Earth is gasping for a breath of fresh air

Rhiannah Funk, Hope for Change,

Acrylic on canvas, 12” x 12”,

2020, Painting II

Wuhan – New Year’s Eve 2019. The World Health Organization recognizes 41 patients infected by an unknown pneumonia. By early February, President Xi Jinping forced the shutdown of thousands of factories in an attempt to control the contagion now known as Covid-19. Italy succumbs within weeks, and by March, the pandemic has spread to 145 countries, resulting in world-wide industrial shutdowns and billions of people self-quarantining.

Less factory, motor vehicle and aircraft activity has resulted in noticeably decreased levels of nitrogen dioxide in the atmosphere.

NASA’s Earth Observatory satellites have been monitoring pollution since launching in 2004, revealing startling images of China before and after people began staying home.

“What we saw in China was a very rapid effect,” NASA atmospheric physicist Joanna Joiner said. “We’re seeing changes in human behavior, ...how they’re using fuels...pollution won’t hide from the satellite data.”

According to research data, China experienced a 25% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions over a four-week period.

NASA’s images of dramatic changes in air quality over China and Italy became associated with the reduction of emissions around the world.

“It’s the first time in history we’ve seen something like this,” said Marco Percoco, associate professor of transportation economics at Bocconi University in Milan.

Scientists are reeling over how quickly the earth has responded to positive environmental changes; amidst concerns that any gains in air quality may be short lived.

"Past experience suggests that emissions declines during economic crises are followed by a rapid upsurge,” Secretary-General Petteri Taalas, of the World Meteorological Organization stated.

The short-term effects of clear skies and cleaner air has come at a cost. Thousands of lives have been lost, the economic and financial impact of shutting down the world will have a long-lasting effect, and our way of life may never be the same.