At least one positive thing emerged from coronavirus lockdowns: A worldwide decline in carbon emissions. Satellite imagery revealed that roads less traveled and skies less flown yielded a remarkable reduction in air pollution. In China alone, carbon emissions dropped by 25% in just a four-week period.1
What’s interesting is the correlation between the coronavirus and long-term exposure to air pollution. In general, air pollution is responsible for nearly 40% of global lower-respiratory tract infections and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases.2 Also, people who suffer from respiratory illnesses have a harder time recovering from COVID-19. Thus, better air quality would aid these conditions.
Unfortunately, the pandemic’s environmental gains are short term. Quarantining people and halting economic activity are not exactly a sustainable solution. How governments respond moving forward remains critical, and regulations may even be eased to help jumpstart economies.
The pandemic demonstrated that environmental damage can be reversed substantially and quickly through a significant decline in emissions. The challenge now is to find ways to do that without sacrificing economic growth.
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1 Luke Denne. NBC News. April 7, 2020. “Coronavirus lockdowns have sent pollution plummeting. Environmentalists worry about what comes next.” https://www.nbcnews.com/science/environment/coronavirus-lockdowns-have-sent-pollution-plummeting-environmentalists-worry-about-what-n1178326. Accessed June 8, 2019.
2 Sarah Vogel. Environmental Defense Fund. April 7, 2020. “The truth about coronavirus, air pollution and our health.” https://www.edf.org/blog/2020/04/07/truth-about-coronavirus-air-pollution-and-our-health. Accessed June 8, 2019.
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