Build Back Better: The Effect of COVID-19 on Air Quality
The Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) has brought many hardships. At the time of writing, the current global death count is 469,587, while the current global cases count is 8,993,659 and rising (WHO). For the time being, our way of life has changed. Non-essential travel, socializing, appointments, and purchases have been placed on hold. If able to, workers are encouraged to work from home so they can continue working at a distance. Businesses have temporarily closed their doors. Production for certain supplies have been reduced or come to a halt. So many of us have switched from outings and gatherings at restaurants and bars, to spending that outing money on supplies at grocery stores instead. The consequences of COVID-19 have not only changed the economy, but emissions levels too.
According to researchers in New York (BBC) carbon monoxide mainly from vehicles has been reduced by 50% compared to this time last year. Studies in Geophysical Research Letters have found that nitrogen dioxide pollution has decreased by as much as 60% in Northern China, Western Europe, and the U.S. compared to the same time last year (Science Daily). Not only that, but particulate matter pollution has decreased by nearly 35% in Northern China. But some studies have shown that as people are slowly returning to pre-pandemic life, and some restrictions are being lifted, carbon emissions have gone from a 17% decrease to only a 5% decrease compared to the same time last year (ICOS). Although emissions are still less than they were last year, they are already beginning to return to higher, pre-pandemic levels, and full restrictions have not yet been lifted.
Poor air quality leads to heart and lung problems, and if someone has these pre-existing conditions and is infected by Coronavirus, they are at a higher risk of having more severe symptoms. Pollutants inflame the lungs, which makes people more susceptible to catching the virus. Pollution particles may even carry the virus further. More research needs to be done, but these 3 factors could potentially mean that poor air quality makes Coronavirus worse (The Guardian). It has been shown that SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Disease), another virus in the coronavirus family that had an outbreak in the early 2000s, has been worsened by poor air quality. SARS patients who lived in areas with higher air pollution index levels were twice as likely to die from SARS as patients who lived in less polluted areas (BMC). Globally, areas which have been hit the hardest by the pandemic, have been shown to be areas with higher levels of pollution (Harvard T.H. Chan-School of Public Health).
It would benefit us to learn from these emission decreases we have seen as a result from the Coronavirus pandemic. Every type of business has been affected by Coronavirus, even high-polluting industries such as coal-powered plants, gas companies and oil manufactures. Wouldn’t we benefit more from taking advantage of these companies having decreased their production output, to transition into investing in and using more sustainable technology?
“Renewable energy is the cheapest source of new power generation for more than two-thirds of the world and has no fuel costs. It can reduce the economic burden of energy bills by eliminating fuel charges — especially when coupled with energy-efficiency upgrades in our homes and businesses.” (World Resources Institute).
This could also help to create more jobs and reboot our economy. What’s more is 75% of Americans are in favor of prioritizing clean energy rather than fossil fuel industries in stimulus packages, and 67% support providing financial assistance to renewable energy companies to address the economic crisis (National Poll Toplines). The transition into renewable energy seems to have more positives than negatives for people in the U.S. Renewable energy would bring in more money in the long run (even when taking into account an investment of three to eight times the money put in initially to make the switch) and would lead to 63 million new jobs by 2050 (World Resources Institute).
“Governments who embrace renewable energy and energy efficiency will not just inject cash into their economies; they will protect their citizens’ health and welfare in a stable, sustainable and resilient world.”
We must reshape our future with clean, renewable energy and by rebuilding the economy better than it was before. Then we can all breathe cleaner and better air than ever before.