Shorts: A World Without People (For the Moment): The Environmental Upside of COVID-19

Caroline Griffith

In the days since Italy shut down all non-essential businesses and put citizens in quarantine, swans and dolphins have appeared in the canals in Venice. Normally teeming with tourist boats and Vaporetti, which are public water busses, the water in the canals is now open for animal traffic and clear enough to spot fish in, though the water quality hasn’t necessarily improved. Air quality, however, has improved because nearly all fossil-fuel burning vehicles have been taken off the roads and waterways.

In China, the quarantine and shuttering of factories led to a 40% decrease in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions, which are released by factories, power plants and vehicles. The burning of coal is a major source of emissions in China and, according to the State Of The Air 2019 report from the US Health Effects Institute, air pollution was responsible for 1.2 million deaths in 2017. Though business as usual is resuming in China, this demonstrates that large-scale mobilization can drastically and quickly reduce emissions, and that it may be one of the only ways to do it.