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How COVID-19 Is Actually Making Cities Greener How COVID-19 Is Actually Making Cities Greener

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How COVID-19 Is Actually Making Cities Greener

Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Iakov Kalinin
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As COVID-19 causes illnesses, deaths, job losses and global anxiety, it’s often difficult to see the bright spots. However, numerous reports exist concerning the outbreak’s positive effects on air quality and the environment. Those improvements could boost well-being during and after the world fights the coronavirus pandemic.

Pollution Levels Drop in Many Major Cities

People around the world are following requests or orders to stay at home to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Similarly, the closures of schools, entertainment facilities and nonessential businesses give individuals much less temptation to go out even if officials did not impose lockdowns.

These lifestyle changes brought about decreased pollution in global destinations. Los Angeles recorded a reduction in nitrogen oxide levels, as did Italy and France. Scientists remain cautious and say that other factors — such as weather — can cause such improvements. Thus, they say it’s too early to tell how long these effects might last, and to what extent COVID-19 made them occur.

Residents Can’t Help but Notice the Effects

Many of the recent headlines about better air quality emerged once scientists obtained satellite images to compare the difference between the levels measured this year and last. However, in some places, people don’t need special equipment. They can merely rely on their senses to detect the changes.

For example, in early April, people living in the industrial town of Jalandhar, India, looked out their windows to see a Himalayan mountain range that coronavirus pollution-clearing effects made visible to them. Some had lived there for decades and never saw such views before. Elsewhere in India, people report hearing birds singing, remarking that the melodic sounds are finally noticeable due to the significant traffic reduction outdoors.

These amazing differences mean a person may get the chance to live in a relatively green city during the coronavirus lockdowns. That’s good news for everyone, and especially people who may ordinarily overlook the natural world surrounding them.

Chris Watson, a wildlife sound recordist living in the United Kingdom, also noticed how the coronavirus makes nature more prominent. “Because of the lack of or reduction in noise pollution, we’re hearing the world like people heard it decades ago. You can hear into the distance, because normally a lot of the detail and subtle sounds — and that includes birdsong, of course — gets lost amidst a mush of traffic noise, particularly in urban areas.”

He also clarified that now is an ideal time to tune into nature, remarking, “Now we can listen to and engage with sounds that were previously masked. A couple of months ago, you wouldn’t have heard them. Now is the perfect time because it’s spring, so all the birds are singing.” Parents, for example, could take advantage of this change by encouraging their kids to go out in the yard, listen to the birds and learn to identify them.

Coronavirus Changed Shopping Behaviors

Another reason for the decreased coronavirus pollution statistics likely relates to the different ways people shop for things now. Research shows that 56% of people recently bought groceries or health care items online, and half of those had never shopped that way before. That trend will likely continue once the coronavirus is no longer an ever-present concern. After all, online shopping is convenient, and it can help cut down on impulse purchases, among other perks.

Since health experts emphasized that certain groups — including older people — are at a higher risk of becoming sick from COVID-19, more residents are checking on their neighbors before they go shopping and asking if they need essential goods picked up during the outing. These combined trips have positive effects on the environment by reducing the overall travel participated in by community members.

Additionally, people find grocery deliveries particularly appealing. The coronavirus outbreak means people must abide by store-specific rules while shopping. Many conclude it’s handier and safer to have their goods brought to their doors. A study carried out in the Netherlands found that grocery deliveries cause particularly favorable reductions in carbon footprints in places where most people take trips by car, such as the United Kingdom, too.

The research showed that a supermarket grocery delivery in the United Kingdom reduced the carbon footprint by 1.5 times compared to if a person shopped in person. The team also determined that parcel deliveries represent a relatively inefficient way of getting goods to consumers. However, the data revealed that switching the transportation method to electric bikes for part of the journey cut the carbon footprint by 25%.

More People Turn to Biking for Transportation

Many things designate a green city, and bike paths are among the most common characteristics. People getting around on bicycles play personal roles in limiting emissions while staying active. Cycling Scotland, an organization that collects data from 60 cycling counters across the country, registered a big jump in bike traffic during the coronavirus pandemic.

The group looked at the average number of people cycling per day during the first half of March 2020. When comparing the data to information collected the previous year, it found traffic levels rose by as much as 215% in some areas. Cycling Scotland also compiled feedback from people who commented that the coronavirus made them rediscover biking or start depending on it as a mode of transportation for the first time.

New York City organizations saw increases in bicycle transportation as people avoided subways to stay safe from the virus. The rising demand for food delivery has also urged employees to use their bikes when dropping off food. Some groups use these positive changes to highlight the need for better bicycle infrastructure. Such action could make the transportation changes persist once the coronavirus eases.

Time for Continued Action

The improvements in air quality and other environmental benefits understandably gave people hope about what could happen if world leaders approved widespread climate change efforts. Some analysts worry that the coronavirus will cause a loss in momentum for many planned projects to improve the Earth. For example, a mayor might delay a green city plan, depending on how COVID-19 affects the economy.

Others weighed in to say that the coronavirus highlights the collective action needed to address global threats. COVID-19 is one such danger, but climate change is another. The coronavirus caught many people off guard, even as infectious disease experts warned authorities to prepare for an impending pandemic decades ago.

Climate change is another matter making scientists raise the alarm. People still have opportunities to ensure its effects are not as devastating they would likely become without decisive preventive action.

Promising Differences to Spur Long-Term Decisions

These examples show that coronavirus pollution is at impressively low levels in some areas, and people are doing other Earth-friendly things during the pandemic, too.

Individuals cannot assume the positive changes will stick around, however. They should use the recent data to help convince those in authority to take actions that make the benefits lasting and noticeable for the foreseeable future.

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