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Why did it take a pandemic to get our carbon footprint right?

This is as quiet as it will ever be.

Metropolises defined by the energetic population have laid dormant for over a month now. Social distancing and cancellation of the non-essential workforce have silenced a roaring economy. The blaring horns of standstill traffic, the hustling and bustling of commuters, and 5 PM Happy Hour calls have stopped dead in their tracks.

It is said that silence is golden. But what is so golden about the world shutting down?

This is a golden opportunity to compare human activity versus inactivity. To directly observe how the actions of the world have a direct, proportional relationship with Earth as an ecosystem.

Since the start of 2020, the world has seen a reduction in carbon emissions. This is a direct effect of the Coronavirus shutting down sectors of the economy. Currently, the estimated reduction in carbon emissions is slated to be 5.5 percent of the total emissions from 2019.

According to a report by Carbon Brief,

“The coronavirus crisis could trigger the largest ever annual fall in CO2 emissions in 2020, more than during any previous economic crisis or period of war.”


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Two main contributors to the economy and global carbon emissions are the transportation and manufacturing industries. Executive orders from governments and global company shutdowns in the transportation industry are contributing to the largest reduction in carbon emissions in a single year.

Air travel in the US alone has decreased by 95 percent compared to this time last year. Through April of last year, 2.5 million passengers passed through TSA checkpoints. This year, that number is 91,000 passengers.

Ben Schott/ Bloomberg Opinion

Car travel has also been reduced due to road closures, work from home policies, and travel restrictions in the United States. National Geographic reports that “U.S. passenger vehicle traffic was down by about 38 percent” in early April and that translates over to a “reduction in carbon emissions since cars tend to operate more efficiently when there’s less congestion.”  

Fewer cars on the road mean less traffic. Less traffic means fewer carbon emissions.

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Cruise ships have been in a negative spotlight since the coronavirus pandemic started. The Diamond Princess, owned and operated by the Carnival Corporation, was the first cruise ship to have a major outbreak onboard. This event had a domino effect in the cruise industry, shutting down all cruise line operations.

Cruise ships have been notoriously known to discharge hazardous waste material into the oceans. Pacific Standard reports that “on an individual level, each passenger’s carbon footprint while cruising is roughly three times what it would be on land.”

As of April 20, all cruise ships have been docked until further notice. For now, cruise ship discharges and emissions have ceased.

Numbers That Matter

Even with all this inactivity, is it still enough to achieve climate action goals by 2030?

Unfortunately, no.

Back in 2019, The UN Environment Programme released a global progress report on climate action. They simplified this report down to 4=four numbers: 1.5, 25, 56, and 7.6.

1.5°C – Represents the limit of global temperature increase where the planet can avoid devastating impacts associated with global warming.

25 gigatons – is the amount that CO2 emissions need to drop to by 2030 to limit a global temperature rise above 1.5°C.

56 gigatons – CO2 emissions are currently on track to reach 56 gigatons by 2030. This represents twice the limit of what CO2 emissions should be.

7.6% – This number represents the annual percentage reduction of emissions every year between 2020 and 2030. Reducing at this rate with limit global warming to the 1.5°C threshold.

What is the current state of progress on hitting these climate action goals in the US?

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration:

After decreasing by 2.7% in 2019, EIA forecasts that energy-related CO2 emissions will decrease by 7.5% in 2020 as the result of the slowing economy and restrictions on business and travel activity related to COVID-19. In 2021, EIA forecasts that energy-related CO2 emissions will increase by 3.6%. Energy-related CO2 emissions are sensitive to changes in weather, economic growth, energy prices, and fuel mix.

Essentially, the Coronavirus is helping the US reduce its carbon footprint, but the following year it’s set to spike up again. It took a pandemic for the US to meet climate action guidelines, but what will happen once this is over?

The energy-related infrastructures will still be the same and revving on all cylinders once this pandemic subsides. New solutions to the current energy infrastructure need to become widespread, fast.

Immediate Solutions post Coronavirus


Depending on the distance, biking to work can be a pleasurable experience and reduce your work commute carbon footprint to zero.

If you’re looking to add a challenge to your fitness level, a running commute to work also works the same…and you’ll be in great shape. Just remember to shower.

Should those two options feel extreme, try to take public transportation as much as possible. Having a single 50-passenger bus engine revving instead of tens of car engines running is always a win.


Buying products from your local market as much as possible reduces the travel distance from where the product is being shipped from. Reducing the distance from where a product is shipped from inevitably reduces the carbon footprint of that product.

One organization that supports this is Just Food. They are a non-profit organization in New York City that advocates for and increases access to healthy, locally-grown food; especially in underserved NYC neighborhoods.


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On a broader scale, politicians can impact the direction of energy policy in their communities.

From local and state to federal, public servants vote on energy bills that shape our countries carbon footprint. Us supporting politicians with a net-zero carbon emission agenda is the most impactful way to support climate action.

Get out there and VOTE!


On an individual level, energy subscribers should consider switching energy suppliers to ones that offer an environmentally friendly option like wind, solar, or hydropower.

ConEdison has a simple walkthrough on how to do so: (Link)

And most importantly, RECYCLE your plastic!

Happy Earth Day, y’all!

Look out for this article on PAGE magazine.