COVID-19 takes lives, but also saves lives. If ‘normal’ air pollution is more dangerous than a pandemic, where do we go from here?

Timely Insight #3

“(…) the fact that disruption of this magnitude could actually lead to some large (partial) benefits suggests that our normal way of doing things might need disrupting,” is one of the comments found in today’s perspective in the face of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

In this perspective, two short articles published in a series by Jeff McMahon of Forbes Magazine provides us with the opportunity to clearly see all the lives that are spared, next to the ones lost. The effort to contain COVID-19 includes far-reaching lockdowns leading to decrease in air pollution from industry and combustion. In the case of China, this points to that “(…) the lives saved due to the pollution reductions are roughly 20x the number of lives that have been directly lost to the virus.” Still, the measures that our societies are currently taking to circumvent the worst possible consequences are way more radical than those we have been taking, so far, in the face of global climate-environmental challenges.

Though this highlights the severity of the air pollution of the status quo and the derived health benefits, this is not a win for the long term – for several reasons. First off, numbers is quite an insufficient tool for comparing human suffering. Secondly, we have yet to see the degree of rebound effect, which could even surpass prior levels due to compensating for the lockdown period, if the course remains unchanged. Thirdly, the economic consequences of the lockdown entails devastating consequences for the equity and agency of people.

Yet, there is no doubt that the let-loose approach to the impacts of economic growth on natural systems, which our thriving depends on, needs some real revisiting – “(…) it’s easy to overlook chronic, long term health threats such as air pollution, and thus, harder to muster an adequate response.”

Here’s a daily perspective on the broad strokes of the corona crisis.

“(…) 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.” Interestingly, this is true even though the pandemic crisis in many ways mimics the climate crisis.

Full articles here and here.

We’ll be back with a fresh daily perspective tomorrow morning, where we’ll be continuing to explore the effects of the virus on people, societal structures, our future, and more.

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Timely Insights in an interconnected world

Timely Insights for Climate Action digs into current developments to illuminate an interconnected world.

A global pandemic with severe impacts on people’s lives in most places, says a lot about the times we live in. Join us from your self-quarantine in exploring timely insights from COVID-19 outbreak and beyond, and what it means for climate action.

We’re compiling existing articles to discuss and highlight how they help us understand the ways in which the world is connected. In these days of social distancing, we aim to support ourselves and readers in leveraging the learnings from what’s unfolding right now, to be better suited for catalyzing climate action.

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