by Beth Gardiner
Workers in Kyiv, Ukraine,
dispose of used medical masks and gloves
by burning them in an incinerator.
as a result of the global lockdowns,
a more polluted future has been brewing
while we weren't looking...
Reality, though, may not
cooperate with such hopes.
Now, some experts fear that the world risks a future with more traffic, more pollution, and climate change that worsens faster than ever.
It's too soon to know
whether that gloomy scenario will play out, but concerning signs
seem to be growing all around the world.
But as of June 11, new data show that they are only about 5 percent lower than at the same point in 2019, even though normal activity has not yet fully restarted.
During the 2007-08 financial crisis, emissions dropped but then bounced back.
Hints of a dirty recovery in China
As the first country to shut down when the virus hit, and one of the earliest to start reopening, China's experience offers a preview of what could be in store elsewhere.
The dramatic air quality improvements seen as manufacturing and transportation largely came to a halt in February and March have now vanished.
A new coal project
goes into action in northern China.
Experts say such energy infrastructure
locks in big future health and climate problems,
since such they tend to be used for many years.
As factories pushed to make up for lost time, pollution returned in early May to pre-coronavirus levels, and in some places surpassed them for a short time, although it's fallen back a bit since.
Meanwhile, provincial officials desperate for the economic boost that comes with any construction are giving the go-ahead to a raft of new coal-fired power plants, says Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst at the Helsinki-based Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air, which reported the pollution data from China.
That will lock in big future health and climate problems if the new plants go forward, since such infrastructure tends to be used for many years, experts warn.
If the world is to avoid the most catastrophic climate scenarios, China must ramp up its investment in clean energy, not coal, he says.
Polluters 'bolder than ever'
In the midst of the pandemic and resulting economic implosion, industries such as,
Some governments - particularly the United States - are acceding to companies' pleas for cash, regulatory rollbacks, and other special favors.
One industry raking in a great deal of cash is oil and gas.
The aid has included tax changes that benefit the industry, breaks on the royalties companies pay to drill or mine on public lands, and access to the Federal Reserve's $600-billion Main Street Lending program.
The American Petroleum Institute says the oil and gas companies it represents have not sought special favors, but are drawing on programs designed to help all sectors weather the economic storm.
Tax changes and lending initiatives,
But the financial support comes on top of the aggressive regulatory rollbacks the Trump Administration has continued to push forward during the pandemic.
Among many other moves, the administration has effectively suspended enforcement of air and water pollution regulations, curtailed states' ability to block energy projects, and suspended a requirement for environmental review and public input on new mines, pipelines, highways, and other projects.
The administration might have sought many of the changes anyway, but,
Another worry is traffic.
With social distancing hard to maintain on public transportation, and many travelers likely to avoid it out of fear of contracting the virus, cities could be headed for a post-shutdown "carpocalypse," as one transportation news site warns.
In China, traffic is back to pre-pandemic levels, even though many people have yet to resume commuting and traveling, Myllyvirta says.
And while cities around the world are rushing to expand bike lanes to manage the shift away from subways, trains, and buses,
Free-for-all in the Amazon
In Brazil, illegal loggers have accelerated their destruction of the Amazon rainforest while the coronavirus ravages the nation.
According to satellite data from the space research agency INPE, 64 percent more land was cleared in April 2020 than in the same month last year - even though 2019 was the biggest year for deforestation in more than a decade.
President Jair Bolsonaro has long advocated more commercial exploitation of the Amazon.
In recent months illegal loggers, miners, and ranchers have faced little hindrance from law enforcement as they grab public land.
Officials are using the pandemic,
The Amazon, including its indigenous population, is among the worst hit by COVID-19 in a country that has become a global epicenter for the disease.
Now, its two crises are threatening to converge.
Cleared vegetation is typically set alight starting in July, after it has dried, and the resulting thick smoke causes heart and lung problems to spike.
Last year's fires were devastating, but this time around - with so much vegetation already cut and waiting to be burned, and a respiratory illness running rampant - the perils are greater still.
On top of the climate impacts of rainforest loss, the smoke could aggravate COVID-19 patients' suffering, and further increase pressure on hospitals already struggling to cope with the pandemic, Ane Alencar says.
'What will their priorities be?'
Even in places such as Europe, where leaders are not pushing wholesale repeal of environmental rules, the still-unfolding health and economic crises could pull leaders' attention away from the slower-moving disaster of climate change.
It had finally been moving up the political agenda last year as youth strikes drove home its urgency, says Åsa Persson, research director at the Stockholm Environment Institute.
Will governments seek to shore up the economy by bolstering old, polluting industries, or embrace calls for a 'green stimulus' and use recovery funds to create jobs in sectors such as clean power and energy efficiency?
Allocating those vast sums in a way that moves the world toward a low-carbon future - and also addresses the racial and economic inequalities the pandemic has laid bare - would yield far more than a few months of reduced emissions, Ross argues.