Cleaner Air and Water Make Earth Day 2020 Bittersweet Amidst the Coronavirus Outbreak

Park Avenue in the 40s in New York City

By Kurt Stolz on 23 April 2020
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The 50th anniversary of Earth Day was celebrated across the globe in a rather muted fashion, as many were confined to the great indoors amidst the coronavirus outbreak.

If your blood pressure is lower, your allergies less bothersome, and stars in the night sky more visible, it isn’t your imagination. Rather, it’s Mother Nature at work, taking advantage of the dramatic change in lifestyles that has taken place over the past six weeks.

In 1970, then President Richard Nixon celebrated the first Earth Day by planting a tree on the White House South Lawn. Across the country, millions of people attended Earth Day events, a moment that put the battle against pollution on political and social agendas.  Indeed, Nixon went on to create the Environmental Protection Agency and sign the Clean Water and Clean Air acts, passed in Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support.

The term “climate change” wasn’t in people’s vocabularies yet but the underlying issues were there.  Despite having a president in the White House who at one point said that “global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive,” there has been a dramatic change due to the unintended consequences of the isolation of millions of people across the world.

In New York City alone, there has been a 90% decline in subway ridership, a 20% drop in the crime rate, a 60% decrease in traffic at the city’s busiest tunnels and bridges, and a 30% drop in air pollution, according to reports from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Just in time for Earth Day 2020, new reportsshows a visible transformation in the earth’s atmosphere when compared with the period before the era of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The change comes from fewer cars on the road and significantly less exhaust from factories due to the shelter-at-home orders across the globe.

The figures are startling: Air pollution in Paris is down 46%; 38% in Sydney; 29% in Los Angeles; 26% in Rio de Janeiro; and 9% in Durban, South Africa, according to NASA.

In New Delhi, one of the world’s most polluted cities, people are marveling at the clean and breathable air and seeing sights that haven’t been visible in decades. Residents of Jalandhar, a city in Punjab, are now able to see snow-capped Himalayan peaks more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) away.

In addition to the NASA data, data from a Swiss company, IQData, shows a dramatic drop in the world’s deadliest air pollutant, the “fine particulate matter” known as PM2.5.  New Delhi saw a 60% drop of PM2.5 year-over-year, while Seoul registered a 54% drop.  In Wuhan, levels of PM2.5 fell 44% compared to 2019.

The IQData study also that Wuhan experienced its cleanest air on record in the period of February and March 2019, while Los Angeles experienced its longest-ever stretch of clean air, and it actually met the United Nations’ recommended air quality guidelines.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

Accura News