As economies across the world struggle and millions continue to stay home to flatten the curve, scientists are noticing some unintended consequences of the global pandemic: cleaner air and water in some of the most polluted cities on earth.
Air pollutants normally produced from day-to-day life, such as the burning of fossil fuels from vehicle emissions and factory production, have been drastically reduced as millions of people are forced to stay home.
Remarkable images have been surfacing from across the globe, displaying clearer city skylines and bluer skies in some of the most polluted cities on earth.
With few cars on the road, Los Angeles’ notorious smog cloud has been lifted. This has lead to the cleanest air quality the city has seen in over 40 years, according to the EPA’s data for the month of March. To experts, there’s no question that this is mostly due to the fact that most Southern Californians are driving significantly less and staying inside more as a result of quarantine protocol.
India, after enacting the world’s biggest lockdown by ordering 1.3 billion citizens to stay home, has seen some of the largest results. Its capital city New Delhi is known for having the dirtiest air quality in the world, as the air is normally so polluted that it leaves a sort of acidic taste in the mouth when walking outside.
The recent lockdown has resulted in vehicle traffic across the city to be almost nonexistent. Factories that are usually billowing dark smoke into the air are closed. The lack of human activity has allowed the city air to clear, resulting in an air quality rating classified as “good” — the best category on the index.
This has only happened a small handful of times in the country’s recent history, and citizens have been wearing masks long before the COVID-19 pandemic to protect themselves against industrial exhaust and thick car fumes.
The once murky waters of Venice, Italy have begun to clear. Much of this is due to the drastic reduction in boat traffic due to the restricted movements of residents and lack of tourists. The famous canals have been deserted in recent months due to the lockdowns in hopes of flattening the infection curve.
The temporary easing of pollution levels in these cities acts as a glimmer of hope in the midst of this global pandemic, but also a humbling reminder of the looming threat of climate change.
Climate experts have projected that carbon emissions could fall 4% in 2020 — a monumental decline in a single year, but hardly worth the cost of a global pandemic. Though visual gains such as lifting smog and air quality changes in major cities are the cause of awe on social media, these effects are not permanent.
These visual images are simply a projection of what could be if some of these measures could be implemented in everyday life in a post-virus world. Reduction in CO2 emissions can ultimately change the landscape of the world we live in, both visually and ecologically for the better.
“It is good for us to realize that, in fact, we are not lords of nature,” remarked Rhiana Gunn-Wright in an op-ed piece for the New York Times. “We are coinhabitants.”