Did the Corona crisis slow down climate change?

At the beginning of lockdown, those aerial images of China and Italy were all over the media showing how emissions of greenhouse gases slowed down as production was halted. Many speculated that this could also have a changing effect on the climate crisis. But did it? A couple of months later, we can already tell:

Let’s have a look at the data

If we look at the concentration of greenhouse gases such as CO2 in the atmosphere, a very obvious and worrisome increase can be seen over the last decades. This is what fuels climate change and is caused by the increased usage of fossil fuels and such:

The cyclic variation of the CO2 level in the atmosphere is due to natural seasonal and annual changes of the atmosphere as plants and soil react to temperature and humidity changes. Thereby, the atmospheric CO2 level decreases significantly each year and increases again eventually, each and every year again, each year to a higher level than before. This trend has been ongoing ever since data recording and means that despite annual variations, the overall concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is steadily increasing.

We would somehow expect to see a significant dip in this curve for the time of the more or less global Corona virus lockdown beginning of 2020. But from this data, we are not able to see any change at all. Instead, atmospheric CO2 levels reached new all-time highs in the last few months [1,2], with an unprecedented 417.07 ppmV for May 2020 as measured on the oldest measuring site Mauna Loa on Hawaii.

The reason for this is simple: With so high natural CO2 level variations, the effect from two or three months of reduced emissions will simply not stand out due to it being to small in comparison. We can expect to see an effect in the data if we reach steady decrease of emission, as then the trend line (taking out all natural, annual variations) will change as well. But for this, lasting changes to emissions are necessary.

Did the corona crisis have a lasting effect on climate change? The data for greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere shows the answer clearly: No.
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

The consequence of this is scarier than COVID-19

Remember beginning of this year when we all worried about cute koalas and kangaroos burning in Australia? Seems like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it?

The wildfires in Australia in summer 2019/2020 were just an example of what the world will be like if we don’t stop climate change. The increase of the atmospheric greenhouse gas concentration has led to an increased global temperature of already about 1 °C due to the greenhouse effect. And it is expected to keep increasing for decades to come [3]. The result of this: Glaciers are melting, the sea level is rising, the weather is changing with more heat waves and droughts and overall, more extreme weather.

While for the Corona virus, we will eventually have a vaccination to eradicate the thread of COVID-19, but for our climate the solution is not so simple. Still, it is more urgent than ever to work on this because its consequences will affect us all and all generations to come.

Already, we can see in our own gardens how trees are blossoming earlier every year and animals spread to new areas where they have not been seen before, like the recent discovery of murder hornets in the U.S. [4]. Even here in Germany we are facing the third year of an intensive drought in a row. The need to act is more obvious than ever, but we are still struggling to see the thread this poses to us as it is less obvious than a disease such as COVID-19. All the more reason to lower our ecological footprint now! And to make others act, especially those in power – your vote is more important than ever!

How to you see climate change in your daily life? Is it already affecting you?

[1] https://www.cliccs.uni-hamburg.de/de/about-cliccs/news/2020-news/2020-05-18-co2-konzentration-corona.html
[2] https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/covid2.html
[3] https://climate.nasa.gov/effects/
[4] https://www.eenews.net/stories/1063082699

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