COVID-19, Pollution and the Environment: Has the Messiah Come?
(First Written and Published in April 2020)
Global Greenhouse Gases (GHG) emission levels have dropped considerably, following the outbreak of the pandemic that has resulted in the halt of a number of emission sources. Pollution levels have fallen across the continents as countries imposed lockdowns and restrictions to contain the spread of the Covid-19.
Available data shows that the countries and cities with the highest Covid-19 impact are witnessing clear and sunny skies. In New York pollution has reduced by nearly 50% due to the strict measures in place. Emission rate fell by nearly 25% in China during the start of the year as factories were shut, people were mandated to stay inside and the usage of coal fell nearly 40% on account of six of the largest power plants operated at minimal levels. Satellite images also show a similar story with GHG emissions fading away over Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom.
In Nigeria also, major cities and territories such as Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt are on a lockdown as a measure to combat the spread of COVID-19. As the days go by, other cities in Nigeria are following suit. On the 27th of April, Bayelsa recorded it’s index case where upon the Governor declared a one week lockdown as preventive measure against COVID-19. This means less vehicular emission of carbon, and although relatively very low, it contributes to the global reduction.
The price of oil has also fallen like never before in the history of oil exploration. It was reported that “the price of US crude oil crashed from $18 a barrel to -$38 in a matter of hours, as rising stockpiles of crude threatened to overwhelm storage facilities and forced oil producers to pay buyers to take the barrels they could not store. The market crash underlined the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on oil”. US oil is currently just a little above $1. This is the biggest slump in 25 years.
Following the above, questions abound. Has the pandemic brought with it an apocalypse in world of fossil fuel and its devastating effects on the natural environment and health of people?
Could it be that COVID-19 is the “Messiah” who will bring about events which will lead not only to the much clamoured-for decarbonization of the oil industry but also to the folding of the entire industry and thereby save the environment?
Does this mean the world will now turn to wholly embrace Renewable Energy, the gospel of environmentalists?
This would mean restoration of clean and pollution-free air, soil and rivers for the people of Niger Delta region of Nigeria.
It would mean less mortality rate and higher life expectancy for the people of the region.
It might mean the birth of the political will of the Federal Government of Nigeria to jettison sole dependence on oil exploration and exert real efforts into diversifying the Nigerian economy.
It would also mean that there may be less Naira to be toked off at the tips of cigars of corrupt public officeholders in the Nigerian State.
Let us pretend for a moment that COVID-19 is not a deadly disease claiming the lives of tens of thousands of people globally, and imagine how exciting it will be for the victims of the devastating socio-political cum environmental effects of oil exploration in Nigeria and elsewhere to have an affirmative answer to those questions (in the earlier part of this article) in light of the impact of the pandemic on the environment.
But we cannot pretend and they would probably be called uncompassionate and inconsiderate if they rejoiced at the thought that their cries of many years would finally be heard by a “Messiah”, since it is immoral to rejoice over the death of others.
While the whole world is listening and taking practical and urgent measures to fight COVID-19; doing everything possible and quickly, too, to return to normalcy, unlike the decarbonization of the oil industry, one is forced to think that, perhaps, it is because death by COVID-19 has come to threaten all, including the lives and businesses of multinational corporations and not only natives of oil-exploration hubs.
Anyway, what is really happening; whither oil, pollution and the environment following the coming of COVID-19? Opinionists say that the fall in oil price is as a result of lack of storage and drop in demand. This makes sense considering the halt in the movement of oil to storage locations due to the lockdown imposed across countries as part of the measures in combating COVID-19. An outrageous number of vessels are stranded in various parts of the globe, fully loaded or with reserved storage space, but unable to take or effect delivery. A lot of oil is hanging in transit. Opinionists posit that this is an indication that “producers should stop pumping, now” and that unless producers start cutting supply much more aggressively, another bout of negative prices will have to jolt them into action. For some, this might be the the good news about the bad new disease.
However, there is no indication that this will be the new norm. It should be borne in mind that the spread of a disease has been connected to lower emissions, even prior to the industrial age. In fact it has been posited by GlobalData that it will require structural changes to sustain the emission decline caused by Covid-19.
Also, Renewable Energy was previously the most affordable energy source, cheaper than fossil fuel thereby increasing the chances that enterprises would embrace Renewable Energy. This may be threatened if COVID-19 persists and oil and gas prices remain low. Enterprises may not adopt renewable energy during a recession, if the price is no longer competitive. Sooner or later, when the economy recovers, it will be back to business as usual with fossil. Or not.
One thing is sure, the world is not going to be on lockdown forever. Things would eventually go back to normal. Well, maybe not so normal as there would be fundamental changes in a number of key areas especially the economy.
In the meantime, we could do more than wash our hands, sit at home and wait it out. Thinking should not be quarantined. This could be a right time to return to the drawing table concerning the environment.
Countries must decide now whether at the end of the pandemic they world return the world back to continue in its former track of continuous pollution or follow the European Union more religiously as it leads the campaign for the reduction of carbon emission, bearing in mind that the current decline would be short-lived and are likely to rebound as the economy recovers, unless the required structural changes in policy are effected.
For countries like Nigeria with the greater part of their economy relying on oil revenue, now would be the time to really draw smart executable plans to steer the ship away from fossil. The future seem to be at the gate and to look at it in two ways: COVID-19 is either it’s herald or is delaying it.
May the souls of the departed rest in peace. May the breath of the living not abandon them halfway. Amen.