By: Uma Ribeiro

In-Depth Editor

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In the chaos and uncertainty of these times, one silver lining has seemed to present itself within the past few weeks. Across the world, pollution and emissions have slightly lessened due to the Coronavirus lockdown, prompting scientists and news sites to question whether or not there could be any lasting positive environmental effects. People staying inside, tourists canceling their flights, and fewer cars on the road have led to reports of air pollution dropping around the planet, falls in road traffic and roadkill, water canals becoming crystal clear once again, and the Himalayas becoming visible for the first time in decades, as well as reports of visible local changes.  

From Washington DC to Boston, NASA noted a 30% drop in air pollution within that region, publishing visuals comparing the atmospheric carbon dioxide levels from March of 2015-2019 versus March of this year. Hammond students have also reported changes around the local Howard County community.

Emily Paz, a Hammond Junior and member of the Green Team, commented on the environmental improvements within the local community. “There’s definitely more good benefits for the environment than negative. Many places in the world where air pollution is very common have seen a dramatic difference in the quality of their air due to no one going out as much. Scientists predict that because of this, there are going to be 11,000 fewer deaths [as air pollution usually lowers resistance to disease and debilitates the lungs]. Animals are starting to roam almost everywhere! Many of them don’t have to worry about coming in contact with someone or something, which can help populate their species. I think that if all of us paid attention to the benefits that this lockdown is having on the environment, it would almost be a wake up call to the amount of harm us as people have on the environment. To see the environment thrive is something that we haven’t experienced in a long time, so I think that future climate rallies are going to be using this event to prove that we CAN do something about this and that it’s not just ‘fake news.’”

Green Team President and Hammond Senior Katie Marshall also commented on the changes seen within the local community. “There are definitely less cars on the road [and] more people are spending time outside walking and gardening.”

Before the outbreak, people of all ages were taking to the streets, led by youth activists such as 17-year-old Greta Thunberg, to demand climate action, including a reduction of carbon emissions. The young Swedish activist has now called for online action to continue creating awareness about the pressing issue of climate change and environmental crisis. Not only are climate activists creating communities through their work online and on social media platforms, but others have been inspired to do the same. On Earth Day, the global strike that was planned to occur moved to online platforms; across social media, people were naming ways to tend to the environment and participate in climate action. 

Aside from the direct positive environmental impacts from staying indoors for such a long period of time, there is also a chance for communities to come together and encourage one another to preserve their environment. Paz continued, “A lot of my neighbors are socializing with one another (obviously from a distance). Usually my neighbors all go about their day but now I’ve seen many start to interact with others. I actually had a neighbor who offered free painting kits to de-stress or so that you have something fun to do! I’ve seen more lawns and gardens in people’s front yards being taken care of. There’s also more wildlife! I’ve seen rabbits, TONS of birds, cats and other critters around my house. I’ve also seen more people going for a walk, jogging, running and cycling in my neighborhood.”

Paz encourages others to participate in activities which will help the environment or encourage others to do so, commenting on activities she has seen for Earth Day. “I encourage others to try and plant something!” She says. “There are many different types of plants that one can plant, such as beans or chia that are very simple to care for! Every small thing counts! I’ve seen a lot of crafts and photography regarding Earth Day. It’s simple crafts, such as making crayons, coloring, drawing, painting…Some of the photographs I’ve seen are of beautiful sunsets [and] forests. Others are from their backyard plants!”

While negative ramifications of the virus such as economic downfall are rampant, scientists have begun questioning whether or not any of the environmental positives desperately needed will become permanent changes. As for now, NASA has reported changes in the environment which are visible from space, and BBC reports that 2020 could see a “drop in global emissions of 0.3%,” which is more significant than it seems. Studies also report that those who cannot drive for a given amount of time are more likely to drive less long-term. The positive changes seen within local environments and across the world can hopefully serve as an opportunity for us to change our habits long-term and recognize the need to address the issues of climate change and the need for environmental preservation. This time of anxiousness and fear has led to a stronger sense of community, which will stick around long after the virus has gone. 

The 2020 United Nations Climate Change Conference is currently postponed, but is set to occur as soon as it is safe to do so. Though these environmental changes may seem small right now, the rate at which these changes are happening show that it is in fact possible for people to make differences that are beneficial to the earth.