Listener Questions About The Impact Of Stay-At-Home Orders On The Environment

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This is the national conversation with all things considered I'm Ari Shapiro. The global pandemic has halted daily life as we know it. No flying no commuting know bar hopping in this part of the program will answer your questions about how these changes are affecting the environment. Npr's climate change correspondent Lauren. Summer is here good. Have you with us? Hi We have a pile of questions. So let's just dive right in starting with Kathleen in Randallstown Maryland. Since so much the entire human population is sheltering in place what has been the impact on greenhouse gas emissions have the global reductions been enough to affect global warming climate. Change thank you Laurin. It seems intuitive that if you've got millions of people no longer driving hours to and from work each day it's gotTa have some kind of impact on emissions right. What do we know about what that impact might be? Yeah that's right and you know the first place we really saw was in China right because they were the first ones to really lock things down now. A lot of cars and factories and industrial activity was slowing down. So that meant the country was burning less coal and so over the month of February you know people are estimating there was about a twenty five percent drop in emissions now. Maybe that doesn't sound like a sound like a lot. Actually yeah I mean add to that that China is the largest emitter of carbon in the world. So they're small drop is actually equal to what a St Leg Ohio Illinois admits an entire year The rest of the world right now is the question because things are slowing down elsewhere Us energy officials put out an estimate this week that they expect to see a drop of around seven percents emissions That's kind of about the same as we saw during the last recession. But it's still very early to tell what the world's going to see and certainly we are adding plenty of carbon to the atmosphere. In the meantime this was supposed to be a big year for International. Climate negotiations is that on hold wall. Countries are trying to deal with the pandemic. Yes the answer's yes because there had been a very big meeting planned for this fall. Countries were expected to get together and discuss new commitments to cut greenhouse gases because you know the backdrop to all of this scientists are warning. There's very little time left to limit emissions in a way that's going to avoid the worst effects of climate change so the meeting was playing for. Glasgow Scotland in November but the UN has decided to delay it until twenty twenty one A lot of the groups. I've talked to are are supportive of that because you know one governments are rightfully occupied with other things right now this global crisis and to you know the timing was actually kind of challenging before because that meeting was planned for literally days after November election. Here so the idea of which administration was gonNA come into power has been making it very awkward for negotiators to figure out what's happening with the US because president trump has said he is pulling the US out of the Paris accord. Oh that's really interesting. All right our next listener question comes from somebody in the state that's been very affected by climate change. This is Chrissie and tell Keaton Alaska trying to find positives. This current time. My question is what positive effects has the virus head on the climate. So you were saying. The world is running out of time. To mitigate the worst impacts of climate change is this slowdown buying us more time yes and I think we don't really know it's pretty small at this point these emissions reductions that we're seeing and the really big question is what kind of rebound are we going to see because many of these changes like not driving and not flying. The probably won't stick right. We're going to go back to normal at some point hopefully But maybe you know. People are speculating. That maybe some things will like. A lot of people are using video conferencing now for business so maybe someday in the future conferences will be virtual instead of in person and that would mean less emissions but I think the really big question is what kind of economic stimulus packages countries are going to do right. If they're funding things like oil and gas industry right boosting construction. That could actually to a lot more emissions so that could be a rebound and then some after we get back to normal right if you have questions for Lauren to NPR dot org slash national conversation on twitter use the HASHTAG NPR CONVERSATION. And OUR NEXT QUESTION COMES FROM. Nancy in Los. Altos California. Here where I live in Silicon Valley we are almost done with our fourth week of quarantine my family and friends and I have all noticed that the air is amazingly fresh. Probably because exhaust fumes are so low is anyone tracking the effect that this quarantine is having on the environment and also how it informs the subject of Global Climate Change. Thank you is it people's imagination that the air looks clearer and Bluer I mean. Is this actually measurable at this point? Yeah actually it is and and a lot of people are reporting this You know like I said the first place we saw this was China and air pollution. There dropped by about a third in February. It's gotten a worse than San because activity has started increasing. But we're seeing this this and the US to You know local air pollution very dependent on the weather so you can't really pick a single day and look window and say hey this is the pandemic But you know air quality monitors in Los Angeles have been showing very good air over the last week. Nasa is releasing data that in the northeastern U. S. nitrogen dioxide which is this pollutant from burning. Fossil fuels is down by about thirty percent. So there's a real effect being measured. It feels almost paradoxical that this disease that has having a such a horrible impact on people's lungs might be leading to air pollution which would have a good impact on people's lungs right and you know some people have said are we saving lives while so many lives are being lost and it's actually a really hard question to answer but You know one way that people have looked at it is actually through the Olympics You know in two thousand eight. In Beijing officials were shutting down factories and limiting cars to improve the air and so scientists were studying. Can we see health improvements from these small temporary dips in air pollution? And they did. They saw improved cardiovascular health and some people mothers who had their third trimester of pregnancy during the Olympics actually had babies with heavier birth weights. But you know at the same time. There's a huge toll on public health happening right both people that have cove nineteen but people may also be avoiding hospitals and doctors right and not getting the routine care they really need. So it's really hard to say with the overall effect. Is You know early on. In this pandemic there were a lot of hoaxes about wildlife returning to cities and our next question is about wildlife. This comes from Laura also in Alaska. My question is what effect is this virus having on wildlife. I'm thinking about the fact that in many places like cities there are less people out and about and that means there's more room for wildlife. Are people seeing a change in the animals that they live near? I am wondering about animals that depend on people for food for handouts like pigeons and other small birds and rats in a city. We've only got about a minute left Lawrence so we may not have time for birds rats but what can you tell us about other wildlife? E-eh there's a lot of anecdotal stories out there. People were seeing coyotes walking down streets in San Francisco but I can say that scientists really are starting to study this right. You know if it's quieter there's less activity out. There may be burns or singing differently if there's less ships and cruise ships in the ocean. Maybe Wales are singing a little bit differently because there's less noise for them to compete with so people are starting to really look at it. I did see rather horrific article saying that in Washington. Rats might be trying to find their way into people's homes now that they don't have restaurant dumpsters to raid so. Let's just hope that that doesn't happen for everyone's sake. Let's hope that his NPR's climate correspondent Lawrence Summer. Thank you so much barry and if you have questions about Cova nineteen and way we live. Now we're here to help go to. Npr Dot Org Slash National Conversation on social media use the HASHTAG NPR conversation.

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