Could the Coronavirus save the World?!

Wouldn’t it be marvelous if we learned our lessons from the close downs and working from home practices caused by Covid-19 to change our ways of living and working to save our planet.

This may seem a peculiar thing to say whilst globally we are fighting a virus which is now, and will be until a vaccine is produced, a killer. I am not hoping, as some clearly do, that this will kill off loads of the elderly. I am of retirement age myself! What I hope is that it will change our behaviours and we will be in a world which is much more apart of social values of society, community and family. I will deal with these in a future blog.

However, today I want to concentrate on the environment. I reproduce below an article from the Guardian on 24th March. I have ‘paid’ for this by making a donation to their funds.

What is clear is that the virus shutdowns are having a huge effect on global warming. Far fewer noxious gases are produced as we stop going to work, with more of us working at home, and factories and offices shut down. Of course, I want people to get back to work; I want our society to be productive; I want people to share in the beauties of our Country because we share the resources out more fairly.

We have plenty of time to think so can I just put some questions on the table about things we could be thinking about:

  1. Will more of us decide that working from home rather than commuting is a good idea? That would mean vast reductions in the infrastructure required for transport.
  2. Will we decide to have fewer long-haul holidays and either just travel in Europe or even better travel in our own glorious Country. That would help our economy and make a massive reduction in the fuel we consume on air trips.
  3. Will we buy less stuff and better-quality stuff as buying cheap clothes, for example, has a huge impact on our environment?
  4. Will we decide to do more in the localities that we live in using inexpensive but healthy facilities like parks and libraries?
  5. Will we either but smaller cars than the ‘Chelsea Tractors’ which adorn our car parks or can we move quickly to electric cars?
  6. Will the wide, open roads that exist at present help us move to cycling more or even encourage to walk to places nearby instead of automatically getting into cars?
  7. Will we learn to accept that where it exists it is good for us and the planet to sue pubic transport?
  8. Will we devote more of our money to draughts, wind and rain proofing our homes as the heating and lighting of homes is a major cause of environmental degradation.
  9. Will we ask all retail and commercial premises to turn their illumination signage off at night as they wastefully consume fuel?
  10. Will we grow more of our own food both domestically and as a Country to save the food miles that cause such pollution.

Any elected members, such as me, should be asking these questions and working within our Councils, Assemblies and Parliament to create a great national debate on the environment and then, even more importantly, a great national set of actions which all of us can participate in.

As ever let me have your ideas at richardkemp68@yahoo.co.uk

Article from the Guardian Newspaper on 24th March

The coronavirus pandemic is shutting down industrial activity and temporarily slashing air pollution levels around the world, satellite imagery from the European Space Agency shows.

One expert said the sudden shift represented the “largest scale experiment ever” in terms of the reduction of industrial emissions.

Readings from ESA’s Sentinel-5P satellite show that over the past six weeks, levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) over cities and industrial clusters in Asia and Europe were markedly lower than in the same period last year.

Pollution levels in China are markedly lower than last year

Nitrogen dioxide is produced from car engines, power plants and other industrial processes and is thought to exacerbate respiratory illnesses such as asthma.

While not a greenhouse gas itself, the pollutant originates from the same activities and industrial sectors that are responsible for a large share of the world’s carbon emissions and that drive global heating.

Paul Monks, professor of air pollution at the University of Leicester, predicted there will be important lessons to learn. “We are now, inadvertently, conducting the largest-scale experiment ever seen,” he said. “Are we looking at what we might see in the future if we can move to a low-carbon economy? Not to denigrate the loss of life, but this might give us some hope from something terrible. To see what can be achieved.”

Monks, the former chair of the UK government’s science advisory committee on air quality, said that a reduction in air pollution could bring some health benefits, though they were unlikely to offset loss of life from the disease.

 “It seems entirely probable that a reduction in air pollution will be beneficial to people in susceptible categories, for example some asthma sufferers,” he said. “It could reduce the spread of disease. A high level of air pollution exacerbates viral uptake because it inflames and lowers immunity.” Agriculture could also get a boost because pollution stunts plant growth, he added.

The World Health Organization describes NO2 as “a toxic gas which causes significant inflammation of the airways” at concentrations above 200 micrograms per cubic metre. Pollution particles may also be a vector for pathogens, as well as exacerbating existing health problems. The WHO is now investigating whether airborne pollution particles may be a vector that spreads Covid-19 and makes it more virulent.

One of the largest drops in pollution levels could be seen over the city of Wuhan, in central China, which was put under a strict lockdown in late January. The city of 11 million people serves as a major transportation hub and is home to hundreds of factories supplying car parts and other hardware to global supply chains. According to Nasa, nitrogen dioxide levels across eastern and central China have been 10-30% lower than normal.

South Korea

NO2 levels also dropped in South Korea, which has long struggled with high emissions from its large fleet of coal-fired power plants but also from nearby industrial facilities in China.

The country has avoided putting entire regions under lockdown but is meticulously tracing and isolating suspected coronavirus cases.

Italy

The changes over northern Italy are particularly striking because smoke from a dense cluster of factories tends to get trapped against the Alps at the end of the Po Valley, making this one of western Europe’s pollution hotspots.

Since the country went into lockdown on 9 March, NO2 levels in Milan and other parts of northern Italy have fallen by about 40%. “It’s quite unprecedented,” said Vincent-Henri Peuch, director of the Copernicus Atmosphere Service. “In the past, we have seen big variations for a day or so because of weather. But no signal on emissions that has lasted so long.”

The source is not yet clear. One possibility is a slowdown of activity in Italy’s industrial heartland. Another factor is likely to be a reduction in road traffic, which accounts for the biggest share of nitrogen dioxide emissions in Europe.

Peuch said satellites were now starting to pick up similar signals in other European cities that are entering into lockdowns, though the data needs to studied over a longer period to confirm this is a pattern.

United Kingdom

Although the UK is more than a week behind Italy in terms of the spread of the disease and the government’s response, roadside monitors already show significantly reduced levels of pollution at hotspots such as Marylebone in London.

Road traffic accounts for about 80% of nitrogen oxide emissions in the UK, according to Monk. For the average diesel car, each kilometre not driven avoids 52 milligrammes of the pollutant entering the air.

“What I think will come out of this is a realisation – because we are forced to – that there is considerable potential to change working practices and lifestyles. This challenges us in the future to think, do we really need to drive our car there or burn fuel for that,” said Monk.

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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