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Opinion: The environment is benefiting from coronavirus outbreak

A hand sanitizer station inside McCarran International Airport, in Las Vegas, on March 10. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Every year, global greenhouse gas emissions have increased, hitting new records. According to an estimate from the Global Carbon Project, in 2019 “total carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and industry totaled 36.8 million tons,”, marking a record emissions increase since the previous year.

At this rate, nearly everywhere in the world will be significantly warmer than pre-industrial times and face extreme heat according to a climate change model published on the San Francisco Exploratorium museum’s educational website. 

As it turns out, however, a nearly global quarantine amid the deadly, grim coronavirus outbreak has slowed the increase of these emissions, giving the environment a much needed moment to breathe and teaching an important lesson of how we must approach climate change.

Clear waters in the Venice canal. (Photography by Marco Capovilla and Venezia Pulita)

Images portray a much cleaner and clearer Venice canal in which fish are swimming. In spite of the fear that has racked the city of Venice (and Italy as a whole), swans, fish and dolphins have been spotted swimming playfully in the waters of the once heavily polluted canal.

Lockdowns, and legally mandated quarantine — as is the case in Spain and other European countries — across the world have forced many to stay inside. Less people are driving, taking cruises, airplanes, and in turn, decreasing the magnitude of our carbon footprints. 

As evidenced by a NASA Earth report, nitrogen dioxide emissions over China have significantly dropped during the coronavirus quarantine and its resulting economic deceleration.

According to BBC, researchers have concluded that carbon monoxide emissions have “been reduced by 50% compared [to] last year.”

The article goes on to mention that scientists claim that in May, the time of year when C02 emissions “are at their peak” due to the decomposition of leaves, “levels recorded might be the lowest since the financial crisis over a decade ago.” 

(Image courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory)

Though it can be difficult to remind ourselves during this time, every bad circumstance has a silver lining.

In this instance, particularly, let’s use what we have learned to re-emerge from this dark time with the knowledge to save the planet before it becomes too late.

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