How does COVID-19 affect the Climate Crisis?

Coal Consumption in China dips every winter as businesses close down in the weeks surrounding the Lunar New Year- this is a time when many residents travel to celebrate the holiday with family. People travel home from all over- domestically and internationally and eventually return back to their new respective cities. This year, coal use has remained low MUCH longer following the end of the country-wide celebrations. That’s because the 2020 New Year celebrations provided help to spread an already highly contagious Coronavirus, specifically COVID-19, which in turn caused a coutry wide quarantine keeping factories and businesses closed.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how the climate crisis is being impacted by this particular Coronavirus. I assume many people have seen the NASA picture depicting a much less polluted China- from satellite images at this point; if not, click here. And with a global pandemic among us I wish I could confidently provide more helpful information regarding the virus itself. Instead, I’d like to direct my readers to a few reputable sources; these are sources that are purely informative and in no way biased. If you are reading this from another country with additional insight, please share sources in the comments section.

Recommended Resources

  • To track and visualize data up-to-date info regarding confirmed cases around the world- John’s Hopkins University click here
  • For CDC resources particular to COVID click here
  • For America’s guidelines moving forward- White House click here
  • For the latest updates- World Health Organization click here
  • I’ve also included an informative video from Vox at the end of this post that explains how & why new diseases, like a Coronavirus, originate from China (wet markets).

COVID-19 helps the climate crisis

I am not an expert in how a pandemic can spread, nor am I an expert in the long term impacts of such a virus. I am, however, monitoring and learning a lot about the impact of Coronavirus and how it is/can affect our climate crisis. Although all data pulled is short-term, we can learn from our current circumstance as well as learn from past pandemics.

“[COVID-19 has] wiped out 25% or more of the country’s CO2 emissions in the past 4 weeks” In reference to the coal and crude oil industry of China; in comparison to this same time last year.  


According to multiple sources, in reference to calculations from an analyst from the Center of Research on Energy and Clean Air, Lauri Myllyvirta, the quarantine of China’s major cities has decreased carbon emissions by 25% in comparison to this same time period last year; and average NO2 levels are 36% less than in 2019. While the Coronavirus is not a long-term fix it has provided real life data for policy makers and scientist going forward. In fact, New York Times reported that even a temporary dip in emissions- the last 3 weeks is substantial for our World’s largest polluter.

Gas masks laying a case.

“The three-week decline is roughly equal to the amount of carbon dioxide that New York puts out in a full year (approx. 150 million metric tons)” referring to China’s decline in pollution.

-New York Times.

COVID-19 short lived solution

Unfortunately, the climate seems to be the only thing thriving at the time of this crisis. And I assume even that will be short lived. China will very likely more than cancel out the positive effect in their attempt to ‘rebuild’ or catch up from the lost time. While Beijing agreed to meet negotiated emission limits by 2030 in the Paris Agreement, their primary goal for 2020 is to increase their GDP. Considering the COVID-19 Pandemic has already set them back for an entire quarter of the year, it is no surprise the local governments are feeling pressure to get their communities back up and running. In fact, some local Chinese governments have ordered factory owners ‘to run empty factories- to use their power’ to trick the local governments’ superiors into assuming recovery.  

Currently the economic impact is hard to predict as the virus continues to be uncontrolled and global. At this time, China is only beginning to come out of quarantine. Meanwhile, Italy is completely quarantined and it’s beginning to happen in the states, too. I think one of the biggest fears is the unknown- how will this affect our economy long-term? Did we wait too long? Will there be a recession? There are so many questions… of course a recession would in turn decrease overall consumption… demand… and factory output; if a recession is the result of COVID-19 then the Coronavirus will have a bigger positive impact on the environment and fossil fuels. But this is all beside the point… because otherwise I could just hype up a decreasing population due to deaths, technically a lower population is beneficial to the climate crisis as well. For more information on decreased fossil fuels pollution correlated to quarantine- check out this article about Italy; gives reason to all the cheerful music videos I’ve seen popping up from quarantined communities.  

National Emergency… Global Emergency; disaster

FACT: “currently with (7,145) total deaths from COVID-19, it still remains far less deadly than fossil fuels… 4.5 million deaths per year” in reference to air pollution, not climate (ie NOT natural disasters).

-Green Peace

It’s too bad we don’t treat the climate crisis as such an emergency; we don’t declare a Worldwide Emergency for the planet. Imagine if we had a similar level of international coordination. Just like the COVID-19 virus, the climate crisis impacts every human- actually every living thing on this planet, although the 4.5 million deaths noted above is only in reference to human lives lost. I guess as we have learned from this virus, most people are only concerned for themselves and don’t want to be held accountable for their part. Just like we all have a responsibility in minimizing the spread of COVID-19, we all have a responsibility in our carbon footprint.

2 essential lessons we can take from this Pandemic, COVID-19:

  1. Globally and locally, we are all closely interconnected- our decisions affect those around us.
  2. As a collective World, through trade, we’re all responsible for emissions. Chinese factories supply western consumption.
    Let’s scale back on fossil fuel investments, and as consumers lets demand less- vote with your dollar/money!

Societal Opportunity amidst the Coronavirus; CORVID-19

I’d also invite our society to use this as an opportunity for behavioral changes. Companies may allow for more remote/telecommuting opportunities, video conferencing to limit travel, and overall shorter hours per week. This not only will be helpful to the middle class, more affordable, but also so much better for the environment by limiting our emissions (eliminating commutes and flights). I think this can also be a lesson in risk assessment. Local establishments may find it to be beneficial to switch to local distributors, in case of natural disasters or other outbreaks (think- the romaine recall from SW USA)- which in turn cuts out more fossil fuel emissions, too.
If you are not social distancing, I’m looking at you Charleston, SC., then this virus will remain to spread and hurt the economy and the well-being of our Nation. For those of you concerned for the future outcomes of your favorite restaurants, as well as those of you currently out of work or at risk of losing your job, THIS DIRECTLY RELATES TO OUR ECONOMY BOUNCING BACK!
By limiting access now, we are putting the economy on ice- by ignoring this and continuing to ignore guidelines we are lighting the economy on fire.
Which option do you think will be easier to recover from? Stay inside, act as if you already have a confirmed diagnosis… the fact that this is so hard for so many of you really makes me question your overall happiness; go home and reflect, spend some time with yourself. Your happiness should not solely depend on other people or social interactions. If you need suggestions on how to get through social distancing click here. 

“And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.

… And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.

And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.”
-Kitty O’Meara

Being empathetic beyond the human race; respecting the Earth.

Try thinking about it in the perspective of Mama Natch; humans are the virus and COVID-19 is the vaccine. Our Earth is finally able to breath! Honestly, I feel like she has been holding her breath for a long time and finally, while all of us are careful of the air we are breathing, our Earth is healing. She is getting better. Unfortunately because we continue to ignore our effects on the World, the only way it is able to heal is during human crisis. Empathy & Awareness goes beyond our own species.

An Orangutan- looks like he is pondering a thought.

To be clear, I am not saying Mama Natch caused this; humans did this in a never-ending pursuit to more profit. Check out this video by Vox to understand more about how a coronavirus starts.

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