“In the ongoing wake of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, with travel restricted, billions of people around the world remaining at home, and demand for oil and other refined products hitting record lows, what impact has this had on climate change?” asks retired Eckerd College professor and conservationist Dr. David Hastings, speaking from his home in North-central Florida.
According to Dr. David Hastings, the effects—outwardly, at least—have been significant, with experts suggesting that 15 to 20 percent of this year’s total estimated global carbon dioxide output mitigated due to the COVID-19 outbreak and measures put in place to combat the spread of the virus. “Several billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions that would have entered the atmosphere in a ‘normal’ year have not done so in 2020,” reveals the retired Eckerd College professor, “based on estimates published by the International Energy Agency.”
A large decrease in emissions, no doubt; but what effect, if any, has this had on global warming overall? “From plunging carbon dioxide emissions stemming from restricted air travel to drops in power demands and reduced traffic congestion in cities around the world, outward impacts have been clear,” suggests Dr. David Hastings, “but, overall, global warming still is not slowing.”
In fact, as restrictions have begun to be lifted as the year has progressed, returned economic activity has already started to wipe out the beneficial effects of restricted travel, grounded flights, and reduced demand for oil almost as fast as they occurred in the first place.
What’s called for, instead, retired Eckerd College professor Dr. David Hastings believes, is a longer-term shift toward proven technologies such as wind energy and solar power, and successful policies designed to combat climate change in a systemic way. “Rather than celebrating a momentary glimpse of hope in what’s otherwise been an incredibly difficult year for many, we must continue to invest—for example—in replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy including solar and wind,” notes Dr. Hastings. It’s no good, he says, simply falling back into bad habits.
According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, electric vehicle sales have surged in the U.K., Sweden, France, Germany, and the Netherlands since the onset of the pandemic in March, driven by new attitudes toward the environment and the planet’s resources. However, despite reduced global emissions in 2020 due primarily to the COVID-19 pandemic, annual average carbon dioxide concentrations will be higher this year according to projections by the University of Exeter. This is because even though emissions are lower than normal, we continue to spew these greenhouse gases into the air resulting in higher overall concentrations.
“We must, therefore,” adds retired Eckerd College professor Dr. David Hastings, “continue to invest in fighting climate change using smart policy solutions. We need to take what we’ve learned during 2020 into 2021 and beyond if we are to turn the tide on global warming and turn our mindset toward implementing sound policy and solutions to the climate crisis..”