Is the Covid-19 Pandemic Clearing the Air?

When countries around the world began locking down trade, industry, travel and shopping, debates began about the positive effects of the pandemic on the environment.

Before and after satellite photographs were compared, showing the immense changes that were taking place in the earth’s atmospheric layers.

It is difficult to ascertain whether or not everything that occurred as a result of the lockdown was positive. Photos were taken, studies were conducted and data was collected. Let’s take a look at some of the findings.

The evidence
Visual evidence of air quality improvements can be shown in the new scenic views that were never previously seen. However, as clear as the skies are, circumstantial signs may not suffice in order to understand what actually occurred.

A number of air quality studies have been conducted in India, China and some European countries. Two notable studies were conducted by the American Geophysical Union (AGU).

The good
The first AGU paper, which discusses the effects of the Coronavirus on Nitrogen Oxides, describes the significant reduction in NO2 fuel emissions and in Particulate Matter (PM) in China. This is significant because NO2 fuel emissions from vehicles, air traffic, factories and power stations, impact the respiratory health of the population. It also is a significant player in the creation of acid rain, which destroys parklands and inland bodies of water. PM, which consists of tiny, solid particles, is responsible for a multitude of respiratory complications.

The not so good
The second AGU paper brought a less encouraging picture to the table. It indicates that ozone formation rose during the pandemic lockdowns. Nitrogen Oxides are the guilty partners of non-organic aerosols, which together produce on-the-ground ozone. Aside from its impact on the climate, ozone formation is a serious contributor to cardiovascular and lung ailments.

How did the pandemic reduce fuel emissions?
It didn’t. It should be noted that the improvement in air quality was not directly tied to the Coronavirus. Rather, it is the result of government agencies’ responses to the pandemic and the stringent measures they took to combat the spread of the disease. This is depicted in the air quality visuals of countries that enforced strong measures, such as China, India, Italy and Spain, when compared to those that did not initially respond to the spread of the disease, such as Iran.

After years of environmentalist lobbying for solutions that would reduce fuel emissions, a sudden, unprecedented response to a mortal threat produced encouraging results in a few short months.

Let’s not forget about carbon emissions
Over the last few months, the world has also seen a major drop in CO2 emissions. Consider the internet, which does have a carbon footprint. With the decline in energy demand, it’s not clear whether or not the WWW itself has affected pollution data. When social activities are denied, personal internet use increases. Workers have transferred their office desks to their homes. Peak hours are diluted or have moved due to the explosive use of Web video communications. All these adjustments can very likely impact carbon emissions. More studies are required and as the world waits for this devastating crisis to end, some positive outcomes may result from its lessons.

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