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We are seeing a huge drop in air pollution thanks to the coronavirus


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As the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic is forcing cities and whole countries to go into lockdown we can see how nature and wildlife are coming back to cities under strict quarantine. Now researchers can also see how the coronavirus is leading to huge drops in air pollution around the world.


‘Largest scale experiment ever’ shows what is possible as satellite images reveal marked fall in global nitrogen dioxide levels

Satellite imagery from the European Space Agency (ESA) shows how air pollution, like nitrogen dioxide, are drastically being slashed in countries like China, South Korea, Italy, and the UK. The drop in air pollution is mainly coming from industrial activity that is shutting down, reduced road traffic as people are staying home also plays a big role in slashing air pollution levels in and around cities

Around 7 million people die each year because of air pollution, so this drastic reduction will make a difference, it will especially help people that suffer from asthma. It could also boost agriculture as air pollution stunts plant growth. 

The huge drop in air pollution also shows what could be possible if we limited industrial pollution and moved towards a green economy.

Paul Monks, professor of air pollution at the University of Leicester, told the Guardian that he predicted there will be important lessons to learn. "We are now, inadvertently, conducting the largest-scale experiment ever seen," he said. "Are we looking at what we might see in the future if we can move to a low-carbon economy? Not to denigrate the loss of life, but this might give us some hope from something terrible. To see what can be achieved."

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Here is data from the European Environment Agency (EEA) which also confirms that we are seeing a huge drop in air pollution, particularly of nitrogen dioxide (NO2). The EEA says the reduction is largely due to "reduced traffic and other activities, especially in major cities under lockdown measures."

  • In Milan, average concentrations of NO2 for the past four weeks have been at least 24 % lower than four weeks earlier this year. The average concentration during the week of 16-22 March was 21 % lower than for the same week in 2019.
  • In Bergamo, there has been a constant decline in NO2 pollution over the past four weeks. The average concentration during the week of 16-22 March was 47 % lower than for the same week in 2019.
  • In Rome, average NO2 concentrations for the past four weeks were 26-35 % lower than for the same weeks in 2019.
  • In Barcelona, average NO2 levels went down by 40 % from one week to the next. Compared with the same week in 2019, the reduction was 55 %.
  • In Madrid, average NO2 levels went down by 56 % from one week to the next. Compared with the same week in 2019, the reduction was 41 %.
  • In Lisbon, average NO2 levels went down by 40 % from one week to the next. Compared with the same week in 2019, the reduction was 51 %.

Also note this:


Exposure to air pollution can lead to adverse health effects, including respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. A number of health authorities have warned that those citizens with certain pre-existing conditions, such as respiratory illnesses, may have an increased vulnerability to COVID-19.  However at present it is not clear whether ongoing exposure to air pollution might worsen the condition of those infected by the virus. Further epidemiological research is needed to address such questions. 


Hans Bruyninckx, EEA Executive Director, notes that "addressing long-term air quality problems requires ambitious policies and forward-looking investments."

So, cleaner air equals better public health. But how can we continue this positive trend without the economy going into full depression-mode? Now that's an important post-coronavirus topic.

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And here is an astounding air quality data chart from EPA which shows that Los Angeles had the cleanest air ever recorded in March 2020. This reduction is mostly from reduced driving, just like we can see from data in Europe and elsewhere.

air quality los angeles.jpg

Just imagine, if we manage to electrify transportation this could be the new normal and millions of people living in Los Angeles (and other major cities) would live healthier and longer lives.

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You don't really understand or appreciate the drastic change by just looking at these graphics and numbers. Instead, check out these amazing before and after photos of the change in air quality in Delhi, India.


Delhi is one of many capitals enjoying improved air quality since restrictions were introduced due to the coronavirus

"The blissful sight of blue skies and the joy of breathing clean air provides just the contrast to illustrate what we are doing to ourselves the rest of the time."


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  • 10 months later...

Actually the above picture is of Delhi and it is absolutely true. Locations across the globe has even bought the species back to their biodiversity. Even the species that went far away from human eyes were spotted in this time phase.

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  • 3 months later...
  • 4 months later...
  • 9 months later...
  • 1 month later...

I look back on those days with fond remembrance even though the pandemic was raging and every interaction was fraught with potential risk.

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