You’ve probably seen the stories from around the world, where air pollution in places like Beijing have cleared so much that images taken from space show the resulting improvements, waterways in Venice are now clean enough that jelly fish are appearing for the first time ever, and wild animals have been observed roaming deserted city streets. This is the result of a drastic reduction in human activity for the rather short period of only 2 months.
The short-term environmental effects are truly remarkable but will they have an effect on Climate Change? Has it reduced Co2 levels in the atmosphere that are causing global warming? Sorry to say, the scientists say no, it has not. The fact is, in order to lower atmospheric Co2 to pre-industrial levels, it will require this level of action, more or less, from this point on. Unfortunately, when this pandemic has passed there is little reason to think that human activity will not resume to pre-pandemic levels.
However, we should not despair. This pandemic has taught us some important lessons if we are willing to acknowledge them. The most obvious is that, when we reduce our human activity the planet responds more quickly than we may have thought. This is most important for people to know and it somewhat dispels the refrain that we hear from some that “it doesn’t matter what we do, the problem is just too big to solve”. While the problems may indeed be big, results can be seen almost immediately when we act. On the other hand, for the people who don’t think we even have a climate problem, it is hard to deny the obvious improvements we have observed in only 2 months’ time.
The other lesson? This pandemic is awesome in its scope affecting the entire globe without regard to borders, peoples or politics. It has required that countries around the world work together to fight the spread of the virus. Countries are sharing research in the quest for a vaccine and the hope is that all of us, as members of society, follow the science on how to safely return to some version of normal. This is a dress rehearsal for the herculean level of global action and cooperation that is required to reverse global warming. The good news is we can do it. We should start now.
For us to safely come back from this pandemic architects and engineers, utilizing public health data, can play an important role in opening our buildings by adapting them to meet healthy building standards. For more on this subject stay tuned for future posts.