• Does Air Pollution Need a Pandemic Response?

Air Clean Up

Does Air Pollution Need a Pandemic Response?

Apr 10 2021

One of the more immediately noticeable environmental implications of coronavirus has been the beneficial effect that lockdown measures have had on local air quality. With much of the world’s population confined indoors, large-scale industrial facilities pausing their operations and significantly fewer passenger vehicles on the road, emissions of major pollutants fell sharply.

The drastic impact that that turn of events had on air pollution should serve as a reminder of the awesome power that we command as a species – and that the issue is not a foregone conclusion. It might have taken a global pandemic to spark the human race into life on the issue of public health, but it now needs a similar response in order to tackle the air quality crisis afflicting populations all over the planet.

The silent killer

It’s an undeniable tragedy that coronavirus has claimed nearly three million lives at the time of writing and, despite the best efforts of governments and pharmaceutical companies, shows no signs of giving up the ghost anytime soon. But while the rapidity with which the former curbed basic human freedoms and the latter expedited vaccine discovery and development programmes has been an impressive footnote to the pandemic, similar urgency is required with regard to the question of air quality.

Indeed, the death toll caused by COVID-19 pales in comparison to the destruction wrought by air pollution on an annual basis. According to one recent study, substandard air quality is responsible for 8.7 million premature deaths worldwide every single year, which is over three times the current death toll that coronavirus has claimed in more than 12 months. Therefore, it’s clear that air pollution is deserving of at least the same if not greater expediency in dealing with the issue than this tumultuous (but hopefully temporary) pandemic.

Disrupting the status quo

Perhaps the main obstacle to treating the root causes of air pollution is the perception that the current levels of emissions (and, as a result, the current concentrations of contaminants in our atmosphere) are part of a status quo that cannot be changed. Even as our ability to monitor emissions levels becomes ever more sophisticated and paints the scale of the problem in ever more lurid colours, we continue to bury our heads in the sand and assume that nothing can be done.

Instead, we must heed the wake-up call that coronavirus has brought with it to recognise the possibilities and potential that affirmative action can bring. Introducing small changes to our own individual daily lives, coupled with top-down legislative changes that force industries to clean up their operations, is the way forward to curbing our emissions and cleansing our airways. It’s a difficult road ahead – but one that absolutely can be traversed with the right attitudes and approach in place.


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