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A smaller carbon footprint during and after COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic has prevented millions of people from going to work. Social distancing measures are keeping people inside their houses and apartments. After months of social distancing from friends and family, it may be difficult to find a silver lining, but the mobs of wild monkeys in Thailand disagree. 

Large groups of monkeys covered an entire city square as they fought over scraps of food in Lopburi, Thailand, in March. Because of the reduced numbers of people in public spaces, animals all over the world have made themselves at home in places where they usually would not be welcomed, according to Newsweek. For example, in Nara Park, Japan, sika deer were spotted roaming in residential areas. Videos like these and more have blown up over social media. 

Another positive to this situation is the reduced carbon emissions worldwide. The photos of the canals in Venice that have become popular on many social media platforms are a startling example of this. For the first time in years, the waters of these canals are clear. This is due partly to reduced boat traffic in the area as well as the decrease in tourists. But it’s not just Italy. All over the world, carbon emissions have dropped significantly as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Vice News, carbon emissions in the United States have dropped by 7.5%. These emissions have dropped by 18% in China, 27% in Italy, and 48% in the UK. Pollution levels decreased significantly across the globe, especially in Wuhan, Beijing, and Shanghai. Traffic congestion has also gone down. So has the demand for oil. 

It’s also very likely that even after the pandemic, businesses will start operating from home more often. Experts say that, by 2021, 25 to 30 percent of people will be working at home multiple days a week, compared to 3.6% in 2019. These changes could drastically reduce carbon dioxide emissions to benefit the future of our planet, not just the present.

This made me wonder: if the environment is changing around the world, what will happen after the virus? And if people are taking big steps to combat climate change, why can’t Dana Hall do the same? When we eventually get back to school, I think we should learn a lesson from this virus. To learn how we could do that, I Zoom-Interviewed Ms. Mary Frances Hanover, who teaches AP Biology and advises the Green Action Committee at Dana Hall. 

Ms. Hanover said that while it is difficult for a school to join the growing movement of working from home, there are some jobs where people could realistically work from home several days a week. She says that this cuts commuting costs, reduces pollution, and develops ways to expand other people’s responsibilities. 

I also wondered if carbon emissions could drop at Dana Hall even after we go back to school for good. Ms. Hanover said it is possible, but not likely, for emissions to drop by 7.5% as they have across the rest of the country. She noted that “the biggest contributor to our carbon footprint is how we heat the campus, especially the older buildings.” She also said that being more proactive with our recycling initiative could help. “There’s a reason why reduce is first and recycle is last,” she said. This means it is most important to reduce the materials you use, such as limiting the intake of plastics, and that recycling should always be a last resort. 

Ms. Hanover pointed out that many people think that reducing their carbon footprint would diminish the quality of their lives, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Being more environmentally conscious is all about forming new habits, like using reusable cups and carpooling. Ms. Hanover encourages students to reach out with any questions they have. 

The pandemic has turned all of our lives upside-down and isolated us from each other. What the virus has also done is caused us to reevaluate our choices. It’s given our planet some to breathe. When this finally ends, it will be up to us to make the right decisions to save planet Earth. 

Photos: Dana Hall’s campus features solar panels and road signs warning against idling cars.

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