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Mother Nature shrugs: The Coronavirus impact on the environment

Written By | Mar 31, 2020

Descartes Labs – Northern Italy

.WASHINGTON: Hard to call Coronavirus a benefit, but Mother Earth might say it is.  As people stay home, factories shut down and travelers stop traveling, the environment is recovering faster than any trillion-dollar new green deal could do. Fewer people may die from Coronavirus than die from air pollution. The World Health Organization estimates that 4.6 million people die each year from causes directly attributable to air pollution.

Reduced industrial activity around the world has lead to the reduction of global emissions.

Julia Pongratz, professor for physical geography and land-use systems, Department of Geography at the University of Munich reports that past epidemics, like the 14th Century Black Death in Europe to the Spanish Conquistadors Smallpox that destroyed millions in South America in the 16th century left the marks on atmospheric CO2 levels. How do they know that? Microscopic bubbles in ice cores.

“The abstract from Pongratz et. al.  report coupled climate–carbon simulations that indicate minor global effects of wars and epidemics on atmospheric CO2 between ad 800 and 1850 reporting:
Historic events such as wars and epidemics have been suggested as explanation for decreases in atmospheric CO2 reconstructed from ice cores because of their potential to take up carbon in forests regrowing on abandoned agricultural land. (emphasis added)

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Here, we use a coupled climate–carbon cycle model to assess the carbon and climate effects of the Mongol invasion (~1200 to ~1380), the Black Death (~1347 to ~1400), the conquest of the Americas (~1519 to ~1700), and the fall of the Ming Dynasty (~1600 to ~1650).
We calculate their impact on atmospheric CO2 including the response of the global land and ocean carbon pools. It has been hypothesized that these events have contributed to significant increases in land carbon stocks. However, we find that slow regrowth and delayed emissions from past land cover change allow for small increases of the land biosphere carbon storage only during long-lasting events. The effect of these small increases in land biosphere storage on global CO2 is reduced by the response of the global carbon pools and largely offset by concurrent emissions from the rest of the world. None of these events would therefore have affected the atmospheric CO2 concentration by more than 1 ppm. Only the Mongol invasion could have lowered global CO2, but by an amount too small to be resolved by ice cores.”

Fast-forwarding through history to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are seeing some positive effects, though they have yet to be scientifically noted.  But anecdotally, we can see and interpret the changes for ourselves.

Coronavirus impact on New York’s environment

According to Prof. Prof Róisín Commane, from Columbia University, and atmospheric chemist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory for who carried out the New York air monitoring work, amid the epidemic, New York’s traffic is down 35%, leading to a drop in carbon monoxide emission of 50%.   The Columbia University researches also report a 5-10% drop in CO2 over New York.  Methane is showing significant reductions as well.

“New York has had exceptionally high carbon monoxide numbers for the last year and a half,” said Prof Róisín Commane, from Columbia University, who carried out the New York air monitoring work.
“And this is the cleanest I have ever seen it. It’s is less than half of what we normally see in March.”

Coronavirus impact on China’s environment

China is reporting falls in nitrogen dioxide due to reduced car and industrial activity.  Nitrogen Dioxide is qualified as a serious air pollutant contributing to the planet’s global warming.

Coronavirus impact on Italy’s environment

A European Space Agency satellite image showing levels of nitrogen dioxide over Italy. The image compares the pollution from 2018-2019 to 2019-2020 showing a significant reduction in pollution as Italy’s manufacturing and cars turn off. shows how pollution over Northern Italy changed from the same period last year to this year.

Venice, Waterfront, Coronavirus, Mother Nature, Environment, Italy, China, New York

Descartes Labs – Northern Italy


Additionally, vast number of tourists are no longer traveling to the country.  Their negative impact is most visualized by images of the Venice canals.  During a visit to Venice in 2017, the environmental crisis was evident in water murky by an abundance of water taxis, “bus” boats and private craft.

The Bauers Il Palazzo in Venice: Stunning Perfection along the Grand Canal

Not to mention giant 20-story cruise ships moving into the fragile environments canals. Those ships once dropping off thousands of visitors at a time, a practice now banned by the city.


Venice, Waterfront, Coronavirus, Mother Nature, Environment, Italy, China, New York

Venice’s busy waterfront by Jacquie Kubin


Nonetheless, each visitor adding more garbage, human waste and environmental damage to the fragile environmental

Venice wake in canals

stability of the city.

With the reduction of travelers, the waters of the canals are clearing, fish and birds returning.

What is incredible to realize is that the motorboats, or the motorscafi, and boats transporting goods to the many stores and businesses, are not transporting over deep waters.


Mother Nature, Coronavirus, Environment

Venice canal in 2017 is dark and murky. 2020, water is clear and smooth. (Left: Jacquie Kubin – Right: Marco Capovilla screen shot – image used for educational purposes)

The canals are very shallow. This means that the damage caused to the floor or the canals and the buildings who are being continually assaulted by the waves causing erosion threatening this centuries-old city is even more damaging.

Videp by Marco Capovilla / Venezia Pulita

Jacquie Kubin

Jacquie Kubin is an award-winning writer and wanderer. She turns her thoughts to an eclectic mix of stories - from politics to sports. Restless by nature and anxious to experience new things, both in the real world and online, Jacquie mostly shares travel and culinary highlights, introduces readers to the chefs and creative people she meets and shares the tips, life and travel information people want to read.