Due to its above-average transmission rate and delayed symptoms, the COVID-19 coronavirus strain has transformed into a paralyzing, deadly pandemic. Accordingly, this pandemic has halted most global operations.
With these changes, water and air quality across numerous regions have significantly improved. But in the longer run, these effects aren’t likely to last, scientists say.t
Unclear Whether Progress Will Persist After the Coronavirus Outbreak
Despite the apparent environmental alleviation unintentionally caused by the coronavirus pandemic, scientists expect that these solutions are only short-term.
In truth, many scientists project that pollution rates will return to normal after the pandemic passes. When industrial operations continue, we will likely see reduced air and water quality once more.
Steven Davis, an Earth Science professor at University of California, Irvine, highlights both the positive and negative environmental impacts of the coronavirus.
On one hand, Davis says the pandemic may actually increase efforts to combat climate change. “We may feel more empowered to take on daunting issues like climate change and a transition to sustainable energy sources.”
But in the same vein, Davis adds that “hard economic times could undermine enthusiasm for environmental protection as people prioritize health, safety, and recovery.”
The Pandemic Could Stifle Green Consumption
Moreover, the pandemic’s imminent recession could actually stifle green consumption. “If consumers turn their backs on solar and electric vehicles, the pandemic could stem the progress we’ve been making toward decarbonization,” Davis said.
To further curb environmental improvements, the wind energy sector may face stunted growth due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Wind energy researcher, Dan Shreve, even predicts a drop in the usually booming wind sector. Compared to previous projections, Shreve anticipates a 4.9 gigawatts reduction in wind capacity growth compared to the previous projections.
The Global Wind Energy Council also agrees that wind energy’s growth may suffer. In a recent report, the council forecast that wind energy will face new challenges due to the coronavirus.
“[Wind energy will] undoubtedly be impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, due to disruptions to global supply chains and project execution in 2020,” the report says.
What Will the Net Environmental Impact of the Coronavirus Look Like?
While it’s true that the coronavirus has limited air and water pollution, the net environmental impact is not so clear. Air quality analyst, Lauri Myllyvirta, predicts that the net environmental toll of the pandemic may actually stray into the negatives.
“The Chinese government’s coming stimulus measures in response to the disruption could outweigh these shorter-term impacts on energy and emissions, as it did after the global financial crisis and the 2015 domestic economic downturn,” Myllyvirta notes.
In essence, because governments must (rightfully) act to stifle the pandemic, these efforts may offset temporary improvements in air and water quality.
To further diminish the positive impact of shelter-at-home laws, we may see increased freight transportation pollution. Because companies must now keep up with rising demands for groceries and medical supplies, increased ground transportation could actually negate the benefits of limited travel on air quality.
The coronavirus obviously hasn’t solved our environmental problems, but at the least it has given us a wakeup call. How we react to that wakeup call will make all the difference.