It's day 12 and let me just start with "OMG THE INCREDIBLE AROMAS THAT ARE LINGERING FROM THE WINDOWS OF THE APARTMENTS SURROUNDING ME!" It's making me hungry! And imagine this - I'm surrounded by mostly elderly couples! So, all day, it's nonne in the kitchen!
Over the past few days, I’ve read quite a few articles focusing on the unforeseen environmental impacts the response to this virus has had around the globe. Now, whether it was truly unexpected can be debated, but let’s move on. I am writing this as a student of environmental studies and based on research. I am not an expert in the field; however, my priority is to be informed using credible sources of research.
Yes- air pollution in China and Italy has been significantly reduced.
Yes- the Venetian canals and Firenze Arno have clearer waters.
Venezia - Photo by Marco Capovilla
Firenze Arno - Photo taken by a friend of mine
If you think about it, it is only inevitable that this happen due to the quarantining of millions of people. These isolation circumstances - might I mention with true satisfaction - have had an increasingly positive effect on our global environment. VERY MUCH NEEDED POSITIVE EFFECTS.
Though the circumstances of the virus on humans is difficult to digest and has a variety of emotional impacts, it does bring some hope in beginning the healing of our environment, and in turn, expand the environmental awareness and education of our population.
I know this strikes a huge debate on personal beliefs of global warming, and I have no intentions of offending people with this post. I just want to state the facts.
With the lockdown of Wuhan and its surrounding regions came the closure and/or restrictive activity of many industrial operations and travel. As many may know, carbon dioxide is linked to electrical production and transportation, as well as industrial activity. Therefore, anything that was connected to this greatly influences the emission of greenhouse gases. That said, once a halt or restraint was put into place, China’s emissions reduced drastically. According to Lauri Myllyvirta, an analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air in Finland, there was a 25% drop in China’s carbon dioxide emissions during this critical time in comparison to that of last year. (See Article)
Air pollution-monitoring satellites operated by NASA and the European Space Agency also indicated substantial decline in China’s pollution—more specifically, its nitrogen dioxide emissions.
Nitrogen Dioxide Emissions in China by NASA
Italy is experiencing similar results. Since the nation-wide lockdown was put into place, atmospheric nitrogen dioxide levels have reduce greatly. This is especially the case in Northern Italy, particularly the regions of Lombardia and Veneto, which are the hearts of industrial activity.
Nitrogen Dioxide Levels in Italy captured by L’Agenzia Spaziale Europea
In my research, I found several articles that touch on the topic of how pollution and the risk of coronavirus are linked. Pollution, not surprisingly, is known to cause a great number of health concerns among individuals—specifically, hypertension and respiratory diseases. With this, it has been said that those living in more polluted cities are at higher risk than those living in less polluted cities. A study taken place in 2003 on the victims of the coronavirus SARS discovered that victims in moderately polluted environments were 84% more likely to die than those in low polluted environments.
Dr. Sara De Matteis, member of ERS Environmental Health Committee and Associate Professor in Occupational and Environmental Medicine at Cagliari University in Italy, stated, “Urban air quality has improved in the last half century, but petrol and especially diesel vehicle fumes remain a serious problem. Even the latest diesel engines emit dangerous levels of pollution. Patients with chronic lung and heart conditions caused or worsened by long-term exposure to air pollution are less able to fight off lung infections and more likely to die. This is likely also the case for Covid-19. By lowering air pollution levels, we can help the most vulnerable in their fight against this and any possible future pandemics.’’ (See Article)
With this in mind, think of the number of deaths in Lombardia—Milano in particular. Yes - it is the hotspot of the virus, but it is also one of the most polluted areas of Italy. The conclusion? By lowering pollution levels, we can potentially decrease the number of deaths associated with similar future pandemics.
The most interesting and quite mind-blowing article that I found during my research was on greenpeace.org. The article focuses on the connection of viruses, like the coronavirus, ecosystems, overpopulation, and climate change.
In a 2007 report, the World Health Organization warned that the risk of viral epidemics is increasingly growing due to the changes made in the relationship between man and microbes. These changes are caused by several factors including the changes in climate and ecosystems.
The spread of new viruses, such as the coronavirus, are a consequence of man’s irresponsible activity in regards to its environment. Virologist Ilaria Capua, director of one of the departments of the Emerging Pathogens Institute of the University of Florida, mentions (translated from Italian to English therefore wording is slightly changed) “Three coronaviruses in less than twenty years is a significant alarm to us. They are phenomena that is linked to changes in the ecosystems. If the environment is altered, the virus finds new hosts.” In other words, with the destruction of nature comes, almost always, an impact on our overall health. Harm to the ecosystem = harm to us humans.
This topic is very well chronicled by David Quammen in his book, Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic. In an interview with Wired, Quammen discusses the reasons why we will witness and experience other crises like this one in the future.
Word for Word (translated as best possible with the help of my dear friend)
"our different natural ecosystems are full of many species of animals, plants and other creatures, each of which are hosts of their own unique viruses
many of these viruses, especially those found in wild mammals, can infect humans;
we are invading and altering these ecosystems with more decision than ever before, thus exposing ourselves to new viruses
when a virus “spills over” it jumps from a non-human animal carrier to human carrier, allowing human-to-human transmission. Then, the virus has won the lottery: it now has a population of 7.7 billions of individuals who live in high density population, traveling far and wide."
Therefore, a "spillover" has a global effect. What supposedly started from bats jumped to humans, and due to globalization, has impacted the global population. That’s effing insane!🤯
And…there is even more to the story. More factors to consider. Temporal dimensions.
With the melting of the glaciers, very ancient and dangerous viruses that were once dormant, can be released. To support this, a team of Chinese and U.S scientists reported in January of 2020 that they had discovered as many as 33 different viruses dormant within ice samples of the Tibetan Plateu dating back 15 thousand years ago. Twenty-eight of the viruses found are still unknown.
Spanish viruses were found frozen in the glaciers of Alaska, while fragments of smallpox DNA have resurfaced from permafrost - ground that remains at or below 0℃ for at least two consecutive years - in northeastern Siberia. Permafrost is by far one of the most suitable environments for hosting bacteria and viruses until global warming releases them. This occurred in the summer of 2016, when anthrax was released killing a teenager and a thousand deer while infecting dozens of people.
The correlation between climate and infections is quite a powerful one. The“Lancet Countdown Report 2019” associates climate change with an increased spread of infectious diseases. To summarize, in a warmer planet, viruses, bacteria, fungi, parasites will find ideal conditions to spread and recombine—the spread increasing both with seasonality and geographical diffusion.
Global warming = Spread of disease, just like the coronavirus.
Although the coronavirus was initiated by the "spillover" of infected animals and was exacerbated by global travel, the most important point is that the current climate crisis brings the risk of even more dangerous outcomes. For example, the melting of Antarctica's glaciers due to rising temperatures carries the risk of releasing viruses that are unknown to humans. These glaciers are millions of years old, and the release of these unknown viruses could have deadly consequences.
The more we continue to treat our Earth the way we have, the more we endanger ourselves by contributing to the environmental circumstances that could lead to more "spillover" and the release of viruses due to climate change.
We must reflect on our relationship with nature. Let's take this opportunity to reassess the importance of our environment and our environmental duties. What affects our environment, affects us. We are creating our own war. Our protection depends on the protection of our ecosystem and its biodiversity. We NEED new laws and habits. Quite literally, our lives depend on it.
Our Mother Earth has been so good to us, so let us be good to her.
“We live in a closed environment. As if in an aquarium. Our health depends on 20% genetic predisposition and 80% on environmental factors. The cure must study, in addition to the body in question, the context.”
- Illaria Capua -