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Against the backdrop of the coronavirus epidemic, ecology has improved significantly in most countries of the world


By: Nika Chitadze




Professor of the International Black Sea University

Director of the Center for International Studies

President of the George C. Marshall Alumni Union, Georgia – 

International and Security Research Center.

Tbilisi, Georgia


Coronavirus and number of victims

In the contemporary period, the Coronavirus has been spread in more than 190 countries. According to Worldometer, as of the April 14, 2020 the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus exceeds 1, 934,128 people with 120, 437 deaths  and 456, 599 recovered.

At the first stage of the spread of the virus, various methods by the different countries were chosen to combat the disease, but the policy pursued by the separate states, including economically developed countries, to combat the virus was inadequate.

The rapid distribution of virus throughout the world, especially in Europe and USA, causes the significant threat before the population of our planet. At the same time, much more problems for the each citizen of the World are emerged because of panic related to the possible further distribution of this new type of illness.

This panic is negatively reflected on the psychology of the World`s population and has its influence on social-economic and political situation in the different regions of the World.

At the same time, the World Health Organization announced the acceleration of the pandemic, which could lead to the death of millions. Despite all the destructive nature for humans, COVID-19 at the same time has a positive effect on the environment by the "rejuvenating" of our planet.

Impact of Coronavirus on the environment in the contemporary period

Satellites of NASA and the European Space Agency recorded a significant reduction of harmful emissions into the atmosphere and noted that in some regions the air became much cleaner. For example, research data showed that over industrial China, nitrogen dioxide readings were close to normal.

Scientists monitored the situation and announced that the environmental conditions have become better in most countries of the world. Vivid examples were European countries - where the coronavirus is now raging. So, in Italian Venice, due to the lack of a large number of tourists, the water in the canals became cleaner, and for the first time within the last 60 years dolphins returned there. Even in different regions of Italy, swans and ducks returning to the waterways, where they have not been for a long time, are noticed.













Channels in Venice


In the capital of France, Paris, air quality has become as high as 40 years ago.
It can be pointed out, that the Earth is resting from the influence of the people and is returning to the normal life. A similar purification of the atmosphere was observed during the economic crisis of 2008. But then the reduction in emissions was more gradual.

The radical decreasing of the pollution level in China is partially connected with coronavirus

NASA satellite imagery showed a sharp decline in pollution over China, in part due to Economic recession and the spreading of the COVID-19 coronavirus epidemic in the country. It is reported by Sky News.















NASA has published satellite images that show a sharp decrease in pollution levels in China, which, according to the US space agency, is partially related to coronavirus.


NASA scientists focused the attention of the professional community on an interesting fact - aerospace monitoring recorded a sharp change in the average monthly concentrations of pollutants in the atmospheric air of China. The most striking and indicative is the change in the concentration of nitrogen dioxide (NO2). NASA scientists note that pollution reduction was first recorded near Wuhan, but purification ultimately spread throughout the country.

It is alleged that there has been a significant decrease in the content of nitrogen dioxide, poisonous gas emitted by motor vehicles, power plants and industrial facilities.
Improvement of the ecological situation due to quarantine measures due to coronavirus has also become known in other countries.

As it was already mentioned, among all European countries, the coronavirus has especially affected Italy. But the inhabitants of Venice saw an unexpected positive result of quarantine measures. Its world-famous canals are no longer clogged with tourists, now boats do not go to them. As a result, for the first time in many years, inhabitants of the city saw clear water in the canals.
However, Pierpaolo Campostrini, the Managing Director for the Consortium for Managing Scientific Research on Venice Lagoon System, said that the quality of water has not become better.
"Low turbidity of the water does not mean purity. It became transparent, since the sediment from the bottom stopped rising into the water," he said.

In general, the new Chinese epidemic of coronavirus not only stirred up the society, but also plunged the world economy into the crisis. But, on the example of natural environment, there is another area for which the spread of the virus does not pass without a trace. Let`s, more deeply analyze the possible impact of coronavirus on the environmental conditions.

Change in environmental pollution

Nature again reminded humanity of the fragility of the illusion of "economic growth." We, as a species, remain vulnerable to most environmental factors. At the same time, intensive technological development only exacerbates the situation and makes us vulnerable to threats that we cannot even see through a microscope in terms of size.

The spread of the coronavirus epidemic has led to a change in the “behavioral consumption model” of mankind. In the face of a direct threat, “economic growth” has receded into the background, and conservation and rational use of resources have become a priority. A change in the habitual way of life in local territories led to the expected consequences - a change in the level of environmental pollution.

Based on the previous comments, it should be pointed out that the trend of changes in the concentration of pollutants is still over the territory of China. All interested can see the monitoring results on such online resources:

- windy.com, which also use the results of aerospace monitoring;

- waqi.info or aqicn.org, which actively use data from official and public air monitoring stations.
It should be noted that it is the spread of alternative and public air quality monitoring systems that can quickly accumulate data - which in the future will help answer the question: “How did the level of air pollution affect the spread of coronavirus and its consequences?”

The effect of air quality on public health

There is a clear connection between the quality of atmospheric air and the health of the population, and in the case of an epidemic, the body's ability to withstand against infectious diseases by immunity.

Polluted air is clearly associated with the prevalence of chronic respiratory diseases. Thus, for infection is easier to “attack” a weakened and affected body than a healthy one.
The high content of suspended particles (mainly PM10) has a direct fibro genic effect to the tissues of the respiratory tract. These particles, like sandpaper, constantly irritate the tissue. This, in its turn, leads to chronic inflammation and increases the risk of infection. A similar irritating effect is observed for sulfur oxides and nitrogen.

It is important to note that the environmental factor of air pollution is not always associated with the prevalence of infectious diseases. Despite of this, the situation related to the environment is one of the four key factors that shape individual (and collective) immunity. Therefore, long-term environmental pollution in the event of epidemics can significantly increase the prevalence and consequences of infectious diseases among the population.

Reduction of International Travel / Tourism and its impact on ecology

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) report, international tourism could fall by 20-30 percent in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Given that travel restrictions are worldwide, the UN agency expects trips for international travel to be decreased by 20-30 percent in 2020 compared with the numbers in 2019,” the organization said in a press release.

Accordingly, the international tourism industry will lose about $300-450 billion in 2020, this is almost a third of revenue in $ 1.5 trillion in 2019.

It is noted that the economic crisis in 2009 led to a decrease of international tourism by four percent and as a result of the outbreak of pneumonia in 2003 - only by 0.4 percent.
Discussing about tourism and international travel, it should be mentioned that it will be sharply decreased the number of passengers by the different type of transports, especially by air transport.
At the same time, Aviation accounts for 2–3% of all CO2 emissions, and the industry is currently in crisis. According to Carbon Brief, the reduction in passenger traffic in the world reached 5 - 10%, and the situation continues to change.

From its turn, reduction the number of tourists has caused the decreasing the demand on fuel, consumption of which represents one of the main reasons of the air pollution. For example, the oil price has fallen sharply due to the coronavirus, economic recession and decreasing the international travels.

For example, International benchmark Brent crude traded at $23.36 a barrel as to March 31, 2020.
In this regard should be mentioned, that Brent futures fell to their lowest level during the last 18 years on March 30, 2020 and WTI ended the previous session below $20.

As to the end of March, Brent futures have fallen more than 65% through the first three months of 2020

Brent is also on pace to record its worst-ever monthly performance, down over 54% only in March (within first two weeks of April, world oil prices prevailed 30 USD).

How the coronavirus pandemic affected (and will affect in the future) the environment: 5 things you need to know

As countries close their borders one after another and impose universal quarantine and the anxiety intensifies, the coronavirus pandemic began to have a positive impact on the environment: the air over China, America and Europe became cleaner; the muddy rivers of the world have been also cleared. In this case it should be determined, how this effect will be in the long run and whether these miraculous green victories of the planet are so good.

The Thesis 1. Carbon emissions are reduced, the air is becoming cleaner

To prevent the spread of coronavirus, air, rail and road traffic are limited throughout the world, production is suspended, and people from offices have switched to homes. Ubiquitous quarantine is the cause of a new, unplanned, green trend. Experts predict that as a result of a decrease in economic and industrial activity in 2020, for the first time since the financial crisis of 2008-2009, there will be a reduction in all global emissions and pollution.

Twelve years ago, a global recession and decreasing the demand on oil resulted for 50% reduction of air emissions. But already in 2009, industrial giants returned to their previous figures and exceeded the pre-crisis emission level by 5%.

China is the world leader in greenhouse gas emissions. The measures having been taken by the authorities to contain a new type of coronavirus have led to a reduction the volume of production in key industries from 15 to 40%. As a result, according to the research of Carbon Brief, carbon emissions were reduced by 25% per month.

Greenhouse gas emissions also decreased over Europe, especially over Italy, as can be seen from the images of the European Space Agency. The picture shows the change in the concentration of nitrogen dioxide before and after the corona virus spreading. 












“The decrease of nitrogen dioxide concentration is especially noticeable over the Po Valley (the river in northern Italy, the largest in the country in terms of catchment area and length, flows through the regions of Piedmont, Lombardy and Venice). Although due to weather conditions there may be slight errors in the data, we are sure that the decrease in concentration that we observe coincides with a decrease in traffic and industrial activity in Italy, ”comments Klaus Zehner, ESA Copernicus Sentinel-5P Mission Manager (device, which measures air pollution from space).

In addition, the photos of the European Space Agency show that the air has become cleaner over South Korea and even Great Britain, which was one of the last developed countries which has introduced strict measures to curb the spread of the virus.

After the introduction of the emergency in New York, city traffic decreased by 35%, in connection with it the exhaust emissions for several days fell by about 50%, carbon dioxide and methane emissions also decreased, the BBC writes citing on researchers of Colombian University.

Jordan Wildish, director of Earth Economics, has developed an online panel to monitor air quality during the coronavirus pandemic. All measurement results - the difference of the last ten days with the same period last year. The system monitors in 26 countries, but a general analysis is available in some states of America. So, judging by these statistics, emissions in different American cities fell by 12% (San Francisco) to 25% (Los Angeles).

Thesis 2. A global pandemic will have a negative impact on the environment

In 2020, the world will receive an incredible result of unplanned environmental policies, but the upcoming economic crisis will divert attention, forces and planned financial investments in the fight against global warming, the threat to biological diversity and slow down the transition to "clean energy". This alarm is already existing at the International Energy Agency. Bloomberg's leading clean energy analyst fears that demand on solar energy will decline as politicians and corporations focus on short-term economic incentives rather than long-term clean technologies. Rob Jackson, professor of earth sciences at Stanford, predicts that the financial crisis, in its turn, will weaken or delay the implementation of large and medium-sized businesses to reduce emissions into the ocean and air.

The shock from the pandemic will also affect the successful outcomes of many joint economic initiatives. Taking into account the results of the post-economic crisis of 2008-2009, in the contemporary period the short-term environmental victories as a result of a pandemic can turn into a negative experience - after its decline, consumption and associated emissions can again increase sharply. From one side may be it is early to draw definite conclusions, but, within short period the emissions of greenhouse gases and pollutants decreased, but the demand for disposable personal care products increased, the amount of medical waste that cannot be recycled will be gigantic. The situation with the virus eliminates many of the forces spent on popularizing public transport. That is, in many issues of environmental policy, we will go back toward the previous stages, and we will have to look for new solutions of the problems that have already been solved before. From the other side, such a crisis is also a chance to rethink the economy as a whole, and it is possible that a number of reforms and decisions having been undertaken in the world after the pandemic problem is resolved or at least brought under control will also be “green” and environmentally sustainable.

A pandemic will weaken social and political initiatives. Coronavirus will create obstacles for activists whose main tool is mass protests for the environmental protection. Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg has already adapted to the new conditions and transferred the 84-nd week of her strike to online space.

There are canceled all upcoming summits and conferences, the purpose of which was to prevent the effects of global warming. On April 13, a meeting was to be held on the topic of sustainable development in the least developed countries. The plenary meeting of the ECOSOC Youth Forum, which was planned to be held from March 31 to April 2 in New York, was canceled. The Glasgow Climate Change Conference, scheduled for November, is in question, where countries will need to discuss their climate plans for the next ten years and complete the development of rules for the international carbon market.

Thesis 3. Ecological crisis and pandemic have one nature – anthropogenic

Human activities, based primarily on the burning of fossil fuels, create the conditions for climate change. As a result, many directions of infections are changing their habitat: what used to be existed in the tropical regions is now spreading across the planet.

The famous scientist and writer David Quammen in his book "Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic" talks about the anthropogenic nature of the emergence of new viruses: “We invade in the rainforests and other wild landscapes in which live so many species of animals and plants and inside these creatures - there are so many unknown viruses. We cut trees, we kill animals or put them in a cage and send them to the markets. We destroy ecosystems and force viruses to leave their natural habitats. Because of us, they are looking for a new home, and often we become that home.”

Research, which has been published at the London website of the Royal Society for Nature's has shown that outbreaks of infectious diseases like Ebola, SARS, bird flu and now Covid-19 pose a growing threat. Pathogens pass from animals to humans, and many of them are able to spread rapidly. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that three out of four emerging infectious diseases come from animals.

It can be somehow assumed, that the current crisis is an occasion to revise the civilizational paradigm based on national egoism. Under conditions of general global anxiety, national political elites are more susceptible to change. It is necessary to explain to elites and ordinary people that climate change will lead to consequences that are much more serious than we have today with coronavirus. It could be tens of millions of eco - refugees, catastrophic forest fires, smog, floods, life-killing. Let`s hope that by the end of 2020 at the international level, new negotiating platforms of the G-7 or G-20 type will appear, which will be a response to the global economic crisis of 2008, and the existing international negotiation processes will be rethought. Namely, within the framework of these sites and processes, new rules in the economy and politics aimed at saving the climate should be developed as soon as possible.

Thesis 4. The climatic crisis and the spread of viruses are related to each other (everything can get worse)

In addition to the general nature of origin, these two crises are of a general nature. In the case of Covid-19: each patient can transmit the disease to more than one person, which means that the rate of infection is constantly accelerating. In the case of climate change: processes that increase the trend of warming have the same effect - acceleration, and this brings natural disasters closer.















Empty Potsdamer Platz in Berlin. March 22

According to the World Meteorological Organization, in 2018, more than 60 million people were affected by the effects of extreme climate change. Two million people were forced to massively migrate due to floods, storms, and droughts. Heat is now the main cause of mortality related to the climate crisis. Global warming increases the risk of accidents, the number of infectious diseases and natural disasters.

According to The UN positions, there are about ten years to prevent the worst consequences of climate change.

Under these conditions, the emergence of new infectious diseases and the spread of local ones around the world is not a question “if”, but a question “when”. The World Meteorological Organization warns that because of global warming, half the world is now at risk of contracting dengue fever, which was previously considered as tropical. In recent decades, it has spread to new territories; last year, 2,800,000 cases of infection and 1250 deaths were recorded in the North and South Americas. In just three months (from August to October) 1,050,000 infections were detected in Brazil, the Philippines, Mexico, Nicaragua, Thailand, Malaysia, and Colombia.

According to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, since the beginning of 2020, most cases have been reported in Brazil, Paraguay and Colombia, a strong outbreak is observed in Mayotte.

Thesis 5. Environmental friendliness is a key skill, to which the pandemic can teach the humanity

Scientists say that now we are witnessing the largest experiment to reduce air pollution. Eco-victories in China, South Korea, Italy, America and the UK are an illustration of what we can see in the future as we move towards a low-carbon economy. Of course, such radical and compelled measures as the temporary suspension of production and air, rail and road communications are detrimental to the economy and the general well-being of mankind - and in general this is bad. But you can repeat the lesson without tangible losses for the economy and people in peacetime.

A sedentary lifestyle caused by isolation can establish itself as being more comfortable and economical. The planet will benefit from this: less movement - less emissions; stay at home - reduction in energy consumption. Paul Monks, Professor of air pollution at the University of Leicester sees this as an opportunity for change: “I think that as a result, we realize that there is significant potential for changing working methods and lifestyle. This experience will make us think in the future whether we really need to drive a car or burn fuel for travel. "

However, there is no guarantee that new habits will remain with people after the crisis. Charles Duhigg, author of book "The Power of Habit", writes about the variability of acquired skills, even if they turn into reflexes: “As soon as the environment becomes stable again, the habit is restored if there is no new powerful reward for new behavior.”

It can be analyzed, that on the one hand, the current crisis is dictated by a combination of erroneous and ill-conceived actions in the fields of politics, economics, and ecology. On the other hand, the reaction to this crisis is based on the deep “globality” of the modern times.

The crisis observed today perfectly demonstrates, that people are so alienated from the living natural environment, so dependent on the culture, which is built on this basis, and so believe in this dichotomy, that they cannot coexist harmoniously with anyone but themselves (and with each other - not really). Will we learn from this? Partly - it may well be. Many skeptics and fatalists notice that those who have lived under the state of emergency and the general quarantine of politics will create new biopolitical systems related to the open borders and other achievements of democracy. Optimists, by contrast, sigh gloatingly, but insist that humanity becomes greener. We switch to bicycles; we will more support the ethical production of products. It can be discussed that the changes will occur only in one case: if a person finally abandons anthropocentrism and draws attention to other systems of meanings, to some extent, to other civilizations competing with us for the same space of life.

Conclusion

At the same time, as it was already mentioned the number of deaths caused by coronavirus reached 34 thousand people (as of March 30, 2020). Due to the fact, that it is new illness, it has caused more panic than other illnesses or other tragic events worldwide. Specifically, in the first 2.5 months of this year, more than 100,000 people died from seasonal flu, over 200,000 from malaria, over 275,000 as a result of car crashes, over 340,000 people because of AIDS, over 1 million people as a result of tobacco consumption, 1.5 Million people dies due to the hunger and 1,700,000 were victims of cancer. Today, when the extreme poverty rate has fallen to 10%, which is a historic minimum, each day die for the four times more people from hunger than that with coronavirus in the last two months.
During the discussion about ecologic problems it should be pointed out, that according to the World Health Organization, air pollution kills an estimated seven million people worldwide every year. WHO data shows that 9 out of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants.

Overall, it can be said that the coronavirus will be finally defeated and detailed statistics of people who have  been infected and died will be known, but how many people will be victims of the illness indirectly and how  the virus will affect the environmental conditions in the world and attitude of humanity toward the ecology and world natural resources will only become known by more or less accuracy. 



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