- Reductions in air pollution likely saved lives in China.
- Deaths from air pollution should also should decline globally.
- The jury is out on the virus’s impact on global warming.
Is there any “good news” related to the coronavirus? Perhaps, in reduced air pollution and carbon emissions – and in some places, lives saved.
The coronavirus “is already slashing fossil fuel use and corresponding carbon and air pollution emissions in China, Italy and beyond,” Texas Tech climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe said Monday.
Air pollution is responsible for nearly 9 million deaths per year – and much of that comes from fossil fuels, she said.
Reductions in air pollution likely saved lives in China, another expert also concluded.
Stanford University’s Marshall Burke determined that “the reductions in air pollution in China caused by this economic disruption likely saved 20 times more lives in China than have currently been lost due to infection with the virus in that country,” he wrote earlier in March on G-Feed, a blog about global food, environment and economic dynamics.
Two months of pollution reduction “likely has saved the lives of 4,000 kids under 5 and 73,000 adults over 70 in China,” he said.
In Europe, the European Space Agency (ESA) captured vanishing nitrogen dioxide pollution over Northern Italy as that country entered lockdown, Forbes reported.
“The decline in nitrogen dioxide emissions over the Po Valley in northern Italy is particularly evident,” said Claus Zehner, ESA’s mission manager for the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite, according to Forbes. “Although there could be slight variations in the data due to cloud cover and changing weather, we are very confident that the reduction in emissions that we can see coincides with the lockdown in Italy causing less traffic and industrial activities.”
Deaths from air pollution should also should decline globally, according to the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.
“These reductions in pollution just over one month could mean tens of thousands of deaths avoided from air pollution,” the Centre tweeted.
“That is NOT to say that the pandemic is some kind of a blessing in disguise, with all the suffering it has imposed on people,” the Centre said. “At the most, it shows it’s easy to overlook chronic, long term health threats such as air pollution, and thus, harder to muster an adequate response.”
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The jury is out on the virus’s impact on global warming, Hayhoe said. “I think it’s too early to say whether we will see a net long-term decrease in carbon emissions from this alone. Industrial production is likely to ramp back up after the crisis passes. But I do hope that it will show us there is a different way to live,” she said.
As for climate change’s impact on the coronavirus itself, “a common question I’m getting these days is, what does COVID-19 or coronavirus have to do with climate change?,” Hayhoe said. “The short answer is, very little; but the long answer is, everything is related.”
She said climate change is expected to increase the geographic range of infectious diseases with scary names such as zika or chikingunya carried by “vectors” – such as ticks, mosquitoes and other animals – whose geographic range is limited and expands in a warming climate.
“But coronavirus is currently being spread by humans, not animals, and we already live … well, everywhere humans live,” Hayhoe said on Twitter. “So climate change is not significantly affecting the spread of the disease. That one’s on us. It goes where we go.”
“To sum up the impacts: climate change is, as the U.S. military calls it, a THREAT MULTIPLIER. It takes what we already care about – and what more than our health? – and makes many, not all but many, of them worse. Some, just a tiny bit. Others, much worse. That’s why it matters.”
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