The pandemic’s effect was not only limited to human life and activities. Earth’s environment was positively as well as negatively impacted by the sudden halt that the world was put on because of the virus.
3 Oct, 2021
The novel coronavirus (Covid-19) has enveloped the entire world for well over a year now. After its origin in Wuhan, China, the COVID-19 virus has spread to all sectors of Earth, taking over 3 million lives with it. Causing a wide array of health issues like chest pains and shortness of breath that could complicate into more serious conditions, the virus was quick to cause a total shutdown of most nations. However, this pandemic’s effect was not only limited to human life and activities. Earth’s environment including its animals and plants were positively as well as negatively impacted by the sudden halt that the world was put on because of the virus.
Positive Impacts of the Coronavirus Pandemic
The lockdowns and travel restrictions that were a product of the pandemic were seen to have certain beneficial effects on the environment. Not only were air and water pollution seen to decrease, but noise pollution levels went down as well.
According to a research study done in 2020, there was an average decrease of 36.48% in observed SPM concentrations during lockdown compared to the pre-lockdown  SPM or suspended particulate matter are very small solids or liquids in the air, and their primary source in the modern day is industrial activity. Further gains in air quality were observed in form of reduction in levels of other harmful emissions as well. In major cities such as Madrid, Milan, Rome, and Paris, NO2 emissions were seen to drop by 30-60%. Lower atmospheric pollution reduces the pace of the looming issue of global climate change.
In addition to reduced air pollution, reduced resource consumption and waste disposal were seen to better the quality of water and decrease noise pollution. According to Sumita Singhal, a deputy program manager at the center for science and environment, because of a 500% reduction of sewage and industrial effluents, the water quality of rivers in India’s cities of Hardiwar and Rishikesh, was seen to increase greatly. The pandemic was seen to help water quality of bodies of rivers in India . People staying at home and reduced economic activities were also seen to ultimately reduce noise levels in most cities .
The positive impacts of the pandemic were seen to bring life back into ecosystems. Mountain goats were seen in the streets of Wales, there has been a return of baby sea turtles on beaches, and the songs of birds and the wild can be heard clearer than ever . However, these positive effects are somewhat short-term and can even lead to very harsh negative impacts on the world.
Negative Impacts of the Coronavirus Pandemic
Although the positive impacts of the pandemic may seem to be helping the environment, the detrimental effects possibly outweigh the positives.
According to Matt McGrath, an environment correspondent, what seems to be happening now is that we have a massive development of renewable energy, which is good for tackling climate change, but this is occurring alongside massive investments in coal and gas . Though the economic activities of most major nations were brought to a halt during 2020, the economic recovery made in 2021 may result in coal usage levels that surpass those during the pre-covid era. This increased investments in coal and gas can be attributed to higher electricity demand and industrial output .
The rebound in demand for coal, the single largest source of global CO2 emissions, underscores the challenge that its continued significant role in the power sector and industry poses for efforts to meet international climate goals . More fossil fuels being used all over the world may outweigh the reduced carbon emissions during the pandemic. In the short term, although there was a clear reduction in CO2 emissions, it is clear that in the future this positive impact will be short-lived.
In addition to the increased burning of fossil fuels to keep up with the energy demand, some of the excessive manufacture of consumable products during this period also had a massive negative impact. During the pandemic, the demand for PPE (personal protective equipment) increased exponentially in efforts to protect the people from the virus. However according to the European Environment Agency, the production, consumption, and disposal of additional single-use plastics will have a greater impact on the environment and climate, such as increased air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, waste generation and risk of littering . Also, it has been observed that global electric power demand has now surged above pre-pandemic levels .
To add to these detrimental effects on the environment, the increased use of disinfectants, hand sanitizers and alcohol are also proven to be toxic to the environment and microorganisms . This is an especially significant issue as the usage of these disinfectants and PPE is essential in protecting people from the virus. However, these very products and methods of staying safe have long-term impacts on the environment, impacts that may far outweigh the short-term positive impacts.
As we summarize in Figure 3, the long-term and short-term impacts of COVID-19 on the environment include many attributes and changes.
Although the positive impacts of COVID may be very visible now, the negative impacts must not be ignored. As stated by a recently published study, policymakers should take note of improved air and water quality conditions due to the ceased anthropogenic activities and should plan the future urban dynamics accordingly.  Although the positive impacts of the pandemic may be only temporary, this can be an eminent opportunity to implement policies to facilitate true change. A change that can better the Earth for future generations to enjoy. A change that must be truly fought for.
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