Mar 20, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Side effect of a pandemic: A brief glimpse at cleaner skies and water

Compilation of images of clean skies and water during the coronavirus pandemic
Photos: Images from Twitter (@Kaveri and @soandso), NASA

As millions of humans stay home around the world, pollution is alleviating — temporarily.

Why it matters: Images of clear skies over China and California, or fish swimming in in Venice’s canals, are a glimpse of what it might look like if we took better care of the Earth. But, as much as people seem to love sharing those images now, none of it's likely to last.

Reality check: Much of this temporary environmental reprieve will diminish once the economy picks back up again.

  • And of course, no one should want to curb pollution and tackle climate change via a deadly global pandemic, given the grave health and economic impacts the crisis is creating.

But one expert says images like these could instill in people more appreciation for clean skies and water, and motivate them to retain some of that even as we hop back into polluting cars, boats and airplanes again.

“This unfortunate massive slowdown in our global economy is also providing a glimpse of what nature could look like with clean waters in Venice and clean skies in China.”
— Valentina Kretzschmar, director of corporate research, consultancy Wood Mackenzie

One level deeper: Locking down large parts of China to contain spread of the novel coronavirus could have saved nearly 80,000 lives by reducing pollution in those areas, a new study found.

Go deeper: Coronavirus shows how slow-moving climate change really is

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