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Wuhan: The Long Night
Wuhan under lockdown in Wuhan: The Long Night

Coronavirus quarantines could be good news for the environment

The pandemic has seen the reduction of deadly pollution in China and clear waters in Venice canals due to people staying home

Coronavirus continues to sweep across the world, bringing pretty much everything to a halt in many countries, as residents are quarantined or decide to self-isolate to avoid spreading the virus, and most large-scale events are postponed or shut down altogether. However, there may be a silver lining when it comes to the environment.

Imagery shared by NASA shows a steep decline in nitrogen dioxide levels – which mainly stem from the burning of fossil fuels for traffic and industry – across China, which the agency partly attributes to measures taken to stop the spread of the virus. The time of year often sees a fall in emissions anyway, but less extreme.

In fact, according to “conservative estimates” shared by Marshall Burke, a scientist from Stanford University, the reduction “likely has saved the lives of 4,000 kids under five and 73,000 adults over 70 in China,” though he also admits that “it seems clearly incorrect and foolhardy to conclude that pandemics are good for health”.

“The effects calculated above are just the health benefits of the air pollution changes, and do not account for the many other short- or long-term negative consequences of social and economic disruption on health or other outcomes; these harms could exceed any health benefits from reduced air pollution.”

There is also a fear that future accelerations in industry as an attempt to recover from the economic impact of coronavirus could put us right back where we started.

However, the visible effects of coronavirus (and the related decrease in emissions) on the environment definitely serve as a motivator for future change. 

Burke adds: “The calculation is perhaps a useful reminder of the often-hidden health consequences of the status quo, i.e. the substantial costs that our current way of doing things exacts on our health and livelihoods.”

Similar reductions in air pollution have been recorded in Italy (and particularly northern Italy), which has been a centre for the spread of the virus, with residents on complete lockdown. 

Across social media, images of Venice canals have also been shared, showing them the clearest they’ve been in generations, and populated with fish (though this isn’t actually a result of pollution, but rather the sediment of the canals being allowed to settle without traffic churning it up).

Again, it would be nice to think that this will serve as a reminder of the human impact on the environment once the pandemic has died down.

For more good news in the wake of coronavirus – including a decline in new cases in China and South Korea, as well as new vaccine developments – view Dazed’s list here.