The coronavirus pandemic is menacingly dreadful, causing hard-to-repair economic and social destruction. The world saw it coming but was caught under-prepared, tricking the nations into blaming each other, instead of co-operating to control the vicious pandemic.
The SARS-CoV-2 is intimately linked to climate change. Emissions have fallen as people are driving less and industrial production has come to a halt. The deeper we dig into the pandemic influencing the climate, the more surprising and dangerous outcomes begin to emerge. According to an analysis that surfaced back in February, China's economy and the significant industries coming to a standstill caused the country's emissions to plummet by 25%. Another analysis by climate group Carbon Brief found that this year, there are chances for the emission to fall by 5.5% as compared to 2019. The figure may look small now, but considering that fewer vehicles are on the road and industries have been stalled, researchers still think it is commendable.
The US's electricity usage has also dropped slightly, but oil sales have dropped to a greater extent. According to data presented by Northern Arizona University, the amount of gasoline supplied in the US dropped by 50% over the two weeks ending April 3. On the other hand, the amount of diesel provided remained relatively stable. Researchers estimate that’s probably because diesel is a more commercial fuel used in delivery trucks that are still serviceable.
According to a team of researchers at the University of Washington and Goethe University Frankfurt, one of the strangest consequences of air pollution is that it can actually help bounce back the sun's energy into space, thus cooling the planet. The phenomenon is known as cloud brightening, where the pollution emitted by cargo ships reaches the clouds. The sulfate particles collect water vapor and make the cloud brighter, therefore, making them reflect sunlight better. Ships also leave trails of highlighted clouds known as "ship tracks" as they travel across the ocean.
The team analyzed a shipping route in the South Atlantic Ocean, which had wind blowing across the current. Therefore, they could differentiate how reflective the clouds were directly over the route and outside it and compare them. The effect turned out to be substantial as the brightened clouds were able to block an additional 2 watt of solar energy from reaching the ocean’s surface.
The researchers then calculated the planetary scale over both land and sea and found that pollution-induced clouds block 1-watt energy per square meter of planet Earth. To compare the results, anthropogenic greenhouse-gas emissions trap 3 watts per square meter. The team also observed that the phenomenon varies with the fuel. Low-quality fuel spews a lot of sulfate in the air. Coal and natural gas plants don't produce as much sulfate as compared to ships on the ocean.
The researchers also had to consider how land and sea absorb the sun's energy differently. The ocean could be great for reflecting light, but space is pitch black. Therefore, the oceans are warming up dramatically. Clearly, air pollution is a significant threat to human health and the environment. The carbon dioxide emission is toxic and is the biggest reason for global warming, but surprisingly, not all types of emissions are harmful.
The recycling process was in shambles even before the pandemic. Given the dropping prices of oil this year, it is cheaper for the companies now to buy virgin plastic instead of recycled plastic. Due to the worldwide lockdown, many recycling companies are shutting down, therefore what little was being recycled is not being recycled at all today. At the same time, the consumption of single-use plastic has also peaked. Panic buying and stocking up sanitizers, soaps, plastic-covered food take-outs, and individually wrapped products create disposability issues.
Scientists, just like the rest of us, are stuck at home during the pandemic, which is a big problem in climatic science studies. Scientists say that it is disruptive as anyone who relies on fieldwork, or on things that are not yet automated, would have to settle for a pause. No fieldwork means less research. Therefore there isn't enough data on global warming and acidifying. Researchers who monitor the effects of climatic change on flora and fauna cannot collect photographs from camera traps. Conserving the endangered species requires the conservationists to monitor and preserve their natural habitats frequently. Even after receiving data remotely, it would be difficult for the researchers to get access to computing power at home due to aggregating government data.
It is high time for the nations to pay attention to the environment and the natural resources as the threats posed by the pandemic will cause irreparable damage. Several rural and coastal populations are dependent on the sustainable use of natural resources and raw material derived from the local environmental resources. Small farmers and medium-sized enterprises that are involved in the production of biofuels, companies dealing in animal husbandry, fishery, and ecotourism services will be greatly affected by the consequential effects of the pandemic.
As the pandemic has disrupted the link between national and international markets, rural producers, and many individuals supporting their households are no longer able to provide for their livelihoods and business models. If the crisis extends, many such businesses will be left with no other choice but to abandon sustainable production, resulting in more exploitation of the environment, natural resources, and ecosystem to generate more revenue.