Coronavirus: is working from home really better for the environment?

An Opinion Piece by Doug Specht, published by Geographical
Economic crises have historically had a major impact on the environment. As economies falter, there is a reduced demand for commodities, such as timber, oil and other materials produced by the extractive industries, putting less pressure on our forests and rivers.

The impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) is even more widespread. Just over 100 days since countries across the world started shutting down trade and travel, closing businesses and limiting other economic activities in an attempt to control the coronavirus pandemic we are already seeing significant environmental changes. Just as after the 2008 financial crash, when the shuttering of businesses saw levels of atmospheric sulphur dioxide fall 85 per cent in Delhi, and man-made greenhouse gases in Europe and the US drop by 100 million tons, the measures being enacted to control coronavirus are already showing visible, and far reaching, atmospheric environmental improvements.

Social media and the press have been awash with stunning images of improved air quality around the globe. The first images came from NASA, showing how pollution levels were visibly lower across China following its lockdown. Today we see photos of cities, such as Beirut and Los Angeles, once smothered in smog, now with clear air. Emissions from traffic in New York have dropped almost 50 per cent. And Europe, too, shows significant reductions in air pollution. Again, these improvements in air quality are so vast that they are visible from space. The environment, it seems, is having a much-needed, if eerie, reprieve.

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Doug Specht

About

Doug Specht is a Chartered Geographer (CGeog. FRGS) and a Senior Lecturer (SFHEA) at the Communication and Media Research Institute, within the University of Westminster. His research examines how knowledge is constructed and codified through digital and cartographic artefacts, focusing on development issues, and he has written on this subject in numerous books and papers. He has also spoken on topics of data ethics and mapping practices at conferences and invited lectures around the world. He is a member of the editorial board at Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture, and sits on BSi committee IST/36 Geographic Information, where he focuses on geographic data in the SDGs. Doug is additionally a trustee of the Santa Rosa Fund, an educational charity; and a core member of the Environmental Network for Central America.

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Author
Date
21 April 2020
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Geographical
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