbon emissions in the UK had already dropped by 48%, whilst in Italy they had dropped by 27%. The USA and China had also seen a slight drop of carbon emissions, with the USA’s dropping by 7.5% and China’s by 18%.
Another thing lockdown has brought is the re-emerging of various animals previously kept out of certain areas by human activity. Venice has recently seen the return of wildlife to their tourist-free city, as a result of the stoppage of motorboat traffic. Residents have reported that La Serenissima’s waterways have been transformed, and the blue and clear waters now reveal a view of the sandy bed, shoals of tiny fish, scuttling crabs and multi-coloured plant-life.
Similarly, Yosemite Village in California, which is usually overwhelmed by humans, has also seen bears and coyotes, who would previously stay in the shadows at the edges of the village, casually wandering around the empty area and trotting along the valley’s deserted roads and footpaths. Lockdown is really showing how the absence of human activity can help hidden nature and wildlife to resurface.
Oil prices plunging
As an indirect result of the lockdown keeping most of us at a distance, less flights are operating globally. During April, it was reported by The Guardian that nearly eight in 10 flights had been cancelled globally, with multiple planes in the US carrying just a handful of people.
The oil industry, one of the main drivers of climate crisis and environmental disaster, is currently in chaos, with a container of crude at one point hitting an outstanding -$40. Incidentally, this is good news for our environment, as the negative drop in oil prices could, in turn, mean less environmental disasters.
Largest-ever Artic ozone hole closed up
Another positive environmental effect is the fact that the largest Artic ozone hole of all time has now closed up just weeks after opening, according to scientists. The gap on the crucial layer was said to be about the same size as Greenland and it stretched over the top of the polar icecap, and it was said to have been caused due to unusual weather patterns over the Artic.
Although, CAMS scientists have mentioned that the ozone layer was not caused by lockdowns introduced to stop the spread of Covid-19, and was actually a symptom of the bigger problem of the ozone layer weakening, and it closed because of local annual cycles, not long-term healing – this is still good news to our environment which have taken place during the pandemic.
While we have witnessed and read article upon article informing us on the apparent improvement of air quality, re-emerging wildlife across the world and the ozone layer beginning to heal, sources such as National Geographic have warned that the fall in carbon emissions from lockdown will not slow climate change. In one of their articles, they have reported that in May, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen up to roughly 418 parts per million – the highest ever recorded in human history.
So, are we actually seeing improvements in regards to our environment? Yes, and lockdown has certainly triggered some positive responses from our planet. However, looking at the bigger picture, humanity going on lockdown for a while does not in any way put an end to climate change, or solve the recurring issue of environmental disasters.
Researchers across the board agree: what will happen in regards to the environment after lockdown ends will depend on how people move on. This means that we could potentially see long-lasting positive environmental change after the epidemic, but it is primarily down to our wider society, and how individuals and governments return to normality. Will we be more mindful about the environment once we are set free? Or will we completely ignore this all, and just get on with our lives as we did before?
Gabriela is a London-based Spanish journalism student. Besides food and Latin music, Gabriela is passionate about social issues, campaigning and raising awareness in the world.