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What can we learn from the COVID-19 pandemic? A look at global CO2 emissions

How do we relate to our world when our behaviors suddenly change

DETROIT – In spite of all the negative aspects, the pandemic has created opportunities that we can learn from.

COVID-19 has created a global natural experiment that would be impossible to do in any normal situation. It gives us insight into how we relate to our world when our behaviors are suddenly changed.

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What would happen to global carbon dioxide emissions if people drove less, flew less and used less power? Because of COVID-19, we know.

Around the world environmentally harmful carbon dioxide emissions dropped by 8.8 percent. It’s the highest annual change. The most it has ever fallen in history. Even compared to the Great Depression, World War II or the financial crisis of 2008.

A global consortium of researchers documented it in the journal Nature Communications. The biggest fall happened at the beginning of April, during the height of global closures. Forty percent of the drop was from a decrease in ground transport. Lower power plant emissions were responsible for 22 percent. Idled industry added 18 percent and the drop in global domestic aviation cut C02 emissions another 13 percent.

Because we cannot limit human human activity the way the pandemic did, changes in energy production and use will be needed to reach emission targets.

From air pollution to sound pollution, a study from the University of Michigan looking at noise exposure data from volunteer Apple Watch users in Florida, New York, California and Texas found with more social distancing the average sound levels people were exposed to dropped by 3 decibels. That reduced the risk of noise inducing hearing loss and potentially other harmful health effects.

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