Coronavirus Shutdowns Causing Huge Drops in Traffic, Air Pollution
The novel coronavirus that has caused a global pandemic is also having an enormous impact on the environment, according to new satellite data. As governments around the world have restricted people from moving, industry, air travel and vehicular traffic have grinded to a halt, causing pollution levels to plummet, according to The New York Times.
"This is the first time I have seen such a dramatic drop-off over such a wide area for a specific event," says Fei Liu, an air quality researcher at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, as CNN reported. "I am not surprised because many cities nationwide have taken measures to minimize the spread of the virus."
While President Trump does not enjoy watching the U.S. economy slow down and the markets lose value, the coronavirus is helping his erroneous assertion that the U.S. has the cleanest air in the world.
Areas that have been COVID-19 hotspots, like China and Italy, have already seen huge reductions in air pollution. Now the same trend is happening in major U.S. cities like Los Angeles, Seattle, New York, Chicago and Atlanta where rush hour congestion has vanished as trucks and cars are no longer choking the streets, according to The New York Times.
"Air pollution levels as observed by satellite are showing drastic improvements in many areas that have been undergoing restrictive quarantines due to COVID-19," Peter DeCarlo, an associate professor of environmental health engineering at Johns Hopkins University, told Newsweek.
"But it's [also] very clear that airline passenger numbers are way down, as many countries introduce travel bans and meetings/conferences/work-related travel is canceled. Industrial activity is also reduced, but not necessarily to the extent of traffic. For example, power plants still need to run to produce electricity, water treatment plants still need to continue to treat water, etcetera," he said.
Satellite imagery taken over the U.S. in the first three weeks of March shows less nitrogen dioxide over the country than the same period last year, according to data from the European Space Agency, as CNN reported.
Nitrogen dioxide levels are driven by burning fuels, as well as emissions of cars, trucks, buses, power plants and off-road equipment, according to CNN.
The New York Times noted that freeway traffic in Los Angeles, which is usually at a standstill during rush hour, was moving at a brisk 71 miles per hour.
"There's basically no rush hour anymore, or at least not what we would recognize as a rush hour," said Trevor Reed, a transportation analyst at INRIX, a company that analyzes traffic data from vehicle and phone navigation systems, to The New York Times.
A similar trend is happening in the Bay Area, where crossings of the heavily trafficked Bay Bridge that connects San Francisco to Oakland have dropped by 40 percent, according to the California Department of Transportation, as The New York Times reported.
In New York City, researchers from Columbia University noticed remarkable dips in carbon levels over New York City, which declined more than 50 percent below normal levels. We've never seen anything like the drop we saw starting last Friday," said Roisin Commane, an assistant professor at Columbia who conducts the air-monitoring work, referring to March 13, The New York Times reported.
"We often see dips during weekends or over holidays, but this is completely different."
The drop in pollution levels is mirrored around the world, wherever people are staying home to try to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. In China, nitrogen dioxide levels dropped 35 percent, and up to 60 percent in some cities. Similarly, reductions of up to 40 percent were seen in Milan, according to Newsweek.
Marshall Burke, an assistant professor at Stanford's Department of Earth System Science, said the improved air quality might save between 50,000 and 75,000 people from premature death, according to CNN.
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Four years ago, Jacob Abel cast his first presidential vote for Donald Trump. As a young conservative from Concord, North Carolina, the choice felt natural.
But this November, he plans to cast a "protest vote" for a write-in candidate or abstain from casting a ballot for president. A determining factor in his 180-degree turn? Climate change.
Fractures Among Young Climate Conservatives<p>While young conservatives have united around the urgency of climate change, they remain divided over how to bring their concerns to the ballot box. Some embrace right-wing <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/biden-attacks-republican-convention/2020/08/24/434e5b46-e66d-11ea-970a-64c73a1c2392_story.html" target="_blank">attacks</a> painting Biden as a "tool of the left" and find his climate agenda "radical." Others can't find a way to justify voting for Trump, even if it means breaking with their party.</p><p>Patrick Mann from Orange County, California, voted for Trump in 2016. But today, he's leading Aggies for Joe at Texas A&M University and is co-founder of Texas Students for Biden. </p><p>Mann grew up watching wildfires ravage his home state, nearly forcing his family to evacuate in 2017. The GOP is failing to "meet the moment" for climate action, Mann said. He's hoping Biden will deliver on a promise to "<a href="https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/columnists/caucus/2020/01/06/joe-biden-democrat-president-iowa-caucus-restore-soul-our-nation/2806422001/" target="_blank">restore the soul of our nation</a>." </p><p>Taylor Walker from Pensacola, Florida, is also determined to make her voice heard on climate, including by casting her first-ever vote for president—but not for Biden.</p>
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In the face of dangerous heat waves this summer, Americans have taken shelter in air conditioned cooling centers. Normally, that would be a wise choice, but during a pandemic, indoor shelters present new risks. The same air conditioning systems that keep us cool recirculate air around us, potentially spreading the coronavirus.