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Is the coronavirus helping or hurting climate change?

If you haven’t seen already, the first US coronavirus/COVID-19 death actually occurred a couple weeks prior to the previously believed initial death. A coroner in Santa Clara, CA performed three autopsies and had sent samples to the CDC who then confirmed they did in fact have COVID-19.

Due to testing not being widely available at the time (it still is not in some areas) and the testing criteria being so strict, these individuals had not already been tested and passed away in their homes. It is expected that there will be more findings of early deaths as well.

There’s been a lot of speculation that the coronavirus was here before the initial first positive test on January 20th and these findings could support that theory. But, that’s not why we’re here today. I just wanted to mention that because I found it particularly interesting.


industrial pollution     

     What I would like to discuss today is the environmental impact the coronavirus is having. While global warming hasn’t stopped for the pandemic, you may have noticed some improvements. For starters, there’s almost no planes flying at the moment, so you likely haven’t seen any contrails in the sky. Or you may have noticed wildlife in places they normally wouldn’t have been. And then you see stories about the water in Venice being clear enough to see a jellyfish.

     There’s clearly been some major short-term improvements. A study last month suggested that this year’s overall carbon dioxide concentration could end up being cut in half by the time this is all said and done. While this sounds like a massive victory, in the grand scheme of things, the actual emissions are only expected to fall between 0.5 and 2.2% for the year.

     The reason for this is because industries will be working in overdrive to get the economy rolling again. A lot of factories and plants will be ramping up production to make up for the time lost. And with the majority of the world leader’s attention being paid to the health and economic crises (and rightly so), climate change is surely going to be put on the backburner.

     To make matters worse, there’s also a scenario where current restrictions or regulations get cut in order to get the economy back even faster. The EPA has already suspended enforcement, but there’s a legitimate concern of further cuts. There’s also a very real fear that any further investments into clean energy or low-carbon projects could either get cut and severely reduced.

     On a more personal level, I believe that people will be more inclined to think about the impact we have on the environment every day. As I was saying earlier, we can already see the significant changes. It’s unlikely that individuals will be able to make enough of an impact to make lasting impact, but with enough awareness and determination, it could force the hands of legislators to get something done.

     The response going forward could certainly vary. For instance, oil is already less profitable that it once was. In fact, Whiting Petroleum – the largest shale-oil operator in North Dakota, filed for bankruptcy on April 1st. This could pave the way for the renewable energy sector to take over.

     Another aspect that almost no one is discussing at the moment is that we still have to deal with the current day fallout of climate change. With this, I’m referring to more frequent and intense storms, flooding, wildfires, etc.

Hurricane on beach

     Recently, the CDC warned that the 2nd wave of coronavirus will likely be more impactful than the one we’re currently in now. That does not bode well for hurricane season. Imagine what it will be like in Puerto Rico, who is still recovering from Hurricane Maria from 2 years ago, if they are faced with another massive hurricane while also dealing with the fallout of COVID-19.

     Over the past couple of years, Puerto Rico has been absolutely ravaged. They’ve been hit by multiple hurricanes and even endured an earthquake in January. In a time where close to half of Puerto Rico’s nurses and doctors had to leave the island to find employment, a natural disaster while tending to COVID-19 could be absolutely catastrophic.

     Obviously here in the mainland US it the outlook isn’t as dire, but don’t get complacent. Think of something as simple as home/building repairs due to storm damage. Due to supply chain disruptions, social distancing orders, or even a lack of workers because of being under COVID-19 isolation/quarantine, costs and time to resolution will likely increase drastically.

     Now what if a large enough storm hits an area that does enough damage to displace a large population of residents? How do you handle providing adequate shelter while also adhering to social distancing guidelines?

     In these types of scenarios, FEMA will be the ones to come in and take charge. But, they’re surely going to be spread thin due to COVID-19 relief. Recently, ProPublica reached out to FEMA representatives with a few questions about how they would handle a “multi-front disaster”. While they failed to answer the questions specifically, FEMA did respond by stating that they are already preparing for spring flooding, severe weather, and the upcoming hurricane season. A spokesperson stated that they were also in the process of determining how staffing needs might change and how they could reallocate personnel from Homeland Security if needed.

     As with most news lately, none of this sounds too pleasant. In regards the climate change and the environment, its imperative that we use this as a steppingstone to further the investment into cleaner energy. Currently people are dying at a higher rate from COVID-19 in places with higher air pollution. While this may sound obvious, this hits a little closer to home that most people realize.

     From the beginning of this crisis, it was assumed that the air quality in China was a major factor in their high mortality rate. But a recent study by Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health looked at 3,080 US counties found that areas with higher levels of PM 2.5 were associated with higher death rates.

     One notable example is Manhattan. The finding suggests that if the particulate matter level had been reduced by just one single unit over the previous 20 years, there could have been 248 fewer deaths by the point this study was conducted (published April 5th).


     This is truly incredible and just shows how interconnected all of this is. By actually committing to take legitimate action on climate change, we could literally save lives. To politicians, that’s likely not enough of an incentive, but to the everyday American it’s a no-brainer.

     So from here, lets all just enjoy the fresh air while we have it and fawn over the cute penguins that are surely planning to take over the human race while we’re all stuck inside.

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