How The Coronavirus Pandemic Is Affecting Environment


Since the pandemic hit air travel in the. Us is down ninety five percent the morning rush hour. Traffic report has become a necessary. Many of you are asking what impact all this is having on the environment. So Lauren summer is with us. She covers climate change for NPR. And it's good to have you back. Lauren Hi Ari. Let's start with a question that a lot of listeners have asked this one comes from Walker in Ames Iowa the oil consumption due to know car travel and almost no air travel must be much less. Is this lack of carbon dioxide production low enough to meet the goals of the Paris accord is more than enough just to remind listeners? The goals of the Paris accord that was to keep global temperatures from going up two degrees Celsius with an aim of less than one point five degrees Celsius What's the impact of this slowdown of the global economy? Lorne yes so as you might expect. It is having effect on global carbon emissions largely because demand for oil and coal has really fallen. And this is all over not just a US right. I mean so. Scientists are starting to put out studies projecting. What would this look like by the end of the year? If activity continues you know we all stay locked down a little bit and they're coming up with maybe an eight percent drop in carbon emissions For this year now okay. That would actually be unprecedented. I know it sounds like a small number. That's bigger than the drops during the last recession or World War Two But here's the thing that is about the level scientists save. The world needs to be cutting emissions every year until twenty thirty to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. That's you know that one point five degrees Celsius that you mentioned and I think scientists are also pointing out you know shutting down. The economy is not the way to kind of reach. Those long-term emission cuts right right. These bigger and missions changes like switch to renewable energy. Okay we got a lot of questions. Also about some of the short-term environmental impacts of the pandemic. This one comes from Lois in Raleigh North Carolina. This is the most beautiful spring filled with crystal clear low humidity days here in. North Carolina is having fewer cars on the road or the factories closed affect the weather brought about the global shut down factories. Might that be affecting the weather here. I've heard a lot of people wondering about this actually clearer. It is yes in a lot of cities it's gotten cleaner you know. People are driving less in some cities. I mean car. Traffic is down. Forty fifty percents. Planes are not flying either. So that's actually helped improve local air quality But it is very important to say. The weather plays a huge role in your local air pollution. So if it rains you know it clears the air and the spring typically is not like the summer. It's not our worst season for air pollution. Other places actually though haven't really seen much of a drop because there are things like factories and refineries that are still emitting and you know trucks are still on the roads. Goods are still being delivered to stores. Right I understand you've been talking with some scientists who are studying the effect of having so few cars on the road and the well. What are they trying to understand? Exactly yeah I mean. This is a particular interest in cities that have really problematic air and in those cities you know. They have to try to figure out. What can we change to improve air quality? I mean this is actually kind of just a real world test of that one. Scientists told me that you know this would be like if in Los Angeles for example. A third of the cars on the road were switched to all electric cars. Don't burn gasoline. They get electricity and in California. A lot of that comes from solar and renewable. So it's cleaner. We have one listener. Who wants to know whether this pandemic environmental damage? Here's Valerie in Arizona. We hear a lot about the air pollution being reduced but not much about the increase fiction styrofoam especially in food service. What about the possible? Negative effects on the environment from Corona virus. That's a good point. All these restaurants that have switched to delivery or takeout. That's a lot of plastic. Yeah I think people are seeing a lot more containers. People are also seeing masks and plastic gloves kind of thrown on the grounds. I think the pandemic is affecting our efforts to reduce plastic waste For Example California. Just put a sixty day pause on its plastic bag ban and that's out of concern for frontline workers right. They're the ones that are handling people's reusable grocery bags when they bring them into the store. Starbucks also is is not refilling those reusable coffee mugs for that same reason. It's about reducing exposure and are groups. You know they've been largely supportive of these temporary measures because people's lives are on the line but I think they're keeping a close eye to make sure that these are actually temporary measures. Right and these larger initiatives to reduce plastic waste kind of comeback at some point if you have a question for NPR's Lawrence Somerset to us at NPR dot org slash national conversation or on twitter use the HASHTAG NPR conversation and our next listener question comes from Laura Intel Keaton Alaska. What effect is this virus having on? Wildlife? I'm thinking of the fact that there's less people out and about and that means there's more room for wildlife I've seen some photos of a Lotta ducks resting in a parking lot while bores and sheep walking down the street. There's a lot of this on social media. Is it just that were home more? So we see the animals more or the animals actually coming out in places that they didn't ordinarily yeah. I mean that's hard to tell right. A lot of us are kind of just looking out the window. Maybe seeing things we didn't see before but some of it is a hoax. Right on social media you know. Maybe you saw those dolphins that were. They weren't actually there. Yeah I'm sorry about that but this they're actually real effects. Scientists are trying to study. You know I spoke to one wildlife rescue center in California. That said you know right now. It's seal and sea lion pumping season. You know every year some pups are concerned because of human interference like people or maybe dogs getting too close and so they're kind of that this year they merely a reprieve for them because some beaches are closed Another really good example is Wales. There's just less shipping traffic right now. And so. The oceans are less and wheels are very sensitive to sound. It's actually Something scientists after nine eleven because there was also a drop in shipping traffic and scientists could actually measure that stress hormones in right. Whales went down during that time period. Interesting we got a question about what's happening to environmental regulations during the pandemic Mike in Portland writes to the EPA suspended environmental rules so companies. Don't have to follow them any longer. Lauren Bizarre Policy Change while everyone was focused on the disease. Yeah in in March the EPA announced that it would not be finding companies if they failed to report their pollution data during the pandemic so an example of this might be that a refinery is reporting. It's air emissions to make sure that they're complying with Federal Clean Air Laws. The agency said that this needed to happen. Because the pandemic is making it harder for staff to collect the safety data and and do social distancing at the same time environmental groups really push back quite strongly. They felt this was too broad. It sent a message to industries. That maybe they would have the freedom to break environmental laws if no one was really checking during this time period just on our final moments so many of the changes were talking about depend on social distancing when the economy returns to something like normal are the gains. We've seen going to be reversed right so we all are starting to get back in our cars and fly. Go back to work industries ramping. Up You expect these of short-term Games are going to go away. I think there's some hope that the behavioral change though like maybe we'll all work from home it's possible. Npr Science correspondent Lawrence Summer. Thanks for answering these questions tonight. Thanks

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