Global Lockdowns May Save More People From Air Pollution than Coronavirus

Air pollution kills 7 million people per year. Many of those lives will be saved as industry grinds to a halt around the world.

Empty streets in Wuhan, China in January

Another silver lining of the coronavirus pandemic (we’ll take any we can get) is an enormous reduction in air pollution caused by reduced industrial activity.

As more and more people are quarantined to their homes around the globe, there are fewer and fewer emissions of air pollutants and greenhouse gasses from cars, planes, factories, office buildings, etc.

Air pollution kills around 7 million people per year, according to the World Health Organization.

Meanwhile, “the global death toll of an uncontained pandemic remains largely a matter of conjecture,” Forbes Magazine reports..

“The most dramatic projections that have been released—too hastily to be peer reviewed—put the global death toll of an unchecked pandemic in the millions—total, not annual. Most credible estimates are much less. Some experts have compared it to the 1957 flu outbreak that killed just over 1 million. The toll from a contained outbreak would of course be much smaller.”

Two months of quarantine in China have already saved 77,000 people from death by air pollution, one expert estimates. That’s 20 times more than the number of coronavirus deaths in the country so far.

“More than likely the number of lives that would be spared because of these confinement measures would be higher than the number of lives that would be lost because of the pandemic [had it not been contained],” said said François Gemenne, director of The Hugo Observatory, which studies the interactions between environmental changes and human migration.

“These are fascinating times. What surprises me most is that the measures that we are ready to take to face this coronavirus are much more severe than the measures we would be ready to take to face climate change or atmospheric pollution,” Gemenne said.

“I think this is something that should question us: why are we so much more afraid of the coronavirus than we are of climate change or atmospheric pollution or other kinds of threats. What is so special about the coronavirus that we are ready to put the whole world on lockdown because of that?”