Pollution levels in London, Rome and Milan have plummeted to nearly half of their previous levels in light of quarantine practices associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is one of the positive environmental effects of COVID-19 that will leave experts with something to think about as the crisis dies down.
Calls for social distancing and self quarantine have left cities around the world quieter than ever before.
On a positive note, citizens are taking these policies quite seriously, and it’s spotlighting serious changes in pollution. This raises questions about our human footprint and our unsustainable means of production and living.
In London, nitrogen dioxide and microparticle levels have decreased, and air particle levels are about half of what they usually are. Officials cite less road traffic as a major contributor.
The National Centre for Atmospheric Science said, “Air quality has started to improve in many UK cities, mirroring what has been seen in other countries that have restricted travel and levels of outdoor activity.
Traffic and pollution levels across Europe have dropped amid the #COVIDoutbreak. @DescartesLabs processed data from #Sentinel5P satellite and compared it to March 10-22 of last year. Here's what they found: pic.twitter.com/YoLx2Cm90p
— Pattrn (@pattrn) March 25, 2020
This is primarily a consequence of lower traffic volumes, and some of the most clear reductions have been in nitrogen dioxide, which comes primarily from vehicle exhaust.However fine particles (PM2.5) have also reduced significantly. In London for example, PM2.5 is noticeably lower than would be expected for this time of year at the roadside, and these reductions stretch through into the suburbs as well.’’
The implications of this change are important and will likely bring about policy discussions once the COVID-19 era has ended. When we resume business as usual in the coming months, air and road travel will likely resume to similar levels as before, driving pollutants right back up.
However, it is unlikely that we will forget the observed environmental changes completely, so policymakers will likely have some work to do in figuring out how to remedy the economic tradeoffs of production and pollution.