It’s hard to see the silver lining for a pandemic that’s killing thousands of people and trashing the global economy. Especially when that pandemic shows no signs of slowing down.
In fact, a number of economists and even the president recently acknowledged that the U.S. will more than likely experience a recession as a result of this health emergency. What’s more, a recent study by the World Health Organization has revealed that COVID-19 can be transmitted through the air, too, debunking the prior belief that you could only receive it via physical contact.
As for all the young people who haven’t been worrying? Well, while the death rate for older generations is significantly higher, Gen Z, millennials, and Gen X are still very much at risk. New CDC data reported by the New York Times shows that around 40% of people ill enough to be hospitalized are between the ages of 20 and 54.
Combined with decreased job security, sky-high underinsurance rates, and a collective anxiety that seems to be permeating the air — there’s more than enough ‘bad news’ to go around. Which is why it is critical to find that silver lining.
Coronavirus Is Decreasing Pollution
The one decent thing to come from COVID-19 — besides your new work-from-home schedule, if you’re so fortunate — is a decrease in air pollution.
Stanford professor Marshall Burke measured the pollution levels in four Chinese cities after two months of the outbreak. His conclusion? The drop in polluted air is actually saving lives.
He wrote that it “likely has saved the lives of 4,000 kids under 5 and 73,000 adults over 70 in China.” And even with a more conservative estimate, he still believes that at least 1,400 kids have been saved, along with 51,700 seniors.
This outcome isn’t exclusive to China. An expert at the European Space Agency was able to capture decreasing nitrogen dioxide levels over Northern Italy, which could see very impactful reductions in pollution due to their nationwide lockdown. The Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air went as far to say that deaths from air pollution will decline worldwide.
“I think it’s too early to say whether we will see a net long-term decrease in carbon emissions from this alone. Industrial production is likely to ramp back up after the crisis passes,” said Texas Tech climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe. “But I do hope that it will show us there is a different way to live.”
What This Means for the U.S.
With the U.S. consistently ranking among the top polluters in the world, many experts agree that action to prevent climate change is needed now. According to World Atlas, China ranks No. 1 and contributes to over 27% of global climate change. The U.S. comes second at nearly 15%, and the next-worst country is India, who contribute 6.4%.
So what exactly is “climate change”? At its most basic level, it’s the rapidly increasing temperature on Earth due to solar energy being trapped in the atmosphere by greenhouse gases.
When solar energy is transmitted to the earth’s surface, it’s then reflected back into space, allowing the planet to cool down. But greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane trap this energy and increase the global temperature.
In fact, the 20 warmest years in recorded history all happened in the past 22 years — with recent years setting the highest records. One of the most direct effects of climate change is the melting of ice in the arctic. And when large ice plates and glaciers melt, the entire sea level rises, threatening to swallow entire cities as the issue worsens.
Climate change is also linked to:
- An increase in extreme weather events, like mass flooding and forest fires
- More intense ‘normal’ weather events, like rain and snowfall
- Less clean water resources
- Plant and animal extinction
- More cases of diseases like malaria
- Deaths due to air pollution
So, while the short-term focus for the coronavirus pandemic will be on saving lives, jobs, and the stock market, the long-term focus should shift to what we learned from it. We’ve already seen that we have a lot of room for improvement in the American healthcare system. But when the planet starts to look healthier after we’ve been forced away into our homes, that should indicate something.
Especially seeing as the air we’ve dirtied is making this already-deadly respiratory virus even deadlier.
What You Can Do
The vast majority of climate change responsibility does not fall on the average American’s shoulders. But there are things you can do — such as exercising your right to vote — that will have a bigger impact in the long run.
Here are other actions you can take, some of which can be done from the safety of your home:
- Buy locally/ethically sourced food and apparel
- Donate unused items
- Regularly service your vehicle (if you need one)
- Cancel your paper bank/payroll statements
- Turn off the lights when you leave a room
- Turn off the water while brushing your teeth
- Turn down your thermostat
You can also refrain from buying out all of your local grocery’s toilet paper and water. Napkins, paper towels, toilet paper, and plastic water bottles all contribute to climate change. Particularly water bottles — over 79% of them end up in landfills, even if you recycle them. Maybe now’s the time to finally invest in that brita.
During this difficult period, do your best to respect the planet, and do your best to respect your fellow humans by staying healthy.