COVID-19 Lockdowns Will Barely Reduce Global Warming, New Study Finds
The shelter in place orders that brought clean skies to some of the world's most polluted cities and saw greenhouse gas emissions plummet were just a temporary relief that provided an illusory benefit to the long-term consequences of the climate crisis. According to new research, the COVID-19 lockdowns will have a "neglible" impact on global warming, as Newshub in New Zealand reported.
The severe measures that were taken on a global scale to stem the tide of the novel coronavirus pandemic did curb pollution in the atmosphere, but the researchers found the impact will cut global heating by just 0.01 degrees Celsius by 2030, as The Guardian reported.
"The direct effect of the pandemic-driven [lockdown] will be negligible," said the researchers, whose analysis was led by Piers Forster at the University of Leeds in the UK, as The Guardian reported. "In contrast, with an economic recovery tilted towards green stimulus and reductions in fossil fuel investments, it is possible to avoid future warming of 0.3C by 2050."
The study was published in Nature Climate Change. To figure out the impact of the lockdowns, the researchers looked at mobility data from Google and Apple in 123 countries that covers 99 percent of fossil fuel emissions. The information gives real-time information on travel and work patterns, which allows researchers to use advanced computations to estimate emissions levels, according to The Guardian.
Professor Keith Shine, at the University of Reading and not part of the study team, told The Guardian: "It is deeply impressive to get such a near-real-time analysis of the climate impact [of the lockdowns]."
What they found was that emissions from people using transportation was at its lowest in April, with nitrogen oxide levels falling by 30 percent and carbon dioxide levels dropping by 25 percent, according to Newshub.
Professor Dave Reay, chair of carbon management at the University of Edinburgh who was not involved in the study, told Newshub that the results are not surprising "given the long lifetime of carbon dioxide and the massive pool of fossil carbon already swilling around in our atmosphere."
The declines show that swift and decisive changes in how people behave have the potential to dramatically impact the environment in the short term. That was evident in the cleaner skies and the suddenly visible animals in Venice's canals and the streets of various cities. In Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak, air quality improved so much that NASA satellite imagery showed the average density of tropospheric nitrogen dioxide – a toxic chemical that reduces immunity – dropped significantly below normal levels, as Newshub reported.
Of course, those lockdowns came with a steep economic price as people were put out of work and supply chains and distribution were severely disrupted. In other words, lockdowns of that scale are so damaging that they are impossible to maintain. Furthermore, once the lockdowns lifted, emissions levels started to rise again. That phenomenon means the world needs to transition to a zero-emissions economy by investing in renewable energy and burying CO2, according to the researchers, as The Guardian reported.
"It is now make or break for the 1.5 Celsius target," said Forster, as The Guardian reported. "This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to really change the direction of society. We do not have to go back to where we were, because times of crisis are also the time to change."
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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