Why COVID-19 will end up harming the environment

Even though the air has been cleaner as a result of the global lockdowns, a more polluted future has been brewing while we weren’t looking.

In early April, with shutdowns widespread, daily global carbon emissions were down by 17 percent compared to last year. But as of June 11, new data show that they are only about 5 percent lower than at the same point in 2019, even though normal activity has not yet fully restarted.

In the midst of the pandemic and resulting economic implosion, industries such as fossil fuels, plastics, airlines, and automobiles have been scrambling for advantage. Some governments—particularly the United States’—are acceding to companies’ pleas for cash, regulatory rollbacks, and other special favours.

The fracking industry, which has been bleeding cash for years, is among those pleading for help. “Which means not just a risk to the climate in propping up these failing companies, but also to taxpayers who are being asked to bear the risk of bailing them out,”

Another worry is traffic. With social distancing hard to maintain on public transportation, and many travellers likely to avoid it out of fear of contracting the virus, cities could be headed for a post-shutdown “carpocalypse,” as one transportation news site warns.

“You can do whatever you want in the Amazon and you won’t be punished,” says Ane Alencar, director of science at IPAM Amazônia, a scientific nonprofit. Officials are using the pandemic “as a smokescreen, a distraction,” to allow the destruction to go ahead.

Even in places such as Europe, where leaders are not pushing wholesale repeal of environmental rules, the still-unfolding health and economic crises could pull leaders’ attention away from the slower-moving disaster of climate change, which had finally been moving up the political agenda last year as youth strikes drove home its urgency, says Åsa Persson, research director at the Stockholm Environment Institute.

“What will their priorities be?” she asks: Will governments seek to shore up the economy by bolstering old, polluting industries, or embrace calls for a “green stimulus” and use recovery funds to create jobs in sectors such as clean power and energy efficiency?

Read complete article at National Geographic – Science

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