As coronavirus quickly spreads around the world, it’s forcing people to stay put, and wreaking havoc on the economy. Millions are either out of a job or working from home. Factories are shuttering, and with mandates to stay inside becoming the new norm, people aren’t driving or flying.
All this has led to a massive drop in air pollution, which kills a total of 4.2 million people every year, and over 1 million in China alone. The last two months have seen a huge uptick in air quality, especially in hard-hit areas like Wuhan and Northern Italy, as well as a number of metropolitan areas throughout the U.S.
While the coronavirus outbreak will probably be a setback for global climate change priorities and investment overall, this temporary reduction in carbon emissions is notable. By one conservative estimate, cleaner air has saved about 50,000 lives in China alone over these past few months.
While experts caution against viewing these numbers as a cost-benefit calculation around pandemics, some climate scientists hope that they will help shed a light on the massive environmental impact of our everyday habits and economic activities, potentially leading to some positive change after the crisis subsides.