The fight against this invisible enemy is still ongoing. Everyone is doing the best they can to contain or stop its spread, and that usually means duck for cover. At the time of this writing, an estimated 2 billion people are under some type of lockdown. That’s about a third of the planet’s population. A lot of people who are no longer on the streets, no longer doing anything outdoors.
Up until the end of last year, we were used to bringing you stats about global congestion, data on how much time people wasted queued on a road somewhere, waiting for the light to go green. We’re no longer doing that, because there are now far fewer cars on the roads than they’ve ever been in modern history. And that's a big deal, considering there are an estimated 1 billion of them out there.
Photos taken over the past few weeks in cities from the U.S. to China, and from Russia to the southernmost point in Europe show a deserted network of roads, countless miles of tarmac few vehicles still dare venture on.
Combined with the halt of some industrial activities, this new reality led to a dramatic drop in pollution levels worldwide. The levels of possibly deadly particulate matter have dropped in major cities by as much as 60 percent compared to the previous year, according to a study by IQAir.
Take India, for example. People in certain parts of the country are now able to see from hundreds of miles away, for the first time in decades, the peaks of the Himalayas. And it was all due to how the lack of human activity (like others, the country of 1.4 billion people is on full lockdown) cleared the air over cities like never before.
Before the lockdowns, India was home to over 20 of the world’s most polluted cities (IQAir World Air Quality Report for 2019), and occupied six of the top ten spot in this dreaded list.
This trend can be witnessed globally. The air is cleaner and crisper, even if we can’t really feel that through the masks covering our faces. The abandonment of our ways, be it forced by circumstances, has led to a sharp drop in pollution levels.
For better or for worse, oblivious to the struggles of its dominant species, the planet is breathing again.
It’s not yet clear whether this sharp drop in pollution levels would have a significant impact on global warming. As all things good and bad, the deadly enemy humanity is now facing will eventually go away, and we will be free to go back to our usual routines.
But what these few months have shown is exactly how much of an impact human activity has on the environment. If anyone doubted it before, then here is definite proof that it is us who are messing things up, and it is us who can change that.
It is impossible to sustain a full stop of activity in the long term, for sure, and once out of the woods, we would likely see no reason to do that. But what if we could choose to give our planet the breathing space it needs, say by deciding to ban to use of cars for one day per week?
After all, some of us haven’t been behind the wheel for weeks now, and we’re still breathing.