Updated: May 25, 2020
Author: Brianna Xin
While the threat of coronavirus will only be with us temporarily, threats from climate change like heat waves, floods, extreme storms, and wildfires will cause damage for years. In this literature review, I will talk about how people staying at home from the Coronavirus pandemic is affecting climate change. The three main topics in this review are Things People are Doing that Might Affect Climate Change, How Our Climate is Being Affected, and What Happens After the pandemic is over. I have found that although we have improved from what it was before and that at the moment the climate is changing for the better at high speeds, once the pandemic is over things will most likely return to normal and climate change will continue to happen with greenhouse gases and pollution. There were many resources about this topic, so I combined the topics from some of these resources and made my own conclusions as well as adding many parts from their articles. Things People are Doing that Might Affect Climate Change Throughout the spread of the coronavirus, this pandemic has affected the lives of many people in many ways. The most obvious would be schools and businesses closing due to social distancing. No one is going to large gatherings or restaurants in fear of the virus, and no one is using public transportation such as subways or buses. People are working from home with less or no flights or traveling. People are also going to less places such as shops and stores, and instead using online shopping and delivery to get their products, if there are any. There is less products in store, and people often have to wait months for an item to arrive at their doorstep. The virus has also caused communities to fall apart. People are uncomfortable around others, and it is causing panic. Furthermore, this has caused a huge economic disaster. Many people are unemployed and hospitals are overloaded. Farmers have too much food while consumers don’t have enough. There have been 247,000 deaths and 3.5 million confirmed cases worldwide. Lastly, stock markets are falling and political leaders are learning that they should be prepared. The virus has made a difference in everyone’s lives and the world. There is a shutdown of economic activity with everyone staying home and less transportation. Without industries working and cars on the road, there is also a huge reduction in the use of fossils fuels and carbon emissions around the globe. With less transportation, there is less greenhouse gases in the air and less pollution. The virus is also showing what people really need, because not many necessities such as food and toilet paper are available anymore. No one is buying oil because they don’t need it, and activities that cause pollution are decreasing. All of the above actions are causing the climate to change. But what was the climate like before? Well, it was as bad as you might imagine. Temperatures were rising, as 2010 – 2019 was the hottest decade in the world, and 19 of the 20 hottest years in history were after 2001 (1998 was also one). Furthermore, in 2018, 821 million people were undernourished partly due to climate and more than 35 million people were affected by floods alone. There were more than 1,600 deaths related to heatwaves and wildfires, more than 2 million people displaced by weather or climate disaster, and the temperature and sea level were rising at an increasingly dangerous level. Global warming was expected to continue as well as sea level rises and extreme weather events such as heat waves. Sea ice and glaciers were also decreasing and there was more carbon dioxide. In fact, there was expected to be no ice in the arctic within the next few years and global temperatures were expected to rise 10 degree Fahrenheit. We are the reason all of this is happening. People were using 75% more of the earth’s resources than what the earth could provide. How Our Climate is Being Affected Now, because of all of these changes in our daily activities, what has this done to our climate? Well, our actions have caused some major differences, the most important being that carbon emissions have dropped. In China, in February alone carbon emissions dropped about 25%, which is about 200 million tons of carbon dioxide and more than half the annual emissions in Britain. You can see this difference in the satellite image from NASA below. What used to be filled with pollution is now almost completely clean. But although people’s individual consumption habits have changed, they mean much less than global changes. When China’s emissions went down 25%, it was mostly because industrial manufacturing suddenly stopped, not traveling or consumption rates decreasing. This has also led to global oil damage with the biggest decrease in history of more than 10 million barrels less per day because almost no traveling is going on. There has also been a huge reduction in nitrogen dioxide around the globe with Italy, Spain, and the UK having quick decreases in nitrogen dioxide emissions. The global reduction in fossil fuels is expected to be at least 5% in total, which is a lot if you think about what a short time it has been compared to centuries of our existence. Additionally, pollution in New York has reduced by almost 50% because of the virus and 40% less coal is used at China’s six largest power plants since the end of 2019. The air we breathe has also been improved, with 11.4% more days with good quality air in 337 cities in China than a year ago. Overall in 2020, there may even be a global emission drop of 0.3%. There are many more major differences from this virus. Because driving has cut down 72% and aviation has cut down on 11% of the 23% global transportation greenhouse gas emissions, there has been much less pollution. Los Angeles, which has been the smoggiest city in America for 19 out of the last 20 years, now has clear skies and breathable air. With 80% of smog forming emissions coming from mobile sources such as cars, trucks, buses, trains, and ships, so because most of them are stopped, emissions will decrease by a lot. Decreased air pollution also has public health benefits, leading to a healthier lifestyle. Coronavirus has also been changing the climate that are not directly obvious. Right now, young people are protecting old people from virus, so later on old people might protect young people from climate change because young may experience severe climate change in their lifetime. The virus is also helping us find entertainment options that use less resources such as taking walks. This helps us reduce our consumption rate and produces less trash, helping the climate by making less pollution. It demonstrates how quickly communities and their government can act when the situation is urgent enough, and the importance of communities and national governments working together during a crisis, which might happen if climate change increases. There are still more changes in the climate from the virus, not all of them positive. Of course, there are more positive impacts such as less ambient seismic noise from less vehicles on the road (seismic noise is rumbles and vibrations from mass human transit). Scientists have also discovered through satellite images that the earth’s crust is also moving less. The virus helps us understand what we could potentially do to prevent climate change. The Grand Canal in Venice which is normally filled with boat traffic (causing water pollution) is now completely clear. But people are setting up campfires in their backyards for entertainment, negatively impacting our overall air quality. Companies may also be more or less open to work from home policies, depending on the experience. Another negative impact is that the pandemic could slow or stop the use of clean energy because it is hard for companies to find money for solar, wind, and electric grid projects, as well as stop new projects. Lockdowns and social distancing have also caused climate research to slow or stop and World Leader gatherings to talk about climate change have been delayed or canceled. What Happens After?
Even though this virus has made drastic changes in our lives, will it be enough to stay this way? Well, probably not. Even though we stopped emitting as much greenhouse gases, global warming would and still is happening for at least several more decades or centuries. This is because it takes a long time for the earth and oceans to respond because carbon dioxide can stay in the air for hundreds of years. This is also part of the reason why climate change is not being addressed now. Because most people can’t feel the effects of climate change right away, they are not aware that it is a problem. By the time they do, it will be too late. Already, things are starting to return to normal. In China, cars are starting to be on the road and people are going to work. Nitrogen dioxide levels have already started to increase because of this. In the image below, you can already see how at the end of the graph, coal consumption is starting to increase again. Dr. Phillip Fine with the South Coast Air Quality Management District thinks that the climate will return to what it was before once the pandemic is over. But there’s more. Fossil fuels are now cheaper, and consumption levels could rise above normal even though they are low now. The transition to sustainable energy such as solar and wind could also be put off. Carbon dioxide can be in the air for over 100 years, so a twelve to eighteen month (expected time to develop a vaccine) drop in emissions will probably not change things by much. Examples that things will probably bounce back is the 2008 financial crisis and the oil shocks of the 1970s. During these two past events, emissions bounced back and emissions recovered. Although this is more serious than both of these things, they are an excellent example of our ability to recover, whether in a good or bad way. If the pandemic continues to the end of the year, then demands from consumers could stay low and fossil fuels might not as recover quickly, so it all depends on how long the virus will last. A shorter time may actually mean a recovery for a longer period of time later on. According to Kimberly Nicholas, a sustainability science researcher at Lund University in Sweden, there are two ways this could go. One thing that could happen is that people who are avoiding traveling are appreciating spending time at home with families and focusing on important core priorities. This pandemic would highlight and show the importance of priorities and help people focus on the health and wellbeing of family, friends, and the community. This could help keep emissions lower in the long run with less traveling and more stay – at – home time. This would improve climate change for the better and hopefully this is what will happen. However, the other way this could go is that people putting off long distance trips will plan on taking them later. This is a problem because even before, frequent flying makes a large part of the carbon footprint, so if this happens emissions could bounce back and people could return to their old habits. Hopefully, people will realize their priorities and go the first option to create a better climate for themselves and other, even if they don’t realize it. In conclusion, I have learned many things about climate through this project. Although we are improving our climate with people staying in their homes and vehicles not on the road, it won’t last for long. Right now, our climate is improving at steady rates and there is much less carbon emissions and pollution, but things are already starting to return in places like China where people can go outside again. This is an important topic because it can show what would work to prevent climate change. Climate change is a big issue for us and we may be in the same situation in a few years because of it. From this topic, we can know what needs to be done to stop climate change. My project and how it will make history: In my project, I will make a website with a video about how people staying at home affects climate change. This will make “history” because it will show how important climate change is and that simply staying at home for a short amount of time isn’t enough to stop it at where it is now. Sources: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/as-the-world-stays-home-will-the-environment-improve https://climate.nasa.gov/faq/16/is-it-too-late-to-prevent-climate-change/ https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200326-covid-19-the-impact-of-coronavirus-on-the-environment https://www.latimes.com/environment/story/2020-03-24/what-coronavirus-like-response-to-climate-crisis-would-look-like https://e360.yale.edu/features/coronavirus-holds-key-lessons-on-how-to-fight-climate-change https://www.commondreams.org/views/2020/04/19/lessons-covid-19-address-climate-crisis https://www.kcrw.com/news/shows/greater-la/environmental-perks-of-covid-19/covid-environment https://time.com/5813778/coronavirus-climate-success/ https://hub.jhu.edu/2020/04/15/peter-decarlo-air-quality-social-distancing/ https://www.greenpeace.org/canada/en/story/30174/covid-19-climate-environment-the-answers-to-your-questions/ https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/27/opinion/sunday/coronavirus-climate-change.html https://writingcenter.ashford.edu/sites/default/files/inline-files/Sample%20Literature%20Review_0.pdf https://www.dcu.ie/sites/default/files/students_learning/scientific_lit_review_workshop_ug.pdf