The Environmental Impacts of a Pandemic

From social distancing to closed school and workplaces, the COVID-19 pandemic has touched almost every facet of daily life in the United States and around the world. But the pandemic has had some positive effects, too — just not where most think to look. According to recent satellite data, levels of air pollution have dropped dramatically in […]

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From social distancing to closed school and workplaces, the COVID-19 pandemic has touched almost every facet of daily life in the United States and around the world. But the pandemic has had some positive effects, too — just not where most think to look. According to recent satellite data, levels of air pollution have dropped dramatically in both China and Italy, places in which COVID-19 has brought industry and locomotion to an almost complete halt.

In this way, the pandemic may be an unexpected boon for the environment. Government advisories to practice social distancing, as well as stricter stay-at-home measures in the hardest hit areas, have led to an increase in the number of people working from home and a corresponding decrease in movement. The constriction of international airways coincides with a drop-off in aerial activity — no more business trips or family vacations for the time being. Given that car transportation and aviation account for a lion’s share of the world’s carbon footprint, it’s not surprising that the pandemic crisis has come with a few environmental benefits.

However, COVID-19 has had less favorable effects elsewhere in the environmental world. The economic downturn resulting from the pandemic has taken a toll on all businesses, especially those in service and tourism-oriented sectors of the market. As COVID-19 spreads across America, the National Park Service (NPS) has begun to shut down parks and monuments, despite the negative economic effects of turning visitors away — not that visitors have been arriving in droves these days. All of this is bad news not only for America’s national parks, but also for the businesses surrounding them, many of which depend on nature-loving tourists as their major source of revenue. The federal government, meanwhile, is working hard to mitigate the economic effects of the pandemic crisis, especially in the realm of oil. Instability in the petroleum industries, due in large part to decreased demand for oil, could drag the entire economy deeper into the swamps.

Some environmentalists see social distancing as the new normal, a policy which could have far-ranging, positive environmental effects. But for most, who may be unaware of the environmental co-benefits associated with anti-virus measures, social distancing and working from home remain pesky challenges and inconveniences.

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