Written by Giles Kirkland
According to WHO research, 3.3 million people die every year as a direct result of air pollution. This is a major problem that’s been omitted by the governments of both developed and developing countries for decades. For them, it is much easier that way, because they avoid politicians and multinational corporations complaining about profit losses. We have all heard the story so many times before, with denialists shouting: we can’t drastically reduce pollutant emission and switch to green energy, because no one knows if there’s going to be any positive effect of such action. Well, now we know for sure.
We can clearly see for ourselves what the low-carbon and low-nitrogen oxides world looks like. Let’s take the capital city of India as an example. Delhi is officially the worst of all major cities in the world when it comes to pollution. But since COVID-19 pandemic brought the city to a standstill, its inhabitants could witness blue skies again and safely breathe without face masks. Such pictures are common all around the world now, so, has this dreadful virus unwittingly pushed us in the right direction?
The Guardian, in its 3rd April 2020 issue quoted UK Cabinet Office data on motor traffic, which showed a drop by 73% between 29 March 2020 and pre-outbreak levels. Government data also indicated that for the same period rail travel was down by 90%, while tube and bus travel in London recorded a dramatic 94% and 83% fall respectively. Reduction in motor traffic meant that the UK effectively went back to the number of miles traveled as early as 1955 when there were far less privately owned cars and no motorways across the country at all.
The most valuable data related to the reduction in emissions as well as improving air quality were received from NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). Both agencies control a number of pollution monitoring satellites on Earth’s orbit and discovered that areas on lockdown were observing significantly lower levels of carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide.
For example in the city where this pandemic started, Wuhan, China, Mean Tropospheric NO2 Density was down to about below 125 μmol/m2 from 500 μmol/m2 in February 2019. The same situation can now be observed in the United States. According to The New York Times, pollution is on the decline in several metropolitan areas, Los Angeles, Seattle, New York, Chicago, and Atlanta among them!
On the other hand, there are many scientists and doctors who have warned that there might be a link between high levels of pollution and the lethality of Covid-19. In recent days major European and American media outlets published articles on this subject. New York Times, BBC, France24, and many others warn that megacities have been hit so badly for two main reasons. First of all, people who have been living in polluted metropoles are more prone to being infected and more likely to develop serious symptoms of the disease and even die.
Secondly, particles of polluted air may be acting as vehicles for transmission of the virus, further facilitating its spread. So, our health, our lives, and the cleanliness of the air that surrounds us are in this case connected in two ways. Not only less pollution will lead to fewer cases of Covid-19, but also those already infected will develop milder symptoms and recover faster, when breathing cleaner air.
It is finally clear to see that a better world is well within our reach. COVID-19 is a terrible disease but it is showing us that a way forward to the cleaner and greener world is possible and all we need to do is to try. Fortunately, it isn’t just some part of the society that understands the need to seize the opportunity that arises. More and more politicians and other people in high places agree with scientists and are ready to take necessary steps to ensure that the quality of our lives improves.
The change is happening now. Profit cannot be and will not be the most important factor behind decisions taken by governments, because no one wants this situation to repeat. The initial response is very heartwarming. It seems that society is starting to understand that people can use their cars less often and that the lifestyle we all used to take for granted can be changed for the better. The greater good is ahead of us and nature’s just taught us a valuable lesson. It is now in our hands not to let this experience go to waste and learn from it.
“Giles Kirkland is an automotive industry researcher and writer. He focuses on the technological, scientific, and sustainable aspects of the automotive. As the world evolves faster than ever, he enjoys keeping track of all current developments and sharing his knowledge and experience with other motoring and technology enthusiasts across the globe. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook and Oponeo“