COVID-related Changes in Human Activity is not Moving the Needle on Climate Change. More Must Be Done and Quickly.

By Michaela Johnson

Climate change has been a hot topic over the past decade. Many scientific groups and activists have made projections for climate change in the future. One of these projections is that by 2030 the global temperature will increase by 1.5 degrees Celsius. Over the past decade, we have been unable to halt or decrease the Earth’s increasing temperature, even with a strong group of climate change activists. With Covid-19 affecting human activity, the world has perceived a short-term change in what looks to be a step in the “right” direction. What people are actually witnessing is a reduction in pollution, not a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions.

The world has viewed remarkable images of blue skies over Beijing’s once grey and gloomy skies; and Venice, Italy has seen a resurgence of wildlife into the canals of the city. As a society, we can attribute the blue skies and clear water to the current lack of pollution that humanity normally produces. Wherever you live, whether it be in the city or the country, by the ocean or the mountains, you have observed a lack of societal movement. The question we ask ourselves is: Does the lack of driving cars, reduction in plane trips, and other COVID-related changes in human activity impact the rate of climate change?

The blunt answer is NO! The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has estimated that vehicles cause one-third of air pollution in the U.S., and transportation alone contributes to 28% of greenhouse gas emissions. Cars contribute to a higher percentage of air pollution in cities, like Los Angeles, than the total emissions of greenhouse gasses. As it is very important to decrease the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted into the atmosphere each year, the pause on human activity during the pandemic has not tipped the scales enough to change the predictions of the future. We may have halted greenhouse gasses emitted by vehicles, but we have not halted the other causes of greenhouse gas emissions: industrial, electricity, agriculture, and commercial and residential. In fact, electricity and industry emit the majority of greenhouse gas emissions after transportation.

The pandemic has opened my eyes to the real notion that there are five different pillars to climate change and greenhouse gas emissions: agriculture, commercial and residential, industry, electricity and transportation. For there to be a deviation in global climate change, there must be significant actions done in each pillar. Yes, during the pandemic there have been less people traveling, but the other pillars have not decreased in emissions. One pillar that people do not pay attention to because of its small percentage is agriculture. There has been a major surplus of perishable foods that have turned to food waste, between 30 and 40 percent. Food waste is just one example of a problem that the world can work towards fixing.

Another pillar is electricity use. At first, I thought that there would be less electricity used during the pandemic because there are less people in big office buildings or facilities that may require a lot of electricity. But, after thinking about it more and referencing back to my environmental science courses, I remembered that these buildings require electricity through the night to sustain the building. This fact means that most buildings have continued
to use the same amount of electricity than before the pandemic, even if only one employee is working; that is in addition to the countless amount of employees that are now working from home, using energy that previously would not have been used.

As a society, we cannot think that doing nothing is actually doing something.

It takes action and commitment from the entire world in order to move the needle on the projections and path of climate change.

Now let’s work together, in all aspects, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slowly alter the growth of global climate change.


EPA. Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Retrieved June 26, 2020.

How Stuff Works. How much air pollution comes from cars? Retrieved June 26, 2020.

Food Forward. How Has COVID-19 Impacted Food Waste? Retrieved June 26, 2020.

U.S. Energy Information Administration. Daily electricity demand impacts from COVID-19 mitigation efforts differ by region. May 7, 2020.


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