There are few good things that coronavirus has done for the world, but the mass lockdown across the planet has shown some unexpected environmental impacts. In honour of Earth Day, from pollution to the emergence of wildlife and and plants, I thought it fitting to look at how less human activity has positively benefited the Earth.
Carbon emissions have been on everyone’s radar since Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg began the ‘Fridays for Future‘ school strikes back in 2018. Carbon Brief released a study in February, showing that the strict Coronavirus lockdown in China had significant environmental benefits.
The main such benefit was a 25% reduction in carbon emissions over a month, which equates to approximately 200m tonnes of CO2. This is the equivalent of 56% of the UK’s annual CO2 emissions, estimated in 2019 to be around 354m tonnes.
According to the Cabinet Office Briefing Room (COBR) statistics, in the UK transport use has reduced by more than 60% since February. Figures vary day-by-day on motor vehicle usage, but vary between 20-40% of February figures.
In parts of Northern India, residents are able to see the Himalayan mountains clearly for the first time in around 30 years, due to the reduced air pollution.
In Venice the strict lockdown has stopped tourism to the city and means that canal traffic has been significantly reduced. As a result, residents are reporting that the waters are flowing clear for the first time in years. Some are even saying they can see fish, crabs and aquatic plants in the canals too!
Across the world animals are noticing the environmental impacts of coronavirus as well. In Llandudno, Wales there have been reports of Great Orme sheep coming down from the park and roaming the streets. They allegedly managed to eat some hedges and wander across a few roads, making the most of the empty space.
In Vancouver, Canada residents have spotted pods of adult and baby orcas in a usually bustling industrial fjord. The Burrard Inlet is quiet due to social distancing measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus therefore encouraging the whales to venture further in than they have been in decades.
It is not all positive however, as some wild animals are clearly suffering as a result of the lack of human interaction.
In early March, there were reports of disturbing videos from Lopburi, Thailand showing large numbers of monkeys fighting over a yogurt pot. While reduced tourism has caused pollution reductions, many animals such as these monkeys rely on tourists for food and are going hungry in their absence.
Similarly, in Nara, Japan deer are leaving their usual habitat of the parks in search of food. They too would usually be fed by tourists, and the lack of visitors means that they are being spotted in the city centre, eating the grass growing there.
Plantlife has long been campaigning for reduced roadside verge cutting, as this inhibits the growth and survival of many wildflower species. They estimate that around 45% of the UK’s flora can be found along verges, and have frequently called for less frequent trimming of them.
As many areas have deemed verge maintenance non-essential work, Plantlife says this will have huge environmental benefits. The verges are usually cut four times a year, generating an estimated 45,508 tonnes of CO2 emissions. Even one less cut makes a significant difference.
In addition, many species such as birds, bees and butterflies rely on wildflowers to survive and by letting them grow, we can help these species at little detriment to ourselves.
Plantlife also state that the usual April cutting is too early for many flora to set seed. As coronavirus restrictions are still in place, they say that flowers such as white campion, betrony, greater knapweed and harewell will have a much better chance of survival.
While it would be completely inappropriate to say there are benefits to Coronavirus, it is clear from lockdown just how much humans pollute the Earth. When this crisis is under more control and people go back to resuming their normal lives, it is worth remembering the stark differences we have noticed as humans are forced to stay indoors and reduce their environmental impact.
Who knows, maybe the drastic changes seen during this short period of lockdown will encourage more people to be environmentally aware and make positive changes for the planet.