Scientists take stock of COVID’s effect on climate

Cyrah Carlson, Staff Writer

Over the course of the pandemic, scientists have studied various positive and negative effects of our behavior changes on the global climate 

Think about climate change this year chronologically: in the beginning of the COVID-19 quarantine, we became familiar with at-home workout videos, puzzles and games, baking new recipes and, of course, family walks. Our society stayed at home for the time being, leaving Mother Nature at peace for once! 

Nitrogen dioxide levels (the pollution caused by cars/buses/trains) initially decreased drastically in the first few months since quarantine began. Scientists reported in the US reported that the social-distancing mandates and quarantine in general had great effects on the climate. 

Canals in Venice cleared and were flourishing with fish due to a reduction in boat traffic in Italy, which showed major benefits to the environment. Air quality in many countries improved due to the COVID shutdown. Concentrations of gas emissions reduced in places that were dense with industrial corporations. 

China, as a center of manufacturing, historically contributes immensely to the greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. These gases are released by burning fossil fuels, most likely coal. All types of coal contain sulfur. Burning coal reacts with the oxygen in the air and releases toxic air pollution such as carbon dioxide and methane. Carbon dioxide is the most popular contributor to global warming, and generally less carbon dioxide was emitted during the first part of the COVID response.

Scientifically, global warming is the rise in the overall temperature of our planet over a long course of time. Climate change is created by a cumulative result of old and new greenhouse gas emissions that trap heat close to Earth’s surface. 

The set back of industrial gas emissions worldwide showed hope for scientists. Then, as the year went on, the environment was again beaten and battered by the outcomes of COVID. 

Photo courtesy of Oxfam.

The notorious wildfire spread over the US West Coast made top worldwide news starting in July, and it continued burning until October. Washington, Oregon and California were in a dangerous fire zone for months. Burning wildfires produced carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, then left behind soot that carries CO2 with it, as well. Many forests were destroyed during this year that otherwise would have benefited pollution levels by taking in CO2 and releasing oxygen. 

The Amazon forest also caught fire this year. In addition to the increase of illegal cattle ranching and deforestation that began decades ago, 13,000sq km of the Amazon rainforest burned down in the first seven months of this year. The fires are continuing to burn until this day. 

The Amazon absorbs around 2 billion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere a year. Now the Amazon has not only burned 13,000 sq km and counting, but has also attracted more loggers and miners to work illegally when the rest of the country is in quarantine. 

“A total of 1,202 square kilometers of forest — an area 20 times larger than Manhattan — was wiped out in the Brazilian Amazon from January to April, according to an analysis of satellite images by the National Space Research Institute of Brazil. That’s an increase of 55 percent compared to last year,” Marco Tedesco, a Columbia University research professor, said.  

Was this a good year for the global climate? Compared to recent years, the gap in greenhouse gas emissions was beneficial. However, what filled that void were the devastating wildfires and other common contributors to global warming. What does all this mean for the future and whether our planet will be habitable?