| By Anna Treby
The consequences of the global outbreak of COVID-19 have been devastating . At the time of writing, the UK hospital death toll has surpassed 31,000, with many more infected and suffering.
The effects on the British and global economy are also guaranteed to be detrimental. Households across the UK are already financially struggling due to the conditions of lockdown and global economic conditions are only going to get worse.
It is easy to be pessimistic when looking at global conditions. However, there may be some glimpses of positivity in the way that our environment is responding.
Prior to January and aside from Brexit, the news was often dominated by environmental stories. Climate change activism was increasing in popularity and groups like Extinction Rebellion helped to bring the climate crisis into the spotlight. The manifestos for the December general election were full of promises and carbon neutral goals, however many were still discontented over the speed of change. Now with over 45 countries having been placed under partial or full lockdown, images and news stories are emerging of reduced pollution, clear sea waters and animals reclaiming the streets.
Back in February, NASA released two satellite images of China’s atmosphere, taken just a month apart, yet showing radically different air pollution levels. The organisation reported that nitrogen dioxide levels across eastern and central China have been 10-30% lower than normal. Since the first image was taken, Wuhan, the origin of the outbreak, had been placed under lockdown with the rest of China soon following suit. This is likely to have immense positive consequences for the environment given that China is known to have particularly high pollution levels. This is partly due to having a large population (roughly 1.4 billion people) and it is also due to its status as the world’s biggest exporter of goods.
A fall in air pollution has also been seen globally. There has been decreased vehicle travel, a large reduction in flights and the slowing of industry, leading to decreased air pollution.
One of the most significant stories to emerge, as reported by the Guardian, is that, at the time of publishing, coal is generating 0% of Britain’s power. This coal free period has now lasted 29 days, the longest stretch of time we have gone without coal consumption since 1882. This is in part believed to be due to a decrease in industrial use of electricity as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, as well as a greater reliance on solar power. Although we cannot know how long this will last, it is a sure sign of hope for our planet.
The Guardian also reported that the International Energy Agency (the world’s energy watchdog) recently announced that renewable electricity will be the only source of power resilient enough to withstand the coronavirus pandemic. They believe the fossil fuel industry will not recover from this unprecedented drop in demand. Meanwhile the renewable energy sector is continuing to flourish, due to reasons such as lower running costs and priority access to power systems, allowing it to play an ever-increasing role in the global energy system and providing a hopeful future.
Nature has also been seen to be thriving over recent weeks. Images of wildlife roaming the streets are uplifting and much needed in this time of international crisis. Cornwall Live have reported on Penzance residents having the pleasure of witnessing a flaunting peacock enjoying the quiet neighbourhoods. The reduction in human activity has also allowed scientists to launch new areas of study on nature, such as the effects that quieter oceans may have on marine life. Our oceans have also become clearer due to reduced pollution and activity, something that the already beautiful waters of Cornwall will benefit from.
The effects of the coronavirus have been heartbreaking, and we still cannot know what the future holds. Yet in times of crisis it is important to hold on to glimpses of positivity, in this case our environment and nature leading a new burst of life.