It has been nearly nine weeks since Michigan schools shut down, and many other countries around the world shut down well before that. Since the beginning of quarantine, scientists have been predicting that the shutdowns will have a significant effect on the environment, but a new study in the journal Nature provides concrete evidence for those claims. Scientists have discovered that as driving, airplane travel, and heavy industry have largely shut down, global carbon dioxide emissions have decreased by nearly a billion tons since early March. The peak decline in emissions occurred in April, when scientists measured an average drop of 17%.
That is a tremendous decrease, but considering the unprecedented steps that were needed to get there, it is not all that much. In order to completely halt carbon emissions and slow global warming, shutdown measures would need to be implemented permanently and five times more strictly. Scientists estimate that when January 1st, 2021 arrives the total annual emissions for 2020 will be between 4 and 7 percent lower than 2019, depending on when and how fast countries reopen. A United Nations report from last fall said that global carbon emissions must start falling by at least 7.6% to avoid the worst effects of climate change, slightly higher than the predicted decrease this year from COVID-19. In order to really deal with climate change we need to change how civilization operates on a massive scale. We must give up all the same industry that we have given up during this shutdown and replace it with renewable energy. This decrease in carbon emissions is dramatic and good, but scientists are already saying that it won’t last forever.