THE DAY THE EARTH
STOOD STILL 


Part l

As COVID-19 unfurls its terrible shroud across the planet, some things happened that not a lot of people saw coming. NASA and the European Space Agency noticed a significant reduction in nitrogen dioxide and C02 emissions in the biggest cities in China, the country worst hit by the pestilence. In Madrid, Spain, the Directorate General for Traffic reported a 14% decrease in urban traffic during rush hour. In other cities across the world, the changes are visible even to the naked eye. 


Indeed, it cannot be denied that the illness has caused a shift in the relationship between human civilization and the natural world. But to what extent has the spread of the coronavirus influenced the (then) seemingly unstoppable march of climate change? What future changes can we expect as the malady continues to spread?

As most areas of society are indefinitely suspended, economic activity across the world has also slowed down. This is most felt in the energy sector, particularly in the market for coal and fossil fuels.
In fact, the International Energy Agency’s Oil Market Report for March 2020 predicts a significant decline in the demand for transport fuels in the near future. Naturally, this leads to a decrease in emissions of greenhouse gases in the following months. Its consequences on the climate change front will reverberate across the board and across markets.


What future changes can we expect as the malady continues to spread?


This decrease in demand for transport is now prompting producers such as OPEC to consider limiting their supply. But the extreme uncertainty from both the demand and supply side makes long-term decision-building very difficult. Therefore, we also expect this decrease in demand to result in global economic challenges which may have complex effects on the crusade against climate change.

Nonetheless, this also prompts a re-evaluation of our dependence on finite and ecologically-damaging sources such as coal and fossil fuels. We cannot possibly depend on these sources forever.





Moreover, it also opens up discussion on the commercialization of energy, particularly on why it is considered as the most important industrial sector in our society. Why is it important in the first place. The truth is that this importance rests on the fact that the sources are limited, and acquiring these limited resources makes them the target of corporate and even military interests.
In the wake of the crisis, people are becoming more aware of the things that really matter, such as social solidarity, cooperation and community. These resources should not become the reason for divisions and conflict. Energy should be free and the well-being of our society should not revolve around the act of extracting an ever-dwindling resource. 


In the wake of the crisis, people are becoming more aware of the things that really matter, such as social solidarity and cooperation.



Hopefully, all of these will lead to re-invigorated and, hopefully, more insistent demands for renewable energy sources in the future. 
As countries enact quarantines and extreme lock-downs to isolate the virus, the industry that has been affected first is the aviation industry. With the number of flights taking a nosedive, the sheer scale of this pause will surely have a significant effect, not only in the industry but in other sectors that depend on it.  




While the majority of climate change criticism has been directed at the energy sector, the air travel industry is not entirely innocent. In fact, the aviation industry is responsible for about 3.5 percent of emission levels globally. This seemingly small number reveals its fang if we consider the specific aspects of air transport.

Aside from the carbon emissions, burned aircraft fuel releases harmful gases such as nitrogen oxides that react with oxygen and creates ozone. All of these happen in the atmosphere where they directly affect meteorological processes. Taken in sum, air travel can multiply a person’s carbon footprint by as much as 7 times compared to, say, taking the train.

Now that most flights around the world have been halted, we imagine lower levels of carbon emissions and greenhouses being emitted in the skies today. This can slow down global climate change for the time being.


Photo credits: Paul Sisson