Here’s one silver lining from the current COVID-19 crisis: global pollution levels are decreasing. Considering that most work and travel has ground to a halt, it’s not a surprise that air pollution and CO2 emissions have dropped off as well. This change is most noticeable in major cities like New York City, which currently resemble eerie ghost towns due to strict social distancing measures. Columbia University found that carbon monoxide emissions have dropped 50% alone this week for NYC. Professor Róisín Commane who led the study concluded that this March was the cleanest she’s ever documented in the city.
From above, particularly from outer space, the changes are even more startling. Satellite images collected from NASA’s Earth Observatory have been compiled into time-lapses that show significant pollution drop offs for countries like Italy and China, who’ve been hit hard by the outbreak. These drastic measures in China have improved notoriously deadly air conditions. In fact, over just the span of two weeks, China’s CO2 emissions have dropped by a quarter.
There is one caveat though. This pause in pollution could be quickly erased depending on how governments choose to reinvest their resources to stimulate the economy. Following the 2008-09 global financial crash, carbon emissions spiked five percent after a series of fossil fuel focused spending. For now, the least we can do is enjoy a breath of fresh air while we have it.