The COVID-19 coronavirus currently affects 195 countries and territories around the world. Some of those countries have taken drastic steps to prevent the virus from spreading, shutting down non-essential businesses and recommending various travel restrictions. The measures being taken have had an impact on air pollution.
- People are spending a lot less time in the air and on the road due to coronavirus fears and shutdowns.
- This has brought unintended benefits when it comes to carbon monoxide, CO2 and nitrogen dioxide emissions.
- Research shows that air pollution in China, Italy and New York has decreased dramatically since the shutdowns and slowdowns have taken effect.
The reduced traffic and temporary business shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have brought an unexpected benefit: cleaner air. (Photo: Nout Gons/Pexels)
Clearing the air
According to the British Broadcasting Corporation, researchers at Columbia University have determined that in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, carbon monoxide in New York (produced mainly by cars and trucks) has dropped by 50 percent relative to last year. Research by Carbon Brief suggests there’s been a 25-percent drop in China’s CO2 emissions over a two-week period. Nitrogen dioxide is a major air pollutant that plays a big role in climate change; both China and Italy have recorded significant declines in nitrogen dioxide.
The pandemic’s shutdowns have also had a positive impact on global-warming CO2 emissions worldwide. Scientists estimate that by May, these emissions may decline to their lowest levels in over a decade.
Poor air quality can have fatal consequences. The World Health Organization reports that air pollution kills about seven million people worldwide every year. Polluted air can cause increased mortality from illnesses such as lung cancer and acute respiratory infections. According to a professor at Stanford’s Department of Earth Systems Science, pandemic-related shutdowns could potentially save between 50,000 and 75,000 people from dying prematurely due to conditions caused by polluted air.
WHY THIS MATTERS
Sometimes it takes a horrible pandemic to shine a light on the consequences of our behavior. The recent improvement in air quality makes it clear that our transportation choices can have a quick and powerful effect on pollution and climate change.