The satellite images of the major drop in air pollution in China, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, have gone viral around the world. Pollution has dropped as a result of stopping air traffic, cars, factories and the closing of all non-essential businesses. The COVID-19 has shown us the immense impact of human activity and how the environment can benefit from the reduced activity. Human health is also benefiting, with some scientists estimating that in China, more lives were saved due to the impact of clean air, compared to the number of people that died due to the coronavirus.
Actually, air pollution is considered to be a ‘silent public health emergency‘. Globally, 9 out of 10 people are breathing polluted air. Due to the wide-spread contamination of air quality, roughly 7 million people die each year from outdoor and indoor (office and home) air pollution. However, the good news is, scientific studies have revealed that the health of communities can improve within a few weeks of improvements that are made to air quality.
As lock-downs and quarantines continue to spread across the world, clean air is also being felt in other parts of the world. As Europe takes stricter measures to combat the COVID-19, the European Environment Authority is also reporting a drop in air pollution. For example, in Barcelona, nitrogen dioxide levels went down by 40 % from one week to the next.
There are also other benefits for nature and wildlife. In Sardinia, on an island off the coast of Italy, people are reporting the return of dolphins, due to the reduction in boat traffic. Also in Italy, the famous canals of Venice, which are usually clogged with boats and gondolas, are clearer and cleaner than ever before. The water is blue and transparent, while fish, ducks and other marine life are returning. Some people are proposing that boats should be limited to the future to support the return of a thriving and unique biosphere.
There are also wide-spread calls to continue the measures that have been put in place due to the COVID-19. For example, China is being encouraged to continue to ban wildlife markets. A hotel owner in Venice is inviting the Venetian community to reflect on finding ‘a balance between the city and tourism‘ in a city that normally receives 20 million visitors each year. And the aviation industry is under pressure to find clean ways to service the tourism and travel industry.
Whatever the way forward, we can certainly learn something from this global pandemic. The year 2020 will be remembered as the moment in time when the COVID-19 stopped millions of people around the world. The year also 2020 marks the Decade of Action towards the Sustainable Development Goals. Although the cause is not what anyone would have ever wished for, the environmental and health benefits for humans, nature, and wildlife from COVID-19 – give us some ideas for options to explore.