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Is the Coronavirus Really Having a Positive Impact on Our Atmosphere?

Fighting climate change requires long-term policies, not short-term lifestyle tweaks

Drew Costley
Published in
6 min readMay 22, 2020

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Over the last two and a half months, fewer cars and trucks have been on the road as millions of people work from home. Office buildings, schools, and factories have been consuming less electricity as government orders have mandated they shut down. And many airplanes have been grounded due to travel restrictions. The result has been a massive decrease in the amount of carbon emissions we’ve produced as a planet.

During the peak of the shutdowns, in April 2020, daily global carbon dioxide emissions dropped 17% compared to April 2019, according to a study published this week in Nature Climate Change. In India and Europe, daily emissions dropped by as much as 26% and 27%, respectively, the international team of climate scientists found.

The researchers estimate a 4% drop in emissions for the year if pre-pandemic conditions return by mid-June and a 7% decrease if some restrictions to movement remain worldwide through the end of the year.

This sudden decrease in global emissions may seem like a reason to celebrate. But most scientists understand the drop as a short-term side effect of the pandemic. They argue government and corporate policy changes are what’s really needed to create a lasting impact on our carbon footprint — and so far they have been largely absent from the United States’ response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Even so, Jayeesha Dutta, a climate justice activist with environmental justice organizations Another Gulf is Possible and the Climate Justice Alliance (CJA), says that there may still be something valuable to learn from the recent burst of carbon-saving lifestyle changes. One of those lessons is that many jobs can be done virtually. If industries shut down their offices, Dutta tells OneZero, it would mean “less of a carbon footprint for people to be commuting to and from an office.”

This has even led to “some reflection” for Dutta and other member organizations of CJA, a group made up of climate justice organizations all over the U.S. and in Puerto Rico, about how often they need to take flights to meet in-person. “Even within…

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Drew Costley
OneZero

Drew Costley is a Staff Writer at FutureHuman covering the environment, health, science and tech. Previously @ SFGate, East Bay Express, USA Today, etc.