How China is enjoying blue skies — thanks to the coronavirus

Britta de Vries
March 17th 2020

Surrounded by greyness and with the air around you having a dusty, burnt taste; for a long time this is what it has been like to live in many of the world’s highly polluted cities. However, because of the drastic measures taken because of the novel coronavirus, the lock-down response to the virus in China has resulted in a drop in air pollution as the pandemic continues to halt industrial activities in the country — giving the city’s atmosphere and its residents some time to breathe. Literally.

Every cloud has a silver lining

The response from the Chinese government to COVID-19 has had a drastic impact on the lives of 780 million Chinese citizens, resulting in many being quarantined in lock-down areas limited to their homes for much of their day instead of being able to go outside.

Within satellite images shared by NASA, the reduction in air pollution is shown. It is visible that, as a result of the economic slow-down following China’s response to COVID-19, carbon dioxide emissions have fallen by around 25 percent; this is China’s first decline in carbon emissions since three years.

A reduction of air pollution has brought hope to the lovers of sunshine and the colour blue. As Chinese citizens are forced to stay inside at least they can now enjoy the sunlight and blue skies from their homes. This can certainly be seen as the silver lining of this global pandemic.

Cleaner air could save lives

Marshall Burke, researcher at Stanford University, has calculated the improvements in air quality in China. According to his information, the reduction of carbon emission may save the lives of 4.000 children under 5 years old and 73.000 adults over 70.

At this moment, this is happening due to the stand-still of the lives of most of the citizens living in China. While the general terror of COVID-19 is intense, this current improvement of air quality is also saving people: as of today it has saved more people than the coronavirus is killing. Of course, this virus has the ability to grow exponentially if precautions are not taken today.

Will these blue skies last? Probably not, pollution levels are likely to skyrocket back up to pre-corona levels when people return to work. Yet this event does bring humanity a moment to reflect on what it prioritises. While COVID-19 is a terrifying worldwide crisis, the climate crisis remains real.

We have entered the Anthropocene epoch, an age where humanity and its instrumentalities are the most potent and influential geological force.

Welcome to the human planet.

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What is your view on the coronavirus?


Siri Beerends: I really embrace the idea that viruses can teach us a lesson in modesty. It is necessary that our position as the dominant species on the planet is being challenged. I also agree that it is a mistake to think that we are becoming Gods. But unfortunately, this is actually what is happening now. Corona doesn’t teach us to be modest, it teaches us how we can -as quickly as possible- go back to business as usual: saving our capitalistic economy.

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