As social distancing has been practiced across the nation, many cities are showing decreased air pollution. The Environmental Protection Agency explains, “NO2 forms from emissions from cars, trucks and buses, power plants, and off-road equipment.”
In China, the world’s largest carbon emitter, experts estimate that emissions over the past month have been about 25% lower than normal. The New York Times reported "huge declines in pollution over major metropolitan areas, including Los Angeles, Seattle, New York, Chicago and Atlanta." Social media users have described dolphin and swan sightings as evidence of decreased human impact during the viral pandemic. One man’s viral tweet showed a video of a dolphin swimming along an embankment.
However, National Geographic reported that the so-called 'Venetian' dolphins were filmed at a port in Sardinia, an island in the Mediterranean Sea hundreds of miles away, where dolphins are a common sight. More than a few viral posts and tweets depicting too good to be true rumors, which spread quickly. As USA Today explains, “The Venice canals are clearer, but they are not cleaner. Air quality will likely revert to its previous state once normal activity resumes as cities and countries manage to quell the virus outbreak as has been the case in China. And social media users are mistakenly identifying normal wildlife activity as an abnormal effect of reduced human activity during the viral pandemic.” Indeed, NO2 levels have gone up since normal activity has started to resume in China. With social distancing comes reduced environmental impact, but the decrease in pollution is only temporary. Unless people continue to live in this way, a decrease in long-term environmental impact is highly unlikely.