climate change

Coronavirus Shutdowns Have Unintended Climate Benefits: Cleaner Air, Clearer Water

"I think there are some big-picture lessons here that could be very useful,” one scientist said

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In Venice, the often murky canals recently began to get clearer, with fish visible in the water below. Italy’s efforts to limit the coronavirus meant an absence of boat traffic in the city’s famous waterways. And the changes happened quickly.

Countries that have been under stringent lockdowns to stop the spread of the coronavirus have experienced an unintended benefit. The outbreak has, at least in part, contributed to a noticeable drop in pollution and greenhouse gas emissions in some nations.

Though grim, it’s something that scientists said could offer tough lessons for how to prepare — and ideally avoid — the most destructive impacts of climate change.

“If we can think about how to prepare for climate change like a pandemic, maybe there will be a positive outcome to all of this,” said Christopher Jones, lead developer of the CoolClimate Network, an applied research consortium at the University of California, Berkeley. “We can help prevent crises in the future if we are prepared. I think there are some big-picture lessons here that could be very useful.”

The coronavirus pandemic has sickened more than 180,000 people and killed more than 7,100 worldwide since early January. Some countries, most notably China and Italy, have been forced to seal their borders and impose restrictions on the movements of residents in order to control the rates of infection.

Satellite observations have shown that these temporary measures have also driven significant decreases in harmful emissions.

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