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The greener side of sheltering-in-place

Hannah Moon, Keerthana Ramaswamy, and Kathy Xing

Published Feb. 26, 2020

Staff Writer, Feature World Editor, and Opinions Editor

AXie_Environment During Quarantine.png

Aileen Xie Art

Catching the attention of citizens worldwide, the year 2020 began with the novel coronavirus. Sooner than anticipated, it spread across the globe, halting social activities and causing widespread shelter in place. However, amidst the devastating pandemic, the environment has seen major improvements. According to Carbon Brief, carbon dioxide emissions have dropped by 5.5 percent in 2020, leading to predictions that this year will be the largest annual drop in carbon dioxide emissions since the end of World War II.

Globally, there has been reduced traffic and emissions. According to the New York Times, in the US, emissions linked to cars and trucks declined in major metropolitan areas. Los Angeles no longer has a recognizable rush hour, and in New York City, emissions of carbon monoxide dropped to under 50 percent of usual levels. In China, Reuters found that pollution from nitrogen dioxide, which is emitted by cars, power plants and factories, decreased by 40 percent in major cities. In Delhi, where civilians ingest the air pollution equivalent of 50 cigarettes a day, Air Quality Index levels have consistently remained below 20 as a result of the lockdown, as stated by the Guardian.


“It is upsetting that it took a global pandemic for the environment to improve. It shows that it was fully possible for people to address pollution even before the virus. This was definitely not a silver lining—if people cared about global warming as much as they did about COVID-19, the environment would be very different today,” Sophomore Anita Britto said.

"COVID-19 has given the environment some reprieve from human activity, but it is short-term. Once the economy is back on track, consumerism will go on as it always has, as will all human activities that inevitably cause damage to the environment."

Senior Catherine Li

Aside from shifts in air pollution, the lockdown has also affected wildlife. In the Welsh town of Llandudno, mountain goats have emerged around the city square; in southern France, two fin whales were spotted just offshore from Marseilles, a typically bustling port city; in San Jose, a video captured by a resident revealed close to 200 goats roaming free in a Silver Creek neighborhood. However, Faisal Moola, a professor at the University of Guelph, explains that COVID-19 will only have a long-term impact on wildlife if human activity that negatively impacts species is continuously reduced.

Unfortunately, the pandemic is not entirely environment-friendly. In Brazil— home to 60 percent of the Amazon rainforest—officials have announced intentions to cut back on efforts to fight environmental crimes. Furthermore, according to UN News, the pandemic has caused an increase in medical and hazardous waste, raising concerns regarding its disposal.

While temporarily, pollution has declined, responses to COVID-19 are by no means a comprehensive way to address environmental issues faced by the world. According to Human Rights Watch, while environmental benefits may appear as a silver lining, pollution and greenhouse gases will return when lockdowns are lifted. The pandemic has postponed the United Nation’s (UN) annual climate summit as well as disrupted various other international meetings relating to the environment, jeopardizing efforts to meet climate commitments that have already been made.

“COVID-19 has given the environment some reprieve from human activity, but it is short-term. Once the economy is back on track, consumerism will go on as it always has, as will all human activities that inevitably cause damage to the environment,” Senior Catherine Li said.

However, lessons regarding the environment can be taken from COVID-19. An indirect effect of the virus is that it definitively indicates how human activity has an impact on the environment. In his Earth Day speech, UN Secretary- General Antonio Guterres referred to the current pandemic as an “unprecedented wake-up call,” emphasizing the post-pandemic period as a “real opportunity to do things right for the future.” According to the Hill, the pandemic demonstrates a necessity for preparedness and governmental action that will need to be applied to adequately address climate change, an issue that has seen a general lack of unified global action.

“For a long-term beneficial impact on the environment, everyone has to make substantial changes in their lives, such as switching to green transportation, using green energy and imposing harsher restrictions on businesses,” Sophomore Iris Zhou said. 

The pandemic has led to both negative and positive impacts on the environment. However, with reduced pollution and gas emissions, it has been proven that with enough changes to urban lifestyle, people can continue to reduce climate change. 

About the Contributors

Kathy Xing

Opinions Editor


Kathy is a senior and the Opinions page editor. She enjoys reading and playing games of every variety.

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