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Conservation Corner: The environmental silver lining of COVID-19

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“Like all the preceding disasters on the earth, let all be optimistic enough that, human beings will definitely win over the pandemic in due course of time, but they should know the limits to which they can thrust nature, before it is too late” (Chakroborty and Maity).

COVID-19 has brought about a global pandemic unlike anything seen in over a century, resulting in travel restrictions, lock downs, and stay-at home orders across the world, effectively stopping the “normal way of life.” The “normal lifestyle” that our developed world wants back, however, is having catastrophic consequences for the environment and the health of the earth.

The silver lining of the terrible pandemic may be this: across the world, air pollution has drastically decreased with pandemic restrictions. A key component to air pollution is nitrogen dioxide, NO2. High NO2 levels increase the likelihood of respiratory problems, affecting the lining of the lungs and reducing immunity to lung infections, as well as acid rain and nutrient pollution. Like CO2, it traps heat in the atmosphere, and does so even more effectively than CO2.

NO2 primarily is transported to the environment through emissions from cars, trucks, buses, power plants and any other source that burns fuel. The quarantine has significantly reduced NO2 levels across the globe, as demonstrated and mapped out in a project I did for one of my classes with three other University of Delaware students: Delaney Doran, Megan Jarocki, and Lily Peterson.

The air pollution reduction can be seen dramatically globally, especially in some of the most polluted places. But it also affects our own city: Newark, Delaware. Looking around, everyday Newark citizens can see a small change in the city’s environment from this shutdown. According to citizens, the air feels cleaner. Animals and plants are seeing a boom in our city and cities around the world. This sounds like a wonderful thing until a realization hits that this is because of a world crisis.

As the world reopens, environmental benefits worldwide could easily reverse if communities prioritize pre-pandemic norms and ways of living. COVID-19 can be considered a wake-up call – a turning point – in the relationship between humans and the environment. Many economies have suffered greatly from this pandemic and must be revived, therefore while re-opening, the developed world should strive for a new normal.

This normal can be achieved by walking, biking and running instead of driving. It is likely the new normal of working from home will continue to be available for many at least for a part of the work week. Newark residents can work towards Goal 2.2 of the Newark Sustainability Plan, “City of Newark Supports a car free lifestyle” while returning to this new normal.

This will reduce carbon and nitrogen emissions and fuel costs as well as benefit each individual with the time savings associated with sitting in traffic many hours a week. Remember the beauty and privilege of the outdoors. Respect the earth instead of polluting it. The one benefit this pandemic has brought us can be easily reversed if we learn from our old lifestyle and the our current one to create a ‘new normal.’

The Conservation Advisory Commission was created in 1977 to advise the city of Newark in the development, management and protection of its natural resources, with appropriate consideration of Newark’s human and economic resources. It meets the second Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. in council chambers. The public is invited to attend and provide input. Commission members provide this monthly column to inform area residents on conservation issues.

(2) comments

Isaiah T

Oh good. Next time why don't we just process 50% of the population through the Soylent Green machines and make food for the other 50% and then be done with it. And I guess we start with 50% of the world's population that lives in poverty, starvation, and despair. See, every cloud does have a silver lining.

odgreen

Great article, Robyn. Thanks for writing it. I also hope at least some of the environmental effects we are seeing from this massive involuntary change in human behavior will open some eyes for those who didn't think it would be possible for humanity to make such a rapid change. Hopefully, at least some of those behaviors (like working from home at least some of the week) can continue into the post-pandemic world. At least something good is being salvaged from this tragedy. Stay safe!

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