The impact of isolation on the environment
The health crisis related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to isolate have affected everyone’s way of life in many ways. In Pointe-Claire, like elsewhere, economic activity slowed down and residents stayed home, except to provide essential services to the public and purchase essentials.
Did this temporary slowdown have an impact on the environment and air quality?
Wildlife seems to be more present in urban centres. On the island of Montréal, wild turkeys, geese and rodents have been observed. But while some animals dared to venture a little closer to houses, experts say that their numbers did not increase. What we have seen is therefore not a return of wildlife that had disappeared from Montréal and its surrounding areas, but rather existing wildlife that dared to approach urban areas that were more tranquil than usual to find food.
This same phenomenon was observed in other parts of the world. The fish seen in the canals of Venice were not new to these waterways, but with the absence of boat traffic, the water became clear enough to see them.
Our ecosystem may not have changed in the short term, but air quality certainly did. Since the beginning of isolation, experts have observed a reduction of several air pollutants, such as nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and fine particulates. This could be attributed to less road traffic; however, air quality is affected by several factors, particularly meteorological ones, and more in-depth studies are needed to confirm this effect.
Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions also seem to have decreased. In Québec (2017), all modes of transportation combined accounted for 43.3% of emissions and industries accounted for 30.5%.
The decrease in daily commutes and long distance travel as well as the economic slowdown may have contributed to the drop in GHG emissions; however, telework, virtual entertainment and online shopping increased household energy consumption, which also produces GHG emissions. An overall assessment of 2020 will reveal the real impact of isolation on air quality.
What we have seen over the past few months is therefore a change in human behaviour, rather than a change in the environment. But will the likely positive effects of this period of isolation lead to a lasting change in lifestyle?
News articles and radio programs:
Government documents and websites:
- Ministère de l’Environnement et des Changements Climatiques, 2019. Inventaire québécois des émissions de gaz à effet de serre en 2017 et leur évolution depuis 1990, Québec, MELCC, Direction générale de la réglementation carbone et des données d’émissions, 44 p (in French) [online]
- Health Canada, Health impacts of air pollution in Canada: estimates of morbidity and premature mortality outcomes, 2019 report