First it was China. Then it was Italy. Then, other countries all over the world decided to stop everything to deal with COVID-19. The economy and industrial activities came to a halt. Transport was the next victim. The streets emptied and the planet breathed. Even seismologists were saying that the Earth was vibrating less.
The restrictions put in place to control the spread of coronavirus quickly affected air quality and reduced our carbon footprint. The pandemic resulted in the biggest reduction in CO2 emissions since records began.
In less than a month, nitrogen dioxide emissions were between 20 and 30 per cent lower. As lockdown continued, these levels were 60% lower in China, Western Europe, and the USA.
The effects could even be seen from space. NASA announced that, following the first lockdown in Wuhan, the levels of nitrogen dioxide in China had reached historical lows.
— NASA Earth (@NASAEarth) February 28, 2020
In Europe, the European Space Agency (ESA) showed how the continent changed during the first lockdown period.
In Spain, a study from the Polytechnic University of Valencia stated that the skies over Spain were 64% cleaner. Barcelona, Castellón, and Madrid benefited the most from these changes.
Imagine taking a peek out of your window in India and seeing the Himalayas. For the first time in 30 years, the improvement in air quality allowed the iconic peaks to be seen from 200km away.
What nature really is and how we screwed it up.
This is Dhauladhar mountain range of Himachal, visible after 30 yrs, from Jalandhar (Punjab) after pollution drops to its lowest level. This is approx. 200 km away straight. #Lockdown21 #MotherNature #Global healing. pic.twitter.com/cvZqbWd6MR
— Diksha Walia (@Deewalia) April 3, 2020
Enjoy these images of an almost deserted Venice. Everything came to a halt, including maritime transport, and the canal water turned clear.
With the streets empty, nature took over once again. We spotted mountain goats running through Welsh streets, ducks in the centre of Paris, and deer in Japanese cities.
Thanks to lockdown, you could go out on your balcony and notice the silence. That’s because noise pollution, the second most dangerous environmental risk factor according to the WHO, also drastically reduced.
The University of Toulouse initiated the Silent Cities program to measure noise levels in cities during lockdown. Environmental noise pollution reduced by 90% in some areas of Paris.
The negative side: more plastic
Changing our habits has also led to some negatives, particularly in terms of the circular economy. Hospital waste and home deliveries have both increased and, as a result, so has the use of plastic.
A report by Ecoembes showed that the amount of plastic being deposited in plastic recycling containers in Spain had increased by 15%.
Cities will never be the same again after the pandemic. Can we make them more sustainable? Have we learned something from this?