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Our economy comes to a halt – so does pollution

The current corona outbreak is a crisis in every sense. It destroys lifes, subsistences and restricts the life of billions. It is a tragedy and we should not weigh it against other crises. However, it also shows that air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions are a direct result of our current economic activities.

The outbreak lead to the shut down of industry and traffic in many regions of China, the US and the EU, the three biggest greenhouse gas and pollutant emitters in the world. Just a few days later, it showed its effect. Pictures of Venice, where the water has cleared up for the first time in ages, went viral. Not much later, cities started reporting that air pollution massively dropped since economy and traffic were restricted.

Air pollution dropped instantly during lockdowns

In New York City, carbon monoxide emissions have fallen by 50%. Greenhouse gas emissions in China fell by 25% during the lockdown. In Northern Italy, nitrogen dioxide levels halved.

Air pollution alone kills 7 million people a year, according to the WHO. The number of deaths caused by climate change are hard to estimate, but with the climate crisis escalating, the death toll could rise to unimaginable heights within the next decades.

Most likely the number of lives that will be spared thanks to these confinement measures will be higher than the number of lives that will be lost because of the pandemic,

François Gemenne
Director of Hugo Observatory at the University of Liege on France 24

We have to reconsider our lifestyle

Many experts are concerned that this positive effect on pollution and climate change might just be temporary. Former crises have shown that increased production after the crisis often overcompensated the reduction during the crisis. If we don´t take this crisis as a lesson, it will have no long lasting effect.

Of course we cannot continue living as we do during lockdowns. But it is a chance to reconsider our priorities. The current crisis shows that we can put human lifes over economic interests. So why is so hard to do the same in the climate crisis or regarding air pollution? It might seem far away for most Europeans now, but it already is reality for many people around the world and could become as urgent as the corona crisis sooner than we think.

So, we should use this time to reflect. Is our time better spent with our loved ones at home rather than on an island in the Carribean? Is it necessary to fly to the US for a meeting? Is it worth flying to Dubai for a weekend trip? Do I have to spend three hours in a traffic jam every day or is home office an option? Do the security and evironmental benefit of local production outweigh its higher costs?

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