How has COVID-19 Affected The Environment?


Anna Ochniak

Healthier air quality visible in Southern California

At the start of the global pandemic, businesses shut down, industries closed, people have stayed home, and restrictions have been put on travel, all in attempts to help stop the spread of  COVID-19. These methods have helped slow the spread of the virus, but they have had another positive effect: carbon emissions have dropped due to less traveling and other limitations put on businesses. As carbon emissions drop, the air quality becomes cleaner. Many people have noticed the cleaner and healthier air during the quarantine. This change has further led some people to believe that the environment is now healing while everyone is staying home. Although this is a lovely thought, this might not actually be the case. 

Healthier air quality visible in Southern California (Anna Ochniak )

At the start of the quarantine in April, global carbon emissions dropped 17% “compared to daily global averages from 2019.”  By June, however, pollution was “only about five percent lower than at the same point in 2019, even though normal activity has not yet fully restarted.” China also experienced cleaner air quality at the start of the pandemic, but when factories and transportation started to reopen, “pollution returned in early May to pre-coronavirus levels, and in some places surpassed them for a short time” because “factories pushed to make up for lost time.” 

The Amazon rainforest’s deforestation rates have also gone up, according to a Reuters article reporting data from space research agency INPE, “Destruction in Brazil’s portion of the Amazon increased 64% in April, compared with the same month a year ago.” A lot of the deforestation of the Amazon has been done illegally. Many people have gotten away with this crime because they “are using the [COVID-19] pandemic” as a diversion.

Furthermore, the deforestation rates can make matters worse for COVID-19 patients. As more smoke is being released into the atmosphere, the air quality becomes unhealthier which makes it more difficult for COVID-19 patients to recover the respiratory illness. People in California have already experienced respiratory issues due to the unhealthy air quality. The air pollution has recently increased due to the wildfires raging across the state. When more and more businesses and industries reopen, the air quality and carbon emissions could potentially be worse than ever before.