COVID-19 has a bright side… Is the heading, right? People are dying. Thousands of lives are at risk. How can an epidemic virus with over 86,000 confirmed cases worldwide possibly have a bright side to it?
COVID-19 the official name given by WHO to the novel coronavirus (formerly 2019-nCoV) caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus has taken the world by storm. It’s everywhere, and everyone is talking about it. The gloomy news of the outbreak became a “pandemic” in viral terms since its discovery in December 2019 in Wuhan, the capital of the province of Hubei, China. The outbreak progressed to an epidemic, and global containment efforts are in force to halt the spread from reaching a pandemic level.
Are we too late? Apart from the apocalyptical media frenzy termed as “infodemic” by WHO, until now, nothing is concrete. The fatality rate is low, currently estimated at around 2%. For comparison, the fatality rate of SARS was 10%, and MERS was 34% of confirmed cases. Nonetheless, it is still too early to call.
“Every dark cloud has its silver lining, and we have a lot to learn from the disruption COVID-19 brought by.” – Fabian Borg
Economic impasse or a breath of cleaner air…
COVID-19 stalled the Chinese economy that resulted in an abrupt cut of emissions. For those unaware, as of 2018, China was the main carbon dioxide (CO2) emitter accounting for 27.8% of the global emissions. This percentage equals to 9.43 billion metric tons of CO2 that are mostly generated by the coal power stations that account for 70% of the electricity generated in China. The reduction in emissions resulted from the lockdown with millions of people in quarantine and the stalled industrial output that demanded less power.
The decline in the use of coal, diesel-powered land transportation and domestic flights featured a 36% reduction in Nitrogen dioxide (NO2). NO2 is notorious for generating the smog in cities with the combination of sulphur oxides, ozone, smoke and other particulates. From these, carbon dioxide (CO2), Nitrogen dioxide (N02), and ozone (O3) are the primary greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere that contribute to global warming and the relevant climate change.
NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) pollution monitoring satellites detected significant decreases in NO2 over China. In just two weeks, China has emitted 25% less carbon dioxide when compared to the same periods over the past years. The data images hereunder are compelling, indeed.
Image credit – NASA Earth Observatory – COVID-19 Reduction in Emissions, China
The data was collected by the Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI) on ESA’s Sentinel-5p satellite. The Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) sensor on NASA’s Aura satellite, measured similar data.
COVID-19 created an opportunity
COVID-19 opened a short-term bracket with a delayed rebound (the time to recover to average emissions) for researchers to analyse actual reductions and calibrate the existing climate models. Climate models are the means that researches use to forecast very close approximations to real-life case scenarios based on historic quality-assured data and events. The Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP) is the current model being used by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC). Recall the famous Global Warming of 1.5°C special report that Greta Thunberg brought to public knowledge last year.
Image credit – NASA Earth Observatory – COVID-19 Reduction in Emissions, Wuhan, China
As COVID-19 spreads more around the world, Health Authorities will be forced to take more preventive measures to enforce quarantines and eventually restrict air travel to strict necessity. In doing so, we might witness a concrete reduction in human-generated emissions. Could this balance out the pollution produced by the Amazon fires and the Bush fires in Australia?
Image credit World Health Organization – Distribution of COVID-19 as at 01 March 2020
Why should we be apprehensive about air pollution?
WHO estimates that around 7 million people die every year from exposure to polluted air. The data file can be view here. Despite the understandable panic and disruption that COVID-19 brought-by, none of the modern-day viral diseases combined match the fatality of the silent killer.
Just like global recessions stall economic growth and favour decreased emissions, the dreadful COVID-19 brought by an ironic bright side. If exploited well, COVID-19 could help researchers and policymakers establish optimal environmental policies for our, and future generations wellbeing. Health is a fundamental human right.
Q. Is the Earth the center of the universe?
A. NO! We’re not even in the center of our own spiral galaxy called the Milky Way. We are located in the peripheral of the Milky Way and at the center of our galaxy exists a supermassive black hole.