family of four looks out apartment window

Does it take a pandemic to reduce pollution? The Earth is vibrating less because of lockdowns, according to geoscientists, and India’s falling levels of harmful microscopic particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide have given those citizens glimpses of blue skies.

Even though we’re all running from an infectious disease, the reality seems to be that we might be living on a healthier planet. So, what can a global shutdown teach us about how to change our lifestyle?

The Reality

It feels like the whole world is in limbo. Everything we used to do is not happening the same way anymore, if it’s happening at all — our commutes, shopping, eating out, traveling. Heavy industries and factories have shut down or significantly decreased their output. Traffic jams have all but disappeared.

Even though our normal behavior is stunted, we’ve found new ways to live, work, and play. And we still impact the environment, but now we’re impacting it differently. Are we making good decisions? Is COVID-19 our opportunity to reset? Maybe.

The Study

We are in the middle of an unintended experiment when it comes to the environmental impact of air pollution emissions, according to NASA. With so much of the world shut down because of coronavirus restrictions, we have been given an opportunity to really see how air quality is affected when communities and countries are not operating normally.

The air quality footprint around airports, for example, has lightened up — less nitrogen dioxide and formaldehyde. There is, quite simply, better air quality with less air traffic in the time of COVID-19. Though electric airplanes are still a long time in the future, these details are evidence that can help policymakers improve their understanding of the air we breathe — and the necessity for greater intervention when it comes to making changes.

The Drawback

With fewer planes flying through the sky, there are certainly fewer exhaust trails behind them. However, the sharp decline in air travel has impacted meteorologists’ abilities to accurately forecast the weather.

Commercial aircraft take about 900,000 measurements of air temperature, wind speed, humidity, and direction per day. In the age of coronavirus, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the reports are only around 300,000 measurements a day. NOAA has announced it will conduct a systematic study of the impact of the coronavirus on the climate.

Climate and weather systems are very complex — significant changes in these systems are undeniably valuable to researchers. Without the extensive daily reporting, it’s more difficult to see where the weather may be headed, make predictions, and allow people in danger zones to prepare.

The Rebound

There have been major drops in air pollution in areas hit hardest by COVID-19, according to worldwide satellite images. Millions of people are working from home instead of commuting every day. Millions of people are out of work and no longer have a commute. School buses are off the streets. Work trucks are parked. Roadways are hardly crowded anymore.

While lower emissions are real, experts say they’re temporary. This decrease in pollution is amazing, but life will eventually return to normal, and the pollution and greenhouse gases will return too. NASA studies and the like have made it clear — humans are a major contributor to the incredible blights on Earth. When our behavior changes, so does our affect on the Earth.

The Change

Coronavirus has demanded a new normal, and we can learn from the environmental shifts that are happening around us. Changes in human behavior caused by the pandemic have given scientists an unprecedented opportunity to study how coronavirus — and humans — impact the environment.

We are trusting that we will one day rebound to our usual way of life, so the question is: What changes have you made to accommodate the coronavirus that helped the planet? What are you doing now that you can continue to do, pandemic or not?

Maybe you can:

  • Telework several days a week, or maybe every day.
  • Make only one large grocery order per month or fewer trips to the store for your needs.
  • Shop online for most of your wants so you don’t have to drive to the mall or a shop.
  • Bike to your destination or walk rather than drive.
  • Think twice before flying.
  • Recycle more.

Human behavior is a powerful thing. Wearing masks and staying home has saved millions of lives over the past few months — and given Earth a reprieve in the process. If we can come together to do that, we can come together to save our planet too.