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COVID-19 and The Environment

COVID-19 has posed many difficulties globally in the past months since it first presented itself back in December 2019. The clear issues include a serious public health crisis, the shutdown of schools and workplaces, and a national quarantine. However, a less acknowledged effect of the pandemic has been on the environment. Over time, the sudden dramatic shift in many American’s lifestyles has caused multiple changes in the environment and ecological life.

A scientific study was conducted on this matter and produced concrete results. This study, published on ScienceDirect, named both positive and negative impacts on COVID’s impacts.

In studying its benefits, improvements in air quality, cleaner beaches, and less environmental noise have been proven to be linked to COVID. Climate experts predict that greenhouse gas emissions could plummet to much lower levels. Due to social distancing policies mandated during the pandemic, the use of vehicles dropped drastically, as well as the temporary shutdown of power plants and large industrial facilities. Each of these measures contributed to the reduction of nitrogen dioxide in the atmosphere, improving air quality and pollution levels.

Philadelphia has also seen these exciting results. When tracking and counting how many “good air days” the city has yearly, the Environmental Protection Agency reveals that the greater Philadelphia metropolitan area has seen 99 “good days” compared to last year’s 70. When asked about long-term benefits of the air quality change, Peter Decarlo, associate professor of environmental health and engineering at Johns Hopkins University, responded, “While we might not know that the air is cleaner, our bodies actually might actually might feel that, that difference in ways that we can't really perceive.” 

Additionally, social distancing measures have caused a substantial amount of beaches to get cleaned up since there was a reduction of waste from fewer tourists and visitors coming to these beaches.

On another positive note, environmental noise, defined as unwanted sound generated from human activity, has decreased. This noise can affect animal life and alters the ecosystem’s natural conditions. With the halt of vehicle use and industrial and commercial activities because of the quarantine, this environmental noise has dropped considerably in most cities worldwide, helping set natural conditions back on track.

However, on the other hand, COVID-19 has also caused negative environmental results. Some cities in the United States suspended their recycling programs over fears of spreading the virus in recycling centers. Lacking the ability to recycle has taken away an “effective way to prevent pollution, save energy, and preserve natural resources,” the same source tells. 

The stay-at-home orders required citizens to adjust their daily routines, including their amount of waste. With people using more inorganic materials, copious amounts of waste have consequently compiled as people increased online shopping, home delivery, and food orders.

NASA has also begun to study and pose important questions about COVID’s connection with climate change. They spark many intriguing thoughts, such as how less deforestation may lead to positive biodiversity effects, fewer planes being in the sky can cool down temperatures, and how less air pollution may mean less rain. While these are all speculations, scientists are intensely studying and learning more about how the environment will react to these COVID-induced changes.

While the pandemic has caused an eerie, sometimes painful new way of living, there has surely been some optimism coming out the other end. In the end, the common phrase “the grass is always greener on the other side” may actually prove to be true!


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