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Air Quality

Published on May 11th, 2020 | by Cynthia Shahan


11,000 Air Pollution-Related Deaths Avoided In Europe As Coal & Oil Consumption Plummet

May 11th, 2020 by  

Scientists are observing what the idling of cars and factories, and plummeting of the fossil fuel business, reveals in the satellite data from NASA and other vital environmental databases. It means a lot less pollution. This is a small, bright, and helpful sideline to the ongoing struggle with the coronavirus pandemic. An independent research organization, Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), shares this speck of good news. CREA is focused on revealing trends, causes, health impacts from air pollution as well as the solutions to the problem.

Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air points out in the report that approximately 11,000 air pollution–related deaths were avoided as coal and oil consumption plummeted in Europe. Below are some of the scientific data showing the unprecedented reductions in burning of coal and fossil-related gas in Europe, and associated air pollution reductions. Overall, electricity generation from coal collapsed by nearly 40%, from gas almost 30%. Solar, hydro, and biomass electricity was up despite overall electricity generation being down 13%.

Measures to halt, or at least flatten, the curve and more quickly overcome the coronavirus have led to an approximately 40% reduction in average level of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution and 10% reduction in average level of particulate matter pollution over the past 30 days, resulting in ~11,000 avoided deaths from air pollution (95% confidence interval: 7,000 – 21,000). The new CREA assessment (PDF) by Lauri Myllyvirta and Hubert Thieriot notes, “Coal and oil burning are the main sources of NO2 pollution and key sources of particulate matter pollution across Europe.”

Across the globe, people may be clapping in their windows for healthcare workers, but they are also enjoying a more vivid sunset, without the usual exhaust blowing in the window. They have new visions of the skylines across their cities.

Other avoided health impacts include:

  • 1.3 million fewer days of work absence
  • 6,000 fewer new cases of asthma in children
  • 1,900 avoided emergency room visits due to asthma attacks
  • 600 fewer preterm births

Note: most of these health impacts are linked to chronic air pollution exposure and will be realized over the coming months and years.

Lauri Myllyvirta reminds us of information similar to what was found in a recent study from Italy, noting that regardless of the temporarily improved air quality, air pollution has been contributing to the load on the healthcare system. People suffering from pre-existing conditions created or worsened by air pollution are more vulnerable to the disease. There are more people in need of healthcare for everything from asthma to stroke and diabetes. Still, Myllyvirta reiterates that this reduction in pollution has helped alleviate pressure on the health care system during the crisis.

“The CREA analysis highlights the tremendous benefits for public health and quality of life that could be achieved by rapidly reducing fossil fuels in a sustained and sustainable way.”

Drops in air pollutants are dipping to levels not seen in at least 70 years, providing easier breathing for people with respiratory ailments and offering consistently clear views of landmarks typically obscured by smog, such as the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles. The thing to remember is that we could achieve all of this with clean technologies like solar panel farms, wind turbine farms, and electric cars.

CREA summarizes the facts: “Health-harming pollutants from burning fossil fuels are responsible for at least 3 million air pollution deaths per year. However, rapid advances in modern, clean energy technologies are a key opportunity to improve air quality and protect public health. We use scientific data, research and evidence to support the efforts of governments, companies and campaigning organizations worldwide in their efforts to move towards clean energy and clean air. We believe that effective research and communication are the key to successful policies, investment decisions and advocacy efforts.

“As we are all anxious for life and business to return to normal, no one is looking forward to the return of fossil fuel pollution. It is vital for European decision-makers to prioritize clean air, clean energy and clean transport as a part of the plans for recovering from the crisis.”

Worldwide, as in New York (every night at 7:00 pm), people keep sending appreciation and love while clapping to the healthcare community. Surely many of them notice the clearing skies and will work to retain those once society is humming again.

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Photos by @ismailferdous | At the beginning of the pandemic I had a decision to make: go back to Bangladesh and be with my family, or stay in New York. I chose to stay—I see myself as a New Yorker and didn’t want to flee from my home. Since March 27, each night at 7 p.m. New York City residents clap for two minutes to show gratitude for all essential workers (doctors, nurses, health care workers, grocery store and restaurant workers, truck drivers, sanitation workers, friends, neighbors, colleagues). In these moments I’m enveloped in our collective positive energy, and I feel validated for staying. #coronavirus #covid19 #NewYork #104st Check out Nat Geo's link in bio for more on this story.

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Photos by @iantehphotography | After four weeks of enforced national isolation, Malaysia announced a further extension of the Movement Control Order (MCO) to the end of April. Food, medication, essential services, and emergencies are the only reasons allowed for travel, which should be done solo and within a 10-kilometer (six miles) radius from home. Police roadblocks ensure adherence, with fines of up to $2,500 for violation of the MCO rules. Recently my wife had to go to work; her company considered it a necessity, but whether she made it or not depended on the policeman who read the company letter that explained the urgency. On this occasion, he let her through, bidding her to be quick and to stay safe. Once busy roads are now mostly deserted; courier bikes and taxis are often the only vehicles seen. #kualalumpur #malaysia #covid19 #coronavirus #pandemic

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About the Author

Cynthia Shahan started writing after previously doing research and publishing work on natural birth practices. (Several unrelated publications) She is a licensed health care provider. She studied and practiced both Waldorf education, and Montessori education, mother of four unconditionally loving spirits, teachers, and environmentally conscious beings born with spiritual insights and ethics beyond this world. (She was able to advance more in this way led by her children.)

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