The relationship between coronavirus and climate change is a double-edged sword

A few months passed, and the whole world changed. Never in my life have I seen such a rapid change in the way the entire population of the world operates.

This rapid change has caused unprecedented change in the way we live, and also has made a drastic impact on the our lives, as well as the planet. 

As extensive travel restrictions have been enacted first in China, then in Italy, and now around the world, pollution has seen a dramatic decrease from industrial plants, cars and airplanes. In fact, the water in Venice has been so clean that fish have been observed in the canals, which are usually clouded from boat pollution.

BBC notes that compared with this time last year, levels of pollution in New York have reduced by nearly 50 percent because of measures to contain the virus. China has seen a 40 percent drop in coal emissions as compared to last year.

People are also starting to support local economies more by shopping at establishments close to home.

But there’s always the other side of the coin. More waste is being generated by restaurants who are banning the use of reusable containers to restrict the spread of the virus. Plus, the global recession as a result of the virus could certainly halt progress on clean energy initiatives. 

According to the New York Times,” It could become very difficult for companies to secure financing for planned solar, wind and electric grid projects, and it could tank proposals for new projects.”

But, the question of the relationship between COVID-19 and climate change is a double edged sword – they could hurt or help you, and they affect each other.  This is further complicated by the fact that there is still a lot of uncertainty regarding exactly how the virus originated or is transmitted. 

In an interview last week, Dr. Aaron Bernstein from the Harvard Center for Climate, Health and Global Environment, sought to answer the reverse question – is climate change influencing COVID-19? 

He said that since a warming planet is changing animal migration patterns, we could be subjected to more disease than we would have otherwise, since those animals bring with them new germs and diseases, as well as new hosts to carry those germs.

“We don’t have direct evidence that climate change is influencing the spread of COVID-19, but we do know that climate change alters how we relate to other species on Earth and that matters to our health and our risk for infections,” Bernstein said. “In other words, because animals are either losing their habitats or their habitats are becoming too warm, they start to migrate to other places.” 

And while air pollution is overall decreasing, current pollution can exacerbate people’s response to the virus. 

“Given what we know now, it is likely that people who are exposed to more air pollution and who smoke are going to fare worse if infected with COVID-19 than those who are breathing cleaner air, and who don’t smoke,” Bernstein said. 

But what happens when these restrictions lift after the virus passes? Researchers say it could go both ways: 

“It may be the case that people who are avoiding travel right now are really appreciating spending time with families and focusing on those really core priorities,” says Kimberly Nicholas, a sustainability science researcher at Lund University in Sweden, to BBC. “But it could also be that people are putting off long-distance trips but plan on taking them later.”

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