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Illustrations by Ryan Rachman. 
VICE on Earth Day 2020

Here Are Some Illustrations That Show Just How Good the Pandemic Has Been for the Environment

While only time will tell if these changes will last, here’s some positive news during this dark time.
22 April 2020, 4:03am

The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths across the world. It has also abruptly changed the way people live, work, and socialise. But amid these unwanted effects are pockets of light.

The environment, in particular, has benefited from strict social distancing rules. Just weeks after cities like Venice, New York, and Wuhan established lockdowns, citizens reported better water and air quality.

It’s too early to tell if these changes will last. In fact, some experts say that the environment could suffer once quarantine measures are lifted and industries work double-time to make up for what they lost. Still, the improvements we see now can act as a preview of what a greener world looks like.

Below are illustrations that show some of the ways the pandemic has helped the environment.

Air

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In China, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels dropped by as much as 30 percent after lockdowns started in late January, when factories were shut down and land travel decreased. Cars and big industrial operations are two major contributors to NO2 emissions.

According to research provider Rhodium Group, coal consumption fell by 40 percent in China’s six largest power plants since the last quarter of 2019. With more lockdowns happening across the world, and populations staying indoors, the air outside is getting better.

But take note: it could just as easily get bad again. In Wuhan, emissions rose again after the lockdown was lifted on April 8.

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Due to wide-spread travel restrictions, air travel dropped by over half in late March, according to The Guardian. This was marginally good news for global carbon dioxide emissions, which usually accounts for 2.5 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions.

Water

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After two months of lockdown, China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment reported a decrease in chemicals like phosphorus and ammonia in the country’s surface water, likely due to factory closures. Things may even seem a bit clearer now, like the water did in Venice without the tourist traffic in canals kicking up sediment from the bottom. However, the city’s local government warned against the misconception that “clear” means “clean.”

Land

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With people advised not to venture out of the vicinity of their homes, there are much fewer vehicles on the road.

Now, even cities with some of the worst traffic in the world, from Los Angeles to Manila, are ghost towns with nearly empty highways. Less waiting in jams, less carbon monoxide from car exhaust, and better air quality for all.

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Rapid urbanisation has pushed wildlife to survive in fragmented pieces of land. With the humans trapped indoors, animals have less threat of being disturbed or in danger of harm. Some animals are beginning to venture out, feeling more at ease to explore their urbanised habitats.

In France, this means more singing birds in cities. Since there are fewer cars on the road, there will also be less roadkill. But experts say this likely won’t last after lockdowns are eased.


VICE is committed to ongoing coverage of the global climate crisis. Read all of our Earth Day 2020 coverage here, and more of our climate change coverage here.