Lessons from Coronavirus: Reducing Pollution

Recently, pictures of the clear Venetian canals and the (unfortunately fake) images of the return of dolphins to their waters [1] has drawn public attention to the environmental impact of human activities. The spread of such rumors has clearly demonstrated peaked public interest in a cleaner future. What lessons can be gleaned from the coronavirus crisis about our impact on global pollution? 

Pollution throughout the world has reduced rapidly due to the temporary lifestyle changes brought on by Covid-19. Over a four-week period, China’s carbon emissions were cut by 25% [2]. In the United States, carbon emissions from passenger vehicles has decreased by roughly 40% [3]. According to Watts, “Even assuming a bounceback once the lockdown is lifted, the planet is expected to see its first fall in global emissions since the 2008-9 financial crisis” [3]. (For visual representations of the reduction of emissions, see [4]) 

As the world is panicking over the rise in global death rates relating to coronavirus, it is time to consider the impacts of air pollution on the global population. In Europe, the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air has estimated that 11,000 fewer people have died due to air pollution-related illnesses due to recent lockdown measures [4]. According to Klaassen, “Air pollution represents a major global health threat, accounting for approximately 4.5 million premature deaths each year – more than HIV, tuberculosis and malaria combined” [2]. Furthermore, the healthcare costs of air pollution are astronomical, with $900 billion, $600 billion, and $150 billion annually spent by China, the United States, and India, respectively, due to the health effects of air pollution [2]. 

Current predictions about coronavirus believe that the virus will spread in waves, and it is currently forecasted that another wave of coronavirus will return in the winter [5]. As such, limiting emissions is more important than ever since “More exposure to traffic fumes means weaker lungs and greater risk of dying from Covid-19, according to scientists at Harvard University” [3]. 

As the world looks forward to the economy and daily life returning to “normal” standards, the lessons from the coronavirus era require necessary consideration. Of course, the loss of millions of jobs leading to the reduction of emissions is not to be celebrated, but lessons can still be learned from the decreases in pollution witnessed during this period as the world rebounds economically. Personal, local, and global changes can be implemented to lead the world towards a cleaner future. (See future article: “Recovering from Coronavirus: Green Solutions for a Brighter Future”) 

Sources:

1: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2020/03/coronavirus-pandemic-fake-animal-viral-social-media-posts/
2: http://cambridgeglobalist.org/?p=2022&fbclid=IwAR2L0OKsO5ro-2CbI39exz9FsUtfCQef9_6nuWoub_BZ5YOUmASlps6RtEY
3: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/09/climate-crisis-amid-coronavirus-lockdown-nature-bounces-back-but-for-how-long
4: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/coronavirus-pollution-environment-lockdown-carbon-emissions-charts-a9510636.html?utm_medium=Social&utm_source=Facebook&fbclid=IwAR3RgaG3LXsJuob29sYQv4XEgJbbuZprmfZta-2jOPyTPRyuiJm075_OPYM#Echobox=1589384564
5: https://www.sciencefocus.com/news/coronavirus-will-covid-19-become-a-seasonal-virus/

Categories COVID-19 and the Environment