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The unexpected positive and negative environmental impacts of the Corona crisis

Air pollution improves in countries like India; photo courtesy Seven News

Who could have imagined the health impacts, let alone the economic ones, of a virtual lock down of modern day society? As if the catastrophe of the 2019/2020 bushfires were not hard enough for parts of Australia to deal with, now we are dealing with the aftermath of 74 deaths (current as of 22/4/20) and a hit to the economic foundations of this country not equalled for generations.

As Queen Elizabeth II described, we are ‘resilient’ people, and I am sure we will bounce back from this, but how long will it take? For us, who were (touch wood) affected a lot less than the rest of the world, it may not be such a long upward climb, but how resilient is America, or Italy? It surely will take some time to get back to what all of our normal looks like.

So what have been the positives that have come out of the Corona crisis? Dolphins swimming up canals in Venice, nope that proved to be a fake, but what an idea! Some of the real benefits that have come out of the Pandemic, howeverdo include improvements in air quality. described this in early April as ‘our planet has been given a chance to breathe’. With hundreds of factories shut down, planes littering airport runways at a standstill and, many of us who can work from home, leaving the car to sit in the driveway for days and weeks at a time.

News 12 goes on to say that the global shutdown caused by the virus has inadvertently become the

‘biggest experiment ever in the reduction of greenhouse gases’.

Additionally, China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment has recorded data showing an 84.5% increase in improved air quality across over 300 cities (between January and March 2020). The United States Aeronautics and Space Administration also shows a decline in nitrogen dioxide over China, during the peak of its Covid 19 shutdown.

We have taken the measures to drastically shut down coal and oil driven enterprises known to comprome our air quality and atmospheric conditions, and we have lessened the curve towards the heating of the planet – or climate change. We are capable! We can pull the handbrake on and adapt, if we need to.

Unfortunately, this good news has been matched around the world with instances of complacency, masked as compassion in these trying times. One example is the American Environmental Protection Agency, significantly relaxing pollution regulations.

There has also been an increase in medical waste – much of the personal protective equipment that healthcare professionals are using can only be worn once before being disposed of. According to hospitals in Wuhan, for example, produced over 200 tons of waste per day during the peak of their outbreak.

Recycling has stopped in part of Europe and America, for fears that the virus could be spread this way. An incredibly valid argument, but one that could take us back in waste reduction measures considerably – in mass and behavioural indices.

Water quality has also taken a plunge, Bloomberg describing China’s sewerage disinfection routines as having been strengthened with an increase use in chlorine. This can obviously have consequences at the other end of the water cycle with higher levels of toxic chemicals in natural systems affecting aquatic plants and animals, but also potentially affecting humanities drinking water.

There is no doubt that the Corona virus has had a profound effect on the world’s population, and may have given us a glimpse of what a modern day pandemic looks like, including unexpected impacts – good and bad… what is your experience?

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