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Why the COVID Lockdown Isn’t Enough to Reverse Climate Change

A common misbelief is that the global pandemic is beneficial for the environment in many ways—from a reduction in air pollution to cleaner waterways where marine life has returned to (such as the canals of Venice, Italy). But these changes are only temporary and far from permanent.

Although CO2 air emissions have dropped because of the global pandemic, this decrease is only likely caused because of the decrease in human activity. Fewer emissions have been released by activities that rely on coal, oil, and both car and airline traffic. Although this sounds positive, the fact is that this temporary decrease has only arrived after years of increased pollution, where even the last five years have broken the records for the highest temperatures.

Once the pandemic settles down and the economy is back to business as usual, it is estimated that there will be a strong desire for humans to “catch up” to what they missed and global emissions will continue to increase. Moreover, the decrease of industrial emissions just means that there is a rise in residential emissions due to self-isolation and the energy needed to manage the pandemic. Instead of believing that the pandemic is beneficial for the environment, it is more accurate to say that the pollution created has just shifted sources from industrial pollution to residential pollution and not beneficial at all.

Most major cities in Canada have experienced cleaner air quality due to the reduction of pollution from staying home instead of commuting or traveling. Since there is a reduction in the burning of fossil fuels, the levels of nitrogen dioxide—a main gas responsible for air pollution—has also reduced. Some major Canadian cities such as Toronto and Montreal have been experiencing a decrease of nitrogen dioxide levels by more than 30%, while Edmonton and Calgary’s nitrogen dioxide levels have fallen by more than 40%.

However, even a temporary reduction in air pollution can have a positive impact on human health. Air pollution is known to trigger the respiratory system and cause asthma, heart attacks, and strokes from inflamed air passages. Cleaner air means healthier people and fewer patients in hospitals treated for illnesses caused or triggered by air pollution.

Canada must do its part in handling the global issue of climate change. Since COVID-19 is the main issue addressed in all political parties, we must each continue doing our part in defeating the pandemic. This pandemic will pass, and our post-coronavirus future is once again at the heart of the climate change battle. These future decision-makers must use evidence from scientists and other experts when creating goals and acting on reducing emissions. If we cannot bring down the national temperature average by 2 degrees within ten years, we face a global catastrophe.

To be put simply, reducing air pollution saves lives. When people are exposed to more air pollution, they can become sick and develop different illnesses, leaving them with a higher chance of death if exposed to COVID-19. Since the main sources of air pollution are from transportation, electricity, and industrial emissions, we need to switch to renewable energy, implement cleaner industrial practices, and use electric transportation.

The Canadian government just has not done enough for climate change and has failed to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. We are warming two times faster than the global rate. The global crisis of climate change is crucial and cannot afford to wait any longer.

It is only a matter of time until the emissions will start to rise again once the economy resumes back to normal unless we take drastic measures now to reduce air pollution for a better future.  

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